I picked up Nahoko Uehashi’s The Beast Player because I am visiting Japan again soon and enjoying reading a bunch of Japanese literature before I go. This book blew me away unexpectedly. I came across it in the Teen room at the library where I work, and it’s an excellent read for young readers and adults alike.
Elin’s family has an important responsibility: caring for the fearsome water serpents that form the core of their kingdom’s army. So when some of the creatures mysteriously die, Elin’s mother is sentenced to death as punishment. With her last breath, she manages to send her daughter to safety.
Alone and far from home, Elin soon discovers that she can communicate with both the terrifying water serpents and the majestic flying beasts that guard her queen. This skill gives her great power, but it also involves her in deadly plots that could cost her life. Can she save herself and prevent her beloved beasts from being used as tools of war? Or is there no escaping the terrible battles to come?
(From the book jacket)
The Beast Player is an epic fantasy, a standalone story, and a philosophical musing on the futility of war. It features an inquisitive protagonist, a badass mom, a kindly father figure, and many more admirable- and not so admirable- characters, as well as some interesting creatures.
The pacing is perfect and just enough detail is given by translator Cathy Hirano to pull you into the world without becoming tedious. Even the most fantastical elements in this story are fleshed out in a thoughtful and believable way, and the actions and reactions of the characters also feel refreshingly realistic.
Elin is a clever, independent, and interesting young woman, and a keen observer of the natural world. Her story doesn’t follow many of the expected tropes one often sees- there’s no predictable romance here, just a tight and interweaving story full of adventure.
Something heartbreaking happened recently in my home community in New Brunswick- it has been weighing heavily on my mind for quite some time and as such I considered writing about it earlier on, but it wasn’t my story to tell.
Now that Maddy’s family has opened up about what happened and urged that her story be shared publicly far and wide, I feel comfortable writing about Maddy today and passing along the Murphy family’s message. I’ve included her father Mike’s post below: Maddy’s Story.
I live away from home now, so I only had a handful of opportunities to spend time with Maddy, but her life has touched my own. Maddy was a kind, funny, athletic girl, and my sister’s partner. She has left behind hundreds of people who fondly remember her dorky humour, love of animals, and easygoing attitude.
Her story is important not only because of her lasting legacy of kindness and love, but also because the way she left us was so shockingly unexpected, revealing the often silent yet intensely deep depths of depression. For a brief but agonizing time we were all waiting on breathing tests and brain scans, holding on to a slim hope that she would wake up in her hospital bed and have a chance at recovery, but we lost her.
It is immensely hard for the people left behind after suicide; I feel the pain of my sister so strongly, as well as that of my parents who have seen their beautiful daughter, who battles with mental illnesses of her own, crumble in response to the terrible news. Everyone struggles with a helpless feeling and the many painful questions that have no answers. I don’t know what to say or do other than to tell my family that I love them and I’m here for them, because there’s no getting around it- this is a horrible time. This is a new and painful reality that is hard to face- my father lost his best friend Jeff to suicide, so he understands the pain, and I hope he and Mom can help my sister heal. I’m very grateful for all of the friends, family, acquaintances, coworkers and everyone else who is supporting my sister right now as she grieves. I also hope my family can feel my love from afar, as I am thinking about them, and Maddy, constantly.
I’ve also wept for the people I’ve never met who are dealing with Maddy’s loss- her mother, her father, her siblings, all of her family and friends. I’m so sorry that this happened. It was overwhelming to see the huge number of people reaching out and sharing memories of their time with Maddy- clearly she will never be forgotten in the hearts and minds of so many people.
To Maddy’s family, and to my sister, thank you for sharing Maddy’s story. My heart is with you.
At the bottom of this post I have included some links, both Canadian and international, which offer support if you or someone you know is contemplating suicide or has been affected by a suicide loss. Please know you are never alone.
As I said this will be one of the longest posts you will ever read, and it will shed some light on how my life changed on September 12, 2019. If anything, please read the last few paragraphs as this is the underlying message we all need to hear.
