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I know I don't post much anymore, even about my travels, but sometimes something comes up that I simply have to talk about. To that end, I'm making this post public. (Seeing as how the contents of this post would be against LJ's new ToS, I won't be crossposting there - or indeed, posting there ever again.) Let me ask a few questions.

- Are you a noir-loving mystery buff who's fed up of the misogyny, homophobia etc. that seems to run rampant through the genre?

- Are you sick of playing 'Spot the Token Non-cishet Character' in the media you consume?

- Are you depressed and would like more stories about depressed characters where the entire plot is not actually about their depression?

- Are you into detective/thief pairings where your flirtatious banter comes with a side-order of death-defying escapades and saving the world together?

(And if not, how do you feel about a lesbian bandit and her schoolteacher wife running an orphanage, or a disabled aspiring knight whose horse's legs make up for his own? Not to mention some incredibly creepy standalone horror eps.)

If the answer to some or all of the above is 'yes', then click on the cut and let me introduce you to the joys of 'The Penumbra Podcast'. (If you already listen to it, then good for you! Come talk to me about it!)


So, I ran across TPP by chance while roaming around online, and it took me all of a few minutes reading up about it to convince me to listen. The podcast releases episodes twice a month (though they do seem to like throwing in some short bonus episodes after the regular season finishes), in the form of 30-50 minute radio plays, some of which have multiple parts, and most of which follow the adventures of the aforementioned private eye, Juno Steel.

Juno Steel. Wow. Where do I even start? Take all the tropes you'd associate with your typical noir PI, and then knock them around a bit until they look like something else. He's incredibly awkward, for one thing, which endears him to me no end, not to mention afraid of heights and not that fond of large quantities of blood. He's a grumpy, guilty, self-loathing mess of a human being with a dark past and some questionable self-preservation skills. Luckily, this doesn't stop him from having friends, even if he does his best to push them away - and with the kind of friends he has, sometimes that's the safest thing you can do with them. His depression is acknowledged by other characters, and the series makes it quite clear that it's colouring his view of the world in ways that aren't necessarily true. If you like unreliable narrators, he's got you covered.

There are many things I love a lot about Juno, one of which is that as mentioned, he's non-binary. Due to the nature of the world the creators have built, gender's not explicitly referenced any more than sexual orientation is and everybody just is whoever they are, without having to declare themselves - which is definitely a place I'd like us to get to, hopefully before we actually do manage to colonise Mars. Juno sometimes referring to himself as a lady (or being referred to as such by friends) gives me life, and let me just throw the name 'Dahlia Rose' out there. You've also got characters like Cecil Kanagawa, twin of Cassandra, and with a noticeably feminine voice, but no one questions that he's a 'he'. You've got the supremely-butch Valles Vicky, happily married with a wife and child, being referred to as 'Dad' and 'drama king' by Juno. (And on that note, a lot of the background characters are also queer, never mind the leads - I think I might've spotted a token straight person, but maybe we just haven't seen enough of him to be sure.)

Anyway, one of the other things I love about Juno is his voice. There aren't many people out there who have voices I could listen to just reading the phone book (Paul Darrow is the only one who immediately springs to mind, and not just because he's Avon from B7), but Joshua Ilon, the voice of Juno Steel, immediately added himself to that list. Good thing too, because we get to hear from Juno a lot, and some of the time he sounds really smooth, like he really knows what he's doing - and then you listen to what he's actually saying and do a double-take, because it's ridiculous.

His major competition in the ridiculous stakes is Peter Nureyev, a master thief, he of many names and much fabulousness. He's all about the knives, whereas Juno's more of a gun kind of lady, and he has worse hoarding tendencies than I do (oh, to be able to fit that amount of stuff in my pockets). He's suave, sophisticated, debonair, dapper - pretty much everything Juno isn't - and he's ever so good with people. Homme fatale, indeed. Nureyev has his own dark past and a million good reasons not to fall for someone who doesn't believe that he (Juno) deserves to have nice things, but that certainly doesn't stop him. (Also, if such a thing as a Japanese dub existed for this series, he'd have to be voiced by Suwabe Junichi doing his best Victor Nikifurov from 'Yuuri on Ice'. Really, cross Victor with Kaitou KID, and you've probably got Peter Nureyev.)

I'll say no more on that subject, but one last thing for any 'Yami No Matsuei' fans who enjoyed Hisoka playing poker against Muraki with Tsuzuki on the line - if you liked that, you'll love 'Juno Steel and the Train From Nowhere'. No spoilers.

