In 2018, we introduced an anime convention panel called Rainbow Releases to highlight LGBTQ-related anime and manga coming to the United States in English. We plan to continue hosting this panel so long as there are LGBTQ titles to discuss and conventions will have us, and thankfully 2019 has plenty. Thank you to everyone who attended at Chibi Chibi Con 2019!
Last year we transcribed our midyear panel as a single blog post, which left out unprecedented works later in the year such as Zombieland Saga. This year we plan to keep a simple list of all releases on a Rainbow Releases: LGBTQ Anime and Manga of 2019 blog page, with in-depth blog posts looking back on each season as we move through the year. With all that said, here’s winter 2019!
Dororo – Amazon Prime
Kicking off the year we have Dororo, an adaptation of the classic manga by Osamu Tezuka. It follows Hyakkimaru, a boy on a quest to slay demons and regain his body parts taken by them. He’s joined by Dororo, an even younger orphaned boy with a knack for stealing. There’s a lot to unpack with Hyakkimaru regarding disability, but the character relevant to Rainbow Releases is Dororo, as he’s later revealed to have been assigned female at birth. So far in the anime Hyakkimaru has learned this to Dororo’s embarrassment, but Hyakkimaru doesn’t treat him any differently.
Time will tell if the anime will follow the path of the manga, where Hyakkimaru insists for Dororo to be feminine and grow into a woman. It’s one of Tezuka’s many clumsy transmasculine characters (see our brief look at Black Jack and our old book club discussion of Princess Knight for more), but even taken at face value pressuring a cisgender girl to become a “proper lady” is misogynistic. For now, there’s transgender inclusion via the opening theme song performed by Queen Bee and their transfeminine vocalist Avu-chan of “Devilman no Uta” fame.
Blue Flag – Shueisha Manga Plus
Thanks to the worldwide Manga Plus app by Shueisha, unlikely titles like Blue Flag are now officially available in English. This is a coming of age story about four teenagers, two of whom are gay, in their final year of high school who form a love… square? Masumi (♀) likes Futaba (♀), Futaba likes Touma (♂), and Touma likes Taichi (♂). Futaba asks Taichi for help getting closer to his best friend Touma, and it all gets more complicated from there as new feelings emerge.
The kids only have limited time together before they graduate and have to decide their futures. It’s even harder to imagine your future when you’re gay and won’t fit into what society expects from you, or to find a partner who loves you back and can build a life with. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll feel the existential dread. The Manga Plus app provides the first 8 chapters and the latest simulpub chapters, with an unfortunate gap in the middle. Hopefully they’ll bridge the gap, or even publish the series in print.
10 Dance vol. 1 – Kodansha
Not to be confused with Ten Count, another boys love title, this manga by Inousatoh follows dancing rivals teaching one another their respective styles of dance to prepare for the World 10 Dance Competitions. One is a standard ballroom dancer, and the other a Latin dancer. Private lessons are a creative way to get around the heteronormativity of ballroom dancing pairs. From there, chemistry between them develops into a slow burn romance. If you remember the dismissive and homophobic comments producer Tetsuya Kinoshita made against Yuri!!! on Ice to promote his work on Welcome to the Ballroom, this may heal those wounds. 10 Dance shows Kinoshita how a ballroom-based story can be one of personal growth as well as same-gender love.
Yuri Is My Job! vol. 1 – Kodansha
Yuri is My Job! by Mimen is the first ever yuri manga available from Kodansha USA. Other than that, I personally found it unremarkable. The premise is a high school girl named Hime being blackmailed into working in a cafe designed to feel like a private girls academy out of a classic shoujo manga. The cafe is decorated like a European boarding school, the waitresses wear uniforms, and the guests are treated like fellow students. There she meets Mitsuki, her senpai coworker who can’t stand her off the clock. The all-male patrons fawning over teen girls flirting with each other creates a permanent male gaze to their interactions. Apparently this lessens in future volumes by adding female customers, but it wasn’t a good first impression. However, if you’re familiar with classic yuri tropes you may get a kick out of it. Here’s to more publishers breaking into yuri in English!
Yuri Bear Storm vol. 1-2 – Tokyopop
The manga version of Yurikuma Arashi by the show’s character designer and renowned yuri mangaka, Akiko Morishima, is out as Yuri Bear Storm. It follows Kureha Tsubaki, a high school girl who dreams that her new classmate, Ginko Yurishiro is a human-eating bear in disguise. While Ikuhara is credited as the author, it’s more of Akiko Morishima’s take on the story idea, differing significantly from the anime. If you don’t know of her, she’s a lesbian and a notable yuri mangaka. This is her first manga officially released in English, which is fantastic.
However, I’d be remiss without mentioning that the company that licensed it is Tokyopop. Depending on how long you’ve been in manga fandom, you’ll know that they’re notorious for bad business practices from hoarding manga licenses without consistent releases to exploitative contracts with artists for original comics. Despite suffering a sharp decline back in 2008 with no manga or comics publication for years, it resumed publishing. It’s unknown if they’ve learned anything now, but many readers and creators haven’t forgotten how badly they were treated. We certainly don’t want to encourage not supporting her work legally, but we also have severe reservations around Tokyopop.
Land of the Lustrous (dub) – Sentai Filmworks
While Land of the Lustrous has been out in the US for a while now via streaming, we thought we should mention it again now that the English-language Blu-ray and DVD were released by Sentai Filmworks. If you don’t know Land of the Lustrous, it’s a post-apocalyptic manga set on Earth after humans have gone extinct. Now, people whose bodies are made of gemstone occupy the land. Phosphophyllite (Phos) is too fragile and inept for most other tasks, so they’re assigned the job of writing an encyclopedia of the world around them.
