By Aedan Juvet
To celebrate a month that expresses the importance of being your most authentic self, I want to talk about my own journey–and the relationships in anime that have left an impact. Maybe they can help you too.
In just the past decade, we’ve witnessed a noticeable transition in representation for the LGBTQ+ community, with a shift that includes a slow but sure expansion on the inclusion of sexuality in anime.
Sure, with that comes occasional frustration, cliche supporting roles or awkward placement of comedic relief, but there are some powerful series out there that have helped me (and hopefully many others) accept myself and my sexuality.
It’s all about the message.
One of the biggest obstacles the LGBTQ+ community has had to overcome is the recognition that there’s a substantial amount of us (shocking, right?!). Part of my own struggle growing up and discovering my sexuality as a gay man was the fear that I wouldn’t be accepted by my peers. For years, I treated myself as a taboo subject, and as I watched it become a focal point or even a casual inclusion in the media I was watching, I felt reassured that I wasn’t alone.
Just the act of writing such personal words now brings a (very little) piece of that childhood fear back, but that’s what fuels me to share its importance with you all.
To this day, I can still recall the moment my oldest friend introduced me to Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi – The World’s Greatest First Love.
It was the first time I witnessed an openly gay romance in anime. She was so invested in the relationships and remained unfazed by something that I wasn’t entirely comfortable addressing. Her actions made me feel like I didn’t need to hide my happiness about a moment of representation, and that simple act of kindness from her didn’t go unnoticed.
It’s not about looking for a character to represent an entire community, but it’s that nod that there are others (especially in anime) who might have a few commonalities or face similar struggles that make you understand someone from a specific perspective. It’s awareness.
In Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi, we learn about six different men who are involved in manga publication–along with the struggles you might see in any romantic-based anime, including on-and-off relationships, feelings of shyness or nervousness, and the hope that your love for someone can be reciprocated.
It’s something you’d often see in other genre series–but this particular title felt like it had the potential to be an over-the-top escape for people like myself who struggled with acceptance.
Love is universal and meant to be explored
As anime continues to make strides toward becoming a more inclusive space, there are always going to be trials and tribulations. We’ve seen subtext or speculated romantic feelings with characters like Ymir and Christa in Attack on Titan, and it feels like a spotlight on these individuals in favor of equality. They’re depicted in a way that mirrors real life.
It doesn’t have to always be a heavy conversation or announcement, because that’s not how it works, and hopefully, one day, it won’t even be a factor. Until then, these moments are satisfying.
Other series like The Betrayal Knows My Name are much more open and proud with their depiction. In this case, it’s a supernatural-themed series that places an emphasis on romance.
Protagonist Yuki is an old soul that a demon named Luka loved in a previous life. As Luka now finds Yuki with a whole new identity, the series challenges ideas about gender and sexuality, including the aforementioned characters.
We see something similar in PSYCHO-PASS, where both Shion and Yayoi are more casually confirmed to be a pairing, yet both play a major role within the Public Safety Bureau. This was a pleasant creative choice for the series, because it presented two women in a same-sex relationship as prominent characters. Not to mention in a series with a seemingly predominantly male audience.
It’s important to continue creating characters who identify as something other than straight, because they show a modern progression of society. Love is something we can all understand on some fundamental level, and seeing it blossom can be a beacon for those who are questioning themselves. It’s about seeing yourself.
Representation can provide hope
I’ve been lucky to see a handful of complicated yet endearing relationships in anime. In the aforementioned The Betrayal Knows My Name is a personal favorite couple–Shusei and Hotsuma. Sure, they have their moments of doubt and insecurity (don’t we all?), but they always return to their devotion to one another. If you’ve ever been a part of a relationship that feels like more than friendship, you can probably relate to this roller coaster of feelings.
The Betrayal Knows My Name was one of the first series to make me feel hopeful about a significant bond that wasn’t as present in mainstream content. Similarly, my experience with Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi – The World’s Greatest First Love was a turning point.
These characters had so much history together, and the fact that they hadn’t discussed sexuality in a negative light in favor of dropping their guard for a chance at love was overwhelmingly encouraging. There’s a layer of reliability in it, and ultimately for me, it ignited a hope that one day I could take a chance too.
After years of questioning myself, I was fortunate enough to discover love like mine in something that was so important to me in anime. Through it I found hope–hope that one day I would feel completely comfortable in my own skin.
But most importantly, hope that with every step and stride we make, we can come closer to a future where love doesn’t require an explanation or label, but is unambiguously considered, well, love.
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