Thursday, February 2, 2017

Top 10 LGBT Characters, Redux

Written by: Pomelote 

[Note: this is a follow-up to Otaku Nuts' Top 10 LGBT Characters article - don't forget to give the original some sugar]

Gay and lesbian people! Bisexual people! Transgender people! Intersex people! Maybe you've been hearing a lot about the great diversity of human experience lately and you're interested in hearing a little more. Or maybe you aren't. Maybe you're just here for the Yuri!!! on Ice fan-gushing.

Over the last decade or so, the mainstream world has become more aware about the concept of "representation" in fiction and media than it used to be, and of how fictional representations of demographics both feed into and are fed by real-world beliefs and attitudes. One area of representation that the mainstream world has a reputation for botching is the portrayal of queer characters, who generally lack the the same depth of character and variety that depictions of straight characters have by default (and tends to be taken for granted by straight audiences).

Anime and manga, unfortunately, are no exceptions to this. When queer people aren't absent entirely, portrayals in anime and manga commonly fall into two negative, de-humanising camps:  
  1. as objects of mockery or fear for straight people (for example, effeminate "okama" and masculine "onabe" stereotypes, or the common depiction of gay characters apparently having nothing better to do with their time than prey on straight people, or portrayals of cross-dressing in general), and 
  2.  as objects of fetishisation for straight people (for example, depictions of gay relationships in the majority of BL/yaoi manga, depictions of lesbian relationships in a significant portion of yuri manga, or representations of trans characters in pretty much anything).
So while not ignoring the entertainment value or popularity of characters when putting this Top 10 together, those qualities took a backseat to whether I felt that characters were "good", well-rounded examples of queer representation, and avoided falling into these camps. Now, this is all my so-very-hella-subjective opinion, but as usual, any thought of dissent from the reader will be met with swift reprisal from the Otaku Nuts killbots.

10. Sakakura Juuzou (Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak Academy)
(Gay man, tragic unrequited love)

Get your spoiler goggles on if you haven't seen last year's Danganronpa 3!

Danganronpa is, undeniably, a campy series that loves winking at the audience at the same time as it pulls the rug out from under them, but there's always been an edge to the campiness. In Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak Academy, the edge is mainly the mockery of anime's pop-cultural influence and the pointless competitiveness of Japan's education system, but also in its depiction of the very pervasive stigma of homosexuality in Japan.

Danganronpa 3 splits its story between a final "Killing Game" forced on the members of the Future Foundation and a flashback to Hope's Peak Academy's school days, explaining the origins of events from Danganronpas 1 and 2. Both halves of the series complement each other, and most characters make appearances in each. 

The Super High School Level Boxer, Juuzou is an alumnus and former staff member of Hope's Peak Academy and present member of the Future Foundation. Most importantly, Juuzou is also... a massive asshole.

 Angry, angry young man.

He's violent, fanatical, arrogant, and generally seems like someone you wouldn't want to spend an afternoon with. His only real positive attribute is his loyalty to his friend Munakata Kyosuke, the Future Foundation's Vice President, whom Juuzou is eventually revealed to be harbouring an unrequited love for.

Anyway, in the Despair (flashback) Arc, Juuzou puts some of the pieces of Enoshima Junko's scheme together and confronts her and her mob of rioting students, but he's eventually beaten down by them. Junko then reveals that she knows about his secret love for Kyosuke (in a pointedly nasty moment, she and the mob mock Juuzou for it) and blackmails him with that information to force him to keep quiet about her role in the conspiracy - so yes, homophobia canonically dooms the world to despair. Years later, in the Future Arc, Juuzou regrets keeping quiet. And by regrets, I of course mean, "takes his anger and frustration out on exactly the wrong people", 'cuz, hey, that's how Juuzou rolls.

Juuzou is later stabbed and apparently killed by Kyosuke himself, believing everybody but himself to be Remnants of Despair. It's later revealed that he survived the wound, and also cut off his own hand to bypass the effects of the game's bracelets, and he prevents Makoto from being forced to kill himself from the effects of the despair videos.