The jewel people of Land of the Lustrous are all genderless. In the anime, they/them/their pronouns were explicitly instructed to used in the subtitle translation by the mangaka, Haruko Ichikawa. In Japanese, they generally use masculine pronouns with gendered speech patterns that vary between feminine and masculine. To contrast, members of other humanoid species are explicitly gendered within their species as female or male. For the dub, Sentai Filmworks has stated they’ll remain genderless in their dialogue. All the voice actors for the jewel people (with the exception of Sensei) are women, just like the original anime.
Now Loading…! – Seven Seas Entertainment
Our next yuri title is Now Loading, a manga about women working in video game design. That’s right, it’s about people who play video games but they don’t get transported to the inside of a game. Instead, this is an office romance where a new hired named Takagi is assigned to collaborate with Sakurazuki, the creator of her favorite mobile game. There is the awkward trope of Sakurazuki kissing Takagi unprompted, but from there their relationship is fine. It’s a short and sweet single volume, but worth checking out if you want yuri that isn’t about teenagers.
Beauty and the Beast Girl – Seven Seas Entertainment
Originally published on Pixiv, this yuri manga is about a human woman named Lily who comes across a monster woman in the woods. The thing is, the human doesn’t realize she’s a monster because she’s blind. This allows the monster woman who’s insecure about her appearance and afraid humans will attack her to make her first friend ever, even if she has to lie about being human to do so. While there are some dramatic twists and angst, it’s very fluffy, even kind of corny. For example, Lily’s surname is simply “Blind.”
The treatment of blindness in Beauty and the Beast Girl is fairly even-handed. Lily is fairly self-sufficient and has a lot of agency, even when others try to override her choices. While she’s faced ableism and initially wants a cure for her blindness to become more independent, she’s also surrounded by supportive loved ones and ultimately is fine being blind.
My Solo Exchange Diary vol. 2 – Seven Seas Entertainment
The second installment of My Solo Exchange Diary may be the last work we’ll see from lesbian mangaka Kabi Nagata in a while. My Solo Exchange Diary is a memoir follows her after My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, detailing her life after publication and trying to become more independent. It’s a heavy work. Volume 2 in particular directly deals with self-harm, suicidal ideation, and being in a mental facility.
We’ve always found her introspection to be thoughtful, blunt, and eye-opening. Her existential anxieties, her family troubles, and the toll of mental illness, especially when your support system is tenuous or non-existent, are relatable. While her being a lesbian isn’t as emphasized as it was in MLEWL, it’s valuable to see this depth of work from a lesbian artist and that lens can be affirming, even in subtle, dark contexts. Volume 2 also brings up complications as she re-examines herself and her family, what it means to be well and maintain those relationships. As the third diary comic from her, Nagata’s work isn’t as shocking or novel, but the difficulty of her subject matter still remains. Throughout her manga, there’s always a thread of reassurance though, the kind a lot of people with mental illnesses may understand. It’s not Pollyanna-ish or tidy, just knowing that living is a choice and that the next day is another chance.
Wish by CLAMP – Dark Horse Comics
Wish had been long out of print since the shutdown of Tokyopop, but it’s finally available in English again in omnibus format! This is an older CLAMP manga from the late 90s, about a man named Shuichiro who saves an angel named Kohaku from a murder of crows. Kohaku offers to grant him one wish in return, but he doesn’t have anything to wish for. It’s romantic comedy and one of CLAMP’s few stories with a happy ending, just with angels and demons included. In the old Tokyopop translation, the angel characters were referred to as she/her and the demons as he/him. In actuality the angels and demons don’t have a concept of gender like humans do, and the Dark Horse translation adheres to that by avoiding gendered language for them. It would’ve been easier to just say they/them, but it’s better than the heteronormativity of the Tokyopop version.
To address the elephant in the room, yes, Shuichiro and Kohaku do look like Jotaro and Kakyoin from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Tsubasa Nekoi of CLAMP is a HUGE fan of Stardust Crusaders and has multiple couples based on her OTP. If you ship them too, you can read Wish like an AU.
That Blue Sky Feeling vol. 2 – VIZ Media
That Blue Sky Feeling is a shounen romance manga that began as a webcomic by gay mangaka Okura. It centers around Noshiro, a high school boy, who wants to befriend his shy classmate, Sanada, an outcast rumored to be gay. Noshiro isn’t put off by this rumor however and only wants to become closer to Sanada. When it turns out Sanada is gay, Noshiro has to work through his prejudices and learn more about gay life as they become friends.
In the first volume Sanada says he has 26 year old ex-boyfriend, which made us raise our eyebrows. Their age difference isn’t acknowledged as predatory, which is odd in an otherwise thoughtful manga. Thankfully, he only appears briefly in the next volume. The second volume looks at what it’s like when someone has a crush on you but your orientations are incompatible, whether it’s a straight girl crushing on Sanada or a gay boy on Nishiro. It’s a complicated balance of not wanting to out yourself but not wanting to lead someone on either. In the midst of all this Nishiro is still figuring out his feelings for Sanada.
Sailor Moon: The Super Live
Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon needs no introduction. There have been Sailor Moon stage shows in Japan for decades, but Sailor Moon: The Super Live based on the first story arc is the first to ever come to the United States. It has an all-female cast, including transgender actress Reo Sanada as Kunzite. We should all be like Sailor Moon and recognize trans women as women. Kunzite’s partner Zoisite isn’t in the musical, but with the references to the 1990s anime we think we’re allowed to claim this Kunzite as still a gay character.
See you at the end of spring!