This article is written from the point of view of a heterosexual woman, I do not proclaim to know everything about what it’s like to be treated differently because of one’s sexuality. I wanted to write this because there are so few articles that deal with LGBT and how it’s portrayed in anime on “mainstream” sites. This is just an opinion piece and I’m not trying to convince you to see my point of view but to just get a conversation going. I will primarily be focusing on anime that I have seen and mentioning a few that I haven’t.
Let us begin, shall we?
If you were to trust the average person who doesn’t watch a lot of anime, they would assume that it doesn’t touch the topic of sexuality. There are probably some anime fans who think the same way, or they’re just in denial. The truth of the matter is that anime is beginning to change to reflect the changes in Japan. Let’s start with Japan itself and what it’s like to be gay in Japan today.
In an article (by an author known only as Aliasis) that I discovered while researching the subject, I found that while being an LGBT person in Japan isn’t really shunned or hated, it’s not necessarily talked about either. “Homosexuality is frequently kept silent. There is still no religious basis for discrimination, but gay people struggle to face Japan’s strict family and gender roles…At best, it is usually a subject kept under the table ” the article stated. As some of you may know, Japan is known for its strict gender roles: men are the breadwinners and women are the housewives. As I stated in my article about fan service, this particular dynamic is changing due to the booming economic power that Japan has gained in the past several years. Women are becoming more independent and challenging those gender roles. Despite this, the LGBT community in Japan is finding that they don’t quite fit in the so-called “normal” social makeup. Aliasis explains:
“In my experience, almost all Japanese LGBT people I met while living in Tokyo were shocked when I asked if they were out to their families. Often they are only open at gay bars and events. I tried to be honest about my own sexual orientation when it came up in an effort to spread awareness, and I can’t count the number of awkward silences I endured after answering the infamous “do you have a boyfriend?” question. One young man even claimed to me, “We don’t have gay people in Japan.”
How the LGBT community is portrayed is also an issue, “Largely, gay and transgender people are portrayed as comedy acts on TV, often by straight comedians, and sexuality is frequently at the butt of jokes. Gay characters do on rare occasion exist in movies and television dramas, but it is rarer still to find a portrayal that is not stereotypical and comedic.” Aliasis says. So basically, because it makes people uncomfortable to talk about, it’s made fun of. At least in the “real” world, it is. Enter the wonderful, glorious world of anime.
For the most part, anime has portrayed the LGBT community in a positive light. That’s really the focus of this article: the positive things that anime does. Because it’s not really seen as “real” it is able to tackle issues that other outlets would rather just leave behind and sweep under the table.
Now, let’s get to probably the most famous LGBT couple in anime: Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus.
If you didn’t watch the Japanese version or read the manga, then that’s your initial reaction. And if you watched the English version, and that’s all you’ve ever known, then you would be in your own right to have that reaction. The English version was edited to fit a hetero-normative view of the world that was the case a few years ago. Hetero-normative is denoting or relating to a worldview that promotes heterosexuality as the normal or preferred sexual orientation. The pair was introduced as “cousins” and I remember watching it, even as young as I was, and thinking “You know that’s not what I say to my cousin.” They were always together, affectionate with each other and even were willing to die for each other. I mean I love my cousins…but I’m sorry not enough to do what they were willing to do for each other.
With the dawn of the Internet I soon discovered that they were not cousins but in fact lovers, and because I was too young to understand sexuality I just sort of brushed it off. As I got older and my social circles grew I began to realize how progressive and how important it was for the LGBT community, even though it didn’t promote a huge change—it probably did give someone who was struggling with their sexuality a little bit of comfort.
Let’s look at the characters themselves: Sailor Uranus provides the rougher edges of the relationship, being more dependent on using her strength as well as providing a no-nonsense viewpoint, as well as a bombastic problem-solving approach. Sailor Neptune is her opposite, more feminine and reserved and that sometimes may come off as cold. These two just fit. They balance each other out and are not portrayed as some sort of ideal relationship.
One isn’t portrayed as the “man” or the “woman” of the relationship, they’re human beings. They both have feminine qualities and they just happen to be lesbian.
Sailor Moon sort of opened the door for other anime characters to “come out” and be proud of their sexual orientation. Here’s just a brief list of a few:
- Isabella Yamamoto – Paradise Kiss
- Alielle Relryle – El-Hazard
- Daley Wong – Bubblegum Crisis
- Anthy Himemiya, Utena Tenjou, Juri Arisugawa – Revolutionary Girl Utena
- Miyuki – Yu Yu Hakusho
I hope that this has opened your eyes to something: That anime is for everyone, no matter what your gender, sexual orientation, or skin color. It’s constantly evolving with the times and it’s there for people who feel like they’re different from everyone else. That’s what anime is. I am a firm believer in that. So remember, next time you’re watching your favorite show that someone else sees it differently than you and that’s okay! That’s what makes us all amazing.
Let’s talk. Who are some of your favorite LGBT characters? Has anime helped you in any way? Let’s discuss!
Original Article: Being Gay in Japan: The Ups and Downs