Reviewed by: Leather Daddy
PLOT: 3/5 (Well, OK, it's a BAM tournament, but it had a beginning, middle, and end, with the requisite "plot twist".)
CHARACTERIZATION: 2/5 (Um...well, I'm conflicted about this. See below.)
WRITING: 3/5 (About average; no Pulitzers in this author's future, but did not make me want to commit ritual suicide.)
TRUE LOVE BETWEEN FREAKISH NAKED PANDA-MAN AND ROBOT THAT DANCES LIKE A GIRL: 6/5
I was casting about for a fic to review, and this came to mind. I first read this back when in 2001, I believe, and it stuck in my head. It's not that it's a horrible fic, one of the steaming gems of the pit of voles. What really struck me was the pairing, and the way the fic was written about said pairing. Let me attempt to explain.
When you write a fic about a pairing, any pairing, you have a couple of things to take into consideration - how would these two people get together? How would they act in a relationship? Is this a torrid romance for the ages, a back-alley quickie with lots of resulting angst - what's going on here? Romance can be handled so many ways, from Tom Clancy to Danielle Steele. It just depends on what kind of story you're writing overall.
Bust-A-Move (or Bust-A-Groove) 2 is a dancing and rhythm game for the Playstation. Basically the idea is that you have a cute bunch of characters, each with their separate dancing styles and theme songs. They dance against each other, and your job is to have a sense of rhythm and punch a sequence of buttons to the beat. It's simple and addictive, and isn't meant to have much meaning. I think there's supposedly some sort of plot to the game - the prize of the game is the intergalactic Groove-Tron power, but you know how these games are. There's a cute kid or two, a narcissist, a naughty cosplayer or two, a racer, a gangsta, and so on.
The final boss of the game - or the hardest dancer you compete against in a regular game - is Robo-Z, a golden robot that expands to the size of a building and dances crazy in what appears to be the San Francisco Bay (or in the streets of Tokyo, if you're playing the first game) while you dance next to him in a helicopter or on a rooftop. Robo-Z dances like a Lakers cheerleader, more or less. I think it's a male robot, but he gets down and shakes his booty.
If you beat Robo-Z, and you've done well enough against all the previous dancers, you get transported to a secret boss stage, which is a black and white place walled with television screens. The music is techno-enka, insanely fast, and when combined with the flashing television screens and all the blinking lights and static, it's an epileptic's personal hell. In this stage you see an adorable little chubby panda. You dance a few measures of music against this cute little thing, and all of a sudden you hear a "boing" and the panda turns into a full-grown man painted black and white, with his panda makeup smeared and dripping on his face and chest. He wears tighty-whities, a single sock and shoe, and a watch.That's it. This is Pander. He has been known to make young children and sensitive old ladies cry at his sudden appearance. (Part of the horror is that every other character is drawn in a really cartoony style, but Pander is an actual photograph of a naked man painted and dressed like that.) Pander's dance style is traditional Japanese fan-dancing, like an old-school geisha. So, imagine this naked panda-man with a fan, dancing to techno-enka slowly and gracefully...
Here's a picture of Robo-Z and Pander. You get the idea?
Right, this fic is a Robo-Z/Pander romance.
Just saying that to people who have played the games always provokes a shriek of horror. Many of the other ficbitches have refused to read this fic on principle. I personally have a secret fondness for it, mostly because it's so bizarre. Who on earth would slash Robo-Z and Pander? Better yet, who would make it seem like a Danielle Steele novel set in the BAG2 universe?
This author would, that's who!
Due to the nature of this game, all the characters only have the most basic and perfunctory of characterization and backstory. That makes it a little easier for authors, because they can make shit up left and right, and unless they do something ridiculous, there's no way to challenge it. So this story, which is told completely from Pander's perspective, begins with the story of Pander's childhood.
I was born at the Tokyo Zoo, 31 years ago. My parents were respected Chinese pandas, born in Beijing. As a gesture of peace between Japan and China, my parents were presented to the Zoo where I was later born. I am told I was a cute cub. My Chinese name was Li Wei Sang. But everyone called me Dumpling. Dumpling the baby panda.
