Bad Romance: A Defense of Reprehensible Love Interests in Otome and Beyond

My prince charming is your worst nightmare.

From the age that I can first remember feeling the pangs of infatuation and lust in my mid-teens, I found I had a taste for rogues, tricksters, baddies, and miscreants. In books, movies, manga, anime, and otome games, I rarely go for the hero of the story- my affections are generally reserved for the evil adversary, mysterious secondary character, or perhaps the dangerously playful womanizing side-kick. These characters are often sexy but would ultimately make terrible romantic partners in real life.

Recently I’ve been noticing in comment sections all over the internet well-intentioned people decrying these very sorts of characters that I am drawn to. Fans and non-fans alike are calling out reprehensible actions of characters as they see them. I think this is a positive reflection of wider discussions and movements that are happening worldwide right now regarding healthy relationships, love, affection, sex, and consent. These honest reflections on characters, from Sabrina’s Father Blackwood to the Sakamaki family of Diabolik Lovers, are valuable and worth noting. The relationships you see on TV or other media are often not good examples for real-life relationships to follow- sometimes these sorts of characters stray into cruel or even verbally and/or physically abusive behavior.

However, I do not believe that the answer is to eliminate such characters from the stories we tell and worlds we create.

One area that gets a lot of heat for these sorts of characters is otome games- perhaps because they are simulating a relationship with the player. Games like these feel more intimate than watching a movie or reading a book: usually a player uses their real first name in-game to enhance the immersion, voice-actors use dummy-head mics to record sound like they are right beside your ear whispering sweet nothings through your headphones, and choices in the game lead to consequences for the character you play as well as other characters in the game.

The first true otome game I played was Code: Realize, Guardian of Rebirth. It’s an interactive visual novel with a Victorian steampunk aesthetic, excellent Japanese voice acting, and odes to famous historical figures throughout.

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Code: Realize

A common strategy for playing otome games is play the main route with the main love interest first (often he’s featured on the cover, as with this example featuring Arsene Lupin) and then branch out to other romantic partners in subsequent play-throughs.

However, I always gravitate immediately towards the character that (you guessed it) is strange, aloof, mean, temperamental, and/or seemingly sinister. In Code: Realize, I went for Saint-Germain, an intriguing and mysterious white-haired gentleman voiced by my favorite voice actor, Daisuke Hirakawa.

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Saint Germain still image from Code:Realize, Guardian of Rebirth

*Warning:  spoilers ahead!*

My interest in Saint only grew as his complex and tragic story slowly unwound, with seemingly no means of a happy end. Still, I was caught completely off-guard when my first play-through ended abruptly with that is probably considered the worst possible ending you can get in the game: he murdered me.

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Scene from Code Realize, Guardian of Rebirth

I was shocked, bemused, and strangely thrilled by this sudden turn of events. Retracing my steps and choosing different directions on my second play-through, I discovered that he had some solid legitimate reasons for killing my character (really!) and in the less tragic story-lines he is actually a gentle, devoted, caring partner, despite a crushingly brutal past that haunts his every step.

Aside from his bad-ending (murder…) route, Saint is actually not particularly problematic, so I’d like to present a more blatant example of the “reprehensible love interest”…

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Diabolik Lovers, by Rejet

Diabolik Lovers began as an otome visual novel game franchise, but has since been turned into manga, anime, a stage musical, and tons of drama cds and merchandise in Japan. I stumbled upon the subbed anime on Crunchyroll a few years ago, starting a personal infatuation with this vampire series- a series featuring characters that are unabashedly terrible in their treatment of the female protagonist, Yui.

Yui is a Mary-Sue type character often seen in otome series-  aside from some rare moments of tenacity, she is presented as an unremarkable, quiet, polite young lady. She’s a sort of vanilla stand-in for the viewer or player, one which they can easily replace with themselves.

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Her potential suitors, on the other hand, are some very strong personalities. Their dispositions differ widely, ranging from hysterical and possessive to dismissive and toying. What unites all of the Sakamaki boys, though, is the way they all cruelly use and abuse Yui to sate their thirsts for blood and amusement.

Some hardcore fans will argue that by the end of the plotline their favorite boy truly loves Yui and is deeply devoted to her, but let’s be real here: that doesn’t excuse the abuse, and nobody is compelled to watch the Dialover anime or play the Dialover games because of the romance. The average viewer would be repelled by the sadistic, narcissistic, misogynistic and psychopathic actions of the Sakamaki family (some of my friends certainly are). The Sakamaki brothers each in turn physically restrain Yui, attack her verbally and physically (mainly through biting and taking her blood against her will) and deceive her naive and trusting nature unendingly. Each boy has a different demeaning nickname for Yui (Pancake, Sow, Bitch-chan, and so on…). So why are some people, like myself, drawn to these characters who are obviously toxic?

