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“The Handmaids Tale” from a Muslim Feminist Perspective

I first watched the trailer on the same day the first episode aired and was instantly intrigued. The history buff inside me initially took it as a historical series due to Elizabeth Moss’s hood and petticoat. As the video went on I realized that the plot was much more complicated than meets the eye.

Of course, this was all happening in the middle of finals week, so I decided to postpone watching the series until after my exams were done; until then I did a reasonable amount of research. To be brutally honest: prior to watching the promo, I had never heard of  Margaret Atwood’s feminist novel. The plot immediately blew me away—set in New England, a Christian fundamentalist group overthrows the U.S. government, replacing the Constitution with a very strict, Puritan-esqe version of the Bible.  Bit by bit modern working women are stripped of their jobs, bank accounts, and identities. They are reduced to their fertility and levels of obedience. The fertile ones become “handmaids” forced to bear children for the new society’s elite and their barren wives.

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When The Wrong Mans Do the Right Thing

The Wrong MansThere’s a certain kind of character everyone loves to hate: the supposedly average person who gets thrown into a terrible situation and suddenly becomes unrealistically good at everything he or she needs to do to save the day. Fanfiction writers call the female version “Mary Sue” and her male equivalent “Marty Sam” or “Gary Stu.” Of course, there are plenty of real-world instances of ordinary people doing extraordinary things in extraordinary circumstances, but most people tend to panic in an emergency. Mary Sues are annoying because they ignore that reality. (And having purple hair, wilver eyes, and a fake Japanese name doesn’t help, either.)

Occasionally, however, a writer will turn that trope on its head to great effect. And that’s exactly what actors/writers Mathew Baynton and James K. Corden have done in their action-comedy The Wrong Mans, available in the US on Hulu. Even the title is a twist on Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man, and the first season’s tagline pretty well sets the tone of the series: “Danger called. They happened to answer.”

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Astronomical: How Sailor Moon’s Reboot Improves on the Original

Can I admit something to you?

I really didn’t care for Sailor Moon as a kid.

SMC-640x426And being a girl who grew up in the ’90s, that’s a hard thing for me to admit. Most of my pals who had a fair share of animation adoration (and even those who didn’t) had a special place in their heart for the series.

I tried to like Sailor Moon, believe me. And looking back now, I can see why I kept on watching, and why all my friends loved it. The show about a troupe of magical teen girls, led by our main character Usagi (or Serena in the U.S. version), who can transform into the beautiful Sailor Scouts, all represented by a planet in the solar system. These Sailor Scouts, use their powers to save the world from the dark grasp of the villainous Queen Beryl. You have it all there: magic, secret powers, and girls near our own age. It had the makings to be something great. And in Japan, it was.

The original series in Japan, Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, received lots of acclaim and was even said to have revitalized the magical girl genre in both the manga and animation world. The manga won the Kodansha Manga Award in 1993 for shōjo and the show was said to be popular with girls because our heroines were using their power to save people, not just to have fun or play tricks, which was popular in other similar shows at the time.

Screen Shot 2014-07-20 at 4.08.11 PMBut then DiC picked it up and tried to air it in America. And if people my age remember anything of what the TV landscape looked like in the early 1990s, we remember that what sold was often boxed in ‘80s packaging, with bright neon colors, some shoddy fight scenes, and a moral at the end of every story. Basically, if it wasn’t  “Saved by the Bell,” “Power Rangers,” or the like, it wasn’t selling.

So, though I don’t doubt them, it’s easy to see that DiC did their best to try to sell the Sailor Scouts — they added in gimmicky lessons at the end, awful Power Ranger-esque dialogue during fight scenes, and animation scenes more reused than a hipster’s mason jar collection.

The show also ran into some cultural barriers as well.  Scenes of near nudity, an implied lesbian relationship, and that infamous transformation scene all caused major controversial edits to be made to make the show “suitable for younger viewers.” But I also felt like something else was edited out: the fact that these girls were supposed to be heroes. I felt like Serena cried a lot, whined, and generally made life hard for all of the other Sailor Scouts until she was saved by the mysterious male lead, Tuxedo Mask.

Basically, it just felt like a bit of a letdown when a big battle would be about to take place, and Serena would run away and leave Tuxedo Mask to take care of most of the dirty work. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to like it so very badly, but at the end of the day I’d end up rotting my brains out to Cowboy Bebop instead.

Screen Shot 2014-07-20 at 2.42.54 PMAnd I finished the series, but after that, I left the Sailor Scouts behind. I saw that several other series followed it, Sailor Moon S and Sailor Moon SuperS (as well as some films), so it must’ve still been doing well. But when Hulu started streaming the unedited series back in June, I watched a few episodes, and it wasn’t awful. I still didn’t really care for Serena, but it was more tolerable.

But then, two weeks ago, Hulu also started streaming the brand new Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Crystal. And I decided to give it a go. It was hands-down one of the best animation choices I made this year (next to buying a Wacom and watching “Attack on Titan”) and I could not be happier with it.

First of all, it looks gorgeous. From the opening scene of the first episode you can practically hear creator Naoko Takeuchi yelling, “I take this seriously and so should you!” The animation is nearly flawless and crafted with such a light, careful hand — I can’t help but just watch it to stare at the craftsmanship.

Screen Shot 2014-07-20 at 2.43.10 PMBut I also noticed something in the opening credits, the new theme song includes the lines, “We are not helpless girls/Who need men’s protection.” Now those are some big claims. And as I continued to watch the first two episodes (the third will be up next week), I think they’re going to keep their promise. Now sure, the show does not come without its problems.

It follows the manga more closely, which is nice, though a little too narratively tight at times for my taste. And Serena (now back to her original name, Usagi) is definitely still a teenager who is pegged immediately as popular and ditzy — but she wants to fight, she just doesn’t know how to use her powers yet. And once the other guardians are located and join the team, I can only see character growth coming our way. And I keep thinking this might just be the show I longed for when I was a young girl watching anime shows where, most of the time, guys got the save the day.

So, if you are like me, if you gave up on Sailor Moon all those years ago — or maybe you didn’t, maybe you stuck it out and are a die-hard fan — you’ll love this new installment. Even if you aren’t particularly into animation, the artwork is definitely worth an episode or two of your time.

The episodes are available for streaming on both Hulu and Crunchyroll. So in the name of the Moon, get to watching!

 

The Best Show You Might Not Be Watching: The Goldbergs

For those of you in need of something to watch, let me do my best to enlighten you.  I’ll start by mentioning that “Complete Works,” which I wrote about last week, came out

The Goldbergs
The Goldbergs

today on Hulu.  But for those of you in need of more than one comedy to binge on, check out “The Goldbergs” on ABC.  The show follows Adam Goldberg and his affectionately dysfunctional family in America’s most hilarious decade: the ’80s.  The newly released sitcom (still in season 1) is reminiscent of several other fairly recent comedies that revolve around the American middle-class family.  The ones that immediately come to mind are the Emmy/Golden Globe nominated Malcolm in the Middle and the charmingly nostalgic, critically acclaimed show, The Wonder Years.  Add in some heart and a tasteful amount of ’80s nostalgia/parody and you end up with a superbly watchable sitcom.

I am always surprised at how few of my friends and colleagues are watching “The Goldbergs.”  The show is already receiving high praise (and not just from me), so start catching up!