Okay, so I recently read Pretty Killers: Diamonds and it caused me to dwell on certain things for, like, more than a week and I’m trying to organise it all into something coherent.
I was really excited when I came across the Pretty Killers series of novels. In case it isn’t clear from my writing about Sailor Moon before, I love magical girls, and these books promised to be about a socially conscious magical girl adventure with a black protagonist in a team of mostly girls of colour. Well, most or all Japanese magical girl stuff have all-girls of colour teams unless they get whitewashed in the US dubs, but I assume this meant a more diverse racial make-up and that’s always cool. Plus, a free e-book version was up on the site so I could read it first and, when I’m able to impulsively buy things, support an author who writes fantasy stories with heroes who aren’t molded from the cracker cutter.
You know what? I’m glad I couldn’t impulsively buy when I heard of these books. I try not to pay for anything looking to take a shit on me.
The book starts off with a prologue in 19th century Florida with a magical girl questioning the meaning of her existence having failed to save her village, realises she can still be a hero, and flies off to engage in a super-powered fight with a French pirate-witch. Fun stuff, but I didn’t think the writing was any good. When will people get a clue that dialogue written with accents are really fucking annoying? And the fight scene was so over-written in detail it reminded me of the stuff I came up with back when I did forum RPs as a teenager, describing every damn move in a fight to bloat the word count.
But alright, I could forgive the technical flaws if it’s going to be fun, and it seemed like it would.
Continuing on to the main story, we are introduced to Tomika Drake. Her mother died and her father was still in prison, so she lives with her half-sister and her half-sister’s mother while working for her aunt in a small restaurant. She’s asked to make a delivery, and on the way gets into a fight with mean girls from school while… driving, I guess? Well, she won and made the delivery, gets wished a happy 16th birthday and her purple eyes talked about. Then she goes home and the mean girls come to wreck her aunt’s car with baseball bats, so she tries fighting them off but they got the better of her.
Tomika doesn’t like living with her half-sister, and it’s pretty clear because almost every line of dialogue they say to each other has a misogynistic slur in it. Later, she even starts an argument with the half-sister’s mother about her own mother, lots of “don’t blame my mom because you can’t keep your man” “oh no, your mom is a dirty man-stealing bitch”. It raises bells for me, but for some reason, I thought maybe all this was going somewhere. Pretty damn sure the author is a man too, so I don’t know why I thought that.
Then Tomika calls the half-sister’s mother a transvestite, and in the sense that of “you ugly because you look like a man in a dress”. When our hero is the one spewing shit, it should really have been the cue to jump off. I reread it again and again, trying to make sure I was understanding it right. No mistake about it, it was what it was. Thus, I decided to suppress my feelings and go on, because I’m a freak and it’s only natural that I get pointed and laughed at.
(Sorry if it might be confusing to know who’s who without names, I honestly forgot and really don’t want to open up the book again.)
Later, she somehow ends up in the land of the dead and was attacked by a pair of monsters who resemble the people she lives with. Stuff happens, she ends up speaking to her dead mother and we learn that she could have taken on the mean girls with the baseball bats but was held back by troubles of the mind. It is implied that she has been trained all her life to eventually become a magical girl. I actually quite like the idea of this.
Meanwhile, a passenger airline gets attacked by some weird monsters. Plane lands, defense force kills the monster, then quits. So the mayor (at least I remember a mayor) is desperately trying to get a replacement. Enter some teenage girl who has inherited a weapon manufacturing company, who manages to convince the mayor that giving her factories in exchange for protection is the best course of action. They settle the deal, the live conferencing ends, and we switch to her viewpoint where we find out she plans to take over the world because… reasons.
