Quick review of queer mangas

Review of two book: Claudine, a 1978 manga about a transgender man facing bullying; and My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, the true account of a young homosexual woman who had to face depression and social expectations.

After I saw a post on twitter about Claudine, a Japanese comic book about a transgender man that was supposedly very good (for its time), I set out to buy it, and added in my shopping cart a couple of other mangas dealing with LGBT issues: My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, and The Bride Was a Boy.

15,29,344,374.299194

So here are the reviews in the reading order.

Claudine, by Ryoko Ikeda:

Claudine is by far the weakest of the three. I was expecting a very powerful art work about trans issues, but instead, I got shallow characters, empty plot and a poor understanding of the subject. Now, it was made in 1978, and it is probably the reflection of the stereotypes of that time, but there are points in this book that make it really not interesting as a story.

And the biggest problem is the main character. He has no other definition than being transgender. We don’t know anything about him. The story is told from the accounts of his psychiatrist who, you’d think would talk about more things than just his struggle with gender identity. But we never know a single thing about Claudine but that she is from a rich family. I think it kills the story entirely, because it is impossible to relate to a character who’s just an empty shell. And the psychiatrist, who is ultimately the voice of the author, kills the whole open-mindedness by saying a very transphobic “Even a true man couldn’t love a woman so utterly” (1).

Then, the plot revolves almost uniquely around a girl who is in love with Claudine and sets out to sabotage every single relationship he (Claudine) has with other girls. And the whole story is like that. Claudine is rather passive. Things happen to her, it’s all about how people react to her, but not much how she reacts. She is like the MacGuffin of her own story.

I can’t really talk about the art form, because I am not used to the manga style, but I was surprised that Claudine was drawn in a very different style than the other characters. Maybe the author wanted him to stand out from the crowd, but for me, it just reinforces the MacGuffin effect, his shallowness, that he is not human, as opposed to all the other characters.

Finally, although there are some good ideas, the book, even by the 70’s standards, this story lacks character development, which was a real turn off to me. I couldn’t see a real person in Claudine, and it was a huge drawback in my opinion.

 

My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, by Nagata Kabi:

This book is a breath of fresh air. It’s powerful, moving and relatable. It’s not a graphic novel. It’s more like an illustrated essay. Every strip is narrated by the author, who tells her own story. A story of feeling like an outcast, because she doesn’t see herself in the expectations of others. And still she tries to meet these expectations, which drives her to be even more miserable, and not knowing why.

It is a powerful tale of getting to know yourself and the cause of your sickness, instead of finding ways to ignore it or inflicting physical pain to oneself to know why it hurts. It touched so close to home on so many occasion, I wanted to cry during most of the book. It’s quite surely a good read to anyone who faced depression and had a hard time recognising the cause, or to people who never had such an experience but would like to understand how oppressing and terrifying this situation is.

It is well crafted; although it’s a real story, the author makes the effort of giving it a pace and a structure, and every act offers to show a real change in her mindset and relationship with her illness (2) until she understands the cause and ultimately gets better by living the life that suits her, instead of trying to get her parents approval on everything (3). Her illustrations are really doing a good work of explaining how her depression worked and how she was feeling most of the time. I think that even someone who’s never had depression and doesn’t understand the concept can have a pretty good idea at how it must feel for people who are afflicted.

And of course, it’s also a story of a lesbian woman in a country that is still very conservative on sexuality, and who ultimately tries to be herself despite social barriers. Just read it people.

 

The Bride Was a Boy, by Chii:

I have a lot to say about this one, so here is a page dedicated to this review.

 

(1) Let’s hope it’s a translation mistake, which is totally possible, seeing how disastrous the translation is. Full of typos, grammar errors, inconsistencies, I had to read some lines several times to make sure I understood.

(2) I shouldn’t have to explain that, but in case anyone misinterpret what I wrote: her illness is not her homosexuality, obviously. It’s the depression that comes from the inability to recognise that she is homosexual and trying to fit into societal expectations.

(3) Yes, I’m spoiling the end, but that was that or killing herself. So since she is writing this book, we can only assume it’s not really a surprise. The whole point of the story is to see how she navigates her depression and heals.

The importance of image; or why I don’t watch English-speaking videos with subtitles

Why I think dialogues in films are not as important as people may want to believe. Cinema is mainly a visual media, let’s focus more on the image and what it can tell.

