skygiants: Yoko from Twelve Kingdoms, sword drawn (sword in hand)
For years now the knowledge that there was one Twelve Kingdoms book I could never read because there was no English translation has been a constant sad awareness in my mental peripheral vision. (In some cases also my physical peripheral vision, due to [personal profile] izilen dangling the French translation over my shoulder and attempting to make me translate it into English on the spot.)

But now, AT LONG LAST, Eugene Woodbury has done an English-language fan translation of The Wings of Dreams (downloadable here. And, yet again, Fuyumi Ono proves that she's writing specifically for me: angry little girls with overblown ideas of their own importance who take no guff from irresponsible adults are one of my FAVORITE CHARACTER ARCHETYPES. (See: Mary Lennox, Helen Haras-uquara and Hildy Navissdaughter, among others.)

So as you may know, Bob, in Twelve Kingdoms land, kings are divinely chosen by magic unicorns. Kingly candidates can go on an often-fatal desert pilgrimage on the chance of being selected by their country's own particular magic unicorn; meanwhile, everything in a kingdom just gets consistently divinely worse (famine, fatal monster attacks, etc. etc.) until a king is chosen. The Wings of Dreams kicks off with Shushou, a privileged and precocious little girl from a rich family, deciding it is just FLAT-OUT RIDICULOUS that her country does not have a king yet. LIKE, SERIOUSLY, PEOPLE, GOING ON MONSTER-INFESTED DESERT PILGRIMAGE IS NOT THAT HARD, OKAY. IT'S NOT EXACTLY ROCKET SCIENCE. Obviously, the path before her has been prepared: she steals her family's expensive riding beast and runs away from home to make the magic unicorn pilgrimage herself, because damn if Shushou is not going to put her twelve-year-old money where her mouth is.

Eventually she picks up a cheerfully mysterious hanger-on and hires a long-suffering bodyguard who thinks she's an idiot. The rest of the book consists of the pilgrimage, which is basically an extended examination of how much help you should give to others at cost to yourself and what moral sacrifices are acceptable for the greater good, as depicted through various scenes of monsters eating people and Shushou and her bodyguard shouting at each other. Shushou spends a lot of time throwing the temper tantrums of a twelve-year-old moral absolutist who has just been confronted with shades of gray, making subsequently poor decisions, and then taking responsibility for the consequences. I LOVE IT ALL. Please continue with your probing examinations of standard fantasy tropes, Fuyumi Ono! Never change!

(For the record: though the book is part of the greater Twelve Kingdoms series, it's temporally disconnected from the other books and no knowledge of them is necessary.)
skygiants: Yoko from Twelve Kingdoms, sword drawn (sword in hand)
Oh hey so I guess I should do my Kaleidoscope reveal! Not that my identity was ever really all that secret, given that there were two people who requested and offered Twelve Kingdoms fic in Kaleidoscope, and I was one of them and writing fic for the other one.

But still, for completionism's sake: I wrote Era of Red Happiness for [personal profile] izilen, a Twelve Kingdoms fic about Youko and Rakushun going on a diplomatic mission to the kingdom of Sou. It is also sort of an unofficial sequel to my last Twelve Kingdoms fic, all things grow, and ridiculous in many of the same ways, so, you know, fair warning.


Relatedly, researching this fic also pushed me into finally reading the Twelve Kingdoms short story collection, Dreaming of Paradise. I couldn't talk about it before now, because if I did, Izzy would have been ONE HUNDRED PERCENT sure that I was writing her fic for Kaleidoscope, as opposed to only ninety-seven percent sure. But now I can!

There are five stories in Dreaming of Paradise, so I'm just gonna take it story by story.

Winter Splendor: This is a story about baby Taiki going on vacation. I, uh, think baby Taiki is not all that interesting. But it's reasonably cute, if you like baby Taiki.

Jougetsu: This is the story about what happened in Hou after Shoukei ran away, and about how the dude who led the revolution in Hou was like "well, my work here is done! I have no wish to rule, so I shall retire to the countryside!" and then Fuyumi Ono appeared in a puff of jdgmental authorial smoke and went "NOT SO FAST, BUDDY." Overthrowing tyranny is not enough; you have to be prepared to actually lead a country afterwards, which is a lot harder. This sort of story is the reason I love the Twelve Kingdoms. I also love Shoukei, who doesn't actually appear in it, but is a formidable distant presence. A+!

Pen-pals: This is the one about how Youko and Rakushun write each other supportive letters! So basically Fuyumi Ono was like "let's write Becca some fluffy fanfic." OKAY, FUYUMI ONO, I ACCEPT.

