MS FLEMING: “Veronica? Jason Dean told me you just committed suicide!”
VERONICA: “Yeah? Well, he’s wrong about a lot of things.”
MS FLEMING: “Oh… I threw together a lovely tribute, especially on such short notice…”
–“Dead Girl Walking (Reprise)”
After writing a post a while ago on how media consistently screws up its depictions of mental illness and suicide, I got to thinking – are there any examples of media that does the depictions right?
And ruminating on it a bit, I came to the conclusion that a great piece of media that does discuss both of these topics in a way that is constructive without glorifying either is the musical “Heathers.” And since it’s musical month, what better time is there to talk about it?
The following is kind of an experimental type of blog post. I’m not sure how often I’ll do this sort of thing – but this particular topic felt like it needed to be written in a more narrative style than I would normally use on this blog. It just all sort of came together this way. I hope you all enjoy something a little different.
It’s the end of senior year, so as befits my position as someone on their way out from… basically everything, really, it feels like I’ve been going through lasts at the speed of sound. Last marching season gave way to last semester of high school gave way to last jazz season gave way to last band concert and on and on and on ad nauseam. But I mean, it is my last year, so it makes sense that along with that would come a cornucopia of other lasts.
This week was yet another last for me: my last production week on the school’s newspaper, the Hilite. Like every other production week for me, it included coming in early to the newspaper room every morning to make changes to my spreads, copy-editing other spreads, and tweaking and re-tweaking every aspect of my pages until everything looked perfect for our Friday deadline. Unlike every other production week, however, I also was responsible for mentoring next year’s two new Perspectives editors as they learned the ropes and prepared for taking over my position next year.
Mentoring them reminded me of how I felt in their position next year, and it’s made me reflect on what this newspaper has been for me over the years. So because this blog has been an outlet for my nostalgia lately, I’m gonna talk about it.
Newspaper was the one thing I was sure I was going to be a part of, even before I started high school. Writing has always kind of been my thing, you know, and I thought newspaper would be the best way to put my skills into practice. Of course, like most things, I was horribly misinformed on what exactly being on staff of the Hilite would entail, but it didn’t matter at all my freshman year since I had no room in my schedule for the prerequisite class.
I was devastated by this, by the way. I was assured I would be able to take the prerequisite as a sophomore and join staff as a junior just fine, but I felt like that would paint a big fat target on my forehead that I didn’t really care about the newspaper or something. I think not joining staff my sophomore year like most people did did affect my time on the staff negatively in the beginning, but I also feel like my stress regarding this fact was increased a bit by the fact I was just overall stressed about my high school schedule.
Still, I eventually did take the prerequisite, and it was one of my favorite classes. Our advisor, Mr. Streisel, had a way of teaching that made me feel very capable of all of the aspects of media. The fact that I wasn’t great at the graphic or design portions of the class didn’t bother me at all. I knew for certain I was going to be a reporter and only a reporter once I joined staff, so there was no need for me to worry about photography or graphic design. I was a writer. It was what I was good at, and there was no need for me to diversify my talents.
And then I actually joined staff. And that idea very quickly vanished. My first few weeks on staff involved me sitting at a computer with the creeping feeling that I had no idea what I was doing and everyone else did. Everyone else seemed to have a purpose, a job, and I was just sitting there, twiddling my thumbs. My title was listed as “Feature reporter,” but I didn’t get a story assignment there for a few issues.
So, on a whim, I attended the planning meeting, known as a maestro, for Perspectives, the opinion section of the paper. I took with me two carefully researched column ideas and got to engage in several debates about the topics of all the columns going into that particular issue. In the frenzy, I received my very first Perspectives assignment, a column addressing the then-viral video “Dear Fat People,” where some JennaMarbles wannabe insulted fat people for eight minutes under the guise of “concern for their health.”
Getting my first assignment was one of the most beautiful things that had ever happened to me. Suddenly I had a purpose on staff, something to do while everyone else was working. I did exhaustive research and put a ton of time and effort into my very first column. And then, when it was published, I floated on air.