What we have here is a failure to communicate.

He then uses the last of his energy to shut off the power, ending the game for everyone (but basically just for Kyosuke's sake). Kyosuke rushes to find him, having realised that Juuzou was only *sort of* a traitor and possibly even Juuzou's feelings for him, but Juuzou dies before he makes it. If you're feeling ungenerous, you could interpret this as a fulfilment of the old "sacrificial gay" cliche, but that's probably a coincidence - the body count is half the appeal of Danganronpa in the first place, and he's one if the few characters in Danganronpa 3 who manages to actually accomplish something before they die.

 "Don't you fret, Monsieur Munakata, a little fall of rain can hardly hurt me now..."

Juuzou gets 10th place because through him, Danganronpa 3 acknowledges the real-life consequences of coming out in Japan, and that's something you hardly ever see in a series as big and popular as Danganronpa.

Fan-art corner:

9. Grell Sutcliff (Black Butler)
(Trans woman/cross-dresser/gay man)

It's pretty hard to write this article without including a tribute to probably the medium's most popular queer character: Grell, of Black Butler fame. I'll start with the good: Grell's supremely entertaining, and every scene she appears in automatically improves just from her presence there. Her character design is also memorable and unique. Overall, it's no wonder people love Grell so much.

That said, Grell is not without problems, some of them pretty major. The first thing to point out is that it's not really clear how the audience is supposed to identify Grell - as a trans woman, as a cross-dresser, as a gay man, or as something else entirely?

Besides "glambulous", obviously.

A significant portion of the Western Black Butler fandom has, not unreasonably, latched onto the notion of Grell being transgender based on comments she makes in the series, but there's not really much evidence that Grell's supposed to be taken that way in Japanese. Frankly, she seems intended to be an okama stereotype turned up to eleven and designed in a more bishounen-y style than most. Now, it's true that there is a lot of overlap between okama characters and transgender characters in older or less-informed Japanese entertainment, but a particularly good indicator that you aren't supposed to take Grell's gender identity seriously is that Grell doesn't merely speak femininely, she speaks in an exagerrrrrrrrratedly feminine way associated with okama characters, onee kotoba, while being voiced by a male voice actor making little attempt to sound like a woman.

Another big issue is that her behaviour towards Sebastian is basically just the old "predatory gay man who has nothing better to do than sexually harass straight men" canard that's so prominent in anime, dressed up a little - and frankly, it also comes across as deeply hypocritical for a series that hits as many yaoi notes as Black Butler to present the romantic attention of its only canonical queer character as repulsive and unwanted.

But hey, I'm sheathing my claws now. Grell's fun, and sometimes that's enough.

Fan-art corner:

8. Alluka Zoldyck (Hunter x Hunter)
(Trans girl)

In the 13th Hunter Chairman Election arc of Hunter x Hunter, Killua Zoldyck returns home to his assassin family, and the audience meets his long-hinted-at final sibling – his younger sister, Alluka. Unlike the rest of the family, she isn't a trained, dangerous assassin; in fact, she's extremely naive and childlike. Also unlike the rest of the family, she's kept isolated – her main human contact seems to be servants and Killua himself.

Zoldyck Family Dynamics for Dummies.
It's eventually revealed that she has a Nen ability involving making contracts with a ghost-faced alternate personality of hers, Nanika. Like all good things in Hunter x Hunter, the rules of her ability are absurdly convoluted, so I won't go into them. Long story short: when people mess around making wishes with Nanika, people tend to die. Oodles of them. Messily. Killua wants to harness her ability to have her heal his BFF Gon, who basically strained a little too hard and popped a blood vessel in his brain in the previous arc.

Pretty standard Nen power, really.

Anyway, Alluka presents femininely both in appearance and manner, and Killua explicitly calls her his little sister, but the rest of the Zoldyck family refer to Alluka in masculine or non-human terms, and in flashbacks to Alluka as a toddler she's dressed much more boyishly compared to her present attire.