When I was living in Vancouver, my flatmate was watching about everything with subtitles, even though everything he was watching was in English, which is his mother tongue. He mainly did that because of a combination of problems: the annoyingly poorly balanced sound tracks in movies (speech too low vs sound effects too loud) and the fact that our house was next to a very busy road. In the end, it was pretty much impossible to understand a film without subtitles, and I had to do it too, although I really don’t like it.

See, a few years ago, I had this talk with a friend who couldn’t watch an English-speaking film without subtitle, not because he couldn’t understand English well (he was pretty good at it actually), but because he couldn’t accept to watch a film and not understand 100% of dialogues. I understand his point, but I sadly think it’s a way too common belief that speech is more important than image in movie.

For my part, I started watching English-speaking films without subtitles in the early 2000’s. Back then, it was about improving my English listening skills. If I wasn’t reading, I was more focused on the speech, and therefore more akin to understand what actors were saying and get used to the language. Long story short, it really helped a lot (1). But as I got better at understanding English, well, there was no point in putting back subtitles anymore.

And I remembered what my Mom was saying about her never watching movies with subtitles. She doesn’t watch film in English, she watches the French-dubbed versions. But she made a very good point at not reading subtitle: “I can’t focus on both the image and the subtitles”. And I think that’s the whole point.

Now, my Mom is not a cinephile. She just enjoys a movie every now and then. But it’s true for everyone. Cinema is mainly a visual media. For years, films could even tell a story without a single line of dialogue, because there wasn’t sound on it yet. So filmmakers used a lot of visual cues to convey various plots and emotions, because it wasn’t possible to break the film pace every five seconds with dialogue screens.

dialogue

So now, we have countless ways to tell a story visually but still, a lot of people don’t realise it. If it’s not in dialogue, it’s like it’s not explained at all. That’s pretty much why fool-proofed movies tend to over-explain the plot in dialogues even though everything is quite always obvious in context. Just look at how hardly-audible dialogues in Interstellar were perceived by a large part of the audience. Another great example is when Mel Gibson wanted to screen The Passion without subtitles, which would have been a great idea, since the audience most likely to go watch the film already knew the story and how it ends (spoiler: Jesus dies on a cross). But of course, this didn’t happen, because the film would have completely flopped at the box office.

People take for granted that every single bit of dialogue must be understandable, when image and sound design are equally or more important to understand the film. When I see movies that try to be visually clever, instead of using trendy shots, get trashed because they are too contemplative/hardly understandable/pretentious/boring (check the appropriate answer for your case), it really explains why there are much less films like that anymore, and also why I don’t watch that many films anymore. (2)

When you focus too much on dialogues, and therefore on subtitles, it’s the same amount of attention you don’t give to image and sound (4), and so you lose way more information than you think you get by being overly attentive to dialogues. I always feel that when I tell people I don’t watch films with subtitles, they think I’m being pretentious. I’m not. I maybe understand give or take 90% of dialogues in any given film (even in French-speaking films, there are always mumbled or covered lines that are hardly understandable), but I just enjoy and understand the movies better if I’m not distracted by subtitles. Once I even watched a movie in a language I didn’t know at all and I understood the plot.

Of course I wouldn’t recommend to watch an entire movie without subtitle if you don’t understand the language, especially the ones that have really well-crafted dialogues (Tarantino’s films, for example, are enjoyable because of dialogues). But if you understand at least 60% (rule of thumb here), I feel like it’s worth giving it a shot.

So, I hate to admit, but turns out my Mom was right all along.

 

(1) In the same way, watching Japanese animation with English subtitles has helped my English-reading skills a lot. If you want to learn some language, these are actually very good exercises to consolidate your knowledge. But you need some level of proficiency first.

(2) And still, in the end, they are the films that get to be remembered and studied in schools.

(3) And don’t get me started on multitasking. There is no such thing. It’s actually task switching. And in case of subtitles, you have to move your gaze to the text, so you can’t in any way watch the image and the subtitles at the same time, especially in theatre (we can talk about the 2° field of view for accurate vision later).

(4) Obviously I don’t recommend it. I was just curious about a particular film and couldn’t find the subtitles. I lost a lot of information in the process, but I still enjoyed watching the film.

The sweet (and gloomy) feeling of having nothing to lose

Sometimes a dream takes you somewhere you wouldn’t have expected. This is a story of a girl who was deeply moved by her saddest dream ever.