Since then, I’ve written a few regular articles but mostly my time on the Hilite has been spent dedicated to the opinion section of the newspaper. I found a lot of joy and purpose in taking part in these discussions. So, by the end of my first year on staff, I was encouraged by the current Perspectives editor to apply for her job. So… I did.
Being a Perspectives editor was great in a lot of ways, for sure. I loved being able to lead the discussions that I took such joy in taking part in as a reporter. I loved enabling others to speak out on their opinions. But, there were aspects of the job I didn’t quite love too.
See, I came on staff to write, but I quickly found out that being an editor meant not a lot of writing. More often it meant making graphics and designs, and for a while I felt like I’d made a mistake.
But then, partly spurred on by necessity (deadlines continued to loom no matter how confident I felt about them) I started to get used to the graphics and design aspect of my job. Towards the end I even started to enjoy it. (I’m not much of an artist, but tracing things in Adobe Illustrator is actually really calming).
And that’s really, in a nutshell, what Hilite was for me. Something unexpected, different than what I thought it was going to be. It always challenged me to try new things, and think of myself in ways I never could before. When I joined staff, I was intent on writing and only writing, staying quietly behind the lines and doing work every so often. When I left staff, I was an editor, mainly responsible for design, doing constant work every month.
Even more importantly, Hilite opened my eyes to the idea of journalism. I always sort of knew I wanted to write someday, and had considered journalism, but the idea had never been solid and real until I spent time on staff. It’s the reason I’m going to study journalism at IU next year. It opened the door for me to be an Ernie Pyle scholar… and sure, it was stressful and frustrating a lot of times. But I’m so thankful for it.
I’m going to miss it.
When I started this blog on January 1st of this year, I made a promise to myself that I would post something new to this blog every single Sunday. As of now, April 23rd, I have yet to break this promise to myself. I don’t plan on breaking this promise to myself, either.
Less ingrained into this goal, however, is that every Sunday post be well-thought-out and carefully written. Ideally, every week I would be churning out excellent new ideas or posts that took lots of time and energy to compile.
But listen, I’m gonna be honest here. This week and next week are gonna be… kind of crazy. I already have a pretty low-effort high-quality idea for next week, but as for this week I was kind of at a lost.
And so, I decided that for today I am going to kick back, relax, and talk about something I really love. And I figured, why not make this a thing? I think the idea of having a series of posts that involve me just talking about something I really love might be a good thing. This won’t be a review, especially since I haven’t really watched this anime in a while. I’m not gonna go too horribly deep into analysis, and there certainly isn’t going to be much constructive criticism. No deep life meaning will be drawn. You and I are just going to get excited about this anime together.
Thus, for weeks like these when I don’t have much time to get too critical, I’ll post one of these “Gushing About…” posts. Maybe it’ll be an anime, like today, or a band or artist, or a TV show or book or movie or… gosh, anything really.
I should say firsthand that I’m probably going to be too worried about spoiling anything – although, honestly, in this anime there’s not much to spoil.
“Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-Kun”, known in English as “Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun”, and hereafter referred to as GSNK to save my fingers, is a shoujo slice-of-life anime centering on the life of a high school student named Sakura Chiyo. At the beginning of the series, Sakura has just made up her mind to confess her love for her fellow classmate Nozaki Umetarou. In true shoujo style, she looks into the mirror, fluffs her cute red ribbons, pats down her uniform skirt, and marches into the classroom. Nozaki stands alone there, lit only by the fading orange sunset outside. Sakura steps over to him, takes a deep breath and stammers out her confession, cheeks red and blushing. Then, silence. She waits for Nozaki to speak, everything hinging on his reply…
…And Nozaki hands her his autograph.
While, yes, GSNK is a shoujo anime, and unapologetically so, from the very first scene you get the feeling it’s self aware. The humor is all exactly like this. It sets up like a stereotypical high school romance would, but the charm of the series is how it breaks these stereotypes in absurd ways.
If you’re wondering, the reason Nozaki gives Sakura his autograph is very simple! While he seems like a regular high school student, he’s actually incredibly popular shoujo manga artist Yumeno Sakiko, an artist praised for “her” incredible knowledge of the hearts of high school girls. In reality, though, Nozaki wouldn’t know love if it kicked him in the face. He’s far more interested in creating shoujo manga as an art, and he devotes much of his life to people-watching and observing the world around him as inspiration for the next installment of his popular manga series.