My beautiful, vibrant, athletic, zest for life daughter Maddy Murphy has a story to tell. You all need to hear this and share with everyone you know because it’s so important as this affects so many people out there who are struggling with issues that we do not even know. Her story goes something like this…
From the moment she was born she was special, being a twin, she was the unlucky one who endured having her twin brother Mack sitting on top of her for the full term. I will always remember how we made jokes of her bent ear, crooked neck and cone shaped head from Mack. She was just amazing with those quirky features that went back to normal overtime, they were both healthy kids born at 7lbs4oz (Maddy) & 6lbs4oz (Mack). They both had a passion for all sports and excelled at everything they tried as they grew up together.
Maddy had a niche for hockey, her skating was strong (forward skating anyway), she quickly excelled playing for KVMHA in her early years. By the time she reached the age of 12 she earned a spot on the boys Pee Wee AAA Rangers Team. Maddy had a great year with the boys, this made her more determined as she set out to prove girls can play the game just as well. Maddy & Christina Rombaut were the only girls in the EDZA Program in the KV Area at that time, and the two teammates developed their talent that year, it was the beginnings of her crazy slap shot. Once Pee Wee was over the fun really began as the first Bantam AAA girl’s hockey team named the “Hericanes”, here Maddy developed bonds with her friends that are even stronger today than ever.
On the 2nd year of playing hockey something happened that changed her life in a moment, Maddy went to bed one night and woke up a different child. Maddy developed severe Tourette’s at the age of 14 with no explanation, this was the start of her first long battle that contained components with embarrassment, shame, ridicule and DEPRESSION. Maddy had to draw deep within herself as she focused on her sports with even a more determination than ever as she excelled to the top of her game. At the age of 15 one of her highlights was to play on the U18 Team Atlantic in Calgary for the Canadian Women’s Nationals, all along still dealing with Tourette’s and the silent disease of Depression. Maddy had many weekly sessions with Natural Path Therapy to try and ease the symptoms of Tourette’s & Depression, it was a battle. I still remember her always calling Tracy and asking to get in right away to help her, at least Maddy recognized she needed help and reached for it.
As Maddy began her high school years at KVHS in grade 9, she played hockey on the girl’s team while still playing for the Hericanes, there was a lot of running around to support the amount of hockey games. Going into grade 10 Maddy had the most fortunate opportunity to attend the elite school of Rothesay Netherwood ( RNS ), here she felt so welcomed she would spend so much time forming bonds with the girls in all sports. Maddy represented RNS in Hockey, Soccer, Rugby & even Volley Ball ( didn’t like ) sporting the number 9 ( #9 rides the pine ) the girls always cheered her on. This was every parent’s dream having their child immersed in such a great atmosphere.
Maddy was so happy or, so we thought….the disease that no one is aware of and what this whole story is about appeared for the first time. She was a kid of the times on top of her game but Maddy was holding a secret from everyone, this would weigh heavily on her Mental Health issues even more. That underling Depression finally showed itself for the first time when Maddy thought the best part of her escape was an attempt on her own life in the form of pills not only once but twice this happened. This took us all by surprise that we were dealing with a young daughter that was displaying a smile on her face & a unmistakable laugh, the whole time was hurting so much inside. Taking the pills was a cry for help, although the help was there she needed something more. Maddy spent the night in the hospital for observation and released to follow up with a clinical phycologist. She always knew she had a problem, she would often text Kelly see if time was available to see her, Kelly always made time for Maddy.
After some time, we finally found out the secret she was hiding inside, low & behold Maddy was “GAY” like what was the Big Deal, but in Maddy’s world it was a big deal. After facing years of Tourette’s causing shame, embarrassment & ridicule, fighting the invisible illness it all took a toll on her. Her grade 11 year was one of the hardest years, she was losing that drive & the will she had almost to the point where I felt she succumbed to the battle of Depression. She was bullied by someone who was supposed to be one of her closest allies but ended up being her worst nightmare. Her academic grades were being affected, sports were slipping all at the most crucial time in her life. With help from her closest friends Kristen & the gang they helped her overcome this battle and expose what was going on in Maddy’s life. These girls help her get through a rough time in her life and as a parent I was so thankful.
