It’s that time of year again. Karleen and Malia have rounded up their favorite (not necessarily the best) media of the year enough times now it officially has its own tag: Favorites of the Year.
Karleen – Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe
Dirty Computer marks Janelle Monáe’s first album outside her Metropolis series in over a decade. Instead of the messianic android Cindi Meyweather of Metropolis, she plays the imprisoned android Jane 57821. They may or may not take place in the same universe, but they use the same metaphor of robots as the oppressed. Here, androids deemed “dirty” are forced into amnesia as a means of repair. Jane is just a malfunctioning robot; but her allusions to current events, Black American culture, and queer sexuality tell a different story. The accompanying “emotion picture” of interlaced music videos adds a must-watch narrative of resilience and polyamorous romance.
Karleen – Devilman Crybaby
Back in 2016 I said I distinguish between “Anime of the Year” and my personal favorite show, but in this case Devilman Crybaby is both. A deep understanding of Devilman and openness to change it resulted in an anime that embodies the year 2018, from incorporation of technology to social issues at the forefront, which makes it the ideal adaptation in my eyes. It’s not without flaws but the bond between Akira and Ryo, compassion for the Mikis, violently unhinged animation, profound metaphor for demonization, and chilling art direction will stay with me forever. It may be my favorite anime ever now.
Malia – Devilman Crybaby
What a way to ring in 2018 this was. I’ve seen some true treasures of anime this year but nothing quite blew me away as Devilman Crybaby. As someone who’s been a fan of the original manga for years and had always lamented the lack of an animated adaptation that covered the full story from beginning to end, I desperately wanted this series to just at least be decent. I’m so grateful for not only having my wish granted beyond my expectations, but to have a series that showed me the possibilities of adaptation and modernization (compared to stiffer, less ambitious efforts like Parasyte -the maxim- and Banana Fish).
Malia – All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung
I’m proud to say that I read more books than I did last year. I found a lot of great reads, both new and old. However, I knew the moment I finished this particular book, it’d be my number one no matter what. I’ve followed Chung’s writing for years. Her pieces on adoption and racism as a transracial adoptee were like a mirror, reflecting and validating many of the anxieties I had internalized over the years. In her memoir, Chung dissects her alienation within her own families (both adoptive and biological) and the messiness behind the common narrative of benevolence in adoption. Her storytelling is grounded and personal, meant to only portray herself and her circumstances. However, the complex contradictions of identity, belonging, and love within the stories our families tell about themselves ring as universal for everyone, not only for transracial adoptees (though quite particularly so).
Karleen – She-Ra and the Princesses of Power
I looked forward to Dreamworks and Netflix’s reboot of She-Ra: Princess of Power ever since it was announced and swathes of women-loving women in the animation field said they worked on it, and it did not disappoint. Showrunner Noelle Stevenson has come a long way since her Tumblr fanart days, and I’m glad she has this platform to tell a story clearly close to her heart. As I watched Adora grapple with the realization her family were “the baddies” and forge solidarity with her former enemies, Stevenson’s tweets about the conservative and evangelical upbringing she left behind came to mind. Adora still has a long way to go, especially mending her fascinating and raw relationship with Catra, and I’ll gladly take that journey with her in future seasons.
Malia – The Pervert by Michelle Perez and Remy Boydell
The Pervert, which follows a trans woman in Seattle doing sex work, is a comic of contrasts. Its soft art style with muted watercolors and cute furry characters clashes with its dry, coarse humor and distressing, painful topics. Its naturalistic slice-of-life vignettes are contained within strict six panel grid layouts. The raw, intimate storytelling is also tempered by a constant distance and bleakness. It’s disarming but in a good way. The elements that are approachable make the elements that are more unsavory or messy easier to process. That’s not to say this is a passive or simple read. Rather, this comic carves out a unique, complex way of exploring its story, one that could’ve been easily cliche, sensationalized, or just straight up boring in other hands. Though it’s ultimately not uplifting, it’s incredibly human.
Karleen – Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll
Besides the occasional addition of cell phones, the narrative of Speak is unchanged in the graphic novel adaptation. It’s a timeless tale of trauma, isolation, and recovery that could happen the same way today. That may sound antithetical to what I praised about Devilman Crybaby, but the drastic change in medium and little change in story allow the artwork to bring Melinda to life. While the book places the reader in Melinda’s shoes through first person narration, the graphic novel takes another empathetic approach by displaying her expressions and nightmares. Emily Carroll’s expertise at horror shows in her illustrations of Melinda’s terror with eclipsing figures, distorted body parts, and fairytale imagery weaved into the mundanity of high school. Her artwork and Anderson’s iconic prose are a perfect marriage.
Karleen – Satoko and Nada Vol. 1 by Yupechika
I have half a mind to say Devilman: The Classic Collection in all its glory that finally came from the 1970s to the US, but I’d rather look to a more recent release. Satoko and Nada is a series of fictional strips, though I assume they’re based on real experiences of Yupechika and contributor Marie Nishimori through the years and retold with the eponymous Japanese and Saudi Arabian roommates. Where Japanese readers originally learned about the United States through Satoko’s study there, US readers can learn about Japan through her tidbits. The manga also features perspectives from their Japanese-American, Afghani Muslim, and white American Christian friends. They’re delightful and funny even when a moment is educational. Most of all, their friendship is adorable and representative of millennials everywhere with their use of memes and passion for food.
