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SFF Adventures: January 2022

Here’s what I’ve been reading, watching, and listening to lately in the realms of SFF: Gravity Falls, Kipo, Scooby-Doo, and Breaking the Glass Slipper.

Stars in the night sky. A blue and purple galaxy is visible.
Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

Introduction

This time around, I’m going to skip talking about books and instead just shout out essays, podcasts, and TV shows. Why? I’ve recently posted my reading roundup for 2021, so check out that post for my thoughts on the SFF I’ve been reading: “2021 in Reading.”

Essays & Blog Posts

I liked “How to Survive a Decade in Publishing” by Kameron Hurley in Locus Magazine. I always enjoy Kameron Hurley’s essays. (If you like reading nonfiction about SFF, I highly recommend The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley.)

While we’re on the topic of the publishing industry, I also want to shout out “Graphic Novel Production Schedules Are Too Short — and the Publishing Industry Should Care About It” by Nilah Magruder. This essay made me think more about what a physical activity making comics is, and it gave me more empathy for the artists who do it.

One book I enjoyed reading last year was Persephone Station by Stina Leicht. It’s an action-oriented tale with some fun space western vibes and lots of queer and trans characters. Stina Leicht wrote a blog post about the book on Mary Robinette Kowal’s site that I enjoyed: “My Favorite Bit: Stina Leicht Talks About Persephone Station.”

I enjoyed this essay by Ada Hoffmann: “Dark Art as an Access Need.” I love what she has to say about conflicting access needs and the way she describes how some people want/need to read/write dark content. Since the pandemic started, I’ve been in a “I just want pastel unicorns” phrase, or something close to it, but this essay reminded me of how at other times in my life, darker stories were actually quite important to me.

I enjoyed this essay in Book Riot by Alex Acks: “Brian Jacques’s Redwall and the Damaging Tropes of Epic Fantasy.” Like many, I enjoyed the Redwall books as a kid, but I haven’t really thought of them much recently. I appreciated Acks’ reflections on the old series and how they connected Redwall to other series that I’ve paid more attention to.

In the SFF blogosphere, there are many posts listing out different categories or sets of books. Like any good book nerd, I enjoy these posts, although I don’t usually feel a desire to share or re-blog them. This one is an exception: “Queernorm Worlds: 35 Fantasy Books With No Homophobia or Transphobia” by Danika Ellis in Book Riot. Queernorm for the win. That is all.

Speaking of queer and trans things, I enjoyed this discussion with Keffy Kehrli, Joyce Chng, and Charlie Jane Anders on Strange Horizons: “Towards Hope and Inclusivity: A Conversation.”

Podcasts

Lately, I’ve been enjoying Breaking the Glass Slipper, a podcast about women and genre literature. Here are a few episodes in particular that I liked:

I love fiction that engages intelligently with disability. To that end, Our Opinions Are Correct released a good episode about science fiction and disability: Episode 95: Science Fiction Keeps Trying To “Fix” Disabled People.

Relatedly, I enjoyed Episode 181: Playing Blind of Imaginary Worlds, which is about blind people who play video games and about designing accessible video games. Check it out!

I also liked Episode 185: Rerolling Role-Playing Games of Imaginary Worlds, which looks at tabletop role-playing game (TTRPG) systems beyond Dungeons & Dragons as well as issues of representation and marginalization.

TV Shows

Gravity Falls

I watched all of Gravity Falls, a Disney cartoon about two siblings who spend their summer in Gravity Falls, Oregon, a small town filled with the paranormal. I really enjoyed this series. I liked the characters; the series has top-notch weird/paranormal elements; and the series’ plot arc is compelling and relatively sophisticated. If you like cartoons and the weird/paranormal, I highly recommend Gravity Falls. If you’re into just one of those (cartoons or the weird/paranormal), you will probably enjoy this show as well.

Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts

I watched all three seasons of Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, a Netflix cartoon that told a complete story over three seasons. The show takes place after an apocalypse of sorts: a mutation has caused some animals to become intelligent, and some animals to grow to sizes that rival dinosaurs, pushing most of the humans who remain to live underground in burrows. The show follows Kipo, a burrow girl who accidentally gets stuck on the surface. In her quest to get home, she needs to make friends, help foster peace between the competing animal clans on the surface, and face a couple villains.

I especially love Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts for two big reasons.

First, the representation is great. Most of the human characters are Black and/or Asian. The show has satisfying queer representation, and the Black representation extends to the soundtrack. Kipo isn’t a musical (the characters are not constantly singing songs), but it is deeply musical (lots of compelling background music, and the characters will sometimes listen to or play music as well). Much of the show’s music is distinctly hip-hop. It’s really satisfying and enjoyable.

Second, this show has some powerful, beautiful themes. Much like Steven in Steven Universe or Tohru Honda in Fruits Basket, Kipo’s superpower is really her extraordinary empathy and her ability to make peace with and between others. I love it so much.

Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated

I watched Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated. I really enjoyed it, although that’s not to say it’s solidly good. Ultimately, I think this is a show that fails well. Here are some interesting and fun things this show does:

  • It has one primary location: the gang’s hometown of Crystal Cove. The town has a nice cast of recurring characters, including the gang’s parents and Patrick Warburton.
  • It has an overarching plot arc which slowly develops over the two seasons.
  • That primary plot arc features real monsters, not just ordinary humans in masks. (That said, there are plenty of ordinary villains in masks as well.)
  • Fred, Daphne, Velma, and Shaggy all have character and relationship arcs to some degree. They are not wholly static or flat characters.
  • The show has tons of easter eggs that echo back to earlier iterations of the franchise.
  • The show plays around with the classic tropes of the franchise, kind of similar to how Phineas and Ferb is always playing around with its tropes. For instance, each episode features a unique twist on the classic “meddling kids” line, and some episodes really take the whole “pretending to be a monster to get your way” thing to a hilarious extreme.

Some of these bullet points are well-executed. I loved how the overarching plot arc slowly, progressively developed and changed. I really loved how the series played around with the classic tropes and also introduced new elements and concerns.

That said, there’s also a lot of cringe here. Many character moments fell flat, leaving me wondering what the heck the character was really thinking. Certain parts of the overarching plot arc just felt like wrong choices to me. Scooby as a character was underused and underdeveloped.

These cringe-worthy moments did not ruin this series for me. Scooby-Doo is an old, established series, and I really appreciated and enjoyed how this series simultaneously stayed true to the core of the franchise and played around with and modernized the old tropes. This series fails a lot, but it fails really well.

I enjoyed it. I recommend it to other Scooby-Doo fans, and I think it’s paved the way for another, better serialized Scooby-Doo series sometime in the future.


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