And so, without resorting to misgendering played for humour or shock value, or sexual harassment of her, it's made pretty clear that Alluka is a trans girl simply through context alone. It's a really good example of how to simply have a character incidentally be queer and not make it their sole defining trait. That's shockingly rare, especially for a shounen series like Hunter x Hunter. Although, maybe it shouldn't be surprising, considering that one of Togashi Yoshihiro's previous works, Level E, included a story arc about a transgender/intersex character and demonstrated a (not 100% correct, admittedly) knowledge about gender dysphoria.

So, why isn't Alluka ranked higher? Well, honestly... she's a little dull herself. Outside of her strong bond with Killua, the story never really gets into her head, and her MacGuffiriffic role in the arc doesn't exactly give her much agency as a character. Why does she tend to ask people to gruesomely hurt themselves in payment for past contracts? Does she feel responsibility or guilt for the people who died from Nanika's powers? Your guesses are as good as mine, since they're never brought up.

Fan-art corner:

7. Mutsuki Tooru (Tokyo Ghoul re)
(Trans man)

 Oh, poor Tooru. Run, run, get away from Tokyo Ghoul before Ishida gets bored and starts torturing you again!

Boasting the highest "dafuck is that character?"-per-minute rate in the entire manga industry, Tokyo Ghoul re continues the story of Tokyo Ghoul and Kaneki Ken in an extremely roundabout, overstuffed fashion. But don't worry, I'm not going to complain about that... I'm here today to complain about something else entirely!

One of Tokyo Ghoul re's more consistently recurring characters and at this point probably the closest to its "protagonist" by default is Mutsuki Tooru, a young man employed in the Quinx squad by the CCG. Like almost everyone in the Tokyo Ghoul series, he's deeply damaged, suffering particularly from childhood abuse and the murder of his family by a mysterious Ghoul (or was it...?)

I'm sure he's fine with this revelation. See, he can already look back and laugh about it!

Very early on in the series, it's revealed that Tooru is a trans man to the audience when a Ghoul serial killer develops an obsession with him, and subsequently, more of Toorui's perspective is given to the reader as he struggles with how he wants to present himself to the world and his feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness. Tooru's an interesting and sympathetic character, and his storyline is probably the most compelling part of Tokyo Ghoul re that isn't just a continuation of the leftover plot hooks from the original series.

Oh! I just realised - this series really is kind of goofy, isn't it?

Unfortunately, the major negative about Tooru is that almost all of the "reveals" about his trans status have been through sexual assault, torture, and situations where he's misgendered, like a sting operation where all the male characters dress up as women. And it certainly doesn't help things that Tokyo Ghoul re has gone out of its way to link his current gender identity with his past childhood abuse and mental instability.

To be fair, the story of Tokyo Ghoul re is far from over, and it has a fondness for pulling out big swerves and plot twists, so it's not entirely clear where Tooru's overall arc is heading. Right now it seems to be trying to make out that he's cracked and become a psychotic killer or something - I barely understand what's happening even at the best of times. Despite that, with the way it's otherwise been going, I can see it re-confirming Tooru's male identity in the future, but I can also see it falling back into one of those horrible old tropes about his male identity being a coping mechanism from his childhood abuse (implied to be sexual), or even something else entirely. Tooru's arc (and the occasional stab at other queer characters in the series) has been handled badly enough up until now that I'm sceptical that it won't just end up a trainwreck of trans erasure. But, hey, fingers crossed!

Fan-art corner:

6. Masayoshi and Gotou (bonus: Mari and Moe) (Samurai Flamenco)
(Gay/bisexual men, couple)

Gotou Hidenori's an unassuming young community police officer in Tokyo. Hazama Masayoshi's a male model with delusions of superherodom. They're partners in real estate crime-stopping and partners in life.

I've heard worse pick-up lines.

