Every year we progress a little bit closer to normalizing the LGBTQ community in media, but we are still ways off from that truly happening. Anime in particular often fails to portray gay girls in a positive light. In the recent years, we’ve seen a rise in LGBTQ girls in anime. While this is exciting at first glance, it may actually be more harmful to the LGBTQ community’s image than helpful.
Let’s take a look at the current anime season. We currently have several airing shows depicting “lesbian” girls in theory. The two I will specifically be talking about are Netsuzou Trap and A Centaur’s Life. A common trend within both these shows is that being gay isn’t portrayed as a positive thing. This is true of most anime and media. The gay character is often portrayed like a Sith Lord tempting the hero to “The Gay Side”. Gay and transgender are synonymous with evil and portrayed as lusty villain characters. While these series I mentioned may not have outright villains they still maintain the negative spotlight.
In Netsuzou Trap we have two girls who are in relationships with men. Hotaru is the sexually active and clearly bisexual girl. Yuma is the probably gay but raised in heteronormative society straight friend. The problem begins when Hotaru suggests that she and Yuma should practice sexual acts so she’s prepared for when her boyfriend inevitably attempts to sleep with her. This could have been done in a consenting and beneficial way but instead, it takes a sharp turn with the first stop on rape avenue. Instead of two girls discovering their sexualities together, Hotaru forces herself on a resistant Yuma over and over again until Yuma becomes an abuse victim, convinced she has feelings for Hotaru.
At one point they are in the bath together and Yuma says “I thought you were going to rape me!”. The sexually aggressive gay girl is being pinned as a rapist and in this show, she is one. It’s not that these types of stories cannot be told, it’s that these are the majority stories being told in anime adaptions. If the only gay fiction a wider audience can consume is targeted at a male fetish community it’s just making the negative stereotype that much more real to viewers. It’s an unfortunate reality that what we see in media informs our real life opinions on a topic. All sorts of people watch this type of show, and they only perpetuate the fear that their gay friend might try to put a move on them at any second. That just isn’t the case by any means.
These problems continue to persist in A Centaur’s Life. However, the message it is trying to portray about gay girls is a lot less clear. The opening shot is of the main character Himeno and her best friend kissing each other. We quickly find out this is just for shock value and is just a part of a play and an accident no less. Through some very messy fumbling and offensive comments, we learn that this was just the guys setting up the girls to kiss each other and it’s not something they wanted. A Centaur’s Life shows more girls being forced into gay situations because it’s what guys want to see. Or maybe it was? Because after some sharp comments from the boyish demon girl Nozomi, she then blushes and sets off the “but I kinda liked it” alarm.
At this point, their stance seems to be that being gay is wrong and should not be condoned, except we are then greeted with an actual lesbian couple. The more boyish of the couple is sexually aggressive and her first appearance is her groping a very resistant, presumably straight girl who wants no part of it. Instantly, this couple is being painted in a negative light and trying to pin a gay couple with heteronormative principals. They make sure the question “Who is the guy in the relationship?” is answered even though this should never be a question and even in heterosexual relationships there should not be pre-determined roles based on gender.
The most confusing scene in the anime so far is this scene where the student council president and her triplet sisters are talking with Himeno and her little cousin. The young sisters ask why the president doesn’t kiss Himeno and her response is cutting “ because it’s not right for girls to kiss each other once they are grown up”. This of course, is a huge red flag and almost instantly the gay couple shows up in time to slaughter their sister’s statement about girls kissing. The gay couple kisses in front of them and the president reprimands them for doing it in front of the children.
The stance changes and we have the gay couple telling the children that their sister was wrong and anyone can kiss the person they love. This is a good positive message until she then goes on to kiss the president against her will. This constant back and forth is confusing and upsetting for the viewer. A Centaur’s Life is unfortunately caught in a loop of taking one step forward and two steps back.
These themes are unfortunately a constant in the yuri anime genre. The few well represented lesbian couples are often never solidified as being gay and kept ambiguous to protect the series from potentially homophobic viewers. Even in American shows, characters are often confirmed gay after the series has ended, most notably Korra from Legend of Korra. Luckily, there are a lot of comics and indie projects being made by real life lesbians that accurately portray the romances of LGBTQ couples. The biggest difference is they are treated like romance stories rather than a fetish genre entry. Anyone can relate to the characters feelings and it’s not centered on the perceived wrongness of feeling attracted to the same sex. The focus is just on the budding relationship between two people like any romance story should be.
My hope is that we will start to see more yuri stories surface with anime adaptations that will reach a wider audience. We are slowly seeing a little improvement with shows like Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid and Yuri on Ice. These shows are by no means perfect but where they do suceed is showing openly gay characters functioning in a storyline that is not dependant on their sexuality but still included. Ultimately, we will surpass the idea that Yuri Anime content is solely created for a male audience and acknowledge real gay girls as viewers. A character’s sexuality will just be a fact of life rather than a gag or defining characteristic.