Oracle of History

Guiding you through the ages

Archive for the month “February, 2014”

Did Mulan Really Defeat the Huns?

With the popularity of Frozen I thought it would be a good idea to take a step back and look at one of the most badass Disney Princesses out there: Mulan.

Mulan

Is she real?

Well, unfortunately the only “proof” we have that she existed was an ancient Chinese ballad/poem that we think was written sometime between 386 and 533 A.D. (Wei Dynasty).

Since it is a folk tale, there are countless interpretations of the story. In simplistic terms you can say it’s China’s version of the story of the fall of Troy.

No one knows if it really happened, but it’s a nice story with a moral lesson.

So what is the Legend of Mulan trying to teach us?

Like any good folk tale, the story of Mulan is meant to impart an important moral lesson. In this case, honor your family and your country, preferably at the same time. Not everyone will have the courage to join a war to save their father, but it does make it clear what the values were at the time.

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The original poem has an obvious sexist tinge to it that isn’t as present in the Disney movie, which is a good thing. For one, Mulan’s name is rarely used in the poem. She is referred to as “daughter” most of the time. The story also opens with her weaving and ends with her doing similar female approved activities, returning to her role as female of the household.

This wouldn’t have upset as much if it weren’t for the fact that she supposedly spent 12 years in the army without being caught – yes, 12 years and was only discovered because her old army buddies came to visit her later.  You would have thought that she would have had issues with re-adapting to female life, but it was as if she were unchanged by the experience.

I don’t know about Mulan, but when I hang around guys a lot I develop similar mannerisms and habits – as you would with any group of friends.  So, excuse me as I suspend my disbelief for a second.

That being said, in the legend, Mulan is already versed in martial arts and horseback riding thanks to her father. So she didn’t really need to be whipped into shape like in the Disney version, but it did produce a kickass song!

Of course, this is meant to tell little girls that you can bring honor to your family, as long as you go back to your assigned gender roles once you’re done.

I think the big draw of the Disney movie is that it gives a positive role model for young girls without being preachy. Mulan chooses to go to war to protect her father, but she also grows as a person through this experience.

The poem is obviously revolutionary, telling the story of a girl who disguises herself as a boy and is successful, but the character feels fairly static. A vessel to teach a moral lesson. It’s a common storytelling tool from the past, mostly because this was the only way to really ram in a point. Most people wouldn’t have had enough education to be able to read so ballads were an effective way to spread stories and create popular culture.

In the end, I hope it’s true and if it’s not…

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Making Anime History

I’ve recently gotten back into anime. Maybe it’s the long hours spent in front of the computer, but there is something satisfying about being able to watch a comprehensive story arc in the space of 15 mins or so.

It may also be that I am suffering from a serious case of wanderlust and I’m desperately trying to immerse myself in an other culture.  Subtitles for the win!

Let me preface this by saying that I’m no expert. This is a combination of what I’ve read and what I’ve seen. No hate please!

Anime, Japanese animated films and T.V. shows, are very different from their western equivalent.

Why you may ask?

Well, because their society and culture is entirely different. It also has a very specific style that is supported by an entire industry.

So, where did it come from?

My research has led me to believe that the beginning of the anime industry was during World War 2 when Japanese animators were influenced by the comic strips and cartoons of the west.

Thus Japanese illustrators began to serialise their stories in newspapers. This would later lead to the creation of the manga, which is the Japanese style comic book that is so popular today.

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Soon after, in the 1950s and 60s, animation studios began to appear in Japan with the aim of producing  films that could rival Disney.

Over the years, the style and stories became more refined. Like any industry there are some good ones and some bad ones, but it’s also such a big industry that you can basically find anything you could ever want….and I mean anything….*shudder*

The official “boom” came in the 1980s when many anime T.V. shows were brought to the U.S. and became incredibly popular.

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Sailor Moon is the one of the most obvious examples. I still remember watching Sailor Moon as a kid in the 90s and I lived in France!

What I find the most interesting is that, although the Japanese Anime Industry is independent of the U.S. animation market, there are moments where they are dependent on each other.

For example, the creation of the sequel to Full Metal Alchemist, Brotherhood, was partly attributed to the huge success of the original series in the U.S.

The Japanese studio then realized that success = money.

That being said, it is an entirely different culture. Western parents often think that anime = cartoons, which isn’t necessarily the case. A lot of the time adult themes are openly addressed in these shows.

Currently, I am watching a show called Diabolik Lovers. It’s about a young girl who was groomed by her father, a priest, to serve as a sacrifice for a house full of vampires. She is then sent to live with them.