First meeting one night after one of Masayoshi's attempts at costumed vigilantism ends up with him naked in an alley and Gotou accidentally setting his costume on fire (it's what they call a "meet-nude"), over the course of Samurai Flamenco Masayoshi fights punk kids, street crime, mutants, alien mutants, doppelgangers, alien superheroes, the Prime Minister of Japan, and others, all the while reluctantly supported and aided by the more down-to-earth Gotou. In the end, after week after week of potential queerbaiting, everything comes down to a nude marriage proposal from Masayoshi to Gotou during a hostage situation, as it always had to.

There was a gun in his pocket and he's happy to see him!

Interestingly, the series also foreshadows this development with the realisation of a lesbian relationship between Mari and Moe, two major supporting characters and magical girl vigilantes, who probably deserve an entry dedicated all to themselves, but there's only so many numbers to go around in a Top 10.

Unfortunately, something of a bummer about Samurai Flamenco is that despite the pretty straightforward confession scene climax, the epilogue fails to show any intimacy or relationship confirmation between Masayoshi and Gotou; in fact, Gotou seems to have backslided into (spoiler) pretending that his ex-girlfriend is still alive. This chasteness (presumably so that the two's gayness is somewhat plausibly deniable) goes down particularly bitter when during the earlier-developed relationship between Mari and Moe, the show had no problem showing the two of them all over each other. But besides this issue, Masayoshi and Gotou's journey in Samurai Flamenco is a fascinating one.

They were then wed in a beautiful mobile phone card game ceremony.

Fan-art corner:

5. Tenjou Utena and Himemiya Anthy (Revolutionary Girl Utena)
(Lesbian/bisexual women, couple)

The critical darling of the queer anime family, Revolutionary Girl Utena is undoubtedly a classic. Esoteric, perhaps to a fault, it tells the story of Utena, a girl who aspires to become a classic chivalric prince after being rescued by one as a child, as she attends the Escher-esquely architectured Ohtori Academy and takes part in elaborate, ritualised duels with other students to "obtain" the Rose Bride, Anthy.

 Would you two just kiss already?

The series is so rich and dense in symbolic imagery and metaphor that it could probably be taken to mean anything, but the general consensus on "what" the series is about is coming of age and and moving on into a better society, with more-or-less omnipresent themes of sexuality, gender roles, empowerment, and abuse, as well. It can be a pretty heady viewing experience, overall.

Enough teasing!

The main running thread of Revolutionary Girl Utena is Utena and Anthy's developing relationship after Utena "wins" her hand and becomes "engaged" to Anthy, apparently with Anthy perfectly consenting to this turn of events. Anthy takes up residence in Utena's dorm room as her bride and the two grow close while Utena defends herself against challengers for Anthy. Eventually, it's revealed that Anthy's docile, servile personality is a mask specifically engineered by Anthy at the behest of her brother Akio, the very same "prince" who rescued Utena when she was younger, and... well, I've said too much.

 Look, will you two just k- oh, there you have it.

The show also boasts another gay character in Juri, one of Utena's fellow duelists, who's in love with her own best friend Shiori (who's aware of Juri's feelings and exploits it for her own ends). In fact, just about everyone and everything in Utena brims with homoerotic energy, up to and including its incredible soundtrack. So why not give it a shot, especially if you're in the mood for a classic 90s anime?

 Utena also briefly turns into a car in the movie. It's symbolic... of Ikuhara Kunihiko going mad with creative control.

Fan-art corner:
break, sayonararolling

4. Giselle Gewelle (Bleach)
(lesbian trans woman)

Oh, Giselle. Where to even start with you?

Giselle's been rich fodder for Top 10s here on Otaku Nuts many times before, but it's not like one more time's gonna hurt anyone. Introduced in Bleach's horribly inconsistent final arc as a member of the Sternritter, an elite corps of Quincy handpicked by the arc's Big Bad Ywach himself, Giselle didn't initially seem like a promising character. However, with every re-appearance she made, she revealed more and more odd traits, eventually ending up as one of the few memorable parts of Bleach's dying gasps.