I was oblivious to the fact that other things besides bamboo and grass, a life beyond the fences of my family's enclosure. I lived there until I was twenty years old, a very old age for a panda. My parents had long since passed away. I spent my days looking cute for the tourists, and getting fat on treats. Until one day......
A man and his son were at the son, looking at me. "Wow! A real panda!" the boy yelled. I gazed at him and started my cute routine.
"Yeah, real cute," the man replied, not buying my act. "The thing's probably spent its whole life in there. Probably die in there. Gettin' fat on bamboo, looking cute as heck. Be glad we're human, son. Animals don't know anything about the value of life."
The man and his son walked away. I was stunned. The value of life? Life had value? Other than eating and sleeping? What was this value? I had to find out.
Li Wei Sang, otherwise known as Dumpling. That's pretty cute. But then I flash on Pander, and his painted-on nipples, and feel vaguely terrified again.
That dad sure is a cynic, isn't he? This whole interlude reminds me a little bit of a sex-ed film I saw when I was in high school. It was called "Am I Normal?" and starred some curly-haired moppet at the brink of the dangerous precipice known as adult sexuality. Of course, he was a dork dressed in bad seventies clothing, so all his "cool" friends mocked him. But he was not to be deterred! He consulted the school nurse (with her convenient drop-down penis diagrams) and his dad (with the baseball-bat and catcher's mitt analogies) to his mom (who washed his sheets with a knowing wink), before going to the zoo and asking the zookeeper if size REALLY mattered. The zookeeper, a scary, scary man, replied that in his time, he'd seen a LOT of animal penises, but no, size did not matter! The young dork then climbed upon a park bench and recited his newfound knowledge about the mysterious workings of the wang, after which the assembled audience applauded him and patted him on the back.
I know that unless you're a erotic furry, you're not supposed to associate "zoo" with "sex," but..it's not my fault, I swear!
So Dumpling, newly awakened to the mysteries of life (sex), escapes the zoo, narrowly escapes being hit by a car, and hides out in a park, where all he has to eat is garbage. This isn't a bad bit, but really, if you saw a fucking PANDA eating out of your garbage can, would your first reaction be, "Hey, that's my garbage can! Beat it!"? A bunch of people are about to capture poor Dumpling, who is so sick from eating the rotten food, when he's beamed up by the aliens Capoeira, who anally probe him and...
Wait, he's probably saving his behymen for Robo-Z, so I suppose not. This is a romantic fic, after all!
Capoeira are in-game characters, two cute little silver aliens that dance Capoeira. They gave Pander a new deep voice (which perplexes me; his only in-game sound is a high-pitched maniacal cackle) and offer to use their machine to change Dumpling into whatever he wants. At this point, a door opens and the romantic hero enters -
Just then a hatch opened. A person stepped in. This, too, was not a human or an animal. It had gold skin, with a metal head that contained blue slits. He had red wings on his back.
"Greetings," he said in a machine-like voice, bowing. "My name is Robo-Z Gold. I am traveling with Capoeira. It was I who first suggested that we pick you up and help you."
"Thank you very much," I replied with my new voice. Robo-Z looked into my eyes. He was very handsome. I liked him. I smiled.
OH, DREEEEEEEEEAMWEAVER, I BELIEVE YOU CAN GET ME THROUGH THE NIIIGHT~~
I never thought I'd be speculating on the sexual desires of pandas, but what on earth would make him think that Robo-Z is sexy? So smooth...so shiny...mmm...okay, perhaps I can understand it, but I don't want to. He thinks that Robo-Z is so nice and so handsome, and they're going to be good friends, he can tell! Um...but all he's done so far is claim all the rescue-credit from Capoeira, nod and smile when Dumpling was spilling his life story, and tell Dumpling that he needs to pick a shape to change into.
So a panda, a blonde, and a Russian walk into a transformation machine...wait, wrong joke.
