Dramacon 6: Finale

But it doesn’t end there.

After being assaulted by Derek, Christie wisely runs away from her drunk, violent ex-boyfriend to Matt’s hotel room. He’s sharing it with his friend, Greta, and Sandra, his sister. Everyone’s surprised to see Christie turn up at their door, crying and with her shirt torn open. When they find out what happened, Matt is furious and wants to fight Derek. Sandra stops him, saying that getting arrested won’t fix anything.

All of this is moot, though, because Matt beats the crap out of Derek anyway. The only reason I bring it up at all is because the characters acknowledge that reporting assault to the police is something they could do, but only in the context of Derek calling the cops on Matt. No one ever suggests that Christie report Derek for assault, which is what started the whole mess.

Ah, well. I already talked about that enough in the last post. Let’s move on to the morning after.

We need to talk about a couple panels starring Greta, a character who’s so forgettable her face has no features. 20190304_1112408281691373915480480.jpg

I’ve always been baffled by Greta’s response. “I’m glad”? What does that even mean?! She’s glad that Christie’s traumatic experience feels surreal? Like they can pretend the night before just didn’t happen? Because they do for the rest of the series.

But as the con ends, so does the manga. Christie meets back up with the group she came with, and says goodbye to Matt.

She leaves, reflecting on her con experience. Her heart is broken, and she’s been through a really scary event. But she has Matt’s phone number, and the book ends on a hopeful note. Christie looks forward to going back to the con again, which I take to mean that the good outweighed the bad.

And I want to talk about how the attempted rape hung a pall over the rest of the series, but…well, the final page left me smiling, too. In my chapter notes, I even wrote about how cute the series is as a whole. Except…

The attempted rape scene is so much darker than the rest of the series. I thought it was unnecessary and poorly handled in later books. And yet I’m still left with warm, fuzzy feelings at the end.

There are few works of fiction that I’m 100% satisfied with. That this blog exists is proof enough of that. So the question remains: was there enough that Dramacon did right, that it outweighs the things it did wrong?

Surprisingly, my mom helped me figure out the answer to this question. I moved out from my parents’ house around three years ago, leaving my mess behind. Now retired, my mom’s taking on the daunting task of hauling my old bedroom out. It’s almost like a new branch of archaeology: digging through layers of dust and old clothes to find any treasures worth keeping. Which is why I get texts every so often with pictures of various objects, most notably books. One of these pictures was of a cupboard that housed a considerable amount of manga. “What do you want me to do with these?” She asked.

“You can get rid of most of it,” I told her. “But keep Dragon Knights and Dramacon.”


I will be taking a break starting today, and will return with a brand spankin’ new reading and writing project on April 8! Thanks for reading along with me!

Dramacon 5: A Little Problematic

This one gets pretty heavy. Content warning here at the bottom of the page. Click here if you want it.

My original plan was to combine the final two chapters of Dramacon into one post, since they both cover the climax of the book. But in writing this post, it turns out there’s a lot to discuss, so I’ll just be sticking with the penultimate chapter here.

And what a climax it is.

Christie got a huge, much needed lift from meeting Lida Zeff, and it helped her enjoy the con a lot more. The night ends in a J-pop dance, which was also one of my favorite things to do at a con. Christie’s having so much, until Derek starts flirting with other girls in front of her again. She joins up with Matt’s friends instead, who she got to know over the course of the con.

Christie goes to speak with Matt, and this ends up happening:

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Squee~!

I’ll admit it: I squealed when I read that the first time. And when I read it through again this time.

Yes, Christie is technically cheating, which is generally frowned upon. But because Derek has no redeeming qualities, I doubt anyone really cares. I certainly don’t. And while Matt has been rough around the edges, he at least tries to apologize and improve his behavior.

Derek catches them kissing, and back at the hotel he and Christie have an explosive fight. Christie stands up to him and doesn’t back down this time. Her courage isn’t rewarded, though. Drunk and infuriated, Derek attacks Christie and attempts to rape her.

Yeah, you read that right. Romantic comedy Dramacon, full of jokes and pop culture references, just had an attempted rape scene.

One of the reasons I was a little nervous to read Dramacon was because I really liked the series and I wanted to continue liking it. I’ve grown up a lot since I first read Dramacon, and my understanding of sexual assault has changed over the years.

I’ve written about other books that use sexual violence as a plot device in the past here. I’m still never sure how I feel about sexual assault in fiction in general. Personally, it’s not something I like to see in books and movies, but it’s something that unfortunately happens in real life. And art is supposed to reflect life, right? At the same time, it’s also supposed to be an escape from our everyday lives. Is there a middle ground between these two things? Does there need to be?

I’ve mentioned before that I personally feel that sexual assault in fiction needs to be handled carefully, and with purpose. If a character is assaulted, then it either needs to bring out something new in the character, add something to the plot, and not trivialize the survivor’s experience.

Christie does get away from Derek, but the scene is scary and tense. It doesn’t play into a common rape myth that rape is only perpetrated by strangers. In fact, most rape survivors know their assailant.

But Dramacon doesn’t do a great job dealing with the aftermath. There’s only one chapter after this, so we don’t see much of Christie’s long-term reaction. I always wondered if Derek and Christie go to the same school. Does she still have to see him every day, even after they broke up? Is she scared to change classes, knowing that she might see the man who hurt her in the hallways?