Nozaki, still under the impression that Sakura is a big fan of his manga, invites her over to his apartment and has her help him ink his art, and thus, the over-arching motif of the series begins. Nozaki has a habit of employing his friends into helping him meet his deadlines for his manga, and as the series progresses, the cast of characters who find themselves at Nozaki’s, helping him put in backgrounds or do screentones or draw effects grows steadily. At the same time, the series focuses on the lives of these high schoolers, and their relationships with one another.
I think the best part of GSNK is the strength of these characters. As I mentioned before, the series is well aware of the trappings of its genre, and plays with the stereotypes in a way that makes it both familiar and entirely unique.
Sakura fits the bill as a shoujo heroine to a T – she’s cute and tiny, she has her signature polka-dot bows, and she’s motivated by, among other things, an unabiding passionate crush on her fellow classmate. But at the same time, Sakura often plays the straight man in much of the humor. And while, yes, her love of Nozaki is often played for laughs, it’s pretty clear that she’s well aware of his shortcomings. She’s often the first one to groan at his naivete, or crack sarcastic jokes about his obsessive tendencies.
And on top of that, Nozaki is far from your typical shoujo romantic interest. He is decidedly masculine-looking, but he’s not even remotely charming. He’s obsessively focused on his work. (In fact, his relationship with his characters in his manga is perhaps one of the most relatable things I’ve ever seen in any show ever. You truly do become both malevolent god and doting parent to your characters…) He’s deadpan and rather stupid, and yet… Sakura loves him anyway. And for his part, while he obviously doesn’t understand her, he definitely respects her and relies on her.
While Sakura does do some pining, the two of them actually spend a lot of time together, and seem to be pretty close. Most of the time, Sakura and Nozaki make a pretty good team, and many of their scenes together don’t have to rely on the romantic tension to be funny. (Consider the iconic scene, pictured above, where they both forget their umbrellas and have to make a mad dash home – shielded by Nozaki’s school jacket. It’s definitely not played up romantically, but it is hilarious.)
The supporting cast of this anime also shines, although my favorite duo is absolutely Seo Yuzuki and Wakamatsu Hirotaka. Seo is Sakura’s best friend, and simultaneously the tough girl delinquent and a musical genius with a voice like an angel. What more can be said about her other than that she’s hilarious and the queen of my heart? Not much… well, except for her adorably hilarious relationship with her underclassman, Waka.
The dynamic between the two of them is sadly ironic – see, Wakamatsu is a first year basketball player who is constantly tormented by Seo, who often stands in and helps with the boys’ basketball rehearsals. His anxiety over these encounters leads to insomnia, to the point where there is only one thing that can lull him to sleep… a recording of Seo’s beautiful singing.
Of course, he doesn’t know the recording (which he got from Nozaki), is Seo. And Seo doesn’t know the effect her voice has on him. And so these two dance around each other, constantly coming close but never quite figuring out how intertwined their lives are. It’s frustrating but it’s also hilarious and is probably my favorite part of the whole series.
Not to be outdone, the princely Kashima Yuu and her harem of devoted fangirls is constantly amusing, topped only by her relationship with the tragically short Hori Masayuki. They’re both excellent actors who love and respect each others’ craft, but they can never quite see eye to eye (both literally and figuratively). The audience is left somewhat to wonder whether what these two have is romance… or a rivalry… or just a really weird friendship? Who knows? Probably not even them.
And of course I can’t forget Mikoshiba Mikoto, or “Mikorin” to his friends. He just doesn’t fit as well into a pairing as the other characters, but that’s a point I’ll get back to in a second.
