Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Anime, Mon Amour: Forget Pokemon-Japanese Animation Explodes with Gay, Lesbian, and Trans Themes

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Anime, Mon Amour: Forget Pokemon-Japanese Animation Explodes with Gay, Lesbian, and Trans Themes

Article excerpt

The dashing special agent is about to hurl himself into eternal oblivion when he's pulled from the brink by the beautiful blond man who loves him. The woman who challenged the heroine for the emperor's affection turns out to be a man. A young hero's attempt to impersonate a princess collapses when her female lover climbs into bed with him.

Welcome to the gender-bending world of anime (Japanese animation). In Japan animated features, TV shows, and direct-to-video series include every genre and type of character--including gay men, lesbians, and transvestites.

"What's interesting about the homosexual characters in anime is that their sexuality is "almost never a plot point. It's just taken for granted," comments Justin Sevakis, in-house production coordinator at Cenral Park Media, a leading distributor of anime in the United States.

For example, the villainous Dr. Muraki lusts after Tsuzuki, the handsome hero of Descendants of Darkness, but Tsuzuki loves the emerald-eyed Hisoka. Nuriko is a respected member of the cadre of powerful warriors in Fushigi Yugi: The Mysterious Play, although he's a transvestite. In El-Hazard: The Alternative World, Princess Fatora develops a crush on Lieutenant Gilda of the emperor's guards.

Perhaps the oddest use of gay characters in anime is yaoi: romances between young gay men that are created by women for female audiences, especially adolescent girls. "A lot of the lesbian imagery that we see in American pop culture is meant to tantalize male viewers," says Central Park Media president John O'Donnell. "The opposite is true in Japan: A lot of the male homoeroticism in anime is meant for a female audience and is written by females for females."

Yaoi fans produce reams of manga (comics), illustrations, and fan fiction involving male characters from such hetero boys' series as Gundam Wing and Saiyuki. The phenomenon is spreading to the United States. More than 1,000 people are expected to attend the annual Yaoi-Con in San Francisco in October. "The convention membership is about 85% female," says April Gutierrez, public relations chair of Yaoi-Con. "It's predominantly straight females, although we also get gay and straight guys."

Some anime characters behave in ways that are suggestive but ambiguous. In Cardcaptor Sakura two girls comment that "one of the seven strangest things about this school" is that Sakura's handsome older brother Touya and his inseparable pal Tukito don't have girlfriends. When Yoko tells Touya she loves him, he says he loves someone else--but doesn't say whom. In online forums, fans furiously debate the nature of the relationships between Fuma and Kamui in X and between Fiore and Darren in Sailor Moon R: The Movie.

There's a long history of cross-gender entertainment in Japan. Onnagata, kabuki actors who specialize in female roles, embody an ideal of refined ultrafemininity. The elaborate Takarazuka Revue, in which women play all the parts, has been popular since it began in the early 20th century.

Gay characters in anime are sometimes played for laughs. In Battle Athletes Victory the girls dress in skimpy outfits to distract the boys during an interscholastic match; the strategy backfires when the boys' school sends gay players.

But other anime characters are unapologetically gay. In Battle Athletes and its spin-off Battle Athletes Victory Kris walks around the dorm naked, offering other girls massages. …

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