Hi folks! Believe it or not, I’m starting to run out of manga I’ve read recently enough to be comfortable reviewing them. (Being a college student tends to cut in on that pesky thing we call free time). So I’m going to put aside my weekly review for a bit and instead address an issue I’ve noticed in a lot of manga and anime that I frankly find troubling. Namely, how do manga writers portray queer characters?
The most pervasive view of the queer person in manga is the flirtatious, flamboyant gay man. The character is often portrayed as a classically masculine man (large and muscular, often hairy) who augments their appearance via drag, makeup, or traditionally feminine accessories. They talk in affected ways and are generally side characters that are seen as sexually predatory toward straight main characters but never as average sexual beings in normal relationships. Examples?
- Grell Sutcliff, a transwoman in Black Butler/Kuroshitsuji, makes constant romantic overtures toward the butler Sebastian, who finds her attentions disgusting.
- Leeron, an accomplished mechanic and scientist in Gurren Lagann, is shown constantly flirting with and winking at the hypermasculine Kamina, as well as the rest of the Gurren Brigade.
- Charlotte Cuulhorne, one of Barragan’s fraccion in Bleach. During his one battle, he is consistently mocked and his appearance and actions played for laughs, sadly enough by one of the series’ only realistic (arguably) queer characters, Yumichika.
- REBORN’s Lussuria is arguably badass, and predatory in a purely violent rather than sexual way, but is referred to as nee-san (older sister) and the ‘mother’ of the Varia (the hit squad of which he is a member).
- Jakotsu, a villain in Inuyasha, is seen to be attracted to both Inuyasha and Kouga, but in a sadistic and twisted way. (And in the English dub of the anime, he was given a female voice actor to remove the ‘creepiness’ of having a gay guy crushing on the main character.)
And if they’re not predatory, they’re sexless. Look at the Black Order’s cook, Jerry, from D. Gray-man, in whose case I think a picture is worth a thousand words.
So is there any hope?
It’s hard to say. A lot of people point to the thriving BL market as an example of Japan’s more progressive views of homosexuality, but the truth is that that genre tends to perpetuate traditional gender dynamics (aggressive top/seme, emotional and submissive bottom/uke) and tends to encourage rape apology. (“Deep down he really wanted to be aggressively kissed without warning!”)
And the yuri market, although it does often contain work that’s less sexualized and more directed at women, is still significantly tainted by the male gaze and conventional ideas of [two attractive ciswomen sexing = hot].
There are examples of queer characters who aren’t the threating ‘other’, but they’re few and far between. Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune for example, have a committed relationship that is not the main focus of their show. Wandering Son, a more recent slice-of-life manga (and its anime adaptation) apparently (I haven’t read/watched it yet) treats transpeople in a respectful and thoughtful way by following two transgender children in middle school.
How can you make a difference? Well, it’s difficult when there’s a cultural and language barrier between an author and their concerned demographic. But we can try to change the American market by arguing with our wallets and our words. Support manga and anime that portray queer characters in a believable and thoughtful way by buying their works and merchandise. Go to the websites of publishing and anime distribution companies like Viz Media and Yen Press and FUNimation and Crunchyroll and let them know what you think and what you want to see.