Well, continuing on the ridiculous line, we have Juno's secretary, Rita, as voiced by the fantastic Kate Jones (pretty sure she's Michelle Nguyen from WTNV, in which case I had no idea her voice could sound like this). Rita makes me think of nothing so much as Leo Getz from the 'Lethal Weapon' movies, and you'll see why when she gets into her note-taking process. She's a feisty, flighty fireball with a heart of gold and a view of the world that seems to come from terrible movies and soap operas. She is also ESSENTIAL to solving Juno's cases because he is a complete Luddite who only uses his computer for solitaire and has definitely never hacked anything in his life.

Rounding out the cast we have Sasha Wire (Juno's old friend, top-notch secret agent at possibly the most bloodthirsty and backstabbing agency in the universe, where indoor sunglasses are mandatory and you probably need to kill your boss to advance your career), Mick Mercury (Sasha and Juno's old friend, might be a token straight guy, not the brightest crayon in the box but he's a good person who does his best to support his friends), the aforementioned Vicky (of Valles Vicky's Vixen Valley - not what it sounds like, trust me), the Kanagawa family (entertainment emperors by day, crimelords by night), the Saffron Prince of Mars (hires Juno to find what he thinks is his cheating husband, but things are nowhere near that simple), Alessandra Strong (ex-soldier, PI who runs up against Juno while he's trying to find the missing husband), Captain Khan of the Hyperion City Police Department (probably the only cop not on the take, can't stand Juno, would rather see him arrested than dead), and an amazingly creepy villain I won't get into here.

Long story short, Juno probably has the hardest life I've seen of any protagonist since Will Graham and could do with a hug, which he won't think he deserves. The series makes me want to claw my face open and screech incoherently, which is usually a good sign that I've become invested in the characters and their fates and doesn't happen all that often. If you start listening, you may be letting yourself in for a world of exquisite agony, but it's enjoyable, I promise you. Just listen to the re-recorded versions of the first two eps, not the originals, because they are worlds better. (Not that you shouldn't listen to the originals, but they're less representative of how the series went after that, so maybe save them for afterwards?)

But wait, there's more!

In between the Juno Steel eps, there are some standalones and the makings of another series, which I'll touch on briefly. 'Home' and 'Shaken' are both standalone stories of the Twilight Zone/Outer Limits variety, very weird and creepy, so pay attention to the warnings. (On that subject, where the episodes have content warnings these are available in a non-spoilery way, so the creators are very good about helping people avoid content that might be triggering for them. There is some pretty harrowing stuff, so do take care.)

Then there's 'The Coyote of the Painted Plains', a much happier standalone (with a later bonus episode) about a schoolteacher, Mary Anne, who's moving to Crossroads with her drippy fiancé - the town's new sheriff - when she has a run-in with Chance, a bandit who could really use someone to teach all the orphans she's taken in... Largely lighthearted fluff, even if it does involve a kidnapping, and they all lived happily every after.

And finally, 'The Second Citadel', which has had a couple of regular episodes and a bonus of its own. Where Juno Steel is sci-fi, this one's fantasy, with jungles and monsters and knights - some accredited, some just aspiring. Sir Marc and Sir Talfryn are not technically knights, though it's not for want of trying. Sir Marc has taken the exams a ridiculous number of times, overcoming every single obstacle they put in his way - until the final hurdle, because bureaucracy and disability are not a match made in heaven. Marc can't use his legs, but his horse has four perfectly good ones that serve him just as well and he's got no shortage of upper-body strength. One day, he and Tal are going to take down a monster so dangerous the knights will have to let them join.

Sir Caroline also has something to prove, being the only female knight (in a world where misogyny is alive and well, unlike the Juno Steel stories). She is definitely not here for your cracks about finding a rich lord to marry and she can damned well take care of herself in a fight. That said, she's not perfect, any more than the other characters in the series are, and just because she's discriminated against herself doesn't make her immune from discriminating against people she views as being less privileged than herself.

But she can learn. They can all learn. I listen to this podcast and hear opportunities for character growth, for people figuring out how to communicate with each other in ways that work for them. And maybe some of the characters are lovable and some of them should send you running ten miles in the opposite direction, but I've found some good things here, and I can't wait to hear what happens next.

If you made it through all of that and want to give it a go for yourself, their official site is: here, and they have links from there to various useful things (their Tumblr, Twitter, YouTube, iTunes etc.)

Thank you for reading, and I hope you find something you like!
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Mec

May 2017

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