Mikorin looks to be your stereotypical pretty boy cool guy “every girl loves him” type. Which is… true. Except Mikorin is also incredibly socially anxious, and often deeply embarrasses himself with the flirty things he tells girls. He’s far more comfortable playing otome games, and yet, regardless, he gets roped into spending time with his adoring fangirls anyway. There’s something very relatable in his endless cycle of shallow confidence and self-loathing, and he’s a loveable character for sure. (Plus, he’s excellent at drawing flowers for Nozaki’s manga and I’m SO JEALOUS ABOUT THAT MIKORIN TEACH ME HOW!!!)
But this brings me back to my last point in this (unintentionally very long) tirade. Yes, Mikorin doesn’t fit into a pairing quite as easily as the other characters do and yet… it doesn’t matter? One of the things I really appreciate about GSNK is the amount of time it spends developing not just the main pairings. It’s easy to throw together Nozaki and Sakura, Seo and Wakamatsu, and Hori and Kashima because their relationships are, well, ships. But there’s also great stuff between Seo and Sakura, whose yin and yang friendship is too precious. Wakamatsu looks up to Nozaki as a senpai, and often goes to him for advice. Kashima and Mikorin are rivals turned best friends! Sakura and Seo try to teach Kashima how to sing! Nozaki writes scripts for Hori!
While, yes, GSNK is a silly anime, it’s a silly anime with a lot of heart. It cares about its characters, and it expects the audience to as well. It’s legitimately funny, and smart, and basically the only anime that’s had me hurting from laughing so hard. Do yourself a favor and watch it. (And campaign with me for a season 2 because the manga has SO MUCH MORE CONTENT that would be INCREDIBLE animated so COME ON!!)
Anyway, thank you for indulging me in this… oh god, nearly 1,700 word rant about this anime. We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled quality content next week, I promise.
I recently stumbled upon a YouTube series that, I’m gonna be honest, kind of made me upset. I’m not gonna name any names or talk about any specifics because I don’t really want this to sound like I want people to go and send this guy hate, but I’m sure you could probably find him just based on what I talk about here. Just don’t be dumb, I guess is all I’m saying.
But anyway, the series involves this guy browsing Deviantart and “critiquing” the fanart and Original Character (OC) art he finds there. He presents it as a service, a “what not to do” of sorts for creating art and OCs.
The points he makes are legitimate, I guess, but the biggest problem I have with it is it all seems way too obvious. It seems like he picks the art that is absolutely bottom-of-the-barrel rainbow pastel Sonic OCs done by young people. The critique he gives is repetitive and completely useless and unhelpful for anyone old enough to be watching his channel. Plus, even if the person watching was young enough to not be able to guess the obvious flaws he finds, he offers no real alternatives or suggestions to improve.
Lemme give you an example.
Here’s a screenshot of one of the pieces this guy critiques (with all identifying names blocked out, of course). To you and to me, this character is obviously not a very well designed character. The colors are vibrant and clashing, the body parts are a mishmash of different ideas with no real purpose, and overall too much is going on to get any sort of clear image of what this character is meant to be. Tack on the obvious use of MS Paint and the subject matter of a Sonic OC and you’ve got yourself the most textbook “twelve-year-old who has just figured out how the internet works tries to create their own **super cool** character and falls flat” ever.
It’s so easy to criticize this piece of art because everything wrong with it is glaringly obvious. Even someone not familiar with internet culture, specifically Deviantart culture, would probably be able to tell that this is not a picture of a “good”, fully realized character.
But you know what? That doesn’t matter. At all.
I speak as someone who was that twelve-year-old when I say this, while kind of embarrassing and definitely not too fun to look at, this kind of terrible art is ultimately a good thing. So this kind of critique is not only so obvious that it’s completely useless, it is harmful and impedes a very natural creative process.
I guarantee you, nobody in the history of the universe sat down to create their very first character, their very first story, their very first piece of art, and made a masterpiece. There’s this myth that pervades in a lot of creative circles that artists and writers and musicians and the like are what they are because of some natural talent or affinity for their craft. That’s… just not true.
Sure, there are people out there who are naturally gifted, but natural talent alone can’t carry anyone to success. There’s a correlation between natural talent and success (probably because having an affinity for something makes it more fun and therefore a motivator to practice that something more), but it doesn’t directly cause it.