"Done," I heard Capoeira say. I pushed the door open with my new human hands. Everyone outside gasped.
"Dumpling....." Robo-Z began. "It worked....kind of. Um......"
"What do you mean, kind of?!" I demanded. A mirror was attached to the wall on the other side of the room. I ran over to it and looked at myself.
I looked sort of human....but my skin was still black and white! I was bald. I looked....hideous!!!
"Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!" I screamed.
Even DUMPLING finds himself hideous!
I was crazy. "I look like a freak!" I screamed. "No! This can't be! I'd rather have stayed a panda than look like this!"
"Shhhhhh," Robo-Z hushed, putting his hand on my shoulder. "It is alright. We shall fix the machine, then change you into a human. Or a panda, whichever one you choose."
"Robo-Z," I muttered, all I could say.
"Hold me, Robo-Z... no, lower..."
The reason I'm rather fond of this weird, weird fic is that it honestly tries to come up with a characterization for these characters. There's so little to go on in the canon, and the author gamely tries to flesh them out so, in this case, she can hook up Robo-Z and Pander. Most fics don't even seem to care about details like a plot or characterization - you have two characters, you hook them up, who cares about the rest? I'm not claiming that it's the best characterization or the best plot ever - but it shows an attention to them that you don't see in at least 50% of fics. Someone taught this author that fics need to have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and that every character had to have at least a smidgen of personality. I'm probably reading far more into this than the author intended, but dammit, I'm the Fox Mulder of fics. I WANT TO BELIEVE.
For example, another of this author's fics is a Saiyuki MPREG. By definition, that fic should make me cry. But I read it, and although I cackled in slightly disbelieving horror when I realized that Sanzou was now pregnant, the fic wasn't too bad, because it remembered characterization. When Sanzou discovers he's pregnant, he's furious, wants to shoot everyone who annoys him and might be responsible for this, and refuses to let this "outside problem" influence him, because he is Sanzou, master of his own destiny. Gojyo laughs his ass off, Gokuu freaks out that Sanzou's in trouble, and Hakkai smiles and goes, "maa!" In short, just because Sanzou was pregnant didn't mean that he stopped being Sanzou, or the other characters started acting like soap opera characters. I hate hate hate mpreg, but I had to give this author credit for at least remembering characterization.
"Say, maybe we should get something to cover you up," Kiki suggested.
I looked down. "Humans aren't supposed to go naked, are they?"
"Nope. Here," Lala said, holding up a piece of cloth. "This is the only piece of clothing we have on the ship. We got on discount at the department store."
I slipped the clothing on. It felt strange. "This is what male humans wear?" I asked.
"According to our studies, yes, Dumpling," Kiki answered.
So now Dumpling has his tighty-whities. Honestly, this character has to be seen to be believed.
"Hmmm........Dumpling," Robo-Z said thoughtfully. "I think we should change your name. Dumpling is not a proper name for a human."
"Should we use my Chinese name?" I asked.
"If you wish....but wouldn't you like to make up a new name for yourself?"
"Yes," I replied. "But what should it be?"
"Well, you are a panda," Lala said.
"And you were wandering around when we found you," Kiki added.
"Panda Wandering," I said thoughtfully, testing it. "No, that won't do. How about-"
"PANDER," I said. "Pander. That is my name."
"I like it," Robo-Z told me. "It's so becoming of you."
Robo-Z sounds like a sleazy guy at a bar trying to pick up a slightly drunken girl. "So, what's your name?" "Pander...*giggle* *hic*" "Pannnnnnnnnnder. What a LOVELY name. Say, are you a Scorpio?" Besides, look at the name he's saying is so becoming! That's one hell of a backhanded compliment, Robo-Z.
So, the fic progresses, acknowledging that Pander would find it kind of odd to be walking on his hind legs and wearing undies. He finds Robo-Z in his room dancing to his theme song, "Acid Line," and Pander is fascinated. He tries to copy the robot, but he can't dance that fast - Robo-Z's dance style is supposedly techno-punk. (Trust me when I say that it's more L.A. Lakers cheerleader-style - no punk would be caught dead dancing like that.) Capoeira appear and all three try to suggest dancing styles for Pander:
".......Do you realize how I would look?"