After the years of therapy and countless visits to alternative care, the Tourette symptoms started to subside, the “Being Out Of Closet” had closure, things seem to be going so much better. Maddy started university, working different jobs and living life with such a zest. Maddy attended UNBSJ in pursuit of her Arts Degree, we all know she wanted to go to University to keep playing the sports she loved. She worked 4 different jobs at the same time, Rockwood Golf Course full time, worked for Vito’s Restaurant part time, The Saint John Marina part time & Harbor Station part time. Everywhere she went she made an impact on people a trait Maddy obviously picked up from her mother Mindy. Everyone on the outside looking in, she looked like someone who had it all, she met a beautiful girl named Chyanne & eventually fell in love. To the typical parents this was all good, things moving forward in life, she had the beginnings of a partner in life, dogs Bauer, Bailey & Thai, cats Sophie, Buddy & Tittin. Maddy always loved animals so much, she always wanted to pet every animal she seen and bring them home.
Maddy was a genuine kid who everyone thought loved life, she was known to post inspirational quotes and party like there was no tomorrow. Maddy & Chy traveled a lot and got to experience some spontaneous trips to see concerts or get their feet buried in the sand. Maddy had such a good relationship with Chy and they had so much fun together. Her young mind lacked the experience of life & relationships as she did not realize a relationship requires work. The highs and lows of all relationships are unavoidable, but to someone battling depression as Maddy has all these years, they look at though there is no light at the end of the day. She coped with her Depression the best way she knew how.
On Sept 12, 2019 my daughter Maddy Murphy thought the best way to ease her pain was to take her own life, she was a determined girl driven to succeed in everything she tried and unfortunately succeeded in her final task. The final chapter of her story will sum it all up on what the real meaning of this whole life story is about and why we ended up with a beautiful soul taken from us way to early.
Maddy had depression & knew it, its not like she didn’t try to help herself. Maddy went to countless therapy sessions in all forms, from Acupuncture, massages, chats with phycologist. She went to the family doctor and asked for an ESA ( Emotional Support Animal ) and purchased a Golden Retriever, she named him Beckett. Maddy has a passion for animals and Beckett would be ready for her in January. Just 10 days prior to Maddy taking her life she went to the Outpatient and asked for different meds as she knew she was not feeling well, she did this all on her own without telling anyone. The disease she has been battling was taking over and no one even knew. The biggest mistake Maddy ever made was the failure to see the support that was in front of her, she had a loving family with so many friends. When dealing with this sickness she was blinded by the pain she was in. I will never figure out what was going through her mind when she decided to follow through what she thought would be the best way to ease her pain.
Here is a girl who was so outgoing, determined, and everyone thought she loved life, we were all mistaken, all of us!
Depression is the “Silent Killer” that no one sees or hears, it strikes at the most vulnerable time in your life and leaves you helpless. This is the most important thing of all, this is what needs to be shared. Maddy’s life looked so good from the outside, but this is how she deflected her pain, by being the life of the party, working as hard as she could, playing her heart out in her sports, THIS is how she coped with Depression. Look around you nobody knows what is going on in people’s lives, just when you think things are so good they may not be. This disease of the mind can be so hidden with so many outlets for it to take a hold of people one wrong move and it has you. Don’t judge people based on their life from looking on the outside, get to know that person find out who they really are. We thought we knew our own kid better than anyone and never realized we would be sitting here trying to make sense of it all.
Everyone needs to remove the Stigma of this terrible debilitating disease, its out there and everyone experiences at some point in their life, its how we can recognize it and cope with it that makes the difference. The only thing I ask is for people to recognize the “not so” obvious symptoms, as no family should ever have to live through a tragic event like this. This was a complete tragedy that made no sense at all but if a positive can come of this that would shed light on the real “Boogey Man” Maddy’s story needs to be told. Maddy was so full of life yet such a hurting little girl inside. This is the sign that people need to see, the façade she was putting on for everyone around her. If this was a movie she would deserve an Oscar, I just wish it really was……
Maddy didn’t understand the consequences of her actions but at the time dealing with this terrible disease all she could think about is to end the suffering. Her suffering has now ended, I am at peace knowing she is not suffering anymore but my suffering through this tragic loss of life has only begun. My entire family has lost a piece of our hearts that we will never get back and we are devastated. No one should ever have to bury their kids. Please keep your loved ones a little closer, talk to them freely about Depression no one should ever need to experience what we just went through.