Malia – My Solo Exchange Diary Vol. 1 by Kabi Nagata
While My Solo Exchange Diary Vol. 1 is the sequel to My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness from 2017 and technically categorized as part of a series, I feel that it works well enough on its own that I want to discuss it. MSED follows Nagata pulling away from her toxic parents in search of independence and intimacy outside of them. She pulls few punches in the difficulty of this journey, especially when in many ways, she still depends on them. Nothing gets at the tension and heart of MSED quite as much as the sentence, “I hired an escort with my childhood New Year’s money.” Nagata’s frank approach to herself, relationships, social media, her family, and the universal desire “to love and be loved” remains deeply relatable and illuminating. Though, I have to strongly recommend MLEWL first, not just for the added context, but also for how it shows that growing up, valuing yourself, and finding your place in life is constant work. Even when Nagata is able to find the silver linings in what she’s learned about herself and others on the final pages, it’s a never-ending process.
(I’d also like to give a brief honorable mention to volume 6 of Delicious in Dungeon for having some of the best character writing and comedy of the year. What an absolute joy.)
Malia – First Reformed
This movie hollowed me out. It seems questionable to approach the overwhelming cultural anxiety of the past few years through the eyes of a white man on the brink of radicalization. It works though. Even when his reaction is disturbing, it’s not hard to empathize. Helplessness at the hands of those more powerful but less caring than you turning into despair, turning into the impulse to destroy, especially when you have almost nothing to lose; now that’s a fucking mood. And yet for such sorrow and rage at humanity, the film ultimately spoke to me about salvation. Not hope, not optimism, but of transcendence, which we can only find (ironically) in our few small, complicated human connections. It’s a cynical, grim film but not without substance.
Karleen – Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Black Panther and Into the Spider-Verse are tied in my mind for favorite, but the latter edges out because of my bias for animation. It’s a technical and artistic marvel (no pun intended) that brings the aesthetics of comics to life, with the arc of Miles Morales at the heart of it. I love Spider-Verse the same reason I love The Last Jedi: its metanarrative about how anyone can become a hero, not only those supposedly pre-destined to it. To those who said an Afro-latino boy could never be Spider-Man when Miles made his comic debut in the Ultimate line, Spider-Verse says it’s no more unbelievable than the spider bitten by a radioactive pig. Thank you for a love letter to the universality of superheroes and the power of animation.
Karleen – It Coulda Been Great
I’ve only recently started to listening to podcasts now that I have a commute to work long enough to do so. My favorite of the select few is It Coulda Been Great, a weekly podcast where the hosts discuss a work of fiction for its shortcomings and pitch their improved version. The appeal is not that the hosts tear into works widely agreed to be low quality, but that they address the problems of works they otherwise enjoy. From poorly executed story structure to offensive representation of marginalized groups, it’s a feeling we know all too well. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the episode’s topic, you’ll learn the appeal as well as the drawbacks. Recommended episodes: The Legend of Korra for first season fandom nostalgia, The Prince and Me for a thoughtful consideration of a romantic comedy, and Anastasia for a delve into both the animated film and stage musical.
Malia – Keep It!
There’s nothing like listening to a group of intelligent, funny people give their hot (but thoughtful) takes on pop culture and current events. I listen to a lot of good podcasts along these lines (including the one mentioned above), but my top favorite is Keep It!, hosted by Ira Madison III, Kara Brown, and Louis Virtel. The chemistry of all three hosts is a delight, with the perfect balance of snark, compassion, and insight. (Though I gotta say my favorite is Kara, whose mantra, “Read a book,” is something we should all follow in 2019.) I always feel like I come out cooler and smarter after listening.
Favorite TV Show (Live Action)
Karleen – Killing Eve
As you can guess from the contents of this blog, I don’t watch much live action television. Killing Eve left a lasting impression with its thrilling pursuits, clever quips, and incredible performances. Just like when Eve admits she thinks about Villanelle all the time in the final episode, I think about that moment all the time. Sandra Oh as Eve’s monologue about every part of Villanelle that fascinates her took my breath away. It encapsulates the dark fantasy of the show: how an ordinary person with an interest in serial killers becomes one’s object of affection and it consumes her. Villanelle’s blunt response that she thinks of her too, when she masturbates, invokes the show’s humorous side to display the differences between the women. Between Eve’s desperation and Villanelle’s playfulness, they’re entangled all the same.
Favorite Video Game
Malia – BanG Dream! Girls Band Party!
I only played mobile games in 2018. Not because other video games were bad, but mainly carving out time to sit down with one just flew past me, even with stuff I want to get to (like Deltarune, Us Lovely Corpses, and Heaven Will Be Mine). However, that doesn’t make mobile games lesser, just different. In particular, I had a lot of fun with BanG Dream! Girls Band Party! (aka. Bandori), a Japanese rhythm game about twenty-five teen girls, split among five bands. The English language version was released back in spring of 2018 and it’s been a delight. The rhythm mechanics strike a nice balance of intuitive and tough. There’s a decent variety in song genres and sound. It’s free-to-play and while it bugs you a bit to watch ads or buy items (mainly for its gacha mechanic), it’s one of the less obtrusive free-to-play games I’ve encountered. The real draw of Bandori though is its characters, which are admittedly moe video game girls. However, they’re also just fun. With twenty-five characters, they range from cute, broad archetypes to nuanced, compelling personalities. They have character development throughout their story-lines, a rarity in properties like this. Bandori isn’t perfect but it was an unexpected breath of fresh air for me.
Here’s to the new year! And happy first anniversary of Coherent Cats becoming coherentcats.com!