For my own personal example, I am a writer. But that’s not really because I was born with a pen in my hand (or keyboard, preferably), it’s because I write… a lot. Every day, really. This blog, poetry, prose… I write constantly.
And the reason why I write so much is because when I was young I idolized authors and I wanted to be one, so I sat down and I wrote. I wrote garbage.
The very first novel I ever wrote was plotless hogwash, a fanfiction of a show I was really into at the time with the names changed. The characters were flat and uninteresting and the story did nothing and went nowhere. And yet, I wouldn’t change a single bit of it if I had to go back.
Why? Well, because, at the time, that awful, horrible novel was something I was really proud of. It was an accomplishment. It was written in a month for NaNoWriMo, it was 50,000 words long, and I really poured my heart and soul into it. I loved those flat characters. I desperately wanted to tell that uninteresting story. It was my first foray into writing for the fun of it, writing because I loved it, writing not because I thought I was great at it, but because it was something that spoke to me.
It was bad, but it inspired me to keep going, to keep improving. It showed me that I was capable of making myself into one of those authors I looked up to. It’s a big reason of why I’m here today, writing this blog, writing every day. It’s the reason I’m… admittedly, pretty good at this whole writing thing.
So that’s why when I see people try and put down these young creators for making less-than-perfect art, it makes me really sad. I was really lucky to be surrounded by an accepting, loving community of people both online and offline who celebrated the art I created, even when it was bad. Now that I’m older I understand what made those early writings so terrible, and I’m mature enough (mostly) to take critique and use it to improve. But when I was younger and filled with idealism and passion, hearing the kind of snide remarks this youtuber makes would have destroyed me. I was just figuring out that creativity was possible for me, so I was miles away from understanding that I could also work to improve the things I made. I would have taken these condescending statements as unchangeable fact, and I would have given up.
So, let young creators make these mistakes. Let them create flat, pastel rainbow vomit characters and MS Paint Sonic OCs. Let them create two-dimensional worlds that exist only in the space of one month and 50,000 words. Because someday those creators will grow up, and they’ll understand just fine that they weren’t born gifted. But with the proper support and encouragement, they’ll become so.
For the last week, I, like the rest of the population of Carmel, Indiana, spent my Spring Break in sunny Florida. As with every year, it was a week of good food, relaxation, shopping, and music. And it is with that last aspect that I come to you to today. Here’s a quick little review of my Spring Break in the songs I listened to.
It’s a Spring Break tradition for all of the members of my family to choose songs and compete to see whose song shows up the most on the radio on our drive down to Florida. My pick this year was Lorde’s newest track, the dynamic and beautiful “Green Light”. I actually talked about it a bit in my Women in Music post, but it’s so good it deserves me discussing it again. I’ve been a fan of Lorde since she first popped into the scene in 2013 and her sound has only gotten better since then – more mature and emotional without losing that simultaneously real and artsy view on the world.
It didn’t really… win our annual competition, but I contend it won a moral victory, since I picked it out of pure love. (And the winner was my Mom, who picked some awful ZAYN/Taylor Swift song she didn’t even like…)
Dad didn’t win the competition with this pick either, by the way. But still, whenever it came on, despite the anger at seeing my dad get a point, it was immediately mollified because gosh do I ever love this song. Listen, I know I’m a hipster, and this isn’t the sort of music you’d expect me to love, but listen to me… Bruno Mars transcends genre with his charm. He’s just such a good dancer, and his voice is beautiful, and his songs are always so fun and danceable… and yeah, this music video makes me grin like an idiot whenever I watch it, what of it? I know all the lyrics to this song and belt it whenever it comes on, so? I guarentee there’s not a sane person in this world who would disagree with me.
Still, even as we’re competing for glory with our own picks, we always discover a few new favorites on the road trip down to Florida, and here’s the first of the few I’ll mention here.
It’s always nice to hear new songs from old favorite bands, and Bleachers didn’t disappoint with this summery track. I can practically picture a scene from a saturated teen romance movie set to this song. Not to cheapen the impact of the emotional strength of this song, of course, but it’s a good time.
