Rainbow Releases: LGBTQ Anime and Manga of 2018

Rainbow Releases: LGBTQ Anime and Manga of 2018

Last year we held a panel at Sakura-con called Beyond Yuri on Ice: LGBTQ Anime and Manga, which was about introducing people to the history of LGBTQ content in anime and more modern series with LGBTQ themes. It’s a lengthy panel and we’ve held it twice now, so we decided to retire it and create a new panel looking to the future for Sakura-con 2018 called Rainbow Releases: LGBTQ Anime and Manga of 2018.

We’re here to tell you all about anime and manga coming out in the US officially to look forward to, because it’s a good year to be an LGBTQ fan. It truly is 20gayteen. Our title in the programming was formally LGBTQ Anime and Manga of 2018, but it’s really more like LGBTQ and Adjacent. There may be an advent of realistic or otherwise specifically LGBTQ work right now, but that would still leave us with only so many to talk about. Please understand that we’ll be including some titles that aren’t as straightforward as My Brother’s Husband, but we think will interest you and bring something new to the table. Sometimes you just have to take what you can get to feel represented or just to feel good, you know?

Looking Back

Before we get into this year, we’ll be going back in time to look at two groundbreaking manga from last year. Of course, we’re referring to My Brother’s Husband by Gengoroh Tagame and My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Kabi Nagata. If you haven’t read them by now, you should!

My Brother’s Husband is a fictional story about a Japanese straight man named Yaichi, who discovers his estranged twin brother passed away and was married to a Canadian man. The husband Mike moves in with Yaichi and his young daughter Kana, which causes Yaichi to confront his homophobia that severed his relationship with his brother. He’s uncomfortable with the situation, while Kana adores Mike and is open-minded to gay issues. It’s all the more important and poignant that it comes from Gengoroh Tagame, who is a gay Japanese man. He normally draws very intense erotica, but made this manga for general audiences to learn about gay people. For a US audience, it’s an intimate look at the form homophobia takes in Japan.

My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is a completely different beast as a mature autobiographical diary manga. Kabi Nagata explores mental health, toxic family dynamics, the pressures of society, what it means to find fulfilment in life, and, of course, her sexuality. It’s a frank but kind self-reflection on her life, one that’s shockingly relatable and cathartic for many readers.

These manga were released back to back and Amazon even let us know that they were usually bought together in a true display of women-loving women and men-loving men solidarity. They both became best-sellers and critical darlings, which goes to show LGBTQ stories are not niche. They’ve also paved the way for more LGBTQ voices in the US anime and manga markets, as we’ll see with these upcoming releases.

Catching Up

Since we’re already three months into 2018, we have to back up and make sure you didn’t miss anything.

Devilman Crybaby might seem like a weird choice for the first thing we talk about, but we are going chronologically. It dropped on Netflix on January 5th and took the world by storm. It’s pretty cool that the theme song “Devilman no Uta” specifically got so popular, because it’s sung by a trans woman named Avu-chan who also voices a minor character. Anyway, it’s a modern retelling of the classic manga Devilman by Go Nagai about a boy who gains demonic power. By the way, it’s also a good year to be a fan of retro anime and manga. In terms of this panel, the original manga features a love story between the main characters who are both men. Without giving too much away, Crybaby adds more same-gender couples and uses fictional demons to explore the real demonization of oppressed people. That said, a gruesome and tragic story like this isn’t for everyone.

January 7th ushered in the anime adaptation of Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card, the sequel series to the CLAMP magical girl classic Cardcaptor Sakura. It follows Sakura as she starts junior high school and is reunited with Syaoran. One night she dreams of a mysterious, ominous figure and all of her captured Sakura Cards turn literally clear and powerless. Sakura then must investigate what’s going on as well as use a new key to capture new cards that wreak havoc. So that sure sounds kind of like a recycled plot, huh? She even collects cards with similar powers! That’s not the worst thing in the world though. The show is still for young kids and there’s nothing wrong with a simple plot.

