On comfort fiction

Based on a prompt from Duolit: What is your favourite rainy day movie?

I actually don’t have a favourite rainy day movie.  For quite some time now, I haven’t been all that interested in movies at all, but I do have a pretty significant catalog of what I like to call comfort fiction: fictional media that I go to when times are tough, for whatever reason.  Here’s my top three (in no particular order).

1.  Alias (TV series, 2001-2006)

Alias is one of those TV series that you either love or hate.  Some of us think it’s awesome, and some think it’s totally awful.  For me, the first three seasons are totally worth watching, the fourth season is not so great, and the fifth season is practically un-watchable.  Those first three seasons are always fun for me to watch, and that has made Alias my favourite palate cleansing series.

I often have problems with ending remorse.  I’ve never delayed finishing a fictional work because I don’t want it to end, but after I finish something I’ve really enjoyed, I usually feel a sense of loss.  This sense of loss is often accompanied by a difficulty to start something new.  My mind is often filled with the thing that I’ve enjoyed so much, and I spent more time wondering what I should do with my time now that that thing is over than I probably should.  If I pick up something new when I’m feeling like this, I will almost inevitably drop it, regardless of how good it might be — I just get stuck and can’t move forward.  Alias is usually my best remedy for this problem.  I can pop in the DVDs and just fly through it: I often fast forward through long stretches and only watch my favourite scenes.  I’ve watched the first season so many times now, that I’ve got it mostly memorized anyway.  Sometimes I’ll wind up watching the whole five seasons (though I usually stop midway through season 4) and sometimes I’ll only watch the first few episodes.

I’m not really sure why this works so well for me, but I think that Alias entertains me just enough to take the edge off of my feelings for whatever I just finished; pushes it far enough to the back of my mind that I can move forward and focus on something new.

2.  Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 (video game, Playstation 2, 2007 NA)

It’s no great secret that Persona 3 is my favourite video game, period.  There are a lot of different versions of the game, but the one that I’ve played them most often recently is Persona 3 Portable, the PSP port that came out in North America in 2010.  The female character story in P3P is incredible and the writing in her social links far surpasses anything in Persona 3 or Persona 4.  When this version was first released, I loved it so much that I played it twice in a row, and the game takes roughly 80-90 hours on an initial run and about 40-50 on New Game +.

I was having a bad week when I first got P3P.  I was unemployed and on the same day I received the game, I had had a pretty disastrous job interview.  A few days after starting, a new exterior paint job was started on our house.  The colour of our original house paint (my mother wanted something very close to the original or the exact same colour if she could get it) had changed a bit over the years, and the job had to be restarted at one point.  The painters were around for well over a week, working long hours.  I was home all day, and it was noisy, and I felt like I had no privacy.  P3P wound up being the best distraction I could have hoped for, and it kept me sane for those few days.

And I’ve continued to use P3P as my go-to distraction since 2010.  Whenever I’m having a bad week at work, or if I get some kind of terrible news that I desperately need a good distraction from, I play P3P.  It never fails to keep me busy when I really need it.

3.  Strobe Edge (manga, 2007-2010 JP)

Strobe Edge is not my all-time favourite manga,  but it’s one of those series that incorporates a lot of genre conventions effectively to make something that’s not particularly exciting, but that’s awesome all the same.  Strobe Edge is my favourite contemporary, slice-of-life shoujo manga that doesn’t lean heavily on one particular character trope.  The heroine isn’t a delinquent or shy and misunderstood by all of her classmates, or gorgeous in public and in sweatpants in private.  She’s just a girl, going to school and figuring out how to have fun and enjoy her life.  Yes, there are definitely some conventions at work in Strobe Edge.  The hero is the most popular boy in school, there’s a love triangle, the heroine is bullied for liking the hero, etc…

But all of these tropes are used in interesting ways.  The hero is actually quite socially awkward, the love triangle is actually pretty touching and more of a rectangle (and I hate this trope but it doesn’t bother me here), and the heroine is bullied only for a chapter or two and for different reasons than you’d expect.  In the world of trope-laden, unoriginal shoujo manga, it is difficult to find series that use these conventions well while making them fresh at the same time.  Strobe Edge does that and more.  The art’s not too shabby either.

I love shoujo manga, but I also hate it.  The genre’s reliance on tropes and conventions, and the sometimes insulting Japanese views on romance and gender can be a turnoff at times.  I also find that shoujo manga can typically be a little too long: romance isn’t exactly the best genre for serialized media, and I often get the sense that mangaka are forced to stretch things if their series are succeeding.  It’s difficult to have these conflicting feelings about something, and I am too often disappointed when I try to read something new.

This is when I turn to Strobe Edge.  It never fails to restore my faith in shoujo manga.  I am always amused by it and don’t ever seem to get sick of the story, characters, or art.  I look forward to the day when it will be usurped by something even better, but for now, Strobe Edge is definitely my go-to romance.


One thought on “On comfort fiction

  1. I’ll have to check that series (Strobe Edeg) out. I like Skip Beat a lot for the main character not falling into the common trope, but it comes out so slowly, and yeah, you can tell the mangaka is stretching things out quite a bit!

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