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David Gauntlett.

Gender and sexuality in
Japanese Anime - Further comments

This page simply pastes some emails I have received about the webpage 'Gender and Sexuality in Japanese Anime' -- if you are interested in this topic then these messages contain valuable information...

In February 2001 I received this email from "IronMouse", who grew up in Hong Kong but later moved to Sydney, Australia...

Hi, I saw your page and I'll like to add some things I know about homosexuality in manga and anime to complicate matters! I'm not Japanese, so I won't be able to give a "proper" insight into what the Japanese really think, but I can shed some light on the topic based on my experiences.

I think the general attitude towards homosexuals in anime are -- "they're weird. And funny". Anime and manga depict homosexuals much more readily than in American popular culture, but that doesn't mean they are often shown as believable and sympathetic human beings. Even Ranma, who can in one way be interpreted as "ground-breaking", stays within the "safe" refines of heterosexual relationships. People cross-dress in Ranma 1/2, but they are all heterosexual in the end (e.g. Ukyou and Tsubasa). From that perspective, I won't say that Ranma is "sexist" because it has some frighteningly strong female characters, but it certainly doesn't break any new grounds in the depiction of gay characters. In fact, THERE ARE NO GAY CHARACTERS IN RANMA 1/2. Ranma may turn into a girl, but in female form, she remains at heart and in behaviour a guy. Ranma is about cross-dressing, but NOT about homosexuality. And it's also pure comedy.

And so are most series with such themes. Cross-dressing, transexuals and homosexuals are often played for laughs, and their behaviour is often "stereotypically gay". To cite some examples, think Hanagata from "Saber Marionettes J", or Aburatsubo from "Mahou Tsukitai" - Hanagata is pure comic relief (and he's also pretty vulgar), while Aburatsubo is very effeminate (and also there for comic relief). These are just two random examples from popular anime, but they illustrate much of the "norm" in the industry - gay people are identified by (a) effeminate nature if they're good-looking in a bishounen way, or (b) plain annoying and vulgar if they're not. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, and there are gay/cross-dressing characters which are sympathetic, like those in Sailor Moon. But the sympathetic attitude towards homosexuals in SM is largely due to the creator's attitude towards homosexuality - and not really representative of the industry as a whole. Another reason why Sailor Moon is sympathetic towards homosexual characters is because it's SHOUJO - "Girl's" stuff.

Talking about Shoujo I'll have to talk about the manga industry, because that's where Shoujo has a big foothold - NOT the anime industry. Most animators are guys (as are the people who fund them), so what the anime industry creates often has a "macho" bent in it. Some immensely popular Shoujo manga (like Sailor Moon) are animated, but there are scores of Shoujo manga in existence which stay as manga - and here is where the REAL lines are blurred. In Shonen manga and anime (Shonen = "Boy's"), homosexuality and cross-dressing is often ridiculed - as befitting the macho attitude of Japanese society. In Shoujo manga, however, it is often treated sympathetically. Gay characters are often portrayed as human beings, and their feelings given every bit of value as heterosexual characters' feelings are. Maybe this stems from the better handling of human relationships in Shoujo manga, but I think it stems from another phenomenon in Shoujo - "Yaoi" and "Shonen-Ai".

For those unacquainted with Shoujo manga this is sure to raise some eyebrows, because "Yaoi" and "Shonen-Ai" are stories that centre (sometimes completely), on homosexual love between boys. Shonen-Ai is basically romance between boys while yaoi usually involves homosexual sex. And it's not mild-mannered stuff, because the sex is often quite explicit, and violent (involving male-rape and sometimes bondage and sadomachism), and will send the average heterosexual male screaming from the room. This phenomenon isn't limited to Japanese girls either - yaoi and shonen-ai is apparently quite popular overseas in Western societies as well. There are a few yaoi anime out there, namely "Fake" and "Ai no Kusabi", but there aren't enough of it to occupy a niche in the anime industry (not that I know of anyway). There's also direct-equivalent called "Yuri" which is about lesbian sex, but it's nowhere near as large as yaoi is - mainly because yaoi originated in the doujinshi (amateur comics) circuit. As to WHY girls get turned on by homosexual sex (between guys) - well, maybe it's for a similar reason as to why guys get turned on by lesbian sex. Lesbian affection often exist in anime for eroticism purposes, but so does homosexual affection - like in Sailor Moon and a bit in Card Captor Sakura. Because these are children's shows they are rarely explicit - but they DO show ambiguously gay characters.