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This scene from Watamote is literally me T-T

This conundrum has fascinated me for some time. Why am I attracted to characters in fantasy that would make me miserable in real life? Is this predilection linked to the dark triad of features that supposedly signal a capable mate, triggering some biological response in me? Am I simply bored by predictable good guys and their chivalry? Is it pure masochism on my part? While not everyone falls for the charms of the bad boy, i’m certainly not unique in this regard, and there are lots of potential reasons someone might be willingly pulled over to the dark side.

Whatever the reason, the truth is that I and many others enjoy these sorts of flawed, dangerous, cruel characters, even when they are at their worst. While I understand the criticisms of series like Diabolik Lovers,  I believe we mustn’t equate a portrayal of an abusive or problematic fictional character with the actions of a person in real life or an endorsement of these kinds of relationships.

It’s okay to enjoy a romantic fantasy, even a dark and twisted one.

I am an advocate for the freedom to read, write, and create without restrictions. No work will be pleasing to everyone, and some may find certain works distasteful, but we must remember that these stories are fictional. When I immerse myself in an otome game, it is my choice, and I can withdraw my consent from the experience at any time by pressing the “power off” button on my Vita. I don’t confuse the tangled relationships in the fictional stories I enjoy with my real life relationships, which are thankfully much less dramatic than the ones I read, watch, and play.


 

Abuse is wrong. Verbal, physical, and sexual abuse have no place in a healthy relationship. Consent is vital. I don’t condone abuse in real life.

The fantasy world of books, movies, and video games are a space where the dangerous sides of love and lust can be explored safely- the cat and mouse game, which is exciting in theory but potentially devastating in real life, can be enjoyed in a make-believe format in which the consumer controls (while enjoying being “controlled” artificially).

We can and should continue to reflect on characters, and each person can determine for themselves what they enjoy or do not enjoy reading, watching, or playing, but there should be no shame for enjoying reprehensible love interests in fiction!

 

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Consuming vs. Creating

I wish I could find the exact quote; I read a book once, a good few years ago (I can’t even remember what book it was). I have no recollection what the book itself was even about, but I do remember this: the author quoted someone who said something like “if you aren’t actively creating, you’re just a consumer”. That simple, harsh truth really stuck with me.

Back then I realized that, for a variety of reasons at that particular moment in my life (okay… decade of my life) I was barely creating anything. I was solely consuming in all meanings of the word- consuming food, entertainment, and material goods mindlessly. I wasn’t using my creative mind in my job, in my hobbies, or in my day to day life. I was spending way too much time scrolling endless junk articles on my phone. I’d lost my teenage penchant for writing poems and playing with visual art.

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^Ignoring my friends for my phone? >.>

I don’t want to come off as preachy- technology is super useful, and we use our cell phones for so much more than distraction seeking. Plus, it’s fun and recharging to do mindless things once in a while, and I have abandoned the term “guilty pleasure” because if you love something, why should you feel guilty about enjoying it? Speaking of which, read this awesome blog post by @biblionyan on the topic of guilty pleasures!

But that’s the thing; this “guilty pleasure” pastime of scrolling and losing myself in click-bait wasn’t actually enjoyable for me. It was just a habitual, unfulfilling distraction I automatically turned to because it was easy and gave me a hit of dopamine.

I knew I wanted to spend more time creating again and really using my free time to learn new things and develop new skills, but for some reason this mindset just didn’t stick. I’d read an inspirational book, or watch a documentary, and feel motivated- for a couple of days. Then I’d fall back into the same stale routines.

Happily, I have now gotten to a place where I am creating and living so much more again. I am writing, drawing, painting, dancing, studying, traveling, and learning new skills like public speaking. I’m seeking out new opportunities rather than hiding from them. This has come about in the last two to three years. How did I get my creative spark back? Why hadn’t I been able to reignite it sooner?

My anxiety and depression were holding me back.

I unpacked about my struggles with anxiety and depression in a blog post recently, which you can read here. Long story short, after years of battling these issues, talking to counselors, and trying lots of methods unsuccessfully to manage, I finally tried medication prescribed by my doctor, and it helps me so much. Life is exciting and fun again. I feel like the old self I once knew and lost somewhere between adolescence and adulthood.

The passion for my job at the library, which I knew was lurking inside me, finally bloomed. I worked on building up my self-confidence from my lowest low. I started seeking out new opportunities instead of waiting to be asked. I began using my creativity more in work projects, and at home.

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Feeling lifted out of the muck, I sought out new hobbies: handbell choir, dance classes, sewing, yoga, cosplay, crafting, dabbling with ukulele, volunteering at the SPCA. I even helped out with some small roles in a local web-series created by-nerds-for-nerds. Speaking of which, my dorky fangirl self, who had been hiding in a sort of shame cave, fearing judgement of others, emerged proudly once again.

I started creating visual art again, something that I had largely abandoned in the height of my anxiety and depression. Before long it became a familiar habit. I get a regular urge to create art now, and when I get into my flow several hours can pass without my realizing.

