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 and Sakura-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.
Without further delay, here is our recap of LGBTQ-themed anime and manga from the spring season of 2019!
Dororo (Final Thoughts) – Amazon Prime
Now that the anime adaptation of Osamu Tezuka’s classic manga Dororo has ended and confirmed the worst, we unfortunately have to rescind recommending it for transgender representation. At times the show uses Hyakkimaru’s unawareness of gender roles and sex differences to explore how gender is socially constructed, such as being unfazed when he learns Dororo’s assigned gender because he’s unable to see physical differences between sexes. He also affectionately calls his adoptive father “mama” when explaining he sees him as a parent, unaware the term is a gendered one.
However, the final episode inherits the manga’s transphobia with Hyakkimaru regaining his eyes and noticing Dororo is “pretty” (i.e. girly). In the last shots of the show, a glimpse into the future shows Dororo has long hair and pink clothing like that of his mother. Dororo’s apparent return to cisgender identity and implied heterosexual attraction to Hyakkimaru reinforce each other to assure the audience of both. Although Hyakkimaru does not misgender Dororo or urge him to grown into a “fine lady” like in the manga, the anime fulfills Tezuka’s sentiment that Dororo should give up his boyish ways and go back to his assigned gender as an adult. As we explained previously, the insistence on gender conformity is hurtful whether the story of a cisgender girl or transgender boy. At least the opening by Queen Bee still slaps.
Sarazanmai – Crunchyroll/Funimation
Sarazanmai, the latest anime from director Kunihiko Ikuhara, has proven to be a smash hit. The multimedia story began with the Twitter account @keeponly1luv, an in-character feed by police officers Reo and Mabu. The account has since been deleted, but is archived with English translations here. A manga spin-off by Misaki Saito serialized in the boys love magazine Rutile also predated the anime, following Reo and Mabu raising an orphaned baby named Sara together. It has not been licensed in English at this time. While not necessary to follow the anime, we recommend reading them to better understand Reo and Mabu as characters.
Ikuhara has explored male queerness in his work before (such as Mamoru and Fiore in Sailor Moon R: The Movie) and here his cast of characters is almost entirely male for the first time. The anime turns to a trio of middle school classmates named Kazuki, Enta, and Toi who transform into kappas to protect their city from zombies driven by “desire” created by Reo and Mabu. In its exploration of human connections and breakdown of the false dichotomy between love and desire, Sarazanmai delves into gay adolescence and acceptance of unrequited feelings, as well as adult relationship conflicts and the perseverance of same-gender love under oppressive systems.
With that said, Sarazanmai falls into the trope of cross-dressing for convoluted reasons unrelated to gender, albeit one of the least offensive examples in recent memory. The first episode reveals Kazuki secretly cross-dresses as a local idol and role-plays as her online, and the show goes on to explain his reason for doing so. Although Kazuki’s cross-dressing is thankfully not played for laughs nor do other characters deride or assault him for it, we feel it is worth informing new viewers not to get their hopes up for an arc of transgender identity or expression of gender non-conformity.
Our Dreams at Dusk: Shimanami Tasogare vol. 1 – Seven Seas Entertainment
The highly anticipated first volume of Our Dreams at Dusk: Shimanami Tasogare is finally here! If you read this blog and don’t understand the excitement, we have failed you. Six years since the final volume of Nabari no Ou was published by Yen Press, another manga by openly x-gender and asexual Yuhki Kamatani is now available in English. Their latest manga, Our Dreams at Dusk, follows a closeted teenage boy named Tasuku in his new life in the real life portside town of Onomichi. When his classmates accuse Tasuku of being gay, he leaves school behind to attempt suicide because he would rather die than be outed. Thankfully, he is stopped by a mysterious stranger known only as “Someone-san” who invites him to an LGBTQ-friendly drop-in center. There, Tasuku meets a small community of local LGBTQ folk who volunteer repairing abandoned houses.
Yuhki Kamatani captures the breadth of LGBTQ life in this #OwnVoices manga: the hardship, the uplift, the heartbreak, the healing, the isolation, the belonging; as well as diversity of identities. On top of Tasuku this first volume looks to Daichi, another regular of the drop-in center. Daichi takes on a mentor position to Tasuku, telling him about how she uprooted her life by coming out to her parents and coworkers as a lesbian to live with her girlfriend in Onomichi. Through her guidance (and a few striking visual metaphors), Tasuku starts accepting his sexuality. The rest of the series will go on to introduce the rest of the cast, so be sure to keep reading.