So does that mean Japan, as a society, is more liberal about homosexuality? I don't think so - they may be depicted to varying degrees of "normality" in popular culture, but Japanese society tends to sweep the phenomenon under the carpet. In Japan, the norm is the family unit - people who don't settle down with a member of the opposite sex and have children are seen as weirdos or outcasts. But then many of these married people also go on the gay circuit, sometimes with their partners and family knowing - but prefer to ignore it as long as these "casual flings" don't threaten the family unit or instigate divorces (rare in Japan). The outer appearance of a stable family must be maintained (or people will gossip) - but no one cares what you do in your spare time as long as you give the appearance of a stable family. Coupled with absent fathers, children parked in a rigorous schooling system and physical affection rarely shown between couples, you can say that "the family" is more of an "alliance" than it is a "union of love". Ofcourse there are exceptions to this, and most younger people would rather marry for love (who the heck wouldn't). But the attitude about the family unit is unlikely to change anytime soon since Japan is a monoculture and homogenous - and as long as a society places a big priority on marriage and children, things like homosexuality will continue to be treated as "weird and funny". I guess the same goes for popular culture depictions.

In April 2000 I received this email from "Asynca" from Australia...

I've been an anime fan for ages, and like lots of people I've come in contact with, anime helped me come to terms with my sexuality (I'm a lesbian). My first exposure to anime was sailormoon, which one of my japanese friends carted back from japan for me because I was complaining I didn't speak enough japanese. Naturally, I was completely attracted to Haruka/Sailor Uranus, her whole completely autonomous attitude towards the men in the series and, of course, the fact she didn't giggle girlishly and prance around in pink skirts with bows in her hair. Her and Michiru/Neptune were the first lesbian couple I'd ever seen portrayed in a positive light. They loved each other and they weren't just "practicing" for when they would get with straight men. (There's actually a huge lack of straight men in sailormoon... another reason why it appeals to me, I guess....) And Haruka whips all the men's arses in racing and sprinting and fighting, yeah! That was my first introduction to the idea that not everything has to revolve around getting a man and getting married. If you like, my first introduction to feminism at the tender age of 14...

And now I'm hooked on whatever anime I can get my hands on ];) Oh... and my japanese is much better.

In January 2002 I received this email from James Welker of Nanzan University, Nagoya, Japan...

Hi, I love your site. I am researching Lesbians in manga and stumbled across it. You are trying to find out about why anime is a total gender fuck.

Mark McClelland does a great job explaining homoeroticism in shoujo manga in this webpage. His references, at least the ones I've seen are also worth checking out.

I believe Shunsuke isn't as familiar with the "Gay" history of Japan as he thinks. Though there is a great deal of debate going on as to how widespread and accepted it was, homosexuality among samurai and priests and their acolytes was common enough that a number of written and graphic accounts survive.

Leupp's Male Colors does a good job of tracing the history of male-male sex, though some believe he may be exaggerating a bit. Naturally, terms like "gay" don't apply, but at least some men were certainly doing a lot of boinking of generally younger men.

Here are some more good links:

See the Anime Manga Web Essays Archive, in particular the academic section.

A Japanese lesbian feminist writes against lesbian readings of Sailor Moon at this page. - A useful website with a few articles written by the site owner, as well as an invaluable bibliography and links to a great deal of on-line research.

History of Sex in Manga from Studio Proteus

Slantgirl on Mulan