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I’ve since started sharing my art in small local galleries & markets, and online. Sharing my art and creative projects with the world brings me joy.

I think that everyone has the capacity to be creative in their own way. Sometimes we get bogged down by a narrow idea of what “creativity” means, but we can be creative in so many different ways- at our jobs, around our homes, through the clothes and accessories we wear, or in our gardens, for example. Right now I am slowly but surely working on a goal of being more creative in the kitchen with baking and cooking.

Speaking of infusing creativity into our daily lives, recently I came across this extremely interesting Ted Talk by Ingrid Fetell Lee about the roots of joy.

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She presented her insights about some of the universal triggers of joy as discovered through studies of people all around the world- things like bright colours, soft shapes, fractal patterns, novelty, abundance, a feeling of light and air.

Two take-aways that stuck with me:

  1. Why,  if these playful, colourful, and creative expressions bring us joy and increase our happiness and productivity, do we design so many aspects of our homes, offices, hospitals, schools, and streets in uninspiring, predictable shapes, and shades of beige and grey?
  2. Why do we judge people who embrace colour and creativity in their own lives, in what they wear, how they decorate and so on, by labeling them as kooky, emotional, unprofessional, or “girly”?

I think we can learn so much from people who incorporate fun fearlessly into their lives (or rather, refuse to let go of it just because they are getting older). I’m fascinated by people like Iris Apfel, Yayoi Kusama and Elizabeth Sweetheart who present themselves however feels right to them, and don’t give a flying fluevog what society thinks of them for being different. Thanks to social media like Instagram, it’s easier than  ever to find unapologetically creative people and bold sartorial inspiration.

A potential struggle for being creative is the busy lives we lead- there were times when I thought “how will I possibly have time to finish this personal project”? But as with anything in life, you make time for what is important to you, what makes you happy and fulfills you. I work on art during my work breaks sometimes, and because I consider my art time important for my well-being, I will pass up invitations or events on occasion if I know I haven’t had time to paint in a while. I am lucky to work at a library where I have the option of using my creativity on a regular basis such as illustrating the Joke of the Day, making fun book displays, or drawing pictures to accompany my power-point slides!

Yes, I still check my phone, yes I still watch Netflix and play video games, but when I do I always aspire to be mindful and intentional with this use of my precious time, and avoid getting lost in zombie-like distraction. Time is the most important commodity we have, and in this often cruel and unfair world I’m privileged to be a healthy woman living in a safe country where I have the gift of free time to explore my creativity. I don’t want to squander that.

Freeing myself from depression and intense anxiety has enabled me to enjoy my life and creativity to the fullest. I am glad that the days of dragging my feet through life are behind me. After 10 years of waking up with sighs of fatigue and defeat, sighs of contentment are a welcome change. There are so many things I want to do with my life that I don’t know where to start, so I am dipping my toes into everything.

I wish I could share this wake-up call with the world (well, that’s what a blog is for, I guess) but I think that, first and foremost, it’s something that you need to truly want for yourself.

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#goodmorning #jasper #alberta #canada #travel #mountains

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My SHINee Story: A Fangirl Falls Into a Kpop World

I am 100% a Shawol (SHINee World) fangirl. For anyone reading this who doesn’t know SHINee: SHINee is a korean pop group that debuted in 2008 and dazzled the world, shook up the kpop scene, and swiftly gained a reputation for being a group whose 5 members are genuinely multifaceted, kind, funny, and dedicated.

My love for SHINee came as somewhat of a surprise, as in my tween and teen years I sort of skipped the boyband phase alltogether (despite avidly fangirling over tons of other stuff). I guess by my mid-20’s I was ready for that kind of commitment, because I found SHINee and haven’t looked back.

It all started with this gif:

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I was browsing my old tumblr account one day, and somewhere mixed into the hundreds of book-related posts I usually scrolled, this gif boy introduced himself to me.

I wondered, Who is this impeccably styled, eye-patch donning, smirking man with the guyliner and flawless skin? 

His aesthetic was perfect, and his expression allured me. I had to know more!

I did some research and found out that this was none other than Kim Kibum, aka The Almighty Key, of SHINee.

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^ Key with his two flufferpups, Commedes and Garcons! ❤

I found the music video that the gif came from, a live performance of Odd Eye from the Odd album. The music, written by SHINee’s Jonghyun, was sensual, playful, and hypnotic.

I fell down the SHINee rabbit hole and I’ve never come back up for air. Two of my dear friends, who are huge TVXQ fans, were excited to welcome me to the world of Kpop, of which I knew next to nothing about.

When I found SHINee (and really, kpop in general) in 2015, SHINee had already been making music for 7 years, so I had a ton of quality content to catch up on! It was also cool that the members of SHINee were all around my age.