She can do what she wants. Until a few days ago, she was still working full time so that one day, she could retire and spend her final days in peace and harmony. What a dream. But she never wanted that, did she. Looks like life took care of it for her. This very morning she went to her office and handed off her resignation letter. Now she is free of any engagement. She can do everything she ever wanted to do, planning for the future doesn’t mean anything to her anymore.

Right now she is diving in euphoria. She has so many things she wants to do. But so little time. She is sitting on the grass in a downtown park, reading a book she’s been months on since it’s pretty boring but she doesn’t want to give it up until she reaches the end. And she’s expecting him.

[…]

Sitting next to her, he realises her light and cheery attitude is fading away. She didn’t tell him why she was such in a good mood, but he now knows everything she plans to do, and he is not sure if he should support her no questions asked. She starts shivering.

[…]

She said it. It is weird to say it out loud. “It’s only when you say it that it becomes real”. She doesn’t know where she heard that but it doesn’t matter. She starts crying. Her head falls heavy on his shoulder. The pain outweighs the euphoria. It is still there, inside of her, hidden behind a mountain of sadness. The sadness will erode, she knows it. But right now, she has to take it in, feel every part of it. Only after she accepts her inescapable fate will she be able to live her short life to the fullest.

[…]

She opens her eyes, They’re wet from the tears she shed during the night. She doesn’t move. Just lying there, she tries to understand what has just happened, and why this dream felt so real. Her first reaction is to regret she isn’t really living that dream. She wished she could have a good reason to leave her work and do whatever she wants. She knows it is a sad story that would end in a dramatic way, but she’d rather have that than an eventless life of struggling and being tired all the time.

[…]

She takes her breakfast, but it’s difficult. She has to go through the motion. Her livelihood depends on it. But it’s hard. Still she drinks her apple juice and gets ready for the day.

[…]

It’s the middle of the afternoon. She was too tired to go on with her work, so she sat on the living room sofa and started strumming chords on her guitar. The dream is still in her head. She realises it’s the first time a feeling from a dream sticks with her for such a long time, but she doesn’t know how to process it.

[…]

Several days have passed. She is playing her guitar absentmindedly while watching a film. The credits are rolling. She is lying on the sofa with the guitar laid her chest, and her eyes are stuck on the screen.

She sits up, put some stupid but funny show on the TV. Then she opens the laptop on the coffee table and starts writing this piece.

Empathy and Identification in Video Games

What do people mean when they say they “identify” with a character? I argue that most of a time, it’s empathy, and identification comes with customisation, but I may be wrong, hey!

I had this very interesting conversation with a friend over the announcements around Cyberpunk 2077 at E3. CD Project Red (the developer and editor) said that the game will be played in first person because it makes the game more immersive, or personal (1), and also because it was necessary due to the augmentations. So I assume that, like in Deux Ex, visual implants have an impact on how you see the world, and therefore makes it necessary to see through the character’s eyes.

cyberpunk-2077

But in my opinion (2), it is also helps a lot to feel like you’re the character. To identify. I think the word “Identification” have been used for about anything that goes beyond its meaning. When you talk about your identity, it’s something that’s in you, in your own personality, so you can’t identify to everything just because the story is well told or the character is well crafted. That’s where empathy comes in. When your best friend tells you about something very sad that happens to them, and as a result, you feel sad too, it’s because of your empathy for that person. You know them and you understand what they’re going through, so you end up feeling the same way as they do. But you don’t suddenly identify to them just because you feel sad when they tell you about their sad story.

And I really think it’s the same thing for any work of fiction. When you watch a film and you feel all that’s happening to a character, you don’t say at the end of a film “Oh my god! I was Tony Stark for 2 hours and a half”. You’ll be more likely to say something along the line of “Wow, Me too I’d feel devastated if I realised I could have stopped Starlord before he did anything stupid” (3). And it’s no different in video games.