In the end, Robo-Z produces a Japanese fan given to him by his creator, Johannes Fitchenstein, before Robo-Z went to planet Capoeira for, um, for plot reasons, who knows. Pander decides to learn Japanese fan-dancing from old tapes, and Robo-Z mixes up Pander's techno-enka theme. Then Robo-Z suggests that Pander join the Bust-a-Groove competition, and Pander coyly asks if Robo-Z thinks he's good enough. Robo-Z breathes that he thinks Pander's great, and they breathe heavily at each other and move in for a kiss that, thankfully, is prevented by Capoeira's untimely appearance. It's very teenage-romance, but hey, that's essentially the level of the rest of the fic, so that's fine. It's PG, written with basic competency of grammar, spelling, and the other mechanics of writing. The sentences are short and simple, and there's not much complexity to the story or emotions, but overall, it's a solid piece of writing. I wouldn't recommend it as a excellent, thought-provoking fic, but...as Rebel Toy said, "It's not a bad fic at all. IT'S STILL ROBO-Z X PANDER, THOUGH!"
Another, um, interesting thing about this story is that it carefully interrelates all the characters. Hiro and Shorty have a friendly rivalry, Heat is dating Comet, Tsutomu is Comet's cousin, Bi-O is Robo-Z's creator, the aforementioned Dr. Fitchenstein...and so on. Quite honestly, I don't remember any of this, so it must be part of this author's universe. Besides scratching my head at the Hiro/Shorty (hey, it's better than the Strike/Shorty pairing I've seen suggested in other fics!), it wasn't a bad idea, just a little...forced. It always strikes me as strange when everyone in a fic is related to each other somehow by a Meaningful Event or by blood; surely you readers know people that you aren't dating, related to, or both? ^_~ When you're writing fic without strict established canon like this, I'd avoid making everyone too interconnected; it starts to sound like they're doing the Inbred Tango.
The rest of the fic starts dealing so much with Pander's budding feelings for Robo-Z that I can't really read it without periodic reality checks. "Panda lips and Robo-Z's faceplate...how's that going to work out?" In fact, I'm having a little problem imagining Pander in a romantic drama at all, so I think I'm going to do a little mental substitution to get myself through the fic.
Jet Li, half-naked, with a pair of panda ears on.
Heh heh, perfect.
You're invited to make whatever substitution works for you.
The author does a little more creative work and explains where Pander's stage comes from which, when I stop to think about it, isn't a bad point to explain. Most of the stages in the game could be set in any city (streets, a park, a bank, etc) - but Pander's Happy Epileptic House would probably require a dimension of its own. It's an example of how a reasonably decent fic can fill out continuity gaps - but you have to be careful how you do this. Overexplaining the scientific logic behind something in a fantasy world can just heighten the anachronism, though! I don't want to hear a ten-page explanation of the PHS system in FF7, for example, or how chocobos can run across water. You just have to carefully float an explanation at the same level of unreality as the rest of the canon world - in the case of chocobos, saying something like "the greens give them the ability to run across water" will work better than "chocobo physiology has special adapatations for water-running, such as special sebaceous glands on the soles of their feet that secrete an oil that doesn't break the meniscus of the water, and super-speed that overcomes gravity." In a high-tech canon, though, a simplistic fan-explanation just won't cut it.
Does that make any sense? In writing fanfiction, it's best to try to match the style and feel of the canon both in writing style, content, and when you're filling in gaps. You run a greater risk of doing something ridiculous when you veer off into the unknown for an AU - like Hellsing WAFF (ugh) or Gravitation deathfic (hahaha, ugh) or all those Monkees rapefics (dude, WHY? No, the Monkees were the ones BEING raped). As much as I admire authors who can build up their own complicated fanon for series - like the people who can argue endlessly over the nitpicking minutiae of why such-and-such IS NOT POSSIBLE IN THE HARRY POTTER UNIVERSE - I also wonder if they themselves aren't confusing fanon and canon in their attempts to one-up canon. Forest, trees, you get the idea. Unless you're just that talented, work on perfecting your skills within canon, and neatly fill in the holes with canon-tinted paint. Then work on "expanding the whole of canon".