Clear Card seems to reduces some of the more problematic elements (primarily the pedophilia and teacher-student relationships) but it also doesn’t seem to engage with queerness as much. Yukito and Toya are still close but their relationship time onscreen has definitely been reduced. Tomoyo is still Sakura’s enthusiastic seamstress and best friend, content to be a third wheel to Sakura and Syaoran’s budding relationship. None of the queer elements from the original have been acknowledged so far. While unfortunate, Clear Card is still very sweet and warm. The animation and art direction are just as cute as required.

The manga version of Clear Card is also available, with volume two available February 27th, volume three March 20th, and volume four June 5th! They’re almost identical, except for things like Meiling only being in the anime because she only exists in that version. It doesn’t make much difference whether you watch or read it, and you can pick which version you’re more familiar with or prefer. Or both. The manga will presumably continue the story beyond the anime, but CLAMP has a history of putting their reboots on hiatus for years. If they’re going to finish any of them it would be this one, since it’s their most popular series and has an anime. Here’s hoping we see the end of it!

We’re also including some manga series where the second volumes come out this year and the first volume came out last year, since they’re still relatively recent.

I Hear the Sunspot is a boys love manga by Yuki Fumino, with the second volume subtitled Theory of Happiness out as of January 29th. It’s about Taichi, a college freshman who meets Kohei, a fellow student who is hard of hearing. Kohei needs a note taker for lectures and Taichi volunteers to do that task in exchange for free homemade lunches. Because most people either patronize or ignore Koheu because of his hearing loss, he comes off as aloof and unapproachable. However, over time Kohei and Taichi grow closer as Taichi’s direct and impulsive personality gets through to him. Our ability to comment on the portrayal of Kohei in terms of representation of a character with hearing loss is limited, but we found it a very warm manga. It’s a story about finding people who are kind and willing to meet you on your level. It still has some dramatic miscommunication and misunderstandings, but it’s emotionally grounded and especially since the series is fairly short, nothing drags on for too long.

Who doesn’t know Yuri on Ice at this point? Miu Suzaki and Ryuichi Kihara even used music from the show for their routine at the Olympics. The important thing is it’s now available on DVD and Blu-ray as of Febuary 6th! If you haven’t checked it out yet and want to, now is a good time. It’s a lovely anime about insecurity, resilience, artistry, and of course the power of love. For those we have seen it, it’s fun to rewatch knowing the “twist” and without anxiety over queerbaiting too.

Nameless Asterism by Kina Kobayashi is about teenage love triangles, but gay. Mostly. Tsukasa Shiratori is a girl in junior high and best friends with Nadeshiko Washio and Mikage Kotooka. However, there’s a problem: Tsukasa has a big crush Washio. She planned to keep this a secret forever, but accidentally finds out Washio has a crush on Kotooka. Tsukasa, wanting to be a good friend, decides to support Washio and bury her own crush even deeper. There’s more drama like Kotooka seemingly hiding something, Tsukasa’s clingy twin brother who likes to crossdress, and a random handsome boy who asks Tsukasa out for unknown reasons. Whew! (As an aside, while the crossdressing is comedic and framed as weird, it’s fairly mild. Most characters who know about it are fine. Your mileage may vary of course.) Some find the ending of Nameless Asterism disappointing and abrupt, but the heartfelt portrayal of first love and that internal conflict falling for a friend before then may be worth reading. Volume one came out February 13th, two comes out May 1st, three comes out October 9th, and the fourth and fifth come out next year.

A Polar Bear in Love by Koromo is another with a second manga volume on February 27th that’s recent enough to include as new, about a laidback polar bear who falls in love with a cute little seal. Of course, the seal is terrified because it should be the polar bear’s prey. What makes it relevant to this panel is they’re both male, but the polar bear doesn’t mind that just like he doesn’t mind that he’s supposed to eat seals. We wouldn’t really call it a BL manga, just that the genders of the characters are incidental. Even after the polar bear makes his intentions clear, the seal doesn’t totally trust him. But they end up journeying together and learning more about each other. It’s not Watership Down levels of animalistic, but does acknowledge the characters have instincts and ecosystems despite making them talk. It all comes together in a quirky comedy with some heartfelt moments, and maybe you’ll learn something about arctic wildlife along the way.