After this, we have a big chunk of non-magical girl stuff. I was constantly wondering when Tomika would get around to having superpowers instead of arguing with other girls and having inane banter involving too many pop culture references. The only exciting thing that happens is a strangely-dressed gang trying to shoot her because she stood up against them, which led to her hiding at the back of a truck and meeting a new friend. Unfortunately, the making of the new friend was where the groan-inducing pop culture references was most concentrated at. Tomika also gets into a brawl with a Canadian TV starlet, over the latter’s co-star/boyfriend I guess, which by the way she almost loses because the starlet had ALCOHOL STRENGTH. Tomika’s half sister realises this and forces the starlet to puke out the alcohol, which weakened her immediately. Tomika gets pissed off about this and starts another brawl with the half-sister, which she loses.
In all this time, at least two more instances of transmisogyny came up. Also, we find out the half-sister is in a relationship with another girl, and honestly, I can never help but question intentions when a male author writes lesbian relationships and never gay ones or when a female author does vice versa.
At this point, I was becoming less and less willing to put up with the book. Almost as if it knew, the story finally got around to Tomika meeting the magical girl from the prologue and learning to control fire. It is confirmed that Tomika was indeed prepared by her mother for this moment. In the end, the 19th century magical girl gives Tomika a bunch of transformation trinkets and disappears, having run out of power to remain in the living world.
Tomika never did get told how to transform, maybe if she hadn’t gone “Oh this is like Star Wars. Wait, you don’t know Star Wars? What kind of a goddess are you?” then she would have learned how. Not to worry though, she figures it out with genre savvy. We’ll get to that.
There are five of those trinkets, one for Tomika, one for her new friend, and two others for people we never met before but are friends of the new friend. A monster attacks a skyscraper before they could get their fifth member, and they need to transform quick. Tomika remembers magical girl cartoons and does some fancy choreography… and it worked. I am not shitting you.
It’s a little after this point that I stopped. All the happiness I felt discovering this exists was dashed in the span of hours. If it was merely the writing, then I wouldn’t have been so disappointed, but to me it violated the idea of magical girls. The genre is about empowering girls and young women, that they are awesome precisely because they are girls, and having your female characters throw out misogynystic slurs all the time is counterproductive to that.
I’m not saying that all women have to like each other. One of the things I like about Sailor Moon is that even within the Sailor Senshi, they have conflicts. Haruka and Michiru were practically a faction of their own distinct from Sailor Moon, the Guardian Senshi, and the other two Outer Senshi of which they’re a part of. To fulfill their mission, they were willing to do whatever it takes even if they had to fight their comrades. There’s also the Sailor Starlights, who were distrusted by everyone except for Usagi. Seiya* and Haruka even hated each other.
It’s perfectly fine to have your female characters get in each other’s faces, but not if they’re attacking each other in a way which reeks too much of internalised misogyny. For fuck’s sake, this book is perfectly fine with even writing out “cunt” but for some reason gets cold feet about writing “fuck” and replaces it with “frak”. What the fuck is up with that?
And the transmisogyny… Yeah, it’s hard to find something for trans girls, even magical girls because everything is ciscentric and shit. But you know what? At least I don’t have to deal with being a casual insult thrown around by the hero of the story when I’m watching Pretty Cure or Rayearth. And though I doubt that’s the intent, Sailor Moon even gives me something I can identify with.
I’m thinking, maybe if this book wasn’t promised as being socially conscious, I wouldn’t be this upset. Granted, transness was not listed as one of the issues the book will deal with, so it’s probably my fault for assuming that it wouldn’t spray diarrhea all over me. No, fuck this, I’m not wrong at all to hope that I and my friends won’t be crapped on in one of our favourite genres. And no, don’t fucking tell me if there’s a good trans girl character later in the book, I’m three quarters done and I doubt we’ll suddenly get one so late. Even if that’s true, I don’t give a fuck, not a solitary single fuck. You don’t get to laugh at us through the whole show and throw us a lollipop at the end. I’ll pick up the lollipop and stick it down your damn throat.
So tired of being the monster of the week instead of the magical girl. So fucking tired.
Me too, Haruka. Me too.
*I know I once said that Seiya could be read as any gender, but I have my own conclusions which I’ll discuss in the next part.