SHINeeOT5^ from the shineeusa unofficial fanclub blog

I came to respect and admire all of the boys in the group:

  • onew
    Onew, the oldest, the steadfast leader of the group who is always making puns and cheesy gags that really crack me up. He supports the members in any way he can
  • taemin
    Taemin
    , the youngest, the maknae, who alternates between shy sweet child and expertly dancing sex god, with seemingly no in-between. His face also lends itself well to various memes!
  • jonghyunlarge
    Jonghyun
    , born the same year as me, a talented vocalist whose emotions are so true and heartfelt they resonate not just in the lyrics he writes, but in his eyes, his voice, and his tears
  • minho
    Minho
    , whose sporty competitive side didn’t really resonate with me at first (as I know zero about sports) but once I saw his aegyo and the way he soaks up every moment he is performing for his fans, I really came to appreciate. My admiration for Minho was further bolstered when I watched him in the kdrama Hwarang! P.s. his abs are the real deal o.o
  • key
    Key
    , the first to catch my eye, and the one who is especially influential to me- my bias, my muse, my inspiration. Stylish, extra, diva Key, who pampers his dogs, follows a strict skincare regimen, and teaches me that style and fashion are fun. He can pull off literally any style, and his bedroom eyes are no joke, folks. He dances energetically every single performance, and his singing voice is a sexy whine that impresses whether it’s rapping or hitting a seriously high note. His talents range from singing and rapping kpop, performing in musicals, acting (DRINKING SOLO WAS AMAZING, DIRORIIII), creating custom fashion lines, the list goes on.

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^Even my car has SHINee Shawol pride!

Since I fell hard and fast for SHINee, devouring their immense backlog of music videos, albums, concert footage, tv appearances, and varity shows, I freaked out when I heard that they would be coming to Canada as the starring guests for an expo called Hallyu North.

I felt a little conflicted-  If I went it would mean a hastily planned  flight to Toronto (where I hadn’t been before), plus expensive expo tickets on top of that. Should I, a woman in her mid 20s who was saving up for her wedding, spend a ton of money to go on a last-minute trip to see a kpop band I’d been following for only a year, however intensely?

After tons of reflection, rationalizing, justifying, and consulting with my awesome then-fiance-now-husband, I came to my answer- HELL YEAH!

I decided I wanted to support SHINee on their first visit to Canada as a group. I snatched up some tickets and began dreaming of the Expo, which hailed itself as being a sort of Korean culture, entertainment, and food fest. I memorized the fanchants of popular SHINee songs and pulled anything out of the closet that even slightly resembled the Pearl Aqua Green color our fandom is known for. I got all my ducks in a row and waited anxiously for the expo date, which landed on the weekend before my birthday in May 2016.

What I didn’t plan for was the unpredictable monster wildfire that surrounded my town and resulted in one of the largest evacuations and costliest disasters in Canadian history mere days before my flight to Toronto.

^definitely one of the most surreal days of my life…

The wildfire, which had its 2 year anniversary a few days ago, May 3rd, could definitely fill its own blog post, so I will keep it simple here. As my fiance and I were fleeing the fire with our dog, we didn’t realize the scope of the situation. Before long, though, we realized that we wouldn’t be returning to Fort McMurray any time soon (in fact it was about a month that we were away before the town re-opened for residents). Since my flight was supposed to leave from Fort McMurray International Airport (which was closed due to seemingly inevitable fiery doom) I felt a crush of disappointment that it was unlikely I would make it to Toronto.

That feeling of disappointment brought with it some guilt. How could I be sad about potentially missing a concert when my father’s condo just burned to the ground and he was stranded in the north with nothing but his cat? How could I feel sad about missing a concert when teachers just drove through walls of flame with terrified students in their cars? How could I feel sad about missing a concert when many people lost their pets, and two teenagers died in a car crash during the evacuation? I resigned myself to the fact that I probably wouldn’t be able to see SHINee and reminded myself to be grateful that we got out of the fire safely.

By the time we were near Edmonton looking for a place to stay, it was apparent that we wouldn’t be able to return home anytime soon. So, I thought, if we are going to be wandering around looking for things to do and places to stay anyway, why not make the best of it and see if I could get the flight switched and go to Toronto after all?

I called Air Canada. When my call was finally answered and a man asked how he could help, everything came out in a frantic stream of babbling, blubbering in-coherency. It turns out that if you want good customer service, crying works really well!

So, we made it to Toronto. Feeling a bit guilty to be having a fun excursion given the circumstances, my fiance and I checked into our hotel in Chinatown and set about doing all the things we had originally planned- eating a delicious meal at Momofuku, browsing some local shops, and exploring Toronto.

^Thanks SHINee, for giving me an excuse to visit awesome Toronto for the first time!

I also took a few minutes to hastily write a letter to SHINee, which I would drop off at the expo entrance with all of the other fan gifts. I had planned to write them something a bit fancier than this sad looking note on hotel stationary, but hey, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do when she evacuates her town, yo.