My Brother’s Husband had a three-episode live action television adaptation this month that covers about half the manga. Unfortunately it hasn’t been licensed, but it’s wonderful to see the story be such a hit and it’s powerful to see it brought to life. There aren’t many live action dramas that depict gay issues in Japan, so it’s definitely hopeful sign for more media of this kind to come out.

Coming Soon

Now we’re all caught up to this weekend and can look at what’s coming soon!

It’s so nice to have a real release of the 1990s Sailor Moon anime instead of the old censor-heavy dubs. VIZ Media has reached SuperS, the fourth season about the Dead Moon Circus, with the first DVD/Blu-ray on April 3rd and streaming afterword. When it comes to LGBTQ characters the iconic lesbian couple Michiru and Haruka aren’t around, but this season does have the minor antagonist Fisheye. It’s kinda hard to talk about Fisheye because as a character they’re part of the much larger tendency for media to equate trans straight women and cis gay men. It’s a problematic depiction, on top of how the Amazon Trio seduce people to invade their dreams like metaphor for sexual assault, but Fisheye is a fan favorite for a reason and this is part of anime history.

The Bride was a Boy by Chii may sound like an awkward title but it’s really a cute autobiographical essay manga by a trans woman, coming May 1st. It follows her life, from struggling with her identity as a child to falling in love as an adult. As you can guess by the title, it ends in a wedding. Though it is a memoir that dives into the obstacles that Chii has faced, it’s actually quite a light manga. Chii discusses various LGBTQ issues in a general and accessible way, of course with a focus on trans issues. Highly recommend for people who want to learn more about trans issues, particularly from a Japanese perspective.

Éclair is a yuri manga anthology with sixteen stories by various artists, coming June 5th. Most of the stories focus on romances between young schoolgirls but not all. The variety of stories and artists make it difficult to judge and inevitably guarantees not every story will be a hit for everyone. A couple of artists have yuri manga already licensed in the US, such as Nio Nakatani’s Bloom Into You and Canno’s Kiss and White Lily for My Dearest Girl, if you wanna see what kind of storytellers they are. Overall, the anthology looks quite charming and I’m interested to see more up and coming yuri mangaka.

Remember Devilman Crybaby? The original manga it was based on is finally getting a full English translation, with volume one on May 22nd and volume two October 9th, in a new line of classic titles from Seven Seas Entertainment. The theme of love isn’t as prominent and it doesn’t have all the couples Crybaby does, but Akira and Ryo are still there. However, without spoiling too much, the manga explains Ryo’s love for Akira in a way that makes a lot of gender essentialist claims. Nonetheless, it’s extremely interesting as a historic work that influenced many of the stories we have today, including basically being the grandfather of all homoerotic shounen manga.

My Solo Exchange Diary is the sequel to My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Kabi Nagata, coming June 5th. It will be another autobiographical manga exploring her life in a similar style and format. While the official description is vague, only revealing a few details about her worsening relationship with her parents and anxiety over the idea of living on her own, we have high hopes for this release given how wonderful My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness was. The title refers to how Nagata begins to write an exchange diary, a journal two people share like pen pals, between herself. Nagata already has My Solo Exchange Diary 2 out in Japan and it will presumably be released here too eventually.

If you haven’t heard of Kase-san by now, whether it’s the manga or the six minute anime short film, you’ve probably been sleeping under a yuri rock. The short showed two high school girls, Yamada and Kase, slowly getting to know each other and then falling in love. Yamada is a shy girl who tends to the school’s garden while Kase is an energetic tomboy from the track and field club. While the origins of their relationship doesn’t step beyond classic yuri tropes, the animation itself is sweet and lively. A feature length OVA is coming out June 9th from the same studio as the short film! It will probably cover much of the same story as the “Your Light” clip but in more depth and detail. Yuri in theaters is a big deal, but we’ll have to see if it will be licensed.

If you don’t want to wait for the OVA, you can read the Kase-san manga by Hiromi Takashima available right now! As of February 13th all four volumes are out. Yamada and Kase get together in the first volume, and the rest of the series explores them as a couple. This manga is for everyone out there who prefers established relationships to slow burn romance. They go through communication issues and jealousy, all while being adorable. The manga ends on them in college, and a sequel series called Yamada and Kase-san picks up from there. Hopefully the sequel will be licensed too since yuri set outside high school can be hard to come by, and they dispel the myth that “experimental” girls grow into straight women.