That's my opinion; feel free to argue. This was just a side-thought brought on by this fic; as far as I'm concerned, the fic did a simple but reasonable touch-up job on canon.
Capoeira walked out, leaving me and Robo-Z in a period of awkward silence.
"Thanks for helping me with my stage," I told Robo-Z.
"No problem," Robo-Z answered. We stared at each other for a while. Z's skin looked especially shiny and metallic in the morning sun.
"Pander.....later, do you want to......"
"Ah, nevermind. It is nothing." Robo-Z quickly turned and left the room. I stood there, frowning.
Closer and closer you come to me, Robo-Z. And each time you draw back. What's wrong?
PAGING DANIELLE STEELE! Pander needs a heaving bosom and a petticoat or something. Robo-Z, for his part, just needs some Noxzema. Pander muses sadly that he no longer is a naive little panda, but a real woman, with needs, and feelings, and....oh, wait. Heh heh. Capoeira, Robo-Z, and Pander all go out shopping for props for the Happy Epileptic House...
At that moment we were walking in front of a large department store. In its windows, I saw big screen TVs...............
"That's it!" I cried. "TVs! Let's go!" I ran into the store. Capoeira and the mysteriously silent Robo-Z went in after me.
I raced to the TV section. "This will be great! These are what's needed for my stage!"
Capoeira decided to treat me and bought me all the TVs I wanted. Seven. They were the new style, very expensive. They were about eleven feet tall. The TVs were placed in boxes. Since all of us were so strong, we decided to carry them back to the hotel. Robo-Z and I carried two, and Capoeira each carried one.
One: I want to meet the Capoeira. They can afford SEVEN 11' TELEVISIONS AS A GIFT? Heyyyyy Capoeira! BE MY FRIENDS! ^_~
Two: I don't care how strong you are, no normal-sized panda-man can carry two eleven-foot-tall televisions.
Outside the store, the four of them run into Strike the gangsta and Kitty-N the cosplay warrior. Kitty-N has a cutesy nickname for everyone - Cappy for the Capoeira, Strikey for Strike...
"You must be Pander! Commie told me about you!" Kitty-N said, shaking my hand. "I'm Kitty-N! Pleased to meetcha!"
"Hello Kitty-N," I replied, feeling a bit more comfortable. "I'm pleased to meet you too."
One: Commie...oh, COMET! Now I'm imagining her doing her rollerblade dances on May Day.
Two: You know, this is not how I'd ever imagined meeting Pander. I always thought an encounter with Pander would go something like this:
ME: Um...hello, Pander!
PANDER: kakakakakakakaka!!! *hops on one foot, puts a flower on his head, stamps his feet, and bows deeply*
ME: Whoa, I feel violated and he didn't even touch me.
PANDER: kakakakakakakaka!! *fandances slowly and seductively*
ME: EEK! NO WAY!
The Blossom Bay Restaurant was a very elegant place. It was made of brick, with green shutters on the windows. There was a red carpet spread out.
Robo-Z and Capoeira started up the carpet, but I drew back. I had always been self-consious about how humans looked at me, but now I was horrified at entering. Robo-Z noticed my nervousness. He went over to me and looped his arm around mine. "Forget about earlier," he whispered in my ear. "Right now you are my date."
"Your date?!" I whispered back incredelously.
"Yes. As long as you are with me, now one will stare at you or anything. Everyone knows me. And everyone knows what great taste I have in everything." Robo-Z and I walked up to where Capoeira stood.
"We want a table for three," Capoeira told the man at the desk.