You touched the lives of so many at such an early age, I know there was more of you to give if I had only one wish it would to turn back time and be able to say goodbye.
May you rest in peace Maddy Murphy, you will be dearly missed and never forgotten!
Madison Claire Murphy born April 8, 1998 – September 16, 2019 #MM81 live on!
Beckett will be raised by our close friends, so Maddy’s spirit will live on, Beckett will be a reminder of a lost soul that had so much to offer this world and we are so thankful for this! #YOUmatter #MENTALHEALTHMATTERS
its ok to not be ok!
Julia Watts was chosen as a featured author for the upcoming LitUp Festival: Arts and Innovation for the Next Generation, an event sponsored by Knox County Public Library. It’s an event for teens with writing workshops, career information, author talks, and other activities. Watts has several published, celebrated works aimed at a teen audience, such as Finding H.F., and Quiver.
Watts, who has participated in Knox County Library programs in the past, was surprised and saddened when the library suddenly uninvited her from the event. The reason? According to the library’s assistant director for marketing Mary Pom Claiborne, the organizing committee discovered that “Some of her work is described as erotica and is inappropriate for teens”. (Knox News, 2019)
So again, Ms. Watts has several lauded YA titles, which was what made her an author choice for the festival, but the fact that she had written risqué material…
I’m currently working on a series of informational guides to have available in the computer areas of our library. I just finished the basic skeleton of the first one, and I wanted to share it freely because I think it’s important information: choosing sources, examining bias, and fighting fake news!
I created this with teens in mind: it’s a very simple and pared-down guide that I hope will be approachable and engaging.
Feel free to download, print, and use for non-profit and educational purposes.
Penguin Highway is the kind of story that pulls you along like a strong and bending current- you have NO idea where it’s going but enjoy every turn and dip of the way nonetheless. This afternoon I settled down with a blanket and a bowl of ice cream to watch the anime adaptation of this Japanese science fiction novel by Tomihiko Morimi (which has also been made into a manga in the past).
The film, directed by Hiroyasu Ishida, centers around the life of a young boy, a 4th grader who will be the first to tell you that he is a bright, smart, scientifically minded kid who will surely have his pick of marriage partners when he grows up! He’s only got eyes for one woman though- a mysterious dental worker who seems to have something to do with the sudden and in-explainable appearance of penguins in the area.
Sound confusing? Yup, like I said, you just need to let the story unfold and enjoy the ride. The strange story involves natural and unnatural phenomena, scientific experiments, adolescent longings, bullies, friends, and lots of penguins.
I especially enjoyed the friendship between the two kids who enjoy using the scientific method, documenting their findings, playing chess, and discussing the theory of relativity.
Some parts were truly mind-bending. It’s not all charts and diagrams though- there are lots of funny and sweet moments throughout this fast-paced family film! The strange phenomena start small and build into a visually and emotionally powerful climax.
While the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff will no doubt leave many viewers scratching their heads, I found the conclusion to be satisfactory in how it tied things up. I enjoyed this film and highly recommend it.
I just finished watching Modest Heroes, a collection of three short films by Studio Ponoc. It’s an excellent anthology for any age with gorgeous animation, whimsical imagery, and universal themes— I wasn’t expecting any less, as Studio Ponoc was founded by former lead producer of Studio Ghibli, Yoshiaki Nishimura, and the strong team of dedicated animators had already won my heart with their first feature film Mary and the Witch’s Flower.
Each of the the three stories making up Modest Heroes is crafted by a different director- Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Yoshiyuki Momose, and Akihiko Yamashita. Each is very different in style, situation, and tone, but they are unified by the larger theme of life- it’s precariousness, hardships, and beautiful moments.
I won’t spoil the charming stories of Modest Heroes— to do so would be a grave misstep for me— but I’ll give a taste of each to entice potential viewers of this family-friendly collection.