Obviously, we’re restricting the topic to games that put you in control of a single character that is identified and has a background. In this kind of games, most of the time you follow a character that has a pre-defined background and you don’t get much freedom to shape the character. Games like Uncharted, The Last of Us or Tomb Raider fall in that category. You can often choose the skills you want to develop, but ultimately, the story goes in one direction, and you have no other choice but to be passive in the light of what happens to the character. It’s a developer’s choice, when they want to tell a story but don’t want you to mess with the storyline while still having fun. And in many of those games, you play in third person. Meaning that the “camera” is positioned behind the character and lets you swing around. It’s usually a good way to see the character and/in the environment, and apparently it’s something that players love, seeing how they disagreed with CD Projekt Red’s decision to have Cyberpunk 2077 played in first person.

rainbow-six-siege-screenshot-6

But it’s not always the case. For example, Deus Ex is played in first person, probably for the reason stated above, but the character is defined by the developer with development limited to skills. And in the other hand, Mass Effect lets you customise your character entirely (which includes the background to some extent), but is played in third person. At the very extreme, every competitive shooter (Overwatch, Rainbow 6: Siege or, my personal favourite, Insurgency) is played in first person and we couldn’t care less about the characters (4).

So, despite what I told my friend this morning, I don’t think the choice of a first or third person depends on the degree of identification. It’s mostly down to what the developer wants to focus on in terms of immersive experience and gameplay or what audience they’re aiming at. I still think that having the camera behind the character puts a barrier, but it’s a very personal feeling. Which is weird, because I never had any problem identifying with the characters I created for Fallout 1 and 2 (pictured below).

fallout 2 chosen one

And that’s were I think the difference lies: in the degree of customisation. A character will be more like you (and therefore identifyable) if you made it like you. Or if you made it like you’d wish to be. With my psychologist in France, we used to talk about how character customisation may help understand how we identified. Specifically, when I talked about video games, I told her that when I was creating a character from scratch, most of the time, the gender I chose didn’t have any consequence in the character arc (5). That’s when she pointed out that if I can craft out my character the way I want, even though there won’t be any consequences (6), then it reinforces the identification with the character, because the character will be even closer to who I am, or who I want to be.  And (in my case at least), it was totally right; I always made a female character because I couldn’t identify with a male character, even before I accepted the fact that I was transgender. If the way you customise your character didn’t matter in the game, why would you do it? In the end, it’s a way to let the player feel more like they’re into the game and identify with the character. But really identify, in the sense that you are the character. How you would react in the same situation, not just experiencing their story?

To conclude, I obviously don’t think people bullshit when they say they identify to a character. I am just saying that what they’re actually experiencing is empathy, but they can truly identify only when they have the opportunity to shape the character the way they want. But of course, when I’m in a conversation, I’ll still talk about identification, because I’m not a pretentious asshole who think she is better than every one else (7).

 

 

(1) “The first-person point of view is there so you can see things happening up close, and so you can really interact with things in a visceral manner. with the game world.” http://ca.ign.com/articles/2018/06/12/e3-2018-cyberpunk-2077-cd-projekt-addresses-first-person-backlash

(2) And I really want to stress that it’s a personal opinion, I am not trying to impose it on anyone, just to have a discussion about it.

(3) It’s not a spoiler, I didn’t say that Spiderman dies.

(4) Overwatch and Rainbow 6: Siege made backgrounds for their characters but even though a player may choose a character considering their background, they only use the character’s skill set in game. The point is to win the game, not chitchat about the character’s narrative.

(5) Except a few cases like the first 2 Fallout, where each gender has some different but symmetrical effect. For example, a woman’s charisma will work better on someone attracted to women.

(6) And even when it does, I usually stick to a character that feels more like me. For example, when the game encourages making a strong fighter, I keep making a clever one and skip the strength attribute, because I prefer getting away with a clever word than a bullet in the face, even though it’s more challenging.

(7) But I am, obviously.

I used to know my personality, but now I can’t get my head around it

I have had a discussion with a new friend I made in Montréal, who told me she went to a speed dating event and it was a lot of fun. So she suggested I should go to one and I rapidly replied I couldn’t attend such an event, not because I don’t like the concept (I did say it was a weird concept, but hey, don’t you agree?), but because I’m just unable to do so.

I have had a discussion with a new friend I made in Montréal, who told me she went to a speed dating event and it was a lot of fun. So she suggested I should go to one and I rapidly replied I couldn’t attend such an event, not because I don’t like the concept (I did say it was a weird concept, but hey, don’t you agree?), but because I’m just unable to do so. Problem is, I couldn’t explain why in short sentences. I mentioned it had to do with anxiety and fear, but these feelings are only the result of something deeper.

