June is pride month, the perfect moment to take a look at how gay characters have been portrayed throughout the years in regular anime and manga, right? For obvious reasons, we're ignoring shounen-ai and shoujo-ai this time, but we'll be talking about some LGBTQ+ characters in popular non-gay stories, and how some of them are now considered pride icons. Let’s see how the gay community has been represented throughout the years!
Such Good Friends!
We’ve all seen it: friends so close that it feels like there’s actually something going on between them. Most of the time, we think nothing of that because it’s not that strange, but in reality, they’re more than just friends. It takes a lot of confidence for a mangaka to include a gay couple in one of their stories because most of the times, they are risking a negative reaction from the readers. So what do they do? They make them look like friends. It is a simple yet effective tactic, and no one suspects anything... Except for the more observant viewers, of course.
Let’s take Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune from Sailor Moon as a prime example. These two girls were always together and their interactions were rather flirty. It wasn’t until it became so obvious that it was confirmed they were in a relationship, but before that, people thought they were just really close friends. If finding openly homosexual characters is difficult, imagine finding a lesbian couple! It’s wonderful that these two can be open about their relationship without being judged by other people.
We can find another great example in Cardcaptor Sakura: Touya and Yukito. They’ve known each other since they were young and they do almost everything together. Touya is very fond of Yukito and he’s not afraid to show it: he’s always making sure that nothing bad happens to his “friend”. On several occasions, Touya saved Yukito from different and difficult situations, always willing to sacrifice himself for him. Although it’s been shown that they share a special bond, the couple is still seen as mere friends. Like we don’t know what’s going on between them, right?
More often than not, when a gay character is included in a regular manga or anime, they’re depicted as the comic relief of the series. They’re usually funny and quirky, with a strange personality and a very peculiar style. Sometimes they’re included just to add some comedy, but that doesn’t mean they’re not treated with the respect they deserve.
Let’s take Puri-Puri Prisoner from One Punch Man: he’s a bulky superhero with an obsession with good-looking men, something that led to him being arrested. He has a strong sense of justice, using his fighting abilities to capture evildoers. But, apart from sending these criminals to jail, he also adds them to his harem. Puri-Puri Prisoner has a dream, and he won’t stop until he builds the perfect harem for himself! This character is openly homosexual and he’s very honest about his idea of forming a harem inside the prison, which makes Puri-Puri Prisoner a funny character. But he also has a strong sense of justice and he won’t tolerate a criminal act, so there’s a perfect balance between his flamboyant and his serious side.
If we’re talking about flamboyant characters, then we have to mention Ryoji Fujioka, also known as Ranka, Haruhi’s dad from Ouran High School Host Club. He has a very cheerful personality, sometimes coming across as scatterbrained and eccentric. He works part-time at an “okama bar”, a gay bar where the waiters are men in drag, so he’s usually seen wearing women clothes. Ryoji himself said that he has always been bisexual, but that the only woman he was ever going to love is Haruhi’s mom; once the love of his life died, he decided to forget about dating women. Even though the kids in the host club are curious as to how a “tranny” looks, they treat Ranka with respect and they even go along with some of his requests. Haruhi’s dad has some of the most hilarious moments in the anime, but he can also be serious. From tossing Tamaki against the wall to exchanging emails with Kyoya to see how his daughter is doing in school, Ryoji has shown that he’s a doting dad.
Real Struggles and Coming to Terms with Things
Anime and manga make it seem like it’s really easy to just come out of the closet and enjoy life without being judged, but it’s easier said than done. Gay and lesbian characters are more accepted because it’s the more visible side of the LGBTQ+ community, but what happens with transgender? Most of the time, when a transgender character is included in a series, people start screaming “it’s a trap”, something that is, in fact, highly offensive. It takes a lot of courage for someone to come to terms with their true identity and start acting according to how they feel.
The manga Horo Musuko (Wandering Son) is a perfect example of the struggle transgender people go through when they come to terms with their true gender identity. Shuuichi has always enjoyed dressing up as a girl, he feels pretty and more like his true self. On the other hand, Yoshino has always wanted to wear a male uniform to school and is considered by others to be a rather boyish girl. Soon they’ll start questioning their bodies and identities, finding that they are not comfortable with the way they look. It’s really painful to see these two kids realizing that something is not right, that even their names don’t fit who they are. Luckily for them, they have really supportive friends. How we wish that would be the case for everyone!
It's a well-known fact that the LGBTQ+ community has been underrepresented in the past, but things have been changing recently. Of course, regular anime and manga still have a long way to go until they manage to represent every aspect of the community, but there has been noticeable improvement. With each new anime season, comes a new opportunity to educate about the LGBTQ+ community, and to depict each aspect of it in a respectful way.
Of course, it's nice to have a lot of amazing BL/yaoi and GL/yuri stories, but the LGBTQ+ community is more than that, and these characters should be more common in everyday stories instead of just relegating them to a place where they can't offend other people. In the end, we are all just people, and we all should be proud of who we are.