The first thing of note about Giselle is that she somehow manages to seem like both an innocent goofball and a sadistic troll at exactly the same time. Usually, they would seem like two separate states that a character switches between, but with Giselle, they seem inseparable, somehow, even when she's bashing a former ally's head into a rock so she can get a taste of their blood. The second thing of note is her gender identity and sexual orientation: she's very clearly identified as transgender, and going from her interactions with Bambietta, the fellow Sternritter that Giselle kills and converts into a zombie slave, she's also lesbian. The third thing of note is that she's as blatantly a necrophile as Kubo could probably get away with in Shonen Jump, and she makes sure people know it. To tell the truth, necrophilia was really just the tip of the iceberg as far as the final arc's batshittery was concerned.

You deserve that if you only just figured that out now, Mayuri.
Anyway, for ease of reading, I've broken down my observations about Giselle into a pros-and-cons list.

  • She has a strong, identifiable personality, not at all defined by the fact that she's transgender, and shows no stereotypical okama traits in her speech, appearance, or mannerisms, nor is she, as far as I can tell, sexualised like an otoko no ko character would be.
  • She's accepted by a group of cisgender female Sternritter as one of them and visually presented as a member of their group  (incidentally, it's not indicated one way or the other whether they're aware she's trans).
  • When she's misgendered by Yumichika and Charlotte, she gets visibly upset and immediately tries to retaliate, rather than accepting it.
  • Even after her trans status is "revealed", other characters (Mayuri and Dordoni) continue to refer to her in female terms. This is particularly interesting in Mayuri's case, given that he's a sadist who otherwise takes every opportunity to get under his opponents' skin –  which suggests that he doesn't see it as something to be mocked for. Although, on the other hand, given that he's the most twisted character in Bleach, that might not be intended to be a positive thing. But on this third hand that I happen to have right here (don't worry, I'm just borrowing it), Mayuri is clearly Kubo's favourite character, so maybe it is. Or maybe, just maybe... I'm overthinking this.
  • The "outing" of Giselle by Yumichika and Charlotte has obvious transphobic issues, most of them stemming from the way it's played for a combination of shock value and humour (i.e. having Yumichika, a "good guy", outright call Giselle a man, make an erection joke at her expense, and offer the bizarre factoid that she "smells of semen" as evidence for her being trans).
  • Giselle has a number of psychological issues (e.g. her necrophilia, sadism, control issues, and violent mood swings), and it's not clear whether Kubo's intent was for her gender identity to come across as another expression of her "depravity" or not.
  • Giselle's abuse and sadism towards Bambietta is deep within "psycho lesbian" trope territory, and there's a pretty unmistakeable fetishistic quality to it, too.
  • This is really kind of an incidental detail, but... infectious blood? Really? Are you sure you don't want to second-draft that power, Kubo?
So, after all these word, do I think Giselle is a "good" queer character or not? Deep down, I... have absolutely no idea. But I sure think she's a unique one.

 Still a much more plausible romance than the official couples we actually got.

Fan-art corner:

ジジ♡ (Gigi♡), nois

バンビーズ (Bambies), ttl17

3. Wakanae Sora and Wakanae Yukari (bonus: other characters) (Family Compo/F.Compo)
(Trans man, trans woman, couple, family)

After the death of his workaholic father and with little other way to get by, a young man called Yanagiba Masahiko gets invited to come and live with his Aunt Yukari and Uncle Sora and their teenage daughter, Shion. He soon learns (through Shion's mind games and the power of contrived nudity) that both Sora and Yukari are transgender – Sora is "biologically" female and Yukari is "biologically" male.

Consummate shitlord that he turns out to be, Masahiko spends the next 100 or so chapters viciously judging them for it and whining about how much they embarrass him and make his life so hard. At the same time, he quietly has sexual fantasies about Shion, his biological cousin and new sister figure, but what holds him back from attempting anything in-person is his anxiety over the fact that he doesn't know what her birth-assigned sex is - you know, priorities. ಠ_๏

"Honey, you make the best lukewarm coffee."

