Tropes and Television at the Brisbane Writers Festival, 2016

Tropes are broad literary motifs and symbols, but they can also refer to ongoing and recognisable cliches and patterns that readers and other audiences can pick up on and,  possibly, glean an idea of where a story is going, or how a character arc might resolve.

Trope patterns might explicitly outline what to expect in a story. A man in a dark coat obscured in shadow means mystery and danger. The colour red invoked passion, particularly when it’s the colour of a long, evening gown. These two examples are the Trenchcoat brigade or Lady in Red respectively.

Some Tropes don’t describe specific character design, but instead build narrative, or form a coherent and believable world. When subverted, the surprise can be enough to make a story or character resonate in pop-culture.

A generation growing up with television programs is one of the reasons why tropes and television are important to look into.

The event coordinators at the Brisbane Writers Festival in 2016 are aware of this significant change in culture as a younger generation comes of age.

On Sunday, September 11 2016, the festival scheduled held a discussion as a part of their program; Everything I Know, I Learned From Television.

Master of Ceremonies Sophie Overett asked the three speakers to name examples of several pop-culture tropes.

Here’s what Alexei Sayle (Actor in Indiana Jones and the last crusade, author of Barcelona Plates), Caroline Kepnes (Author of Hidden Bodies and You), and Mark Fennel (SBS program The Feed, author of Planet According to the Movies) had to say on each point.

Going by numbers, Caroline is one, Mark two, and Alexei number three:

  • Evil is Sexy
    1. Dylan McKay from Beverly Hills: 90210
    2. Heather Locklear’s entire career
    3. Lord Petyr Baelish from A Game of Thrones
  • Forgotten Accent
    1. Ewan McGregor in any film not set in Scotland
    2. Any non-Bostonian attempting a Boston accent
  • The Unwitting Instigator of Doom
    1. Homer Jay Simpson of The Simpsons (The panel agreed unanimously)
  • Shouldn’t We Be In School  Right Now?
    1. The Cast of 7th Heaven
    2. The Cast of Buffy The Vampire Slayer
    3. The Cast of Twilight
  • Hands-Off Parenting
    1. Roseanne from the Sitcom of the same name (another complete agreement across the panel)
  • No Fourth Wall
    1. Carrie Bradshaw from Sex in the City
    2. The voices and animation of Family Guy
    3. Ferris Bueller from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
    4. Honourable mention – Snowy the Dog from The Adventures of Tin Tin.
  • A Very Special Episode
    1. Episodes of Saved by the Bell.

Have the panel missed any more good examples? Do you agree with the choices? What tropes are in some of these shows? Let me know what you think in the comments.


Yokai in Kubo and the Two Strings

This summary contains spoilers – character and story details for Kubo and the Two Strings – if you must blink, do it now.

The new stop-motion fantasy film from Laika travels through a ancient Japan inspired by mythology such as The Bomboo cutter and mythology surrounding the moon diety Tsukuyomi.

It also calls out to various strange creatures called “yokai”.

But what are these things?

They’re not just a ghost or a spirit, according to the Nintendo game and anime Yokai Watch.

They are their own class of fairytale characters. And fairytales are often cautionary tales.

Even if the creators at Laika did not explicitly consult these specific spirits from Japan’s folklore and yokai history in depth, the cultural symbols, creatures, and ideas are still invoke and resemble yokai.

Kubo and the Two Strings brings to life some of these obscure monsters. Sometimes the resemblance is comic, and even a bit hazy. The movie narrative still has elements that are in harmony with the folklore and folk knowledge that surrounds these yokai. The cautionary aspect of some of these creatures remains.

Here are some that I spotted:

When telling an enthralling tale about Hanzo and the Moon King to his friends and neighbours, Kubo folds a giant spider from paper. This is a Tsuchigumo.

The Tsuchigumo appear early on, when Kubo begins telling a tale of Hanzo and the Moon King. His tiny, paper hero dispatches an enormous paper spider. While the legend of the Tsuchigumo (which translates as “ground-spider”) is from centuries before Kubo was born, They’re a fearsome opponent for him to pit against his hero hanzo.

