Ask John: Are there Any Anime About Homophobia?
In American media people that are gay or transgendered are often portrayed as being the victims of bullying and abuse by others. Gayness or crossdressing is often seen as something to hide or “keep in the closet” that often brings ostracization, shame and rejection when discovered. And being gay/transgendered is still considered so controversial that it’s rarely (if ever) portrayed in American cartoons and often gets censored out of dubbed anime. Even the famous “Sasuke-Naruto kiss” (which was basically just a joke and not meant to be serious) didn’t make it into the edited dub. However, in Japan things seem to be the exactly opposite. The Sailor Moon series prominently features two villains who that are men in a homosexual relationship, without portraying them negatively for being in such a relationship or suffering any adversity for doing so. It also features two heroines in a same-sex relationship without portraying them negatively or showing them get harassed/bullied. In “Princess Princess” numerous guys have virtually no hesitation at all in drooling and getting lovey-dovey over 3 crossdressing male students. The closest there seems to be to homophobia is some characters complaining that an attractive female friend of theirs is really a guy, but in many cases (like Jun Watarase in Happiness) the guy winds up not caring and still being attracted to the “girl.”
I gotta ask you, John, are there any anime which offer serious portrayals of a character enduring serious homophobia or transphobia? Or are homophobia and transphobia such completely alien concepts in Japanese society that they barely even register in the minds of most Japanese?
Foreign anime and manga fans should be conscious of the simultaneously positive & negative dichotomy that anime is not always representative of mainstream Japanese socio-political opinion. While Japan doesn’t statistically suffer a significant amount of hate crime, the country has been traditionally known for its relative intolerance of homosexuality and trans-gender or cross-dressing lifestyles outside of a theatrical setting. Japanese stage theatrical arts including Kabuki & Takarazuka have traditionally featured cross-dressing performers. But cross-dressing in daily life, or as a non-professional hobby or lifestyle choice has long been rather ostracized within Japanese mainstream culture. The vast majority of anime and manga are a product of left-wing, liberal-leaning artists more likely to tolerate, embrace, and support alternative lifestyles and personal expression than the average Japanese mainstream citizen, thus homosexuality and trans- lifestyles are frequently illustrated in a positive or, at least, harmless light in anime and manga.
Cross-dressing and transgender personality issues appear in anime as early as 1967′s Ribbon no Kishi and 1979′s Versailles no Bara, but these shows don’t deal with contemporary discrimination issues. The 1983 television series Stop!! Hibari-kun! starred a transgendered boy but didn’t deal with issues of persecution or discrimination. Yellow Belmont in the 1983 Genesis Climber Mospeada television series faced some shocked surprise over his transgender identity, but the show didn’t revolve around him facing and overcoming discrimination. Personally, I can’t recall any anime that do specifically revolve around illustrating the personal difficulties of a homosexual or transgendered person trying to persevere against discrimination and persecution from surrounding Japanese society. The closest that anime may come to that narrative concept is the 2011 Horou Musuko anime drama that revolved around depicting the personal emotional obstacles faced by adolescent transgendered individuals. That series dealt much more with the kids’ own internal and interpersonal relationships than with issues of social discrimination and persecution. 2011′s Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai television briefly implied a small degree of mainstream social stigma directed toward cross-dressing, but the concept was not central to the narrative and not explored in any significant depth. Likewise, 2011′s Persona 4: The Animation included a character who was particularly self-conscious over being perceived as homosexual, but the sense of persecution present in the story was more of an imagined persecution complex than an actual objective phenomenon. The 2009-2010 “Impel Down” story arc in the One Piece television series prominently included a background concept involving transgendered and alternative lifestyle people being persecuted, but the entire concept was presented as a backdrop for a conventional shounen action story and wasn’t illustrated in any way that reflected dramatic reality.
Live-action Japanese cinema, notably the 1969 film Funeral Parade of Roses (Bara no Soretsu), has dealt with the issue of Japanese social marginalization of alternative lifestyle individuals, but I don’t believe that this is an issue which anime has seriously addressed yet.