Dreaming of Paradise: This is the one that -- okay, guys, I love Fuyumi Ono. I have said it at least three times in this entry alone. But this story cracks me up, because it so should not have been written by Fuyumi Ono. It's about a tight-knit idealistic revolutionary new government, most of the members of which are related to each other or married to each other, and how it all goes horribly wrong ten years down the line in a series of intensely painful personal and political betrayals -- and because it's Fuyumi Ono, none of the emotional or interpersonal stuff is ever actually drawn out, and the protagonist continues to wander gravely around and think sad philosophical thoughts even when 'political betrayal' scales up to 'bloody murder and bodies hidden in the draperies.' Normally I'm okay with toning down the angsty psychodrama, but if there ever was a story that demanded bucketloads of angsty psychodrama, this is it. Paging Hilary Mantel!

Kizan: This is the one that has the royal family of Sou, which is what I was actually reading the book of short stories for! And they are pretty adorable, and there's some good stuff in there about the balance of good government and a stable kingdom, so I am well satisfied.


And now the only official Twelve Kingdoms book I have left to read is the one that is only available in Japanese, Chinese and French . . .

. . . maybe when I'm done with grad school.
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (Default)
Hahaha, while I think the Fullmetal Alchemist ballroom dance fic probably still counts as the most self-indulgent thing I have ever written, this definitely comes a close second.

It was worth writing either way though because it prompted [personal profile] izilen to make some BEAUTIFUL YOKO/RAKUSHUN ARTWORK to illustrate it which you should all go see RIGHT NOW and which could not possibly delight me more!

(Thanks also go to [personal profile] izilen for the IM conversation that spurred this on to begin with and to [profile] dictator_duck for looking over this and reassuring me that it was un-terrible enough to post.)

Title: all things grow
Fandom: Twelve Kingdoms
Characters: Yoko, Rakushun, Shoukei, Suzu, Keiki
Pairings: Yoko/Rakushun, Keiki/hilarious social incompetence
Word Count: 6210
Summary: With Rakushun's graduation from university, the future shape of the court of Kei starts to emerge


'Tell me how to use you best.' )
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (Default)
A few things:

1. Much to my surprise and delight, [personal profile] winkingstar has podficced me! Specifically the Northanger Abbey snippet I wrote for Yuletide, Catherine's Fairy-Tail, which is absolutely the last thing I would ever have expected anyone to be interested in podficcing and therefore makes me even more gleeful about it.

2. Okay, I try not to be that kind of terrifying fan who runs around shoving things down people's throats (I guess those you who have literally had me shove these books physically into your hands can feel free to laugh at me here) but some of you may remember that time I read the Twelve Kingdoms books, fell madly in love with Fuyumi Ono's brain, ranted all over LJ about the perfection of Yoko Nakajima's character arc, etc.? FOR ONCE I AM NOT ALONE and now you should all go read [livejournal.com profile] izilen's Ten Reasons to Read the Twelve Kingdoms post so you can all fall down the rabbithole too.

The official news that Tokyopop is folding and the third Yoko book is therefore pretty much guaranteed to NEVER COME OUT in English actually broke me enough that I decided to do a reread on the Yoko books, this time using Eugene Woodbury's fan translations as a comparison to the Tokyopop ones I already read. In general, I think I agree with the assessment that the fan translations are better, with one nitpicky detail - I actually really like Tokyopop's decision to use 'king' as a gender-neutral term, rather than using 'empress' for the female rulers. Kingship is gender-neutral in the Twelve Kingdoms universe, and that's important to the story!

I have also now read the one Tokyopop never got around to publishing, The Shore in Twilight, The Sky at Daybreak, and - man, guys, I am SO ANGRY they never got to this one, because what Fuyumi Ono does in this series continues to be more and more impressive. This is the book where she just comes right up to the questions she's been flirting around in all the previous ones and forces the characters to acknowledge that the system of the way the world works, divine mandate of kings and all, has serious problems - makes, in many ways, no intuitive sense. And there's no way, as far as anyone knows, to reform it. Those are the rules. Break them, and your country suffers. So you find loopholes. You lawyer your way around the rules. I cannot admire Fuyumi Ono more for this - it's so brave and so fascinating to set up a system of rules for a magic kingdom and then deconstruct them in this way, and I can't think of another story that does it with quite this level of cold logic.

This is a book about how you can't just afford to obey the rules and keep your own house in order and close your eyes to what's happening elsewhere, because sooner or later it's going to rebound on you. And Yoko's intuitive sense of responsibility, the way she brings this point home and makes the rest of the rulers acknowledge it, makes me love her even more than I already did, IF THAT WAS EVEN POSSIBLE. (But we all know that I've got my #1 Yoko Nakajima Fangirl badge pinned onto my metaphorical shirt all the time, so.)