Classmates vol. 1 – Seven Seas Entertainment
If you’ve wanted to see the Doukyusei film adaptation but couldn’t due to the limited release and expensive price of the Blu-ray, you’re in luck now that the original manga by Asumiko Nakamura is available. The manga license covers more than the original manga adapted by the film, with more sequel manga set after the main get-together. The original Classmates volume and two following Graduates volumes are all scheduled for release under the series title of Classmates.
The story follows two teen boys named Kusakabe and Sajo who are complete opposites in personality, but fall in love as Kusakabe helps Sajo prepare for a class choir performance. Nakamura’s art is gorgeous and the romance heart-warming, as they overcome their insecurities and look to the future of their relationship. However, we want to warn that volume one involves a high school teacher molesting Sajo before Kusakabe comes into the picture. Though the teacher is sort of an antagonist in the story, he’s framed more as a romantic rival and serves as a quasi-mentor figure as the only present gay adult. Chapters about him in future volumes can easily be skipped if needed.
I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up – Seven Seas Entertainment
If know Naoko Kodama for anything, it’s likely NTR: Netsuzou Trap. However, I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up is a yuri manga of a completely different flavor. The one-shot is about Morimoto, an office worker whose parents constantly nag her about when she’ll settle down with a man. Hana, a friend from high school, proposes that they pretend to get married to make them back off. Morimoto agrees to the plan but, as with most romcoms, the “pretend” part doesn’t last.
It’s nice to have a queer love story a la fake-dating romcoms, though it’s pretty light on the drama compared to the sub-genre’s usual fare. The manga could’ve been more expanded if it was a short series, as various elements could use more depth and time, from Morimoto’s professional ambitions to Hana’s ex-girlfriend. However, what’s there is enjoyable enough. The acknowledgement of marriage equality in Japan as not federally legal and Morimoto’s parents’ homophobia ground the stakes of their relationships, but in the end it’s still mostly a cute read. there’s also a short story at end that’s sports-themed with a more fraught tone but nothing that’s particularly dark or unpleasant. Ultimately, I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up makes for some decent fluffy yuri if that’s what you’re looking for.
Cardcaptor Sakura Collector’s Edition vol. 1 – Kodansha Comics
If you want to own an even nicer physical version of CLAMP’s iconic magical girl series than the Dark Horse omnibuses, you’re in luck. Kodansha is releasing special hardback omnibuses at $30 a pop for about two volumes worth of story, but they come with new cover illustrations and Clow Cards.
If you don’t know already, Cardcaptor Sakura follows nine year old Sakura Kinomoto as she has to use her newfound magic to collect the Clow Cards that are wreaking havoc in her town. CCS is one of CLAMP’s biggest LGBT classics; from Tomoyo’s unwavering love for Sakura, to Ruby Moon being feminine and genderless. While most of the endgame romances are between boys and girls, CCS approaches queer love with kindness and normalcy. It’s not perfect and aspects are, at best, dated. For example, in its unconditional acceptance of all love as worthy, it also uncritically presents multiple child/adult relationships. The portrayals are quite chaste, which is even more insidious in some ways. Still, there’s a lot of genuine sweetness to be found in the manga and it’s a classic for very good reasons. Even if you’re not interested in the premium Kodansha releases, we recommend anyone interested to check this piece of LGBTQ manga and genre fiction history.
Whenever Our Eyes Meet…: A Women’s Love Anthology – Yen Press
As the older generations of yuri creators and readers age, so do the characters of yuri works. Whenever Our Eyes Meet, featuring short stories by the mangaka of Now Loading…! and the upcoming Yuri Life, devotes itself entirely to romance between “working women.” The majority of the anthology involves office work, but the definition of “working” goes beyond that, such as a freelance illustrator and musical artist couple in “Masking Lady.” There are a variety of relationships on display: one night stands, flirtations, budding romances, and established couples. All the women are of legal age, though “Oblivious You” contains a coworker couple who were previously teacher and student in high school. Such a situation isn’t inherently bad, but the story uncomfortably makes a point of how the older woman yearned for her when she was underage and she regrets not making a move then. Skip it if needed, and read “Everyone’s Missing Out” for a healthier couple with an age difference.