Yes, yes, I know it sounds awful, but what shocked me the most was the almost rapey nature of the show. These incredibly “attractive” vampires basically force themselves on her while saying things like “I know you want it” and “you can’t get away from me.”

N.B. they are referring to blood sucking and not other things, but the vibe is still super creepy. I wonder if there are any studies on the psychological impact of something like this…

This is in contrast to a show like Vampire Knight, which is about a school that is separated between Day Class students (who are human) and Night Class students (who are vampires). Somehow it’s less creepy. I think it’s because these vampires are shown to have redeeming qualities, distinguishing between “good” and “bad” vampires.

You can already see the difference in the openings!

On the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got shows that are very positive and fluffy. They make you want to puke rainbows!

I’m thinking in particular of something like Uta No Prince-Sama or Brothers Conflict. Both based on Visual Novel games. It’s a reverse harem plot, which means there is one girl surrounded by many guys.  Although the plot lines are always ridiculous, I enjoy watching them because it’s something that is never done in western animation. It’s exotic to me!

Either way, it’s an industry that is very unique. It completely suspends your disbelief.

Guy with green hair? Seems legit.

Love hexagon troubles? Create a boy band.

The cultural heritage of animation is very interesting since it influences children and adults alike. It has even greater power when you think of how it can spread through the internet.

And so, I leave you with one of the more epic anime intros I’ve seen:

And we’ll never be royals (rooooyals!)

I have a thing for historical dramas – it’s an open guilty pleasure. I’m talking more than just Downton Abbey though.

I’ve watched some bad ones in my time…really bad ones…

I actually had a professor at University who was famous for his rant against the movie Troy with Brad Pitt and its historical inaccuracies. I always thought it was funny, as a history student, that anybody would take that movie as fact, but there are some gullible people in this world…

Anyway, the purpose of this post is to have a “Let’s be honest talk” about one such drama.

I’m looking at you, Reign 

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The premise (shamelessly taken from Wikipedia):

Set in 1557 France, the highly fictionalized series follows the life of Mary, Queen of Scots, at French court while she awaits her marriage to the future Francis II of France, to whom she has been engaged since they were six. At court, Mary has to contend with the changing politics and power plays, as well as her burgeoning feelings for Francis and the romantic attentions from Francis’ bastard half-brother, Bash. Francis’ mother, Catherine de’ Medici, is secretly trying to prevent the marriage due to Nostradamus’s prediction that the marriage will lead to Francis’ death. The series also follows the affairs of Mary’s Scottish handmaidens Kenna, Aylee, Lola and Greer, who are searching for husbands of their own at court.

The problem: 

It’s a product of the CW, which means attractive 20-something-year-old actors playing horny teenagers. It’s great if you’re a 14-year-old girl, but not so much if you’re a historian.

The solution:

I will selflessly sacrifice my afternoon to bring you the real story of Mary Queen of Scots and her motley crew.

So let’s begin…

Mary Queen of Scots

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  • She was original promised to the English King (Henry VIII)’s son, the future Edward VI
  • Catholics opposed the plan, taking her back to Scotland where they arranged an alliance with France instead (France was a Catholic country)
  • She moved to the courts of France in 1548 (at the age of 5) when she was engaged to the French Dauphin, Francis. She never lived in a convent!
  • She didn’t marry him until 1558, but was only Queen of France for a year. Francis died of an ear infection in 1560
  • Returned to Scotland, married twice and was finally executed in 1587  for suspicion of involvement in an assassination plot against Queen Elizabeth I
  • She was a red head

Sidenote: All the suspicion against Mary was based on the fact that she was Catholic. Ah, religious upheaval…

Francis II 

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  • Son of King Henry II of France and Catherine de Medici
  • He was sickly and weak
  • Took over the throne, at the age of 15, after the accidental death of his father
  • He was only King for 18 months – died at the age of 16 from an infection

Nostradamus 

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  • He wasn’t a young hunk in the court of France
  • He would have been middle aged by the time Mary was in France
  • He was, however, a French apothecary and a seer
  • Famous for his book of prophecies
  • Real name is Michel de Nostredame
  • He did not predict the early death of Francis

Catherine de’ Medici

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  • Her father was the famous Lorenzo de Medici of Florence
  • Nostradamus was not her confidant
  • The King did have an affair, leaving her sidelined until she started producing children
  • Acted as regent for her second son, Charles, who took the throne after Francis died

Ladies in waiting

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  • Yes they most likely existed…
  • ….but their names were most certainly not Lola or Kenna

This is only a fraction of what is wrong, historically, with this show. I just don’t want to bore you will all the details. However, if you’re looking for Pretty Little Liars set in a historical time period then this is the show for you!

Happy viewing 🙂

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