First, we have:
Kanini and Kanino
Mixing hand drawn animation with dazzling CGI, this story is a feast for the eyes, with lifelike realism in a lush natural world blended with stylized wide-eyed characters. The minimalist “crab language” spoken throughout, largely improvised ad-lib by the voice actors, is no hindrance to communication, as the expressive animation carries the story along.
Life Ain’t Gonna Lose
In Life Ain’t Gonna Lose, young Sota Shinohara makes his voice acting debut as Shuu, a boy who has a very severe allergy to eggs. This short film is based on a true story, and indeed feels very real. The everyday routines of people in Tokyo are painstakingly rendered in bright and detailed scenes, and the complexity of human instincts and emotions are lovingly portrayed.
The last film in this trio has a somewhat darker and grittier feel, but is still full of surprise and whimsy. It confronts what it means to be invisible, both literally and figuratively.
We should not live without recognizing or caring about others. There are many people who are sad, happy, suffering, or angry around us. If the world today doesn’t have anything to offer them, then we should deal with those invisible people in our film.
The bonus materials on the DVD are definitely worth a watch, and include features such as interviews, a press conference video, art galleries, and trailers. I found these extras to have a lot of depth compared to the fluff-filled bonus features that are often included with films. The creators of Modest Heroes, from the animators to the voice actors, music producers, and so on, share thoughtful, funny, and interesting insights from the making of the project. For example, Studio Ponoc’s founder Yoshiaki Nishimura expressed his strong belief in the validity of short film as a format with its own intrinsic value and no less capable than feature length films. He also explained the focus of Studio Ponoc being firstly and foremost to create quality films to entertain children with authenticity and depth, capturing their hearts and inevitably inspiring adults in the process.
It is happily evident that the true spirit of Studio Ghibli lives on with Studio Ponoc.
I just finished up a really awesome uni course for my MLIS, and we were recently discussing portrayals of women in comics.
This is a touchy subject for sure, and as with anything I try to keep an open mind and consider the many shades of gray. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying erotic art and comics (I do!) but I’m talking about something different here outside of the context of erotica.
To be clear before I get into it, I don’t believe in the censorship of artistic work— Neil Gaiman helped shape my perspective on this topic with his blog post Why Defend Freedom of Icky Speech?, which I totally recommend reading if you haven’t yet. I’m not interested in participating in witch hunts of particular artists because they draw or write thoughtlessly sexy women—I’m more interested in the big-picture phenomenon.
When it comes to hypersexualized portrayals of women in comics, the thing that irks me is the ubiquitous nature of it- it’s OK for characters to be sexy, but when the default has been that women and girls in Western comics are contorted and accentuated regardless of their personality or the context of the scene, it becomes a tiresome, dehumanizing trope.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m a huge fan of comics in general, including many that feature these sorts of female characters, and I will defend any author’s right to write or draw their characters however they see fit. It’s your story, knock yourself out. Artistic freedom doesn’t mean you can’t be criticized for your choices, though, so I too have the freedom as a comic consumer to call you out and roll my eyes if you unleash yet another barely covered bombshell babe whose story takes a backseat to her… well, backseat.
So why does a female character drinking coffee at home alone in her pyjamas sit in a spine-cracking posture with her butt extended, lips pouting, and shine highlighting the curves of her inexplicably exposed underboob? Why does a powerful heroine need to bend her body in such an anatomically impossible way that we can see both her bum AND her boobs on display when she’s mid-action?
Why is this the standard way that women are portrayed? Traditionally comics were considered a masculine space, and as such these depictions aimed to appeal to the male gaze— yet, I wonder how much of that historic imbalance in demographic is because of the aforementioned ways women have been depicted in comics and other media (when they’re depicted at all)?
“My feeling was never that the industry was that vile, my feeling was that there just hadn’t been any feeling that females were interested, and so all the content skewed that way, to that imagined audience. Which becomes self-fulfilling.” (Simone, 2014).
Just go to any con nowadays and you will see that women love comics- they’re a valid format for us just as much as anyone else, albeit with a long history of objectifying us unnecessarily.