But enough about Masahiko –  this is supposed to be about Yukari and Sora, and they're just darling. Sora, like 75% of all manga characters, is a professional mangaka, while Yukari is a more down-to-earth homemaker. On the outside, they appear to be the perfectly idealised Japanese married couple (he's a bullheaded overworker who rushes into things, she's quiet and practical), but on the inside, they're both tightly wadded-up balls of insecurity and pain from how society treats them.

Sora is the more overt of the two, frequently making sure people know that he identifies as a man and being obviously annoyed and uncomfortable whenever he's misgendered (like when he's cruelly but plausibly placed in a womens' ward after an appendix removal in hospital, or teased by Shion about having been pregnant with her), whereas Yukari is more an acolyte of the "quietly put up with it and look sad" school of dealing with pain.

Their family issues are sadly plausible, too. Yukari was estranged from her (dead in the present) family since her late teens, and while Sora does manage to reconnect with his estranged family and hometown during the course of the story, even after reconciling, his father has no respect for his gender identity (the rest of them do much better, admittedly). ... This is a comedy, did I mention that?

Family Compo's cast is chock-full of other queer characters, to boot. Shion identifies as female in the present of the story, but she previously identified as male and makes no bones about the fact that she might choose to identify as male again in the future, and she has absolutely no anxiety about her gender-fluidity. By the end, (spoilers) her assigned sex remains unconfirmed and even Masahiko finally realises that it doesn't particularly matter (he still wants them to mash, though... baby steps, I guess). Sora's work assistants are all either trans women or cross-dressing men, and another major character is Kaoru, a young trans man and deliquent who, like Masahiko, basically gets adopted by the Wakanaes and has his own issues to deal with, mostly involving his Yakuza father and manipulative mother. And some straight characters, including Masahiko, cross-dress at every opportunity.

Monocle falling off at the impropriety of it all implied.

While the series itself does have a few issues stemming from its age, the only one I can really raise with Sora and Yukari themselves is their sheer conventionality – to outside observers, they're indistinguishable from any "respectable" heteronormative couple in their appearances and gender roles, which sidesteps a lot of issues facing trans people in real life. But on the other hand, the mere fact that they're depicted as a loving, warm couple instead of the freakshow spectacle queer characters are often reduced to is delightful and unexpected in and of itself. It really does melt my icy black heart.

2. Nitori Shuichi and Takatsuki Yoshino (bonus: other characters) (Wandering Son)
(trans girl, trans boy, questioning)

Hourou Musuko/Wandering Son is probably the most well known LGBT series there is, and for good reason: it's an intelligent, well-researched, emotionally resonant, and beautifully bittersweet coming-of-age story about two kids questioning and coming to terms with their gender identities. Be warned: you will get sniffly. 
 Yeesh, see a doctor if you get this sniffly, though.

The slice-of-life story focuses on Nitori Shuuichi and Takatsuki Yoshino, two young friends who question their assigned genders: Nitori, assigned male, feels like and wants to be a girl, and Takatsuki, assigned female, feels like and wants to be a boy. Over the course of their shared adolescence, they do school plays, go on field trips, hang out with other kids, and engage in fairly restrained, grounded melodrama as they try to deal with their changing bodies and the rest of the world's changing expectations of what it wants from them.

As for their characterisation, they're a refreshingly mature pair with no exaggerated comedy mannerisms or grand speeches – perfect as protagonists, but a little hard to describe in just one or two sentences. They're introspective, but not passive; they're smart, but they make believably naive moves at times; they're usually optimistic about their situations, but they can also be realistic or pessimistic about it. The supporting cast is a little broader, but they're still compellingly sketched out and believable in their own ways - there's Makoto, Shuuichi's friend who crossdresses, but also has an attraction to boys, the affrontive Saori, who struggles to interact with others, Chizuru, the boys-uniform-wearing iconoclast, Maho, Shuuichi's kind-of-terrible sister, Anna, a friend of Maho's whom Shuuichi tentatively befriends and begins dating, and Yuki, an adult trans woman Shuuichi and Yoshino frequently turn to for help.