After Hours by Nishio Yuhta series that started last year and is continuing this year with volume two on June 12th. Unlike the other yuri we’ve covered, this one is about adult women in their 20s and 30s. It follows Emi, who’s new to the city clubbing scene and meets a DJ named Kei. They go home together one night, and from then on Emi learns more about dance and club culture. It’s not only a sweet romance, but captures the feeling of being a directionless millennial. My only grievance is volume one reveals Emi is still with her boyfriend while she’s seeing Kei, though she’s trying to break it off. Let’s hope it’s resolved soon.

Claudine…! is a single volume manga from the 1970s by Ryoko Ikeda, the creator of the famous The Rose of Versailles, coming June 26th. Ikeda plays with gender across her body of work, and this manga is actually about the life of a closeted trans man as told through his therapist. The title refers to his birth name, as he’s misgendered by it throughout the story. He faces many hardships, some related to him being trans and some not. It’s a lot of emotion packed into only about 100 pages. Without going into the specifics, be warned this does not have a happy ending and could even trigger readers. Despite that, we hope having it available will open discussion around portrayal of trans people in manga.

Mushroom Girls in Love by Kei Muriyama is another single volume manga about two women from an all-female planet of sentient fungi, coming July 3rd. They’re in love and want to get married, but there’s a lot of drama and obstacles standing in their way. There’s not much to say, especially since it’s so short but it looks adorable and if you liked the yuri element of A Centaur’s Life by the same author, here it is in focus. It’s also nice to see a manga about two women getting married, a rarity in yuri.

Go For It Nakamura! by Syundei is a sweet single volume BL about a loner with a crush on another guy in his class, coming July 3rd. It started as a one shot and had a rocky serialization so it’s not the smoothest read, but it’s fun with a happy ending. It’s a modern manga, but has a cute retro art style. The art alone makes it stand out, but most interesting is that the protagonist Nakamura identifies as gay from the beginning and the story focuses on him simply wanting to be friends with his crush. It’s basically the opposite of the stereotypical BL where identity never comes up while they become a couple, which isn’t necessarily “better” but does prove the genre has its nuances. In one chapter Nakamura seeks out BL for guidance but decides to just read them for fun instead, which is good advice.

Like Devilman Crybaby, Banana Fish is an adaptation of a classic manga by Akimi Yoshida now set in present day coming in the summer anime season. It’s a lengthy shoujo manga about two boys, including one with a history of sexual abuse, who have an intimate relationship. That may sound like your standard homoerotic old school shoujo, like Kaze to Ki no Uta (The Poem of the Wind and Trees) or The Heart of Thomas, but what sets Banana Fish apart is the gritty plot and realistic artwork involving street gangs, drugs, and war. It will be interesting to see how Ash and Eiji’s relationship plays out in the hands of today’s creator’s and in the show’s contemporary setting. Not gonna lie, we can see the queerbaiting arguments a mile away. The manga is messy in how it depicts gayness, but Ash and Eiji have an undeniable love for each other. Hopefully the anime will be popular enough to resurrect the old VIZ translation of the manga, because nobody wants to track down 19 out of print volumes.

That Blue Sky Feeling is a shounen romance manga that began as a webcomic by an openly gay artist named Okura. The webcomic was finished several years ago and is now being redrawn by a different artist, Coma Hashii, and published through a serialized magazine and coming to the US on August 14th. It centers around high school student, Noshiro, who wants to befriend his shy classmate Sanada, an outcast rumored to be gay. Noshiro isn’t put off by this rumor and only wants to become closer to Sanada. VIZ describes it as a “tender coming-of-age teen LGBT drama,” and we hope they have more LGBTQ-themed manga in store.

Back to My Brother’s Husband: it ended in May of last year in Japan with four volumes and the final English omnibus volume will come out on September 18th. It’s a bittersweet end for it to stop relatively early, but having a completely translation is important. It will have more of Yaichi’s journey in learning more about Mike and his brother before Mike leaves for Canada.