Kubo’s elderly friend Kameyo demands a “fire breathing chicken” appear in the paper samurai story. Kubo obliges with a yellow, red-confetti spewing monster, which resembles the Basan.

A fire breathing chicken is a Basan. Kameyo asked for it because it sounded funny to her. The folklore behind the bird is a bit comedic – its fire does not burn anything, and produces no heat. That’s just like the ineffectual paper confetti Kubo crafted for Kameyo.

A Bakekujira is a ghost whale, that resembles a skeleton, and is said to bring bad luck and misfortune to anyone who sees it. Kubo and Monkey sought refuge from a snowstorm inside a frozen, dead whale.

The whale itself was frozen, and long since dead, however there was something eerie about the ocean giant frozen and lying in the ice. After staying inside it for shelter, misfortune did find Kubo as the story progressed. Arguably, this had nothing to do with the whale from earlier in the film, but the connection can’t be ignored completely. However, this may be just a case of folklore correlation, and not causation.

Mischievous, supernatural sparrow yokai do exist – the Yosuzume. Kubo encounters a sparrow, and creates his own flock of the tiny birds with blue paper of various shades

Kubo is tired and frustrated after meeting his bossy, monkey companion. Naturally, he feels like letting out some of the frustration. That’s when he sees a sparrow, and inspiration strikes. Kubo himself is the bringer of misfortune here. He sends one of his birds after monkey, who does not appreciate the ninja-like stab from behind. The folklore surrounding the Yosuzume in particular is associated with bad luck – it’s recommended not to let these birds fly up a shirt sleeve, anywhere near your body.

The giant skeleton – the O-Dokuro or Gashadokuro – has been covered expertly on tumblr by GloriousPancakes

The giant skeleton has several folktales surrounding it. The film even references the famous print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi “Mitsukuni defying the giant skeleton spectre”.


As depicted in the film, the Gashadokuro is capable of disassembling itself to fit into small spaces.

At an emotional high-point in the film, Kubo’s Shamisen breaks, losing its strings. A broken Shamisen left in disrepair can shift into a yokai classed as Tsukumo-gami.

A Tsukumo-gami (translates to “haunted relics”) are sufficiently aged antiques that gain a life of their own if they are loved, and then left behind. Usually, and completely understandably, they are remorseful, but in the case of the Shamisen-choro the instrument was so well loved in life, a shade of the master musician’s spirit remains with the instrument. Thankfully, Kubo finds a novel (and powerful) solution to repair his shamisen. No guitars were harmed, or left to gently weep, in the making of this film.

Those where my thoughts, but did you spot any yokai hiding in the film? Let me know in the comments.


  • (2016) Matthew Meyer.
  • Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide (2012) Hiroko Yoda, Matt Alt, Tatsuya Morino.


Image from Thor: Ragnarok imdb page -

Thor visits Australia! A short mockumentary catching up with the Norse god of thunder.

Previously only available at Comic Con, a short film showing Thor’s trip to Australia (featuring Dr. Bruce Banner ) was released by Marvel Studios.

While the final scenes of Avengers: Age of Ultron sent Thor and the Hulk down a different road, one which left the Asgardian and green goliath absent from the battle at Berlin airport back in late April this year, A new mockumentary by director Taika Waititi catches up with Thor’s new domestic arrangements.

I had a few observations:

  • Thor’s “What are infinity Stones” chart hints at the power and mind stones, and references Nick Fury, plus Captain America’s indestructible shield.
  • The red reality stone, and it’s connection with Dr. Jane Foster, is also on the chart, along with a green stone next to the label “Time Stone”, confirming that the time stone is green in colour.
  • The yellow sugar sachets visible in the cafe are found across Australia, just in case there was any doubt of where the mockumentary was made.
  • Darryl’s email to Tony Stark as dictated by Thor mentioned Tony Stark creating a “possessed robot”, which is none other than Ultron, who was possessed by the AI built into the crystal shell surrounding the mind stone when it was still attached to Loki’s staff. Convoluted? It’s just like the comics.
  • Darryl’s tie also matches his Bike. Good sartorial and transport choices.

Thor: Ragnarok is currently set for a November 7, 2017 release date, and is distributed by Marvel Studios.