Introversion

I am an introverted person. I have always been. It’s not the result of dysphoria, depression or any condition I may be in. It’s not a problem either. We can’t state that enough. Introversion is not something to be ashamed of, to try to conceal or beat yourself out of it, even if modern western societies are custom-made for extroverted people. It’s just a type of personality, and it’s a spectrum (like everything with personality). You may be very extroverted, very introverted, or somewhere in between. As soon as you figure out where you are in the spectrum, it’s easier to know what to look for in your social life.

For my part, I’m super introverted. I won’t say that I have one leg over the edge, but I’m pretty sure I fall outside the standard deviation. It took time for me to realise that, although, to be honest, it was painfully obvious. Socially, it has a huge implications. I can’t maintain a lot of relationships simultaneously, because I need to be deeply invested in the ones I have. If I don’t have deep relationships, I can go into depression. It has been a real struggle when I was living in Vancouver, since it was a real challenge to make any connection, let alone meaningful ones (and thanks Ashley and Bria for being there, you’ve made every moment spent with you worth it).

But one thing really changed since last year. You know it: I started a gender transition, and whereas before transition, I could easily judge how to position myself around people, now I am totally lost. And it was even worse in Vancouver, where people are really good at treating you with some kind of benevolent hypocrisy.

Making relationships through a different gender

It would be a lie to say that by observing how women live and by talking with them for years, I could be prepared to what was going to happen to me. But it is not even relevant, since people don’t behave around me like I’m a woman anyway. Of course, some try, because they want to be respectful, but in the end, they just behave like I am transgender. I know there is a difference because I spent many nights alone at bars and I have yet to get a free drink.

So not only I am not sure how people would react to me if they were seeing me as a woman, but it’s totally impossible to know how anyone would react out of the blue seeing that I am transgender (most people still only see a man with long hair). I don’t know if the person will be open-minded or a heartless bigot. Then, when I find a person who is nice enough to actually want to pursue a conversation, I realise that I don’t even know how I will react.

Neurocognitive studies have showed that mimicry and empathy are innate features helping people connect and share emotions. But I lost both to some extend. I used to be very good at understanding people and adapt to them when needed, but in the past year, I had to force myself to act differently, to erase years of conditioning, which caused interferences when interacting with people. Since I was around 20, I started to reinforce habits to counteract my dysphoric feelings (or however I thought about it back then), which caused me to become a person I really didn’t like. Now I feel stuck with those habits, and although I am working at erasing them from my behaviour, they tend to come back when I start feeling confident or close to someone. And it scares the hell out of me.

Dating with the fear of showing the wrong side of me

I stated above that we have as many sides as we have relationships, because we adapt our behaviour to our interlocutor, but it’s more like tweaking our personality to make our interaction seamless with one another (and we generally have a threshold until which we accept to malleable, after what we have an opposite reaction).

In that regard, I now have two sides of my personality: the shy woman who tries to get by in her new situation, and the douchy man who is getting murdered and left behind in a ditch, but who tends to make himself remembered at the worst moment, when things are getting serious. And my fear is just that. Having G. come in and reclaim the attention. And it happens. Often. If I am with a friend, after some time I go back again to the way I used to talk. If I end up in a party with many people, which happened a few days ago, I will have reactions that I totally hate because it reminds me of the person I used to be (1).

And since I am not stupid, I know it will happen during a date, and I just can’t take the chance.

A quick note on speed-dating

So, take all of that, the introversion, the transitioning, and the morphing personality, shake it thoroughly and splash it all on my face, and you will have an idea of how I will behave if I was thrown into the pit with countless women, as open-minded or inclusive as they may be. I think I would end up with a panic attack/nervous breakdown. I had some for less than that, some of which are even recorded on this website.

In these circumstances, speed dating is really not an option for me right now. It’s doesn’t help that I’m a very casual person, and going to a highly codified type of event is not really for my taste, even just for fun. I am much rather the kind of girl who like to meet up in a cool bar with some finger food and a drink, and have a chill and fun conversation. Maybe I will look very traditional by saying that I am rather looking at developing a friendship that can expand to something bigger, than jumping straight into bed.

I should make a topic about it, but long story short, I need to build a trusting relationship before going any further, and from what you’ve just read about my personality, I am sure you understand by now that I can’t get to trust someone enough in 5 min to think ahead.

