It’s been a while… and it’s been quite a year. For now, Malia and Karleen are looking back at their favorite fiction from the past year. Not necessarily the best, but the favorites. In a year like 2016, our comforts and catharsis are all the more important.
Karleen – Mob Psycho 100
I consider Yuri!!! on Ice the anime of the year for strides in sexuality and romance through brilliant writing, but I want to thank MP100 for giving me what I yearned for three years ago from Disney’s Frozen. I wanted to enjoy Frozen‘s fraught relationship between siblings with and without superpowers, but their lack of screentime together and weak writing left me cold. Mob’s guilt over harming Ritsu in the past and Ritsu’s resentment over lack of psychic powers engaged me on their own, but those coming to a head in the larger story made them all the more powerful and touching. All aided by the magnificent artistry of the production, of course.
Malia – Yuri!!! on Ice
I feel a bit at loss as to what to say about Yuri!!! on Ice. I feel most anything I could say would be repetitive or too obvious, good or bad. Some of my own feelings are complicated and could make me go on for pages and pages. (Episode 6 even saved my birthday, airing right after the US election and giving me much needed comfort.) To sum it up: I adored Yuri!!! on Ice. Not every little, gritty bit (like its fat shaming) but I was astounded by its ambitions and the ways it portrayed artistic and competitive drive intertwined with love, and queer romantic love at that! It blew my initial expectations of only being fluff and subtextual fanservice, turning out to still be subtext as fanservice, but also build up to a real, emotionally rich romance. (And yes, I do mean a canon, textual romance.)
Malia – Diary by Chuck Palahniuk (2003)
I didn’t read much after summer unfortunately. Work and school can really get you like that. Oh well. Anyway, I know I said The Rest of Us Just Live Here was my favorite summer book of 2016, and it still lingers deep in my heart but somehow, Diary is the book that I’m still thinking the most about. I’m still mulling over why but I have some ideas. It’s a horror story with some mildly supernatural elements, but its stakes are relatively low and mundane. It plays with the ideas of great pain propelling great art and exploitative systems that are bigger than you can hope to overcome alone. Yet, it’s an oddly hopeful if grim book about survival. It’s also kind of gross, a trademark of Chuck Palahniuk, which can be really hit or miss, but I appreciated the grime here. Maybe not the best book I read but that’s okay. Sometimes favorites are like that.
Karleen – The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan
My favorite book published in 2016… was the only book published in 2016 I read, sorry. After a summer of rereading Percy Jackson and the Olympians and reading The Heroes of Olympus, it was fun to start an incomplete series by Rick Riordan. This first entry in his new Trials of Apollo introduces two themes I’m interested in seeing more of: child abuse and queerness. Deuteragonist Meg’s abuser is fantastical, but the manipulation by a parent figure is all too real. She will surely prove herself to be a hero, as Riordan aims to portray all marginalized people as heroic. This include LGBTQ people, such as Apollo himself whose love for Hyacinth is referenced throughout the book. I can understand not wanting to apply a human sexual orientation to a god, but it is strange to me that Apollo’s son Will and his boyfriend Nico are never referred to as “gay” or otherwise. Nonetheless, the positive inclusion of LGBTQ youth in a middle grade book is a pleasure.
Karleen – Voltron: Legendary Defender
In a market saturated with uninspired reboots, the new Voltron series impressed me. Legendary Defender notably incorporates elements from the Beast King Golion series the original Voltron: Defender of the Universe was cobbled from in the 1980s, unlike past reboots in the franchise. Even as someone previously unfamiliar with Voltron, I appreciate the inclusion of GoLion considering how often anime’s influence on Western media can be erased. Besides that, the lovable characters and gorgeous production drew me in after a few episodes that simultaneously felt too fast and too slow. The lack of a single protagonist emphasizes the theme of teamwork and allows for shared focus on the characters, and I hope for equal development in the upcoming second season.
Karleen – Jughead
What a surprise, since I’ve already written about my love for the Jughead run by Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson. Now I can say that Ryan North and Derek Charm’s turn with series is just as entertaining and charming. North’s sense of humor lends itself to the wackiness of Jughead and works off what Zdarsky established, all while feeling like its own work. Although the “new Riverdale” line of Archie reboots began as a more realistic take on its universe, Jughead #9 to 11 reintroduce Sabrina Spellman and her magical powers. Some covers of these issues imply a romance between Jughead and Sabrina, when their rocky road to friendship is the real treat.