Uh, one thing - that'd be a table for four. One robot, two twin aliens, and one blushing panda-man debutante. And it's "incredulously" and "escargot," if we're running a really quick spell-check on this section. At dinner, they're joined by Hiro-kun and Shorty, and everyone but Pander gets really sloshed on two bottles of champagne. Another amusing thing that I do when I'm reading fic is to judge if the author has even been drunk before, and if so, what kind of drunk they are. There are fics where I can tell that the author has been ridiculously smashed, and can relate the blurry vision, insane goodwill towards all, tendency to run off at the mouth, and the strange urge to sway back and forth from personal experience. I find myself giggling at those fics, since they ring so true. Some authors, though, obviously haven't been drunk, because all their drunk people do is slur their speech and hiccup.
Drinking and sex - two things that people really write much better if they've done it themselves.
After this scene Pander witnesses Shorty and Hiro's drunken makeout session. I scrolled up to check, and yes, Shorty's 13 while Hiro's 21. Shorty even protests that she's thirteen already, so shut up and kiss her. Um....ew. Tabloid headline material there.
One thing I'd like to compliment this author for is the constant credits and citations. We're not just talking about the basics, such as the fact that BAG2 belongs to Enix et al. She tells which books she got James Suneoka's bad MC jokes out of, which websites she looked up the BAG song lyrics on - it really warms my heart. In these days, when blatant plagiarism and unoriginality is passed off as "homage" - and the perpetrators are defended to the death by rabid fans - it's nice to see such care taken with small details. It's also just one or two references to other sources, not a constant string of borrowed witticisms. AHEM.
Okay, the rest of the fic is just a series of matches, ending with the final climactic battle between Robo-Z and Pander in which Robo-Z wins. They have sex (extremely off-screen) during the five days of competition, out themselves to the public at the end, everyone cheers, woo. At the very end, we find out that Capoeira fix their machine, so Robo-Z and Pander can take full human form if they want to, but they switch back and forth. Read it yourself if you want to witness the amusement of Pander thinking that Shorty's theme, "Happy Heart in the Sunshine," is HIS AND ROBO-Z'S SONG, so it's easy to dance to, or if you want to see what Pander's full human form is like. Overall, it's cute, silly, and light-hearted - but so is the game. I can't help but laugh to see the two strangest characters in the game act like they've stepped out of a young teen novel.
But, you know, that's not so bad after all.
NOW READ IT, FICBITCHES! I SWEAR IT WON'T KILL YOU!
I think I've pointed out the pros and cons of this fic during this review. It's not a great fic - but it shows how you don't have to be the best writer in the world to be able to write decent fic. This writer has the very basics down firmly, and I'd bet that in time she'll be able to write a really good fic. Why point this fic out, then? (Besides the premise? ^_~) I think that most writers don't grasp the basics - have a plot, flesh out your characters, write on the level of your canon, if not in the same style. I don't really know if I buy the idea that Pander is just a sensitive soul in need of love - but by the end of this fic, I have a fairly good grasp of the new, touchy-feely Pander. That's more than I can say about a lot of people and their "creative characterizations."
You don't have to shock, or break new ground, by writing the first Hamutaro deathfic or a fic where Harry Potter is a hermaphroditic manwhore or where so-and-so gets raped and becomes bitter and evil! Start simple, work your way up to the more complicated fic masterpieces! What is with these people who try to write these probing insights into the darker side of human nature without grasping even the basics of characterization or plot first?
Let's try an analogy here. I have friends who proved themselves completely unable to make instant brownies, but they wanted to cook a full dinner for some friends in high school. But as I watched them drop eggshells into the brownie batter, forget to add oil, and decide that they could just randomly substitute orange juice for milk in the recipe, I realized that they didn't even really have a grasp of the basics of cooking. Think of this fic author as someone who can make decent Betty Crocker brownies. But most fic writers are like my friends, wanting to go for complex things before really perfecting the basics.
I think I'm going to let Pander - the real Pander, not Pander Amethyyyyst Delacroix here - touch them in their bathing suit areas.