It's hard to talk about Hourou Musuko without mentioning that the manga's ending is source of controversy for a lot of readers (spoilers); Yoshino starts dabbling in teen modelling and gradually seems to come to accept being identified as a "girl" by the rest of the world. The impression I got from these developments was that Yoshino's story was far from "over", and that Shimura, the mangaka, was trying to suggest that questioning behaviour and gender fluidity are perfectly natural elements of life; that people don't have to have their entire identity perfectly mapped out at such a young age – but I have to agree that it was a misstep to end Yoshino's half of the story that way, especially when trans men's identities already have a history of being invalidated in popular consciousness as "just a phase" or a butch gender expression. (End of spoilers)
1. Sawamura Tetsuo (bonus: other characters) (Yuureitou/The Ghost Tower)
(trans man)

Yuureitou, a mystery-thriller (with strong pulp horror elements) set in Japan during the economic boom of the 1950s, begins with a young proto-NEET, Amano Taichi, meeting and being recruited/blackmailed by a mysterious, dapper young man called Sawamura Tetsuo to help him investigate a clock tower that he's confident has a secret fortune hidden somewhere inside it.

Shortly after they form their partnership, it's revealed to the audience and, before long, Taichi, that Tetsuo is a trans man, and he isn't just after the treasure – he's also hiding a personal connection to the tower's bloody, awful history. As he's initially presented, from Taichi's perspective, Tetsuo is a cunning, morally ambiguous agent of temptation and danger, willing to blackmail Taichi just to ensure his help and putting him in constant danger while keeping his own motivations secret. But as their partnership grows into a true friendship, more of the story is shown from Tetsuo's perspective and the audience gets to know him as a person, and what drives him as a non-gender-conforming person in a society that's inherently hostile to his existence.

"I'm the best friend you'll ever, ever have."

One of the most compelling things about how Tetsuo is presented in Yuureitou is the emphasis that Tetsuo's feelings of dysphoria aren't just an internal dissonance with his body and gender presentation, but also external, from the way he's treated by society: (spoilers) the foster mother who tried to lead him into a deathtrap because he wasn't "feminine" enough for her, the former fiance who ignored Tetsuo's requests that they just be friends, his recurring fear of being seen and judged as a woman by others (especially people he values, like Taichi) no matter what he does. At the climax of the series, he's even offered the opportunity to "become" a man via a mad-science-enabled brain swap and essentially cease to be trans any longer (an idea no doubt entertained by pretty much every trans person at some point), before rejecting it as an erasure of his experiences and the person he is. (End of spoilers)

Taichi's own character also goes through a compelling growth as a result of Tetsuo's influence: beginning the story as a self-pitying, ambitionless shut-in with a mild entitlement complex, his experiences change him into a daring queer ally who genuinely wants to make the world a better place for others. He also dabbles in cross-dressing over the series, at first just as a reluctant disguise, but later for his own personal preference or to express solidarity with Tetsuo. The two of them come to value their friendship over pretty much everything else, and by the end of the story, the treasure that was initially so important to the story almost becomes an afterthought, a means to an end for them to fight back and change the world together.

Additionally, one of the major supporting characters, a young police officer called Yamashina who becomes Tetsuo and Taichi's first close ally, is a (not-especially-good-at-being) closeted gay man. Like Tetsuo, the series makes a point of showing him being discriminated against and judged, and he plays a major role in the plot and Taichi's growth as a person.

He also gets the series' most on-the-nose burn.

Yuureitou's strength as a queer story is probably due to the fact that it isn't explicitly billed as an LGBT series, but its queer themes and perspectives are woven so deep into the narrative itself that I can't even really imagine a version without them.

Really, the only major black spot is the recurring trend of the occasional chapter title page or panel that show Tetsuo in a very sexualised, ecchi-riffic way that seem really, really at odds with how Tetsuo carries himself in the series proper and how the series otherwise treats him. Other characters, male and female, also occasionally get this treatment, but it's primarily Tetsuo and it happens far too often to be excused as narratively necessary. There's also some liberties taken with the effects of testosterone therapy over the course of the story, but they never become more than minor plot points.