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Finally it was time to head to the expo. We walked for over an hour to our destination, a huge expo building, and waited in the heat for several hours until we were let in with a clamour of hot, tired people (mostly girls). Unfortunately, the expo was a bit of a mess and became known afterward as a disaster. The “food fest’ turned out to be 2 food trucks with ridiculous lineups, one of which was shut down shortly after opening because they didn’t have a permit. I ate the only thing I could get my hands on- walnut wafer cookies (?) from a Korean grocery store stall. I met some other Shawol who were so kind and made me feel very welcomed, and we explored the expo together.

20160506_173821^Lynda, I took measures to protect your identity XD

The vendors were pretty scarce, several guests that had been announced did not arrive, and the concert, which was supposed to have a slew of warmup performances before SHINee, kept being pushed back as the organizers and volunteers struggled to get the hundreds of people into a coherent lineup according to the numbers on their bracelets.

20160506_172515^I mean, Hallyu North had this cute mascot, so they had that going for them? Even though he broke the #1 rule of being a mascot and began talking to me in a gruff, husky voice, but hey, whatevs.

However, none of this disorganization really mattered to me, and I was happy as a clam to be honest ( I was going to see SHINee!). It was only after talking to other Shawol after the fact that I  realized how truly poorly organized the event was. SHINee ended up having to come out later than scheduled, without the planned local acts before them, to a crowd of people who were sore and tired, in a venue that was clearly less than what they deserved, but they did not disappoint. It basically looks like they are dancing in a Highschool Gymnasium (these being the boys who sold out Tokyo Dome numerous times) but, you know what, they rocked it for us.

^Sorry that my videos are really low quality, but the boys are high quality sooooooo 😉

After the concert ended I joined the people outside who were dazed and shining like me. I chatted with a girl about how awesome SHINee was for a few minutes, and then we heard restrained screaming. We hurried over to see what the fuss was about, and it was the SHINee van leaving the arena. All of the Shawol respectfully stood on the sidewalk where we smiled and waved at the van with the tinted windows as it rolled past. From inside those darkened windows, a cell phone lit up pressed near the glass and waved back at us. I bet it was Key! It was exciting.

Later I talked with Shimmycocopuffsss (who was the MC for SHINee) during a live vid he was doing and asked him what he thought of the event. He said they asked him to be MC mere hours before the concert! He pulled it off professionally but man, SHINee deserved more preparation. Still, it was a memory I was happy to hold. I didn’t know if they would ever come back to Canada, but I hoped for it. My Shawol heart was filled, but still longed for a true concert experience with SHINee.

20160506_171900^Me & Shimmy

I wondered, would SHINee return after such a shoddy, if well intentioned, event?

The answer, again, was YES.

A more well-known company, KpopMe, posted an image on their social media hinting that a group would be coming to Canada. Shawol immediately recognized the V from the SHINee World V logo and we went absolutely wild.

It turned out that SHINee would be coming to both Toronto AND Vancouver as part of a North American tour in March 2017! I was at work when I read the official announcement, and I was afraid that when I drove home I would crash my car because I was so frazzled!

Even though we had just had our wedding recently and money was tight, I knew I had to go to this or I would regret it. This would be a proper concert! A real SHINee concert! Again I consulted my hubby and we agreed that, since I felt comfortable in Toronto, I would go alone this time so we could save a bit of money. (My dear hunbun puts up with my fangirling so well, but he doesn’t really care to join me for these kinds of things!)

I remember getting my tickets for this event like it was yesterday. I only got 2 hours of sleep because I was so anxious. I researched all of the different ways to get good seats from the tricksy Ticketmaster site. I set an alarm for over an hour before the tickets went on sale so I would be freaking READY. When the seats opened, I grabbed a decent one and felt so happy. Other Shawol told me that often better seats open soon before the concert, so I scoured the Ticketmaster site regularly and I did actually get an even better seat. I sold my old seat to a Shawol at a good discount, and she was totally happy.

And so, once again, I found myself in Toronto for SHINee (even though Vancouver is closer to where I live- the Toronto date was on the weekend so I wouldn’t have to miss much work.) I had a ton of fun exploring Toronto again, and doing a bit of a Scott Pilgrim tour.

I even visited my first Cat Cafe, where two Shawol noticed my SHINee shirt and we fangirled together! We all agreed that it was hard to function when you know you will be seeing SHINee in mere hours.

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I planned to meet up with a group of Shawol for a lunch at a Korean bbq place before the concert, but I got the time wrong and I was there 2 hours early… oh well, it was tasty!

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I visited a couple of nerd shops while I was out and about- when I saw two older white-haired ladies browsing manga animatedly together in a shop, I thought “Wow. Goals. Hope that will be me someday.”

Finally it was time to head to the concert venue, the Sony Center.