That’s it for now, but since you diligently read until here, I will share with you the song I was listening to while I was finishing writing this article:

 


(1) OMG! I even did a quick mansplaning (transplaining?) on someone who is 10 times smarter (at least) than I am. I’m so ashamed of that. When I realised a moment later, I wished life as we know it stopped. Yes, I’m over-dramatic like that.

Empathy, empathy, why do you make me cry!

It looks like a movie review at first, but the real subject actually starts at the second paragraph.

If anyone had told me that I would have like The Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, I probably would have thrown a sarcastic comment and laughed. But I did like it. It’s not an awesome movie, and it is boring at times (especially the action scenes), but it is far better than the Vol. 1 in my opinion. Well, not every one thinks the same way of course, and every one looks for something different when watching a film, but while the first film was desperately trying to convince me that those pathetic losers could eventually get along and save the galaxy, the second one had a real topic and a real reason to make them fight together (and save the galaxy again). I liked that they tell us that the real family is the people who raised you and put up with your bullshit all along, not the stupid genetic relationship that doesn’t mean crap when you get abandoned. It’s a good conclusion and that convinced me that it was trying to tell something.

Aaaanyway, that was a small review, but now I wanna go into the real topic of the day: empathy. And you ask me, “what does it have to do with the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”? Well, because of this character:

mantis

Empathy is the capacity to recognise and feel emotions in other people. And that’s what Mantis does. When she touches someone, she instantly feels what the subject is feeling, whether she wants it or not. It’s important to note, because in my opinion, that’s the detail that made this character so great. She is the empathy that exists between the crew members, but that they don’t want to accept.

I felt it was so well thought and put onto images in such a beautiful way, that I could relate so much to that feeling. Empathy is something that is crippling if you lack it or have too much of it. If you lack empathy, you end up having a behaviour that is not adapted to living in a society, because, either you don’t recognise what people feel, or it doesn’t affect you. If you have too much empathy, you just end up living on a roller coaster of emotion. Usually, people don’t have the same level of empathy with every one. Some will feel strongly for their family or friend, and not care at all for strangers. But some just don’t have any boundary: everything comes in, whether you want it or not, and most often, you’d rather not.

You would think that you can never have too much empathy, but it becomes a problem when you feel bad even when people are wrong. For example, if someone is sad, even if you don’t have anything to do with it, you get sad too. I want to point out this fact because I feel it’s freaking important: you don’t just recognise the sadness, you actually feel sad. It’s depressive, really. Worse, if they’re angry at you, and you didn’t do anything wrong, you feel bad about it. And if someone is happy about something you did, but you didn’t do it (and you know it), you feel guilty. You feel like lying. There is no way to win. I never lie because of that. I can be a very convincing liar if I want to, but it’s just not emotionally worth it.

So what does one do to protect themselves against this phenomenon? Simply, they shield themselves. They try to avoid other people’s emotion by convincing themselves that they don’t feel them. I won’t go into it because I already explained it in this post.

I hate it when someone is angry at me even thought I haven’t done anything wrong. Sometimes, they’ve done me wrong, and I still feel bad about them being angry at me. Sometimes, I just want to apologise for nothing just to let steam go and get back to an almost normal state of living. But it’s not fair. Why would someone who’s being a dick and angry at me get away with me actually apologising for it? I used to respond by being aggressive, but we all know it doesn’t work. It’s just making things worse. To be honest, so far, I haven’t found a better solution to the problem than avoiding the distressing people/stimuli altogether. If someone is pissing me off for no reason, I’ll just ignore them and try to focus on something else, because I don’t see why I should get all the trouble when I didn’t do anything wrong.

Now the movie doesn’t give any answer to that question, because it’s not the point of the film. It’s just trying to tell that they should stick together, and Mantis’ role in all this is to make them recognise that they have feelings for each other and that they’re not just a bunch of low-life criminals randomly put together anymore. But what it does is really well done, and I felt like it was worth mentioning because when I see reviews of this film, I only see people praising the entertainment and the action (seriously, action scenes in this film are pointless and boring, come on), and completely ignore the topic of the film and that kind of details. And that makes me somehow sad.