This is also, I should mention, a book in which the most important dynamic is between a lady general and the lady king she's come to ask to help save her country. Plus, a genderqueer king! (At least, that's how I read the king of Han.) And Yoko hilariously blackmailing Shoryuu into doing what she wants! And Shoukei and Suzu being background awesome! In short: DAMMIT TOKYOPOP, I would really have liked to own a physical copy of this book.
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (Default)
I have been watching and reading an EPIC TON of shojo recently (more posts on that to come, probably!) so to balance that out, I thought, "I feel like taking a break to watch something kind of creepy for a change! I guess I'll watch Shiki, that seems interestingly atmospheric."

Ha. Hahahahahahaha. )

I don't know. It's fascinating, it's beautiful, it's horrific in more than one way. If you're interested, try checking out the opening theme, which gives a good sense for the style, and also the feel of OVERWHELMING DOOM.
skygiants: Pique, Duck and Lilie, from Princess Tutu.  HUGS FOR EVERYONE (group hug!)
I have not forgotten about my Top Fives! [livejournal.com profile] littledust asked me for my Top Five BFF moments in fiction, which is a NIGH-IMPOSSIBLE REQUEST. So, fair warning: I am going to blatantly cheat. I am also going to babble a lot about dorky feelings. Stoic types who are embarrassed by this may wish to turn back here! I won't hold it against you.

Top five totally platonic BFF moments in fiction! And then a few more. Because I can. HUGE SPOILERS for Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Great Escape, Kamikaze Girls, Otherland, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Twelve Kingdoms; minor spoilers for The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Princess Tutu, Twentieth Century Boys, Chronicles of Chrestomanci )

And wow, that was the longest meme-answer ever. SORRY EVERYONE.

Anyway, while I am on the topic of memes, and also friendship, and also ~feelings~ - I never remember to do or check anonymeme things! So I was shocked and astounded to find my name up at meloukhia's anonymous love meme. To whoever those people were, thank you; I am beaming all over my stupid face right now. I MAY NEVER STOP.
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (Default)
I have a confession to make: my current fictional crush spends most of his time as a giant anthropomorphic rat. LOOK he's a totally awesome rat, okay! He is overcoming prejudice against being a giant anthropomorphic rat to attend the best university in fantasyland! He can cheerfully discourse on legal, architectural, and socioeconomic distinctions between kingdoms without being a mansplainy jerk about it! He cures psychotic and homicidal teenagers with the sheer power of his sanity! Also canonically he is quite cute when he is person-shaped DON'T JUDGE ME (I am already judging myself.)

Which is to say, I have finished reading the fourth Twelve Kingdoms book, Skies of Dawn, and IT WAS AWESOME. Skies of Dawn fills me with great amounts of joy; my giant crush on Rakushun (aforementioned anthropomorphic rat) is only one of many reasons. Here are some others:

1. I have talked before about how Fuyumi Ono enjoys kicking tired tropes in the face. She is doing it again, and she is doing it AWESOMELY. My favorite is how - well, okay, you know that game that characters often play in fiction called My Backstory Is More Tragic Than Yours? (RPers on my flist, you probably know this game especially.) A significant portion of Skies of Dawn involves pointing out that this game is STUPID AND DUMB. For example, the amazing scene that goes like this )

I also continue to be really, really fond of the way she handles the whole King of Fantasyland trope, in which our Standard High School Student is like, "Dude, guys, you want me to make decisions about how to run this country? I don't know anything about this country! I can't tell you whether it's more important to build dams or to fortify for winter!" And then goes off to LEARN about it. Because Fuyumi Oni is awesome.

2. I continue to love Yoko with a fiery passion. I love that her transformation into awesome kickass protagonist isn't complete, that she occasionally backslides into wanting approval and to please everyone - and then she catches herself, and is like "no, that's dumb, I'm not doing that," and fixes it. I love that she calls Keiki on his crap, I love how willing she is to learn from her mistakes, I love her continuing character development, and I also love the emphasis on accountability and responsibility.

3. And did I mention: accountability! Responsibility! These words are like music to my ears. This book is really focused on exploring the responsibility that a government has to its citizens, and what responsibility those citizens have to change the government when it's failing. I don't agree with all its answers, but I agree with a lot of them. And I love that Fuyumi Ono sets up a system where kings are literally chosen by divine fiat, and then uses that to explore the question even further: a lot of the questions I thought she backed out of in The Vast Spread of the Seas, she brings up again here.