Fandom Rumors and Reputations

Those were the main releases we wanted to include, but we also wanted to touch on another issue: sometimes in fandom, you hear about potential representation. Maybe there’s a confirmed gay or trans character, or maybe queer attraction is acknowledged. Rumors and rumblings of this kind can get people excited, or anxious, pretty easily. In anime and manga fandoms in particular, this gets complicated by translations, whether official or fan-made, where things can get muddled or misinterpreted. High expectations can be bred from misunderstanding.

Then there’s the related issue of surprise homophobia and transphobia. A series can be super enjoyable so far but suddenly it hits you with something queasy, whether it’s an iffy gag or a poorly constructed character. It sucks but we’ve found it easier to deal with by knowing when problematic things crop up beforehand. We’d rather anticipate some questionable stuff rather than be ambushed by it. With that in mind, we wanted to talk about caveats in a few popular series on the eve of the spring anime season. This includes spoilers!

With the popularity of Devilman Crybaby and the same-gender couples in it, people may associate gay representation with Go Nagai. First we first want to tell you that not all versions of Devilman are gay and you’ll be disappointed with the spin-offs Devilman Grimoire or Devilman vs Hades if you expect more love between Ryo and Akira, though you may enjoy them anyway.

More importantly Cutie Honey, another classic series by Go Nagai about a transforming robot heroine, is coming to the US on July 31st and it includes some awful caricatures of lesbians. Maybe you’ve heard there’s yuri subtext in Cutie Honey, and sure, but the manga portrays “real” lesbians as disgusting hulking rapists. Many installments of the franchise since then include some kind of predatory or “mannish” lesbian caricature. Maybe the new anime Cutie Honey Universe can break that pattern, but who knows. That said, women-loving women have enjoyed Cutie Honey for decades, but just be prepared for the caricatures.

The next season for the anime adaptation of My Hero Academia by Kohei Horikoshi starts soon and will show off two transgender characters. The first is Yawara Chatora, as known as Tora, a Pro Hero and member of a hero team called the Pussycats. Initially he seems like a simple and out of place “buff man in a frilly dress” joke but in his profile page, he’s revealed as a transgender man who went to Thailand to transition. The likely implication is that Tora originally joined the Pussycats as a woman but after transitioning, decided to stay and wear the same costume. It’s a fairly clumsy way to reveal his trans status but he’s a good character who’s shown as a powerful and good-hearted hero. Tora also doesn’t suffer extra hardship compared to his teammates. (In fact it’s Ragdoll who ends up suffering the most by permanently losing her quirk.)

Kenji Hikiishi, also known as Magne, is another story however. She’s a minor character and member of the League of Villains. Her character design resembles popular caricatures of trans women, emphasizing a muscular build, facial hair, and big lips. None of these features are inherently wrong for a trans woman character to have, but they seem like conspicuous, deliberate “reminders” of Magne’s assigned gender. This is especially evident since “Kenji” is a male name and when you compare her to how Horikoshi generally draws other female characters.

What little backstory we get about Magne is that she chose to join the League of Villains because she wanted to live freely. While she doesn’t explicitly mention her gender, living freely sounds similar to the rhetoric of trans activism. It’s an unpleasant link between her villainy and her gender identity. (A small aside but during the School Trip Arc, Magne fights Tora, the only other trans character, which is the exact opposite of solidarity.) In the end, during the much later Internship Arc, she’s killed violently by another villain as the first character in the series to die on-page. So while Tora may be an awkward but okay attempt at a transgender character, Magne seems to fit every negative trope for trans women characters, including an undignified death.