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^Thanks for the reminder, NOT THAT I NEEDED IT!!!

I got there with tons of time to spare, and the first few Shawol were beginning to trickle into the area. I decided to wait in the park across from the centre, and I saw a couple of girls milling about. I thought “they are probably Shawol” and approached a tad anxiously. They welcomed me into their group like they had known me forever, and we spent the afternoon grabbing fan swag, eating, and fangirling!

One lovely thing that happened: since the concert was sort of last-minute, a lot of people had trouble getting lightsticks. As any kpop fan will know, lightsticks and fanchants are an integral part of the kpop concert experience, and Shawol are proud to show off their Pearl Aqua Ocean to show their support for SHINee. I was fortunate enough to have ordered a lighstick on Ebay that arrived in plenty of time, as well as a special Key lightstick from a small group order, but many fans were resorting to aqua balloons and cheap glowsticks. Japanese Shawol found out about this and came to our rescue, sending hundreds of their lightsticks to us freely. Even now, thinking about this kind act makes me go all misty eyed. The Shawol community is beautiful.

Finally it was time- time to enter the concert venue. Everyone lined up in a big circle around the entire building, and the excitement was palpable. Shawol young and old were literally vibrating with excitement. When we were finally let in through the doors, we were welcomed by an aqua glow.

I left my new friends as it was time to find our seats. As I was approaching my area, a young woman said “Are you Shauna?” I was like “uh yeah!?”… Turns out it was the girl I sold my original ticket to! She thanked me for selling her the ticket at a lower price, and we wished each other to enjoy the show.

I found my seat about ten seats back from the stage and sat there, shaking. I shared some small talk with the girl next to me, and looked around in awe at the other Shawol playing with their lightsticks, readying themselves, and feeling just as on top of the world as me. SHINee songs played on the speakers, and a huge SHINee WORLD V display lit up the stage. Finally, the lights began to dim and we were transported into SHINee World.

After some fanciful intro videos, the stage went dark, and the boys began to perform Hitchhiking. The show proceeded in a blur of absolute joy. Some highlights:

  • The boys pressuring Taemin to speak english and he said “Next song is… Prism…”
  • The music cutting out during Prism when Taemin was singing, and Jonghyun saying “we need your voice! We need your voice.” to Shawol
  • Key throwing subtle shade at HallyuNorth with something like “It’s our first time in Canada… well, first concert”
  • Minho playing with the crowd, flashing his smiles, and shouting “Thank you for coming. Thank you for waiting. Thank you for SCREAMING!!!”
  • Increasing my love for the songs Ready or Not and Savior because they are SO JUMPIN’ LIVE THE ENERGY WAS CRAZY
  • Key’s solo dance during Juliette
  • Shawol fanchants were ON POINT- View, Sherlock, Lucifer and Everybody were perfect
  • Taemin’s Sayonara Hitori solo
  • Jonghyun and Onew duet
  • Key’s energetic dancing throughout
  • Performance of their new song 1 of 1
  • Whenever I knew Key’s solo parts were coming up I would raise my Key banner and Key lightstick extra high and jump up happily. It’s hard to say, but I really do think he saw me and I felt his gaze on me several times
  • Our beautiful Pearl Aqua Ocean, with much thanks to Japanese Shawol

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^Screenshot from a fancam: that’s me with my pink LilFreak banner! The no-photography policy was strictly enforced, so I decided to just let go and enjoy the show, but I am grateful to those who did take some photos to help us keep the memories alive.

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^Another shot of me from a fancam, basking in the glow of SHINee XD

Besides the video and talking portions of the concert, I was bouncing on the balls of my feet the entire concert. Finally, sadly, it ended, and the boys left the stage, Minho being the last to go, waving and smiling as usual. At the end I was exhausted and, like many others, sat there feeling a sort of high, not wanting it to be over. At the same time though, I felt incredibly lucky to have had the chance to see a real SHINee concert.

received_10158408983450261^I am but a speck in the SHINee World. I have this wonderful picture blown up on photo paper framed in my room and also at my work desk at the library ❤

I joined the zombie line of people shambling slowly away from the venue towards their hotels and cars. The hotel I was staying at was just a block or two away, and I followed a couple of girls inside. Nobody said a word as we climbed the stairs to our floors- we had left our hearts in the concert hall for the time being.

I look back so fondly on that day. It was a perfect day- good food, new friends, excitement, happiness, joy, music, energy, community. I felt closer to Shawol and SHINee than ever, and still do.

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^Confetti, streamers, ribbon, bracelets and a balloon from the concert

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^ Am I crazy? I don’t know, you tell me.

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^another happy moment ❤ Thank you Japan Shawol! On that note, my hubby and I went to Japan last year (BEST 3 WEEKS OF MY LIFE, AND DESERVES ITS OWN BLOG POST <3), and I took the opportunity to visit both the SMTown Tokyo (SHINee bar!) and Shin Okubo (Koreatown), seeking out SHINee everywhere I went.