 

Good entertainment has something to say

I went to see Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle last week, and I might say, it was a very good surprise. I didn’t expect much, so it went beyond my expectations. First, it’s a good entertainment. Dwayne Johnson and Karen Gillian are two of my current favourite comedians and I don’t think a movie can really fail on the humour side if they’re attached to it. […]

I went to see Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle last week, and I might say, it was a very good surprise. I didn’t expect much, so it went beyond my expectations. First, it’s a good entertainment. Dwayne Johnson and Karen Gillan are two of my current favourite comedians and I don’t think a movie can really fail on the humour side if they’re attached to it. The story is basic, but I think it’s a good thing in this case. Not overdoing it in the plot makes room for all the great thing they wanted to put in, and it’s packed of awesome ideas, that I will break down in this order:

Respect for the original material

I saw Jumanji, with Robin Williams, back when it was released in theatre in 1996. I was 13 and I had a blast. I then watched the VHS at home many times because it was so much fun. The story is simple and follows the rules of a board game, a hobby that was trending in the 60s, when Alan Parrish finds it. Above all the adventure and fun of the movie, it tells you that in the 90s, board games are quite a deprecated activity, and are seen more as a curiosity, even though they are so much fun to play together.

And that’s how Welcome To The Jungle starts. Now that board games are back in people’s home, the movie tells the story of another kind of game: video games and role-playing games. From video games, it makes fun of the clichés, and it denounces some tropes. From role-playing, it brings the whole concept of identity. We’ll come to that later. The thing is, in the 90s, role-playing was getting a lot of attention, especially since it was absurdly considered deviant by many people who saw role-players as cultists and mass murderers. Now tabletop role-playing has lost most of its appeal to actual RPG video games (1). And again, it’s about remembering how fun it was to get together and play a game that would take us to a different place, using the rules of RPG and video games.

Depiction of video games

And the movie is honest in that regard. Even if it drops a various genres (RPG, adventure, action) into the mix, it’s still trying to make it right: quests, NPCs, levels, bosses, abilities and even dice roles are used correctly and consistently throughout the movie. It’s also nice to see the clichés made fun of and the tropes being denounced. The writers obviously knew what they were talking about and it’s refreshing not to have to deal with stupid preconceptions.

Apparently there was an outcry when the first teasers were released, because Karen Gillan was only slightly covered when every other characters had jungle equipment. But it was actually the point to make people discuss it. It’s an obvious reference to the first Tomb Raider games (released in the 90s), in which Lara Croft is not ideally equipped for her combat archaeology, which was already criticised back then, but has been repeated so many times since then. It’s literally one of the first things Karen Gillian’s character complains about in the beginning. And you know what else is refreshing? Nobody makes dirty or borderline joke about it. And the only pee pee joke of the film is actually funny and not gross. So, it’s possible.

Strong case for self-identification

In my tweet, I talk about a woman trapped in a man’s body, but it’s not only that. Every character’s choice of in-game character has something to say about what they want (or don’t want) to be.

They all follow the same pattern. They are good at something, but lack the confidence in something else that they wish they had. For Spencer and Martha, they’re both very intelligent, but they want to be strong and social, so they choose bad-ass characters (Spencer’s character has literally no flaw). For Bethany and Fridge, they’re popular, but they want to succeed because of their skills, so they choose scientists. Bethany gets to be a man by mistake (2), but every other character calls her “she” despite what she looks like, even the 5th player who never met her in real life (3).

In the end, they realise that the image that we project to other people is only a shadow of who we really are, and that we can be whatever we want. It’s not telling a tale of over-achievement. All the goals set by the characters are in reach, whether it’s being satisfied of who she is for Bethany, or being able to live in his passion without feeling ridiculous for Spencer. I like how simple these goals are, and yet we have such a hard time to reach them, because we’re stuck in a very rigid society.

This is a family movie, but I feel that it would strongly appeal to a young audience who struggle to find themselves, and tell them that it’s alright to be who they are. We don’t have to follow a path set by obsolete societal rules.

(1) I feel like I need to point out that there are not many video games that allow several players to come play a story together. Most game are either solo or mass-multiplayer. The movie uses core role-playing concepts in a video game setting, so it’s a good mix of both.

(2) The game uses a confusion in the first name to make her a man, but when you play a RPG, since you don’t have to be physically the person you’re going to play, people often swap genders. The movie just wants to make it simple. We could say that she was assigned the wrong gender.

(3) Although he is confused at first, but that’s actually a good depiction of how people react when you tell them you’re transgender, and they didn’t make it as a joke. I appreciated it.

Note: I don’t why the tweet shows the previous tweet in conversation. I specify in the code that I only want one tweet and not the conversation. If someone knows the reason it happens and how to change it, I’d love to be made aware.