Golden Kamuy has built a reputation as a homoerotic manga for all the beefcakes in it, and author Satoru Noda even says he wants readers to pay attention to the beautiful naked bodies of men in it. For those reading or watching the upcoming anime for LGBTQ content, be warned it features the minor character Kano Ienaga who plays into the trope of a deceptive and creepy trans woman. Like Magne, her gender identity links to her villainy in that cannibalism makes her appearance youthful and feminine. She runs an inn to lure visitors who become her victims, which is how she meets the main characters and they discover she’s one of the Abashiri convicts they’re looking for. Plenty of the Golden Kamuy cast aren’t great people, but Ienaga comes with the baggage of a harmful trope and exploitative reveal she’s trans through a silhouette of her genitalia. Later the series also introduces the gay yakuza couple Wakayama and Nakazawa, often played for laughs as they bicker over infidelity. They’re mauled by bears, and Wakayama declares taking a bear’s anal virginity as he thrusts his sword into its anus. Not only are they killed off, but the manga reminds you they’re gay the entire time which uncomfortably links the two.

While this section is intended as essentially a discussion of some content warnings, these are still our subjective opinions. Not everyone will agree with our interpretations of some part of a story being homophobic or transphobic and we do not mean to be a complete authority on these issues. None of what we talk about is meant to be some kind of guilt-trip about what media is good or not, as we actually enjoy all these series, but rather we want to turn a critical eye at what media we engage with.

For the Future

That’s all we know about this year. As for the future, there are a lot of potential licenses just waiting in Japan. Almost all new anime gets acquired by some company, but not so much manga or even older anime. The best way to ensure more LGBTQ works come to the US is to support and promote the ones we have. Seven Seas has a bimonthly survey that asks for recommended titles which is awesome, but when you fill it out you have to keep in mind that some Japanese companies generally work with certain US companies (Kodansha with Kodansha, VIZ Media with Shueisha and Shogakukan, etc).

Essay manga is nonfiction and often autobiographical manga, so it’s the perfect genre for LGBTQ authors to write about their lives whether in a personal or informative way: Onna Doushi de Kodomo wo Umu Koto ni Shimashita (Our Journey to Lesbian Motherhood), Douseikon de Oyako ni Narimashita (We Became Parent and Child Through Same Sex Marriage) by Yuta Yagi, Honey & Honey by Sachiko Takeuchi, etc. We’ve already had Kabi Nagata manga and The Bride was a Boy, and we’d love to have more. Hopefully the next installation of My Solo Exchange Diary will come out too. It’s a great way to hear directly from Japanese people about their experiences, so see our cultural differences as well as what we have in common.

Of course, there are fictional stories about explicitly LGBTQ characters or social issues out there too: Shimanami Tasogare by Yuhki Kamatani, Omoi no Kakera (Fragments of Love) by Jin Takemiya, Ao no Flag (Blue Flag) by Kaito, Bokura no Shikisai (Our Colors) by Gengoroh Tagame, etc. Some are by out authors like lesbian Takemiya or nonbinary Kamatani, while some aren’t. It’s best not to assume a creator is straight or cis because many keep their personal lives private. Still, it’s important to celebrate publicly out authors and we’d love to see more of their art here in the US. Their lived experience often informs their stories, which presents Japanese perspectives we are in need of. Also, contrary to popular belief, LGBTQ authors do create BL and yuri and those are just as important.

Classic shoujo is finally getting some mainstream attention. The Rose of Versailles manga has been in license limbo with Udon Entertainment for years, possibly because the director of publishing Matt Moylan who supports “Comicsgate” derides what he considers “faux diversity” of prioritizing marginalized people. Alternatively the manga will eventually come out in English and we’ll have to decide if having The Rose of Versailles is worth supporting him. In the meantime we have Claudine, one of the many manga from the 1970s that explored gender and sexuality, which developed the genres of yuri and BL with works like Shiroi Heya no Futari. Some have anime adaptations too that could use licensing, like Dear Brother or Kaze to Ki no Uta. As long as the classic releases we have are supported, the more likely others are. Maybe even some old licenses could be rescued, like Banana Fish or From Eroica With Love by Yasuko Aoike.

Hopefully we’ll get more and more LGBTQ releases in the US and we can make this panel a yearly tradition!

One thought on “Rainbow Releases: LGBTQ Anime and Manga of 2018

  1. One of the lesser known anime of Spring 2018 is Mahou Shoujo Ore, though is a gender-bender parody anime, so far the heroine’s male crush has an attraction towards the heroine’s male form, and the heroine’s best friend (a female) says that she is in love with the heroine (in a sexual way). The artist of the manga source also draws BL.

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