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SHINee has made such an impact on the lives of so many, both in Korea and around the world. They gave me inspiration, laughter and entertainment during some hard times in my life, and I sincerely believe that each member enjoys being on stage and interacting with fans. However, SHINee has been in international headlines recently for a heartbreaking reason.

*The following may be distressing to some readers. If you are a Shawol you know what I mean. I want to express what it was like for me personally, as I feel it will be good for me to get it out in writing, but I know some people would rather not dwell on the details as it hurts too much. Feel free to stop reading here ❤ 

The kpop industry is crazy intense. The rigorous training, schedules, travel, promotion, exercise, dieting, and so on, are absolutely harsh.

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“Idols”, such as the members of SHINee, are expected to put on a happy face 24/7 and push their own personal issues under the rug for the better image of their company. Those who confront mental health face stigma, and so some idols put on a brave face while they may be facing inner turmoil.

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Jonghyun was refreshingly open and honest about his depression. He spoke about it in interviews, expressing how he was dealing with this pain and trying his best to get through it. Tragically, he could not. Dear, emotional Jonghyun, who had openly wept during concerts, who crooned his thoughts softly to listeners on Blue Night radio show, who always shared thoughtful reflections and deep sentiments to his fans, was not supported in his time of need. The world failed him.

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I believe in my heart that Jonghyun did have joyful times with SHINee and with his fans. You could see it in his eyes. But then there was another side of him that was hurting even more than he let on. That, too, you could see in his eyes.

On December 18 I woke up extremely early for some reason. I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I got up and felt compelled to sit at my computer. Incredulous voices filled my SHINee kakao group chats and social media. What on earth was going on?

People were saying things like:

“Jonghyun? It can’t be true?! I won’t believe that.”

“No, don’t listen to this, we don’t have the facts.”

“That site isn’t a valid source. It’s just a rumor.”

The rumor was that Jonghyun was dead. I was so shocked I couldn’t even wrap my head around it. But the articles kept appearing, the rumors kept flying. He was killed. It was a plot. It was a suicide. It was a cover-up. It was an accident. It was a terrible marketing ploy.

What the hell was happening?

I had to go to work, but it was still unclear what truly happened. I was dazed at work, going through the motions as best as I could. By the afternoon, rumors that he was still alive (barely) in the hospital were disproven, and it was confirmed that Jonghyun was dead. Soon after it was confirmed as a suicide.

His suicide letter revealed that he was tired of carrying on for others, that he wanted peace for himself, and that his doctor told him that his personality was to blame for his depression. He finished by asking “please tell me that I did well”.

A brutal numbness followed, and Shawol came together in their grief. We worried for the SHINee members, we mourned Jonghyun, we felt guilty for not knowing how deeply he was hurting. We’re still mourning, and some of us are having troubles with our own mental health aggravated by this tragedy. I’ve heard that some Shawol have taken their own lives after Jonghyun left us, and that saddens me immensely.

Some will say to Shawol “can’t you move on by now? You didn’t really know him.”

Yes, it’s true that we fans didn’t personally know Jonghyun in his intimate private life. However, we closely followed his journey as an artist, we were inspired by his creativity, passion and kindness, his bravery taking a stand for LGBTQ+ rights and mental health in a society that still views these things as taboo discussion. We took his remarks to heart, and we truly cared about him as we do all of the SHINee members. Jonghyun was a part of our everyday lives, and losing him truly hurt. Furthermore, Shawol are a community who bonded over a shared love of SHINee, and the relationships and connections we’ve formed with each-other are undeniably real too.

“Life is a series of encounters and farewells. I believe we grow in the process.

For now, it is very sad but we will meet again.

We can hope for that day to come soon, and we will be able to greet each other with much bigger welcome.”

— Jonghyun

I hope that all Shawol can find peace when the time is right for them. Some find solace in spirituality, or religion, or things they perceive to be signs from him. I don’t know if I can feel peace that way, but it’s different for everyone. Personally, I was numb for a long time, but I have come to accept reality. Sometimes it really stings suddenly, but this is how it is now.

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Once again the kindness of Shawol uplifts me. Many have reached out in various ways, beginning initiatives in Jonghyun’s name to raise money for mental health causes, creating projects to memorialize him, and supporting other Shawol who were so lost in devastation that they didn’t know how to carry on. Shawol is the first fandom that I ever really opened up to and actively participated in, and it feels like one big family looking out for eachother.

One very kind Shawol extended the offer to bring messages from international Shawol to Jonghyun’s memorial in Korea. Thanks to this thoughtful person, my message for him made it to Seoul.

“Jonghyun, I hope you are finding the peace this world could not give you. You did well, and your legacy will shine forever.”

