#however i do not think the show will last long enough to adapt the entire series
Somewhat related to my post from yesterday, I’ve been thinking about what’s probably the most notable trend in anime this year. The notably increased prominence of lesbians in the stories the medium tells and the surprising move where the trend is most prominent in high-ambition, high-prestige works.
On the most obvious level, this year saw adaptations of two successful yuri romance manga and an ova tie-in of a third. All of Citrus, Bloom Into You and Kase-san are undeniably about the first loves of teenage girls, but in very different ways.
Citrus situates itself somewhere around a slightly edgy shoujo romance, with just enough dysfunction in the relationship to render it controversial rather than agreed upon problematic or agreed upon just fine. That said, it’s worth noting that the manga does end with both acknowledging Japan’s current lack of same-sex marriage and a subsequent wedding of the two leads Yuzu and Mei anyway, giving it some connection to wider issues. Kase-san is very sweet and fluffy in portraying the insecurities of a shy girl during her first love, but at least the manga also makes it clear that the attraction is very much sexual as well.
Bloom Into You is the most interesting in that it takes a grounded tack of slowly falling in love with someone rather than a whirlwind romance or a slow and sweet portrayal of a couple like most romance, gay or straight, does. Not just that, it’s interested in wider psychological exploration of its romantic leads. The primary tension of the story centers on Touko’s trauma and Yuu’s alienation from her own emotions, both of which get in the way of being able to truly be together. However, the solution isn’t really dramatic declarations of love or persistently fighting for their relationship, but rather learning self-love and self-insight. Touko’s issues have been resolved by this point in the manga, through means that Yuu helped with but which aren’t truly about Yuu, whereas Yuu’s are still ongoing so I cannot say how they will be resolved. Even so, despite clearly being a yuri romance, it’s one concerned with the wider lives of the girls.
These aren’t the most interesting works, though. They matter and it’s an unusual amount and especially Bloom Into You is an excellent story, but they’re not truly new. No, the shows that really matter for this are the two best anime of 2018: A Place Further than the Universe and Revue Starlight. Both of these step outside the purely private sphere of personal romance and personal issues.
A Place Further than the Universe has a lot of diverse relationships and bonds between women and lots of different answers for what to do with your life. The one that is relevant for this is the fact that Shirase, one of the four leads, has two moms. The driving force of the plot is Shirase’s desire to go to Antarctica to look for, in reality get closure for the death of, her mother Takako who disappeared there three years before. Once a quirky series of events has actually gotten the four girls a place in an Antarctic expedition, the other shoe drops - Gin, the leader of the expedition who kept trying to prevent Shirase’s participation was Takako’s long time girlfriend.
Every flashback to when Takako was alive, features her and Takako together. Takako kept trying to push Gin and Shirase to bond. An entire episode is framed about a guy trying to learn what kind of guy Gin likes. This episode is the one with the most flashbacks showing Gin and Takako together and culminates with her saying that she looks people who enjoy watching the sky, before cutting to one last flashback of Takako doing just that. And, of course, at one point a character who has been presented as a close friend of both Gin and Takako explicitly calls Shirase “the daughter of Gin and Takako” while both are present and neither protests.
Throughout the second half of the show, we also see Shirase and Gin repeatedly try to talk to each other about Takako. It’s clear from how they act around each other that neither is really comfortable with the other, but there’s a lot of history there and a lot of messy emotions. Even before the flashbacks showing the life of Gin, Takako and Shirase together or the direct reference to the relationship between the three, these read a lot like a reconciliation between an estranged parent and child. Not just that, as the two eventually mend their relationship, it becomes clear that Shirase’s initial pledge to go to Antarctica to bring her mom back is true. Gin has been lost for three years, as incapable of moving beyond Takako’s death as Shirase, but through bonding with Shirase and finding closure for Takako’s death together, she too can move on and truly return to Japan.
While it’s by no means the only major narrative thrust of the show, Shirase’s relationship with her estranged second mom is one of the major pillars of the show as a whole. It’s one of the key topics the show seeks engage with, giving us quite likely the first real exploration of same-sex parenthood in all of anime. And it does it all without even treating having two moms as anything noteworthy.