Like with any anthology, you may be left wanting more. They may not contain continuations, but there are more volumes of these working women anthologies from Kadokawa in Japan. It remains to be seen if they will be published in English as well.
Sailor Moon: Sailor Stars, Part 1 – VIZ Media
When Sailor Moon aired on television in the United States, fans could only find information on the anime’s censored LGBTQ content through the Internet. It nonetheless found a place in the heart of LGBTQ fans in the West. Sailor Stars, the fifth and final season, was never dubbed into English nor aired on television at all. The show wasn’t cancelled over LGBTQ content, but it kept the androgynous trio of Sailor Star Lights out of the reach of fans… until now. Sailor Stars is available officially in the US for the first time ever, with its first ever English dub.
The Sailor Guardians face off against the Sailor Starlights: Sailor Star Fighter, Maker, and Healer. In the original manga by Naoko Takeuchi, they come to Earth and cross-dress as a boy band to find their lost princess. In the anime they can physically transform their bodies, presenting as women when Sailor Guardians and men as civilians. Naoko Takeuchi disliked the anime’s decision for the Sailor Starlights to “change gender” since it went against her idea that only women can be Sailor Guardians, but the anime had already proven itself a unique project through other differences from the manga. Taken as its own entity, the fluidity and androgyny of the Sailor Starlights opens up many queer interpretations of their characters.
Neon Genesis Evangelion – Netflix
For those unaware of Neon Genesis Evangelion, a cultural behemoth of anime, it’s about teenagers in a pre-apocalyptic Japan who pilot mecha to fight off invading aliens known as “angels.” Shinji Ikari is our anxious main character, and one of the characters who warrants this title being included in Rainbow Releases. Towards the end of the series, it’s clear that he’s bisexual, but ultimately isn’t able to fully act on it. Another character, though quite minor, is strongly implied to be a lesbian and crushing on her female superior also towards the end of the series. Although this info would probably be classified as spoilers, it wouldn’t make much sense to feature it in terms of LGBTQ anime and not mention why. While the show is not about queerness, a lot of it is about gender, heterosexuality, and emotional anguish. Evangelion’s queerness is a small facet of a diamond, another angle to view its portrayal of these subjects. While there’s no anime that have been as over-hyped, over-snarked, and over-dissected, it’s a worthwhile if difficult watch.
The new English dub created for Netflix stars Casey Mongillo, openly transfeminine and nonbinary voice actor, as Shinji. Unfortunately, both the English subtitles and English dub audio erase the same-gender relationship between Shinji and his love interest Kaworu. Among many criticisms lodged at the Netflix release, this one concerns the LGBTQ content most as it removes the definitive “I love you”s between a famous and historic anime couple. Translator Dan Kanematsu defends his choice as one “faithful to the original source material.” It’s true translating words of love between English and Japanese has challenged writers since Natsume Soseki, but it’s disingenuous to ignore the romantic overtones in Kaworu’s confession. Homophobic fans have long claimed Shinji and Kaworu’s relationship is platonic or spiritual, and the Netflix translation takes their side rather than stay true to Evangelion and its importance to LGBTQ audiences. It’s a shame the series is finally easily accessible this way.
Monster & the Beast vol. 1 – Yen Press
If you’re into queer monster/human romances like Beauty and the Beast Girl, this BL story should pique your interest too. Monster & the Beast follows Cavo, a hulking monster who lives alone in the forest; and Liam, a mysterious elderly man. Cavo may be scary-looking but he’s actually quite kind, as he saves Liam from being robbed and killed by a group of men. They end up journeying through and outside of the forest together as Cavo comes to understand Liam’s more dark-sided heart.
Depending on your tastes, this ominous description of Liam may be off-putting. However, while Liam is manipulative and handsy, he’s not coercive. The tension between Cavo’s inexperience with his desire and Liam’s matured hedonism is engaging. There’s really not much BL like this, from the age of Liam to the monstrous appearance of Cavo. Renji Range set out to make this manga when she couldn’t find anything to her specific tastes, in fact. Liam and Cavo’s relationship by the end of this volume isn’t quite romantically confirmed, with the clear intention of building up their feelings, even as their desires are acknowledged. The plot’s direction isn’t clear yet but with such characters, we’re excited to see where they go.