– Shauna D

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Jonghyun left us with one last posthumous album, Poet | Artist. I try as much as I can to remember him as the smiling, happy, laughing man that I know existed on the other side of his dark despair.  SHINee is always 5. I hope that Key, Minho, Taemin and Onew know I support them fully whatever they decide to do in the future.

And Jonghyun, you did well.

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A Rather Overdue Love Letter to Elijah Wood from Alberta’s Unfortunate Fangirl

Dear Elijah Wood,

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My friends have been tagging me in posts like these ^ with lots of exclamation marks to let me know you are coming to the Calgary Expo next weekend; this is because I have awesome friends who know that I enjoy travelling to the nerd expos, that I am a huge fan of yours, and that LOTR was my first ever fandom. Unfortunately I won’t be able to realize my dream of meeting you this time, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

Now, about The Lord of the Rings. My Dad got me into the books when I was 10 years old. He wanted to make sure I read them before the movies came out, and for that I am eternally grateful. The books were (and are) life-changingly excellent, and catapulted me into a lifelong love of reading. The movies took my interest to the next level- Dad and I bonded over the cinematic masterpiece of the trilogy as each movie came out. I got “the shakes” after watching The Fellowship of the Ring in the theatre because it affected me so much (ok, maybe that was also partially due to sitting tensely and staring at an illuminated screen for 3 hours straight).

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^ Freaking iconic!

LOTR became my obsession, I was seeking it, seeking it, all my thought was bent on it. I had a literal shrine in my bedroom with everything from a paper-mache Sting dagger to a Gandalf the White cardboard standee that my shy mother somehow haggled off of a movie store employee because she knew it would bring me joy. I took a replica One Ring off of a bookmark and attached it to a necklace that I wore to school regularly- I remember being called “Ring Girl” because of it. I got a set of plastic Fellowship figurines for Christmas one year and took them into the snowy woods with my camera, attempting to recreate scenes from the movies. (The resulting photos were about as impressive as you’d expect).

Elijah, you were also my first ever crush. Because I’m a freaking weirdo, I realized you were my first crush in The Fellowship of The Ring when Frodo was stabbed with the Morgul blade by the Nazgul and his eyes became all pale and creepy.

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^ boyfriend material

I had an account on one of your fansites where I posted in forums for the first time in my young life, squeeing enviously over posts where other girls recounted times they met you in person at various events. I frequented lordoftherings.net and refreshed the page every 10 seconds so I could hear every version of the randomized intro “Hi, this is [actor name] and welcome to lordoftherings.net”, but I especially got excited to hear your voice.

While my tween obsession of near-stalker levels has faded, I am definitely your fan forever.

I tried drawing you as Frodo a few weeks ago. I wish I could say that I cut the left side of the picture like that for artistic or compositional reasons, but really it was because I made your right eye freakishly large. Sorry.

I’m a married woman now, but once a fangirl always a fangirl. I’m an eternal Ringer- as both a Lord of the Rings fan as well as a member of a handbell choir- how about that. Speaking of handbell choir, I was in the novice group previously but I lost my mind and managed to shoehorn my way into the advanced group when I found out they are learning none other than THEMES FROM THE FREAKING LORD OF THE RINGS!

Last year I had the privilege of meeting and getting a picture with Mr. John Rhys-Davies at the Edmonton Comic & Entertainment Expo. He complimented me on my cosplay. I told him “you’re my favorite dwarf forever” and he said “aw, I love you”. My little hobbit heart grew three sizes that day.

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I also managed to get a pic with Sauron himself. He’s actually a really nice guy.

The year before that I met Billy Boyd and was entranced by his Beecake concert. Bought all the CDs!

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^ (Sorry Billy, the real picture is on an external harddrive tucked away somewhere and I am too lazy to find it at the moment, but here is a blurry picture of the picture of me and Billy Boyd, screen-grabbed from a picture of me holding the picture of me and Billy Boyd!)

I’d very much love the opportunity to meet you too, Elijah. I was more than ready to drive or fly to Calgary to see you.

But Elijah, would you believe that the very weekend you are visiting is the same weekend I am going to my first ever Library Conference, and as a speaker? I have worked at a library for 7 years and in September I am beginning my Master program with the goal of becoming a librarian. At the Alberta Library Conference in Jasper, Friday afternoon, I am doing a presentation session on the versatility of the graphic novel format. I’m super passionate about it and excited for the opportunity (been prepping it and working on my public speaking skills for several months!), but I can’t say i’m not bummed out that I am missing the opportunity to see you at the expo in Calgary.

So, since I can’t say it there, let me say it here- I think you’re Terrific with a capital T, you gave us the perfect Frodo and made my tween heart flutter- thank you for coming to Alberta- I hope you have fun in Calgary, and I’m sorry I’ll miss you when you’re here!

-Sincerely, Shauna

P.S. if you have time, feel free to swing by Jasper and crash the Alberta Library Convention! You know you want another adventure in the mountains! XD