4. 4 is spoilery and involves AWESOME LADIES )

And now it is a full year before the next book. ;_; Which is not even a Yoko book, though I'm cool with that because apparently it is about the King of Kyou, and I am SO CURIOUS about the bitchy immortal twelve-year-old-girl King of Kyou, who appears in this book mostly to announce to her magical unicorn advisor "I WISH YOU WERE SMALLER SO I COULD SMACK YOU IN THE FACE MORE EASILY WHEN YOU WERE BEING DUMB." Have I mentioned I love Fuyumi Ono's brain?
skygiants: Yoko from Twelve Kingdoms, sword drawn (sword in hand)
Writing about Fuyumi Ono's The Vast Spread of the Seas is going to be a little hard for me because I simultaneously was a little disappointed in it, and loved it passionately. My feelings are sometimes complicated!

To recap: this is the third book in the Twelve Kingdoms series which I am following with extreme interest. The Vast Spread of the Seas is a prequel that follows a pair of characters who, when you meet them in the first book in the series, are firmly established as Awesomely Successful King of En and Advisor. Obviously back in the day things were not so easy! In this universe, kings literally chosen by divine mandate - magical creatures called kirin basically go around looking for them until they experience a revelation and find the right person, and they rule (with the kirin's help) until they screw up enough that they lose the divine mandate, at which point both kirin and king start to sicken. But this process can take a while, and by the time baby kirin Rokuta finds Shoryu, the new king of En, the kingdom has been basically turned into a wasteland by several years of terrible management followed by several more years of no management at all.

Now skip twenty years into the future. The kingdom is slowly getting back on its feet, but Shoryu seems to be your classic Prince Hal-type irresponsible ruler, wandering out of meetings and spending all his time getting drunk and hanging out with the ladiez, much to the chagrin of his advisors. (Who are hilarious, by the way - they are basically all lower-ranked people who got promoted by insulting the king during his first few months of office, and spend most of their time ranting, facepalming, and insulting the king some more.) Meanwhile, Rokuta - who is an eternal thirteen-year-old as well as a magical kirin, and has some backstory issues of his own - is pretty dubious about the whole kingship concept to begin with, and Shoryu's apparent inability to take anything ever seriously doesn't help. So when Rokuta is kidnapped and held hostage by a group of rebels that includes a lonely boy he befriended a long time ago, who say that ALL THEY WANT IS FOR THE KING TO BUILD THEM SOME AQUEDUCTS, SERIOUSLY, he finds himself kind of sympathizing with their cause even as the situation in En starts to build to civil war.

Reasons I loved this book: first of all, I really like Rokuta, the magical chooser of kings who is actually really skeptical about the whole concept of magically chosen kings! (I also love how he is simultaneously a cranky brat, and a holy creature of kindness who literally runs a fever when exposed to too much blood.) He has a lot of conversations that go like this:

PERSON A: Rokuta, the king isn't doing his job!
ROKUTA: Dude, don't ask me, I didn't pick him.
PERSON A: But . . . actually, um, you did. You had a divine revelation and everything.
ROKUTA: Look, take it up with heaven, okay? KINGS SUCK. THE END.

I love all the political discussions and how Ono problematizes her own magical kingship system, and I love the shades of gray and the emphasis on difficult decisions - once again, Ono shows how much she loves stomping on and complicating tropes, and I eat it up with a spoon! And I did love Shoryu, who I don't think it is spoilery to say hides a lot of competence underneath his flippant surface of constant LOL. (I kept picturing him as played by Dam Duk from The Legend.) The dude knows how to work the propaganda machine! It's an important skill in a ruler. I also really loved the constant and deliberate paralleling of Rokuta and Koya, the demon-riding war orphan that Rokuta sees a little too much of himself in, and the way their roles are reversed at the end.

On the other hand, a lot of the stuff I loved with all my heart also had a flip-side that I had my doubts about, or didn't go as far as I wanted it to. Cut for spoilers! )

These issues aside, though, I continue to love this series so much. SO MUCH. Sea of Shadows is still my favorite, but this is a really excellent book too, and I am so massively looking forward to the next one. March! Get here faster!
skygiants: Yoko from Twelve Kingdoms, sword drawn (sword in hand)
It's Saturday! I am in my office doing work! The reason for this is that this upcoming week is the Big Conference of Epicness that my entire job revolves around, which means that today I am frantically printing out all the lists of Things I Need to Do And Places I Need To Be. In other words, this is basically a notice of absence - I may be around in the evenings, but don't expect to see much of me between now and next weekend.