Malia – Snotgirl
I don’t really read many print comics besides manga, mainly because of many issues with its accessibility (both economic and narratively) but mainly boiling down to cost and the difficulty of keeping up with them. But I really liked Scott Pilgrim and I love Leslie Hung’s artwork, so of course I was going to check out Snotgirl. And wow! I still need to get my hands on issue #5 but I’m so into everything about this comic. The art, the vague (accidental) murder mystery, the very relevant but not too try hard humor, the messy emotional struggles of Lottie trying to hold onto her self-made identity as a beloved fashion blogger. It’s all so…delicious, sort of reminiscent of when I read Gossip Girl as a teen, but way, way better. It’s an original property too which makes it that much easier to dive into.
Malia – Shimanami Tasogare by Yuhki Kamatani (2015-)
Karleen is the one who got me to read Nabari no Ou about a couple of years ago and now Shimanami Tasogare. And thank goodness for that because otherwise I would be missing out on probably one of the most beautiful and moving stories on LGBTQ+ issues. It’s full of harsh frankness and tender compassion, more akin to Moonlight than Yuri!!! on Ice. (This isn’t to say it’s Moonlight 2.0. I feel that within the past few years, we’ve been seeing a lot more different kinds of LGBTQ+ themed storytelling from different places and people gaining more exposure.) The art alone would warrant a high recommendation, but its lush, meticulous imagery works so wonderfully in tandem with its words to convey the mixed experiences of LGBTQ+ people. It’s always lovely to see a story that’s not only meant to educate allies but also to empathize with the marginalized, and to do it so well. I’m so excited to see more of in the coming year, even with its slow update schedule.
Karleen – Shimanami Tasogare
Another surprise, since I already included this manga in a panel about the author’s body of work. I was aware when Shimanami Tasogare began serialization in 2015, but I didn’t see full chapters until I got the first volume for Christmas that year. Even with my limited knowledge of Japanese, I knew it was special and fell in love with the upfront depiction of LGBTQ folk through stunning art. It wasn’t until spring of 2016 I could fully understand and appreciate it through fan translations. Shimanami aims partially to be informational and while it may come across as “preachy,” I believe that element is as worthwhile as the coming-of-age story. Learning goes hand-in-hand with growing up, doesn’t it? I admire how this education comes through the perspective of a cisgender gay boy, rather than a cisgender and straight ally, to show that everyone has more to learn about LGBTQ issues.
Karleen – Arrival
Amy Adams starring in science fiction is all I needed to know to be interested in Arrival, but there’s much more going for it. I admire when a story involving world-shattering events focuses on a personal fragment such as this, an individual linguist’s place in the midst of alien first contact. The film also focuses on its conceptual take on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (also known as linguistic relativity), rather than impossibly cramming in as many branches of linguistics as possible. I don’t expect Arrival to lead to more linguistics-based movies in the mainstream, but I’m glad this one exists.
Malia – Moonlight
What can I say about Moonlight that hasn’t already been said? I know this film has been hyped to hell and back, but it really deserves every compliment. I saw a lot of great, even fantastic movies this year, especially within the past couple of months but for me, Moonlight outshines them all. It’s the one that’s stuck with me the most and has become an all time favorite of mine, not just a best of 2016. What struck me the most is the quiet kindness it shows its characters, even in depicting pain and violence. I cried multiple times just over how kind it was and how it subverted my fears of splashing pain for pain’s sake onto the screen. Moonlight achieves an incredible universality through honest specificity and I think seeing this film made me a better person.
Malia – Hamilton: An American Musical (2015)
So I only listened to Hamilton around February. Anyway, it’s another “What is there to say about [x]?” A lot, positive, negative, and mixed, all valid. We’re at a time where many right now (if not already) are looking back on America with skepticism and fear, and rightfully so. Fundamentally, Hamilton is a story about the greatness of America and its promise of a meritocracy, which is a premise I find flawed at best. However, its execution is beautiful, moving, and unique. Hamilton, for me, was about a lot of things. It depicted nuanced, flawed, and triumphant characters of color. It deconstructed the politics of respectability. It explored the flawed and important complexities of history and storytelling. It showed the work to make forgiveness and hope real. (Also my favorite character is Eliza.)
Karleen – Lady of the Shard by Gigi D.G.
I’m not good at reading and keeping up with webcomics, so of course I enjoyed a one-shot the most. Lady of the Shard exemplifies the unique potentials of Internet media, from the full story being available at once (for free!) to the artistic format. Scrolling down a full screen decorated with delicate lines on solid color demands your attention and envelopes you in the wonderful story. Like His Face All Red by Emily Carroll, another favorite of mine, but longer. I could say more, but I think its best to read this comic in one go knowing little beforehand to be as engrossed as possible.
Here’s to more great fiction in 2017!