By Briana Lawrence
There I was, scrolling through the Funimation catalog, when I saw the epitome of my baby gay years staring back at me. I haven’t thought about Gravitation since the days of anime convention vendors selling yaoi paddles, Waldenbooks being the place for yaoi manga and fanfics labeled with citrus fruits.
The nostalgia hit like a Kumagoro Beam. The music. The bubblegum pink hair. The. Yellow. Jacket! I’d assumed when I tweeted about rewatching the series that no one would know what the heck I was talking about. However, when it comes to boys’ love or any sort of LGBTQ+ representation in anime, there wasn’t much back then, especially in full-length series.
Gravitation is a frequent “first” for fans of the genre. So how does it hold up 20 years later? (October 4 is its 20th anniversary!)
The spicy marmalade
Gravitation is the story of Shuichi Shindo as he breaks into the music industry to create the next album you’ll be playing on repeat. While working on new lyrics that are sure to produce a bop, he meets famed romance novelist, Eiri Yuki, who has the audacity to tell him that he has ZERO talent. Shuichi makes it his mission to prove Yuki wrong…by falling hopelessly in love with him. Oh, and topping the charts with his band, Bad Luck.
Gravitation is chock-full of the BL tropes that I’ve become accustomed to over the years. Shuichi is the unrealistically energetic one, who will dress like a banana, mid-argument, and demand that you slip on a peel. Yuki is the coldhearted one with a dark past who needs a good therapist, but instead he’ll be saved by the almighty Shuichi, who sniffs out his depression while dressed like a dog.
Did I mention the absurd amount of comedy in the series? I was being serious about those costume references.
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That’s not to say Gravitation doesn’t have angst because, oh boy, it does. There’s Yuki having a fiancé who makes Shuichi question his relationship, leading to him dressing like a woman because maybe a woman would be better for Yuki. There’s an off-screen depiction of rape. There’s Yuki being so depressed that he ends up in a hospital. There’s Shuichi being blamed for Yuki’s depression by Yuki’s brother-in-law who, by the way, owns the record label Shuichi works under.
The whole thing is a mess, but BL fans will tell you that the genre just be like that. A lot of the stories aren’t made to be a breakthrough in LGBTQ+ representation. They’re made for, well, fangirls. Knowing this, I thought I’d cringe during my entire rewatch. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a boys’ love fan, but Gravitation is an ongoing, tropey concert with no intermissions.
It’s a lot, y’all, which is why I’m surprised to say that I appreciate it more now than I did back then.
It’s no secret that media from “back in the day” was unapologetically mean-spirited toward the queer community. I was in a very “engage with anything remotely queer” phase, desperate to find something I could relate to.
The only thing I remember about queerness and pop culture back then is, “The gay character is gonna get harassed/made fun of/killed/is there for sassy one-liners/is extremely sexual so people think being gay is too adult for kids.”
Maybe it was labeled as a phase, confusion or something you engaged with until the right member of the opposite gender showed up. Or it was removed entirely.
Now I’m not saying that these things don’t happen today. I also know that there’s a place for narratives I’ve personally grown tired of. But when your only “happily ever after” source for queer content is in fanfic, you become anxious for something different. Even media not aimed at queer folks had its fair share of “Two characters of the same gender (usually male) step away from each other because being too close to one another might make people think they’re, *gasp,* gay.”
This was back in peak developmental stages for me (high school and college), so I’d internalized all of these messages into panic. I couldn’t be like the folks everyone belittles. I’m already Black; I can’t add something else! I needed something official, something outside of shipping goggles that could be written off as untrue, that said “It’s OK” or “Your family won’t disown you” or “You’re not the punch line to a joke,” because I was scared.
I already knew the potential bad ends. I didn’t need my fears reaffirmed; I needed reassurance.
So when Shuichi’s best friend supports him? When that best friend tells Yuki that he’ll come for him if he makes Shuichi cry, you know, like a real friend would? When Yuki tells the press that he and Shuichi are lovers and it doesn’t negatively impact either of their careers?
Even the fact that Shuichi Shindo is a brightly colored, chaotically insecure force that’s determined to get his happy ending that includes success AND love? I didn’t realize how much that impacted me until my rewatch. Hindsight is a Rage Beat.
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I’m sure there are folks who won’t get the same vibe from it, but in a way, that’s a good thing. Currently, we’re in an age of Given and Stars Align, anime I never thought would be released here in the United States.
The point is, for representation to improve, and after 20 years, I should hope that we can name multiple series that queer kids can turn to. Still, I don’t think I would’ve realized how much I, and others in the community, deserve better stories had I not gotten Gravitation all those years ago.
Keep Shining indeed.