And speaking of old favorite bands, there is no older favoriter band out there than Gorillaz for me. Gorillaz is basically the reason I have the music taste I do today (long story short, I thought the idea of a band of cartoon characters was the coolest thing ever when I was in middle school, which led to me becoming obsessed with their, erm, eclectic discography).
The car ride to Florida was not the first time I’ve heard this track off of their upcoming album, “Humanz”, but it was when this song really started to gel with me. I’ve never really thought of Gorillaz as the sort of band that makes perfect sense on the very first listen, but rather takes a few listens to fully grasp the concept of this song, and this one is no different. It’s definitely very bubblegum in its optimism, but that’s honestly one of its best features. It’s happy and hopeful and unashamed of neither of these facts, and that’s refreshing in a world of cynicism and criticism. The only issue with this song is its criminally short. Just a bit over two minutes…. give me more!
Now, I have a confession to make. It’s a personal tradition that every spring break, I pick an artist I like and familiarize myself with their entire discography over the course of the week. In years past, this has been very successful (three years ago, it was Arctic Monkeys, two years ago it was Walk the Moon, and last year it was Saint Motel, all incredible bands I love). And I have loved everything I’ve heard from Vienna, (I talked about her in my Women in Music post as well, actually), but I unfortunately only had time this break to listen to one of her albums all the way through.
I absolutely intend to listen to everything of hers, and I’ll do a post on my favorite tracks of hers once I do, but as a nice little sneak preview, I want to share this incredibly haunting track off of “Inland Territory”, the album I listened to. This song is very different from the rest of the songs on this list, because it’s quiet and pensive and honestly… kind of creepy. But this is what I love about Vienna – she’s a storyteller. This song tells the story of mankind’s folly in the eyes of some sort of ancient power – a Gaia or a Cthulhu or something of the like. The quiet, withheld power of this song illustrates the dormant power of the narrator perfectly to a listener, and the lyrics are beautifully and terrifyingly written. I’m a huge fan.
But hey, it wasn’t just old favorite artists and bands returning for a glory lap this Spring Break, there were some new favorites too! My dad and I had a field day with the band name of this artist (Why the random period? What does it mean?), but neither of us could deny how gosh darn catchy this song is. It’s bouncy and driving and gets lodged in your head and tortures you for weeks at a time. It’s driven by a simple beat, and that’s all it needs to get rolling and never stop. I’m obsessed. Give it a listen.
A song that got a surprising amount of airtime this break despite being by a band I’ve never heard of before, I nonetheless came to really enjoy this song. It’s calm and atmospheric, and undoubtedly pleasant. I can’t say I see much in the future for this band, since they sound exactly like about fifteen other alt bands, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy this pretty track.
And we return to an old favorite band. Oh Glass Animals, how you continue to amaze me with the weird stuff you can pull in your songs and totally get away with it. And yeah, this song is weird, from title to sound effects to lyrics, but there’s a strange sort of method to the madness. If you look into the lyrics (beyond the obvious nonsense lyrics), you’ll find a surprisingly tragic and poignant look into the decay of a once loving relationship. Perhaps the odd and nonsensical nature of this song plays to the idea that when relationships decay, it can seem chaotic and may make no sense? Or maybe I’m being too analytical about this fun song. Ah well.
One of these things is not like the others~ yeah, okay, I couldn’t talk about my spring break without mentioning the solid amount of 50s hits I listened to in my Grandma’s car. She always cracked jokes and apologized about forcing me to listen to her music, but hey, it’s kind of fun. I am a fan of all things vintage, even if that’s not necessarily the music. But it’s hard not to remember super, uh, unique songs like this one, and it sparked some interesting conversation with my Grandma about the nature of music throughout generations as we looked for thread to match my prom dress at the craft store. She and I might not see eye to eye regarding music, but no genre or generation of music will ever be perfect – all have their duds along with their masterpieces. So it’s pointless to be an elitist to someone else for liking a different type of music than you.
(Also, I think this song is funny, and it’s the only one I remembered the title of, to be honest.)
So there you go, a little auditory taste of my spring break. I hope everyone is returning from their breaks relaxed and rejuvenated, and even if that’s not the case, I hope some of these songs can help do the trick.