In the meantime, I am way behind on my booklogging and likely to get more behind. SO: Fuyumi Ono's Sea of Wind. This is the second Twelve Kingdoms book and the sequel to Sea of Shadows, which some of you may have noticed me falling into PASSIONATE LOVE with when I read it. Sea of Wind takes place about ten years before Sea of Shadow and follows a different character, Taiki.

I didn't fall in love with Sea of Wind the same way, but I did not really expect to, because I imprinted SO HARD on Yoko, and it seemed unlikely that I would feel the same way about Taiki. Which is not to say that Taiki is not a fun character! Taiki is a kirin, a magical creature-person who has divine mandate to choose and advise the king of one of the kingdoms. Each kingdom has its own kirin, and when one dies, another is born. Unfortunately, Taiki gets blown away over the ocean into Japan by accident and born as a human child, which causes some awkwardness when the oracles who are supposed to be taking care of him finally find him again. 10-year-old Taiki, abused by his family, is perfectly willing to believe that his real home is in another world where everyone loves him and thinks he's special - but he can't do anything a kirin is supposed to be able to, and his insecurity issues just keep growing the more the oracles dote on him and tell him what an awesome kirin he's going to be.

I think Taiki isn't as unusual a fantasy protagonist as Yoko - he's a total sweetheart, of course, but either Ono or the English translator occasionally lays on the "poor little kid" angle a little thick - and so the plotline of the book didn't feel as subversive to me. The book picked up pretty quickly halfway through once the other characters appeared, though. Best were the scenes with Keiki, who is an important but not-often-visible figure in Sea of Shadows, where he mostly takes on the role of Cryptic Blonde Bishounen. In Sea of Wind, however, it is revealed that he is not so much cryptic as hilariously lacking in social skills - my favorite scene is the one where like twenty oracles are shouting at him because HE MADE THE BABY KIRIN CRY, DAMMIT. And then hilarious spoilers! ) And then you get into interesting political stuff, and that is cool too! I hear that there is more interesting politics in the next one, so I am excited for that.

Sidenote: the translation felt way more awkward to me in this one than it did in Sea of Shadows. And it is very weird to label clearly Chinese and Japanese-inspired creatures as faeries and lamia. WTF?



ALSO WHILE I AM TALKING OF WTF: y'all who know the Fullmetal Alchemist storyline, and I know there are several of you, I NEED VERY IMPORTANT CONFIRMATION ON SOMETHING. SPEAKING OF HILARIOUS SPOILERS )
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (Default)
So while I was reading Monster Blood Tattoo I was thinking that I was a little bit sick of teenaged protagonists and their fantasy coming-of-age tales . . . and then I read the first of Fuyumi Ono's Twelve Kingdoms books, Sea of Shadows, and I was like "I TAKE IT ALL BACK, COMING OF AGE IS AWESOME!" OR MAYBE it is just that this book is awesome.

Okay, so if I summarize Twelve Kingdoms it is going to sound a lot like a collection of tropes we all know very well: Yoko is an Ordinary High Schooler, quiet and shy, who doesn't quite feel like she fits in and is set apart by her super special red hair! AND THEN some crazy dude shows up, swears fealty to her as a destined chosen one, takes her to a magical land, hands her a magic sword, and tells her to fight monsters with it! Awesome wish-fulfillment, yes?

Well, no, actually, not at all. After Yoko is given the sword (and reacts with "No, no, WTF, you're insane, I want to go home, and more no!") she is almost immediately separated by a monster attack from the person who brought her, leaving her completely alone.

In a poverty-stricken country that has severe laws and prejudices against kaikyaku, people from the other world.

With monsters attacking her wherever she goes.

Basically, Fuyumi Ono apparently takes great glee in rounding up her super-magic-wish-fulfillment-fantasy tropes and then kicking them in the face. Let's make it clear from the start, Yoko is not noble or instantly likable or an independent thinker, or in any obvious way a heroine in the making. Cut for lengthy babble about Yoko's flaws and character development and IN SHORT I LOVE HER AND IDENTIFY WITH HER LIKE CRAZY OKAY. )

Um, besides how much I love Yoko, there's other good stuff about the book too! The world is really unusual and interesting - based largely on Chinese mythology, I believe - and there's setup for cool political stuff and some really cool secondary characters who enter about two-thirds of the way into the book and I like the whole thing a lot, but basically for me it is all about Yoko. (Except not really, because I understand the next two Twelve Kingdom books that are published in English are not at all about Yoko, and I am still going to hunt them down and devour them ASAP. But I am most excited for the one that has Yoko again, which is coming out next year.)

I also desperately want to see the anime based on it, but I kind of want to wait until I've read the rest of the books. But they are only being published once a year and there are four to go, so that is like four years to wait! D: D: DILEMMA!

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