In the final book, two years after the events of the first, Christie sees Derek again. She’s stunned to see him and probably scared. To make the situation even worse, he’s with his pregnant fiancée.

Put yourself in Christie’s shoes for a minute. You’ve just seen your abusive ex with another woman. What do you say to your ex and their partner?

A couple years ago, I found myself with a chance to confront my emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend. And good God, I seized upon that chance. All the pain and anger inside me, all the damage inflicted on me came pouring out. I’d been a toy to him, but I made sure he knew how small and pathetic he was. If I had a chance to talk to his partner, I would sure as hell tried to warn them about who they were dating.

Christie doesn’t do any of that. She chat amiably with Derek’s fiancée and they even exchange emails. She just acts like nothing had happened. There’s no warning, just a joke about how Christie must have some stories about Derek when they were teenagers. This whole scene is so problematic for me.

Maybe this is to show that Christie’s matured, or forgiven Derek. It’s been two years, after all. But being assaulted doesn’t just go away in real life. Something like that can stay with you and follow you throughout your life, affecting your mental health, self-worth, and relationships for years to come.

Dramacon is a fun, light-hearted romantic comedy, so spending the rest of it watching Christie recover from trauma would be totally opposite from the tone of the series. Since it brings out nothing new in the character or story, this momentary dark shift is just unnecessary. We already knew Derek was a bad boyfriend. I don’t think that the story needed to go as dark as attempted rape for Christie to run away from him. If Chmakova wanted to show that Derek was violent, he could have hit Christie, or pulled her hair, like he does in the following chapter. Any sort of physical violence should have been enough to prompt Christie to run away from him, and trigger Matt to beat Derek to a pulp. All of this could have happened without creating a huge problem for readers like me, and the tone of the story as a whole.

National Sexual Assault Hotline (US): 1-800-656-4673
RAINN Resources for Sexual Assault Survivors and Their Loved Ones
Rape Crisis Network Europe

Content warning: Discussion of rape and sexual assault in fiction. No graphic descriptions or images.

 

Dramacon 4: Meeting Your Heroes

I’ll admit it: reading this makes me miss anime conventions. I loved the energy, the camaradiere, the panels, and meeting people as dorky as I was. I stopped going in part because they’re so expensive, but mainly because I lost interest in anime over time. But I have plenty of good memories at Anime Boston and Anime North when I was still in college.

During my second year at Anime North, I met Dramacon‘s creator, Svetlana Chmakova. It was my second year at Anime North, and she’d just put out a new series, Night School. I bought a print for her to sign, entitled, “The Writing Process (as Explained by a Kitten in a Box)”. It was as cute as it sounds. I still have it hanging above my desk.

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When I met her, I wanted to say how much I enjoyed her work. I also wanted to tell her that when she referred to herself as a writer in the bonus pages, she made me feel like one day I could create comics too.

I was so nervous waiting in that line, and when it was finally my turn to meet her, I was too starstruck to say anything. I smiled and she greeted me and signed my print. I thanked her and walked away, feeling shaky, but elated.

Since then, I’ve had opportunities to meet one of my favorite actors and a personal hero. I learned from my inability to say anything meaningful to Ms. Chmakova. I decided on what I wanted to tell those people that I admired days in advance, and practiced it. When I finally met them, even if I was shaking or so overwhelmed I cried, my God, I said it.

I mention this now because in this chapter, Christie has the chance to meet Lida Zeff, her favorite manga creator. Unlike me, though, she didn’t totally blow it. I know firsthand how scary and exciting it is to meet someone you look up to. For most of the book, Christie is pretty meek and let Derek walk all over her. I would have thought she’d be like me, too nervous to say anything to her hero.

Instead, she embraces the chance to meet Lida Zeff. Who, as luck would have it, read Christie’s comic and wants to talk with the author about it. Christie’s pretty surprised by this. The day before, Derek had shown Lida the comic at a panel for a critique. According to him, Lida had said the comic was trash and that they needed to go back to school.

When Christie meets Lida, the manga artist clarifies the situation. She gave him an honest critique of his work, saying that he has promise, but would need art school to work at a professional level. Derek doesn’t know how to take a critique, and focused on the most negative aspects of it. But to be honest, I understand his perspective. I think it takes time to learn how to take a critique and not be totally wounded from it. Derek’s probably eighteen, and this con is his comic’s big debut. Until the con, the only feedback he may have gotten on it was from his friends, who are pretty biased.  It’s one of the few times in the manga where I have some understanding of why he’s being such a jerkass.

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Christie takes her chance to ask Lida for an honest critique of her writing. It’s a brave thing to do, and it shows a level of maturity that her boyfriend doesn’t have. Come to think of it, there’s plenty of creators – from amateurs to seasoned professionals – who don’t want to be critiqued at all. That willingness to learn, even if it hurts, puts her a head above other young writers. If you don’t take any critiques, if you don’t learn anything new, you’re going to be stuck in the same place as an artist. Or, as sci-fi and fantasy author Holly Lisle put it:

“If you assume that the words that flow from your fingertips were dictated to you by God and are thus sacred and immune from revision, only you and God are ever going to read them.”