That aside, Tetsuo is without a doubt my pick for first place. He's sharp, ruthless, smart, and competent; he's a treasure hunter and amateur detective who can put all the pieces together before other characters even realise there are pieces; he's an active protagonist; he's portrayed with empathy and relateability, but he has flaws that aren't sugarcoated; and his queer identity is never shied away from.

Fan-art corner:

Honourable Mentions:

Yuri and Victor (gay men, couple) (Yuri!!! on Ice)

 Manjoume Fumi (lesbian woman) (Aoi Hana)

 Yoite (intersex man) (Nabari no Ou)

Hazuki Mina (lesbian woman) (Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor) (Nobody could ever call Genma here a "good" queer character, but I do so love his beard)

Kinomoto Touya and Tsukishiro Yukito, Daidouji Tomoyo (gay men, couple, lesbian girl) (Cardcaptor Sakura)

Kakei Shirou and Yabuki Kenji (gay men, couple) (Kinou Nani Tabeta?/What Did You Eat Yesterday?)
If there are any characters we missed, any series you'd like to recommend, or you'd just like to chime in with your own thoughts, please feel free to drop in on the comments below!

Pomelote is the physical embodiment of first-world millenial entitlement. You can get on her case by email at or, or Twitter at @poorlicoricekid, if you know any good spam bots. In related news, how about that new age of darkness and despair we've just entered, huh?

1 comment:

  1. I'm just gonna sneak in some of my Yuri!!! on Ice thoughts down here, since there ended up being no place in the article proper for them:

    I liked YOI a lot! I usually have zero patience for sport anime, but it kept my interest and I became invested in the characters and their journey (it helped that it was gor-jusssss) - but it didn't make the list. Why? Well, ultimately, I came away disappointed that a series non-so-subtly celebrated by its own opening theme as being "born to make history"... doesn't really do anything revolutionary.

    You'd need to be Pre-Cambrian to be out-of-touch enough to overlook the gay nature of Yuri and Victor's relationship – the near-constant intimate body language between the two, the discussion of "love" as a concept and theme, an obvious kiss that's barely hidden by their arms, the imagery of marriage proposal and engagement, and more. But the problem is that it's all still technically subtext. The word gay/ゲイ (or even the common pejorative equivalents) never even gets spoken. Yuri and Victor never use the basic language of a fledgling romance in anime to probe each others' feelings about a possible relationship. And despite the fact that both characters come from conservative, homophobic nations, neither feels the slightest trepidation about the way their closeness can be interpreted by others, much less show any anxiety or fear about actually, y'know, being gay, when the social consequences alone are still enormous. They look into each others' eyes, they touch each other like a couple, they speak about each other in elaborate romanticisms, they play cute, but they never even say something as basic and human as, "um, I think I like you, wanna go out?". So, I had trouble getting invested in their relationship when the script itself went out of its way to hide it behind winks and nods.

    As such, it feels idealised and artificial, divorced from the messy reality of an actual romantic or sexual attraction. My guess is that it was probably a complication from the series trying to meet three demands at once: to appeal to people who'd like to see a complicated, realistic depiction of a gay relationship between two men, to appeal to fujoshi, the traditional consumers of BL, who tend to have very set, romanticised image for how a relationship between two men plays out, and to not alienate a general audience that isn't really comfortable with either of the things that appeal to the other two groups. And that juggling act leaves it a little unfulfilling and frustrating.

    And while I liked YOI, it was impossible for me not to feel irritated every time one of those artificialities reared up and took me out of the story. I fully admit that this wouldn't have annoyed me so much if the show itself hadn't been so quick to tout itself as game-changing, so for the record, in terms of actual queer "content", it's about on par with Samurai Flamenco, in 6th place, or Revolutionary Girl Utena, in 5th place (if you don't count the movie).

    Nevertheless, I liked it! I'm just really hoping that they use the opportunity opened up by its success to give us a second season that takes more risks and fulfills more of its potential.