Revue Starlight takes a very different tack. All the relationships are among teenage girls in high school as has become the norm for lesbian representation in anime and manga (not that manga about adult lesbians don’t exist). However, the way they tie into the wider themes of the story gives the relationships a significance beyond the characters themselves or simple recognition of lesbian relationships as valid.
The core thrust of the show centers on critiquing the practices of the Takarazuka Revue, but most themes are easily more widely applicable. It deals with topics such as the toxicity of forced competition and hierarchies, the way that stories are only as set in stone as the teller and the audience wishes them to be, how trauma perpetuates itself and more.
What’s relevant here is how Takarazuka Revue essentially only stages romantic tragedies with both male and female roles played by women, all while maintaining a strict “no homo” policy regarding both their stories and their performers. This despite the fact that it’s an open secret that wlw are a core part among both Takarazua performers and audiences, drawn by seeing hot, butch-presenting (regardless of what their inner feelings might be) play dashing romantic leads supported by equally hot, traditionally feminine-presenting performers. In essence, Takarazuka has found a way to combine an endless cycle of dead lesbians on stage with a rejection that lesbians and bi women even exist.
Yet all the girls in Revue Starlight present as women. They present a full spectrum of gender presentation from butch Futaba to motherly Mahiru and traditional Japanese dancer Kaoruko, but all present as women who dress and act the way they’re comfortable, rather than getting pigeonholed into performing masculinity or femininity. They’re also all in love with other members of the cast.
As such, we see five different modes of lesbian romance, all forbidden in the context of Takarazuka and all strained by the toxicity of the system the girls are mired in. When everybody is pitted in competition, anybody seeking to better themselves will ultimately end up hurting the chances of those they love, creating inherent friction in the relationship through that. When the system is so toxic that all you can do is cling to a happy past, you cannot truly be there for others. When you’re so damaged by trauma inflicted by the brutality of the system, that you cannot have faith in anything but that brutality you cannot be a loving, attentive girlfriend. The girls can only truly be there for each other and can only truly love each other once they cast off their belief in the permanency and inevitability of the system.
In the end, what overcomes the system, showing it’s impossible, meaningless hollowness and that a healthier path is possible, is one girl’s refusal to give up on her girlfriend. Romantic love between girls is the force that overcomes an institutionalized system of oppression targeting women in general and especially wlw. The liberation of the girls to not obey the strictures of the system ultimately takes the form of rewriting a tragedy of beautifully suffering lesbians to be forever separated to instead feature a happy ending.
It’s not a show that quietly says that wlw exist, it’s one that demands to be respected and allowed to publicly express that existence. It does that by targeting one of the most powerful institutions in the Japanese entertainment sector, an institution that has influenced art far beyond the theater world. When you watch Revolutionary Girl Utena or indeed, much of anything with a traditional bishounen aesthetic, you’re watching something influenced by the Takarazuka Revue. And this shows crashes in to say that it should give a space to wlw and by extension Japanese media and Japanese society should.
Beyond these, this year’s PreCure series, Huggto! PreCure, has an entire arc centered on making absolutely sure that you realize that Lulu and Emiru, also known as the Precure of Love - Cure Amour and Cure Ma Cherie, are in fact a couple. In fact, this is most likely the single most notable and important relationship in the entire show in terms of time spent on it and nuance and detail put into its development. For what it’s worth, it also has a gay male couple and a character who might be nonbinary.
These are just the major works, there is a host of less notable, though in some cases only less notable for this purpose, works that still decides to include lesbians. Planet With, Satoshi Mizukami’s long-awaited anime debut and critical darling of the summer season 2018, has a lesbian side couple. The semi-autobiographical Comic Girls makes no bones about the fact that some of the girls are attracted to others, nor that one of them is in love with another girl. While heavily fanservicey, Harukana Receive does not exactly shy away from girls being attracted to other girls. And this is just a brief list of shows I personally know about and can remember off the top of my head. I believe Aikatsu Friends! also has detailed and developed lesbian couple, but I haven’t watched it nor closely followed anybody who does so, so I might be wrong on this.
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