“A woman’s sexuality is one of her many facets that she is allowed to express, however she likes. The problem is that our media landscape shows, values, and celebrates women’s sex appeal more than any of their other qualities, opinions, or accomplishments… when you grow up as a girl surrounded by sexualized images of women, it changes the way you build your identity.” (Rees, 2019, p.45).
Comics have a history of hypersexualizing women that goes back many decades, and people have been discussing the phenomenon for just as long. One more recent(ish) project that has really provoked discussion about ridiculously hypersexualized poses of female characters is The Hawkeye Initiative, in which people redraw sexy female poses with Hawkeye. I gave it a quick shot below…
Drawing Hawkeye like this might seem like taking “an eye for an eye”, but his portrayal it doesn’t have the same weight- besides the fact that my awkward rendering isn’t nearly as stylistic and professionally done as the original, the sexualization of male characters is certainly not omnipresent like that of female characters, and men don’t have the troubled past of systematic and oppressive objectification tailing them. The result is a cheeky satire that points out the absurdity of how female characters are so often portrayed.
Some comic fans will point out that lots of superheroes have bulging muscles that are larger than life, aiming to equate this with sexualized femme characters, but ridiculously strong male characters are different than pointlessly sexualized female characters for a few reasons:
generally there is an arguably valid reason that the man might have huge muscles (for example, he’s a superhero); over-sized muscles are certainly an unrealistic ideal, but they usually don’t come with the baggage of being totally pointless- they’re a boon to the character and part of his superpower
these muscled male characters aren’t created for the female gaze- they’ve been included in traditionally male-focused comics and could perhaps be seen as a male wish fulfillment fantasy or an exaggerated style
even when male characters have huge muscles or accentuated features, they aren’t habitually highlighted to the same cumulative extremes that the female anatomy is often subject to: protruding, glistening, tugging at skimpy fabric, peeking through non-functional viewing holes, angled awkwardly to be shown off at every possible opportunity, etc…
Taking it to a further and more upsetting level, a female character’s assuredly ample physical assets are very often contrasted with an underdeveloped backstory, nonexistent character arc, or her being used as a throwaway plot element or means to the ends of a violent trope, as pointed out in Gail Simone’s “women in refrigerators” movement born in the late 90’s.
“At the time, you know, female readership was low, female con attendance at comic cons was low, morale for female readers was low. And I kept seeing guys ask, “Why don’t women read comics?” And for me, it felt that there was a connection between that and the fact that if you loved female superheroes, you had this endless parade of stories where the women were killed or de-powered, and they were never the focus of the story.
It felt symbolic, it felt textural. It felt like they were saying, okay, no one cares about Supergirl, no one cares about Batgirl, and so their stories rarely became about survival, they became about some dude getting revenge on their behalf.” (Simone, 2014).
Again, drawing sexy female characters in and of itself isn’t a bad thing – a sexy woman is empowering when she’s owning it – but it’s the nonchalant routine of the industry expecting this uber-sexed up default paired with otherwise forgettable, tragic, or underdeveloped characterization that doesn’t sit well with me.
To conclude, I don’t think we should be trying to ban works or shame those who read them – let the creators create what they will, and let consumers enjoy what they want in peace- but I hope more creators and publishers are beginning to realize that mindless routine portrayals are alienating a potentially huge reader base who are rolling their eyes at yet another pointlessly and predictably titillating femme fatale.
Today, although hypersexualized female characters are still common, both indie and mainstream comics are being published with much more diverse characters and successfully appealing to more demographics, which is wonderful to see.
Claremont, C., & Buscema, J. (2005). Marvel comics presents: Wolverine. New York: Marvel Comics.
Pak, G., Parker, J., Frank, G., Kirk, L., Pagulayan, C., & Sibal, J. (2008). World War Hulk the Incredible Hercules. New York: Marvel.
Rees, A., & Esmeraldo, M. (2019). Beyond beautiful: A practical guide to being happy, confident, and you in a looks-obsessed world/ Anuschka Rees ; illustrations by Marina Esmeraldo. New York: Ten Speed Press.