It’s not every day we get a new queer anime, so I was incredibly excited when Funimation announced the acquisition of The Stranger by the Shore. This movie has been at the top of my watch list ever since.
Yes, I’ve been watching all of the new BL anime movies, but this one stood out from the moment I saw the poster and watched the trailer.
The Stranger by the Shore has everything you could ask for in a good anime film: beautiful animation, gorgeous backgrounds, a solid seiyu cast, and a story with universal appeal.
Even if you’re not a part of the LGBTQ+ community, I think everyone can identify with the characters’ feelings of wanting to fit in and finding love. But The Stranger by the Shore is even more important because it is a queer anime.
Ask any queer otaku about LGBTQ+ representation in anime and they’ll probably mention how little of it there is, or how bad it can be. BL in particular is a genre that often gets attacked from both sides: it’s written off by a lot of discriminatory fans for being gay and “just for girls,” but queer fans sometimes feel it’s not gay enough.
So, I’m going to ask you to throw all your opinions, preconceived notions, and immediate retorts about BL out the window and watch The Stranger by the Shore. I’m not going to sugarcoat this title and hide its BL manga origins—to do so would be inauthentic and disrespectful to the original author. But whatever you think you’ve heard about BL, this anime will prove you wrong.
A new era
Let’s start with the first, and one of the oldest, critiques of BL that the characters aren’t even gay. For a long time, BL stories did avoid characters explicitly labeled as gay and relied heavily on “gay for you” tropes.
Academics and fans alike have come up with a lot of theories as to why this trope existed in the first place. These theories range from the appeal of a romance so strong, it can bend a character’s heterosexuality the other way, or to the fact that these BL were a product of the time and culture that they were written in, where gay representation wasn’t common or particularly welcome.
However, the fact that OG-bishies like Gilbert from Kaze to Ki no Uta weren’t putting a label on their feelings doesn’t detract from the obvious and inherent queerness of their behavior or the story. Labels like “gay” or “lesbian” are actually relatively new terms even in Western LGBTQ+ circles, aren’t always universal, and are pretty fluid for a lot of the community.
By contrast, homosexuality has been documented throughout history, across all cultures. Labels aren’t the sole defining facet of a queer identity and don’t make or take away from who you’re attracted to.
However, we do see more active use of labels in BL starting in the mid 2000s with shows like Gravitation, and continuing into the 2010s with Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi, all the way through today with recent titles like given. and Twittering Birds Never Fly.
In The Stranger by the Shore, Shun identifies as gay and is currently living in Okinawa to escape his family, who very much don’t approve of his identity. His desire to live as his authentic self will hit home to many queer fans. Shun’s found family is also wonderfully diverse, exemplified by the lesbian couple Eri and Suzu.
His struggle for acceptance and love feels raw and real without being melodramatic or tragic—there will be no deaths in the New York City library here. Mio, a young man Shun meets by the beach, is straight (or so he says), but the enthusiasm he shows for exploring their relationship alleviates any of the tropey feelings I might have had about the situation.
If anything, it’s Shun who has the “but I’m a guy!” hangup, though even that felt more purposeful and less like falling back on stereotypes.
Which brings me to the next misconception about BL: consent. As a consummate fujoshi (stick with me here), I’ve sat through my fair share of BL that handled this issue badly, to put it mildly.
Some recent BL anime have at least tried to rewrite the narrative: DAKAICHI -I’m being harassed by the sexiest man of the year- reframed the couple’s first intimate encounter to dramatically differ from the manga. On the other end of the spectrum, the given. movie actually made it clearer what was happening in some scenes and Twittering Birds Never Fly proved to be an incredibly faithful adaptation.
The way we view affirmative consent now isn’t necessarily going to be reflected by anime, and it’s not just BL that has a problem with consent. These are works of fiction, it’s worth noting, but it’s valid if you want to see sensual scenes that read less like a bodice-ripper romance.
The Stranger by the Shore avoids these bad romance pitfalls because it so deftly and genuinely crafts its romance. While Mio and Shun’s feelings may quickly blossom, the physicality of their relationship isn’t the end of the movie or the only conflict the characters encounter. Again, The Stranger by the Shore flips tropes on its head and it’s Mio who’s enthusiastically pursuing Shun.
The conflict that does arise from the question of intimacy is nuanced and layered. Shun is sorting out his identity, his family, and his new relationship. As a late bloomer myself, I felt a strong connection to Shun’s desire to wait until he feels ready. When we finally see their intimate encounter, it’s laced with all the tenderness and exploration of a first time, along with a heavy dose of reality. You just aren’t going to find all those unrealistic bedroom tropes from BL in this film.
If you’re looking for an authentic queer romance or have been craving more LGBTQ+ representation in anime, The Stranger by the Shore is the perfect film for you. It’s a breath of fresh air for BL, in part because of its universal appeal, and in part because it’s just an all around beautiful and well-made movie. I have major vacation envy from the background art and already have the ending song on repeat.
Some viewers may be hesitant, seeing the “BL” label attached to this movie. BL is a genre traditionally created for and by women, but we know from numerous academic and fan studies that the global BL community is a lot more queer and racially diverse and less cis-gendered than has always been presumed.
Speaking as a self-identified lesbian and fujoshi, BL actually helped me explore a world beyond the heteronormative in a way that led me to my own queer identity. At the end of the day, whether you’re a fujoshi, fudanshi, fujin, or someone who doesn’t want to use that label—we all just want to see authentic queer characters and support their relationships.
BL has traditionally been one of the few sources of depictions of queer couples, so the boom in BL anime has also been a consistent source for queer (if not always gay) representation in anime. To pretend the genre hasn’t changed in 50 years is short-sighted and just doesn’t hold up; anime and manga have clearly changed a lot, even in just the last decade.
We can debate what constitutes good representation, but always insisting on “good” representation ignores the nuances and complexities of the LGBTQ+ community and doesn’t leave much room for cultural differences, all while holding us to a higher standard than well…every other anime.
The Stranger by the Shore can’t fix all the problems in BL or solve all your queer character needs, but it’s at least a big step in the right direction.