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, Sakura-Con 2019, and Kumoricon 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 summer season of 2019! Better late than never?
Astra Lost in Space – Funimation/Hulu
First, an adaptation of Kenta Shinohara’s fun scifi adventure manga Astra Lost in Space aired this summer. The plot follows a group of teenagers (and one younger kid) who get stranded in space and have to pilot an abandoned ship to return to their home planet. The 13 episode series adapted all five volumes, making for a relatively lean story that’s still packed with a lot of twists and social commentary. Please be warned this series contains non-graphic depictions of child abuse and negligence throughout.
One of the teenagers is Luca, a boy revealed to be intersex and genderfluid midway through the series. The Funimation dub uses the word intersex specifically and defines it as “someone whose sex is clinically ambiguous,” while the word genderfluid is not spoken. Luca instead explains how he identifies as a boy currently but his sense of gender fluctuates. His intersex condition is also attributed to scifi plot interventions that are revealed much later. In other words, though it’s referred to as a medical condition and has been diagnosed as such in-universe, Luca’s specific circumstances aren’t comparable to how intersex traits occur in real life. He comes out under very coercive circumstances, but overall is allowed agency regarding his identity. While being intersex is a source of familial trauma for him, Luca feels it’s a part of what makes him him. He accepts the ambiguity of his own feelings as something not to be ashamed of.
He’s also implicitly bisexual, as he says he’s attracted to his friends of different genders in the original manga, though that dialog was cut from the anime. It’s admittedly messy how his attraction to boys is explained as a manifestation of his femininity, and his attraction to girls from his masculinity. At times he’s also characterized as a “trickster,” which almost edges into a pervert archetype. It could be considered continuing the trope of transgender and gender nonconforming people as “deceptive,” especially when it comes to concealing their sex assigned at birth and pursuing sexual relationships. However, we think the portrayal is earnest and Luca is allowed to be a fully empathetic character. To bring authenticity to representing Luca in the English dub, he is played by openly transgender voice actor Ciarán Strange.
Given – Crunchyroll
This anime adaptation has made Given more a favorite than ever among boys love fans, as well as viewers outside the BL fandom. It partially adapts Natsuki Kizu’s manga about a teenage guitarist named Ritsuka instructing his classmate Mafuyu, who recently lost his boyfriend to suicide, how to play guitar. Mafuyu joins Ritsuka’s rock band, also made up of bassist Haruki and drummer Akihiko. Although the themes of grief and regret are heavy, the tone is overall light and the show is lowkey rather than melodramatic. It even has excellent comedic timing.
Mafuyu copes with Yuki’s death through songwriting (including a showstopper musical sequence) as well as finding a second love with Ritsuka. They become closer once they sort out their feelings, while Haruki and Akihiko have a more complicated time with unrequited crushes and ex-boyfriends. Haruki and Akihiko are a refreshingly non-predatory example of older men mentoring the younger characters coming into their sexuality. Akihiko reassures Ritsuka that having romantic feelings for boys is fine, speaking from his own experiences dating both men and women.
At the end of the TV series, a film continuation was announced for 2020. For more Given until the film, the original ongoing manga by Natsuki Kizu has been licensed and will be published by SuBLime throughout 2020.
O Maidens in Your Savage Season – HIDIVE
O Maidens in Your Savage Season began as the first manga written by Mari Okada, a well-known screenwriter of anime including Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine and Kiznaiver. She also worked on series composition for this anime adaptation. O Maidens follows a high school literature club comprised only of girls, who come face-to-face with sexuality through eroticism in books as well as their budding hormones. Its exploration of puberty focuses on girls, including a lesbian character, with intensity. Please be warned this anime involves misogyny, child sex abuse, revenge porn, teen pregnancy, and general sexual content.
At the start of every episode, the various girls monologue their confusion and frustration with boys during the opening sequence. They decide boys are as incomprehensible as “aliens,” as is often the point of view of fictional girls going through puberty. The presence of Momoko, who has a crush on fellow club member Niina, slightly complicates such relationships between teenage boys and girls. Momoko isn’t mystified by boys because of differences between genders that inevitably complement each other, but because she’s a lesbian. She isn’t interested in dating them simply because she’s not attracted to them, and forcing herself to try only hurts more. However, as much as O Maidens is about sexual awakening, Momoko is the only member of the literature club whose arc doesn’t involve sexual attraction. Her storyline is more about how heteronormativity creates differences between interacting with people of the same or different gender, but nonetheless plays into desexualization of lesbians compared to the straight girl characters.
For those without a HIDIVE subscription, the original manga is also currently being published in English by Kodansha Comics.
Skull-Faced Bookseller Honda-san vol. 1 – Yen Press
The original Skull-Faced Bookseller Honda-san, an autobiographical manga about working at a bookstore, covers most of the same material as its recent anime adaptation. While the anime cast a man to play Honda, the character’s gender is more ambiguous in the manga, noting that a stack of books would be “too heavy for a woman” to carry. That’s not to say Honda is nonbinary, as it may be more a matter of privacy, but both are interesting creative decisions. In the anime, Honda is a man who comments on the attractiveness of customers no matter the gender. In the manga, Honda is not defined by gender. As of the second volume, the English translation refers to Honda with she, her, and hers pronouns.
In terms of LGBTQ content, this title is adjacent through its discussion of the boys love genre. There is an entire chapter on “yaoi girls” from Japan and abroad, who Honda respects for their enthusiasm as much as the other customers. With so much misinformation about BL floating around the Internet, we highly recommend this book and future volumes for a Japanese perspective on BL and its fandom.
Killing Me! vol. 1 – Yen Press
Although this volume of Killing Me! is numbered, it is actually the only volume that exists even in Japan. Unfortunately, Akiyama’s first serialized manga was discontinued. Akiyama is known for their gorgeous and colorful original illustrations and fanart posted on their Pixiv and Tumblr. There have been issues with English speakers reposting or editing their fanart on social media without permission in the past, and honestly anyone who has done so is obligated to buy this manga.
If you’re unfamiliar with Akiyama, this delightful and hilarious yuri is still highly recommended for anyone who loves vampires or games of cat and mouse. One half of the couple in this romantic comedy is a tsundere, but Saki has good reason to act like that: she’s a vampire hunter and her lovestruck classmate Miyoko is her vampire target. Saki doesn’t understand why Miyoko is so interested in her, nor why she can’t bring herself to kill her. Akiyama takes yuri tropes like confusing feelings, over the top flirting, and jealousy over a rival and makes them about murder, blood-drawing, and hunting instead all in good fun. Despite discontinuation, Saki and Miyoko reach a satisfying conclusion that can only be described as “murderlove.”
Cocoon Entwined vol. 1 – Yen Press
The magical realism manga Cocoon Entwined is worth reading for Yuriko Hara’s stunning art alone. The manga takes place at a school where students wear uniforms woven from the hair of graduates, and the shimmering details of characters’ locks and elegant draping across the page don’t let you forget. Yokozawa, a student who claims to feel the emotions and breathing of her uniform, becomes closer to her classmate Saeki, the “prince” adored by the student body. There’s also the mysterious Hoshimiya, who neglects to pull her hair up during dance lessons and longs to “run away.” There’s no kiss until the final page of volume one, but yuri tropes abound: the all-girls academy setting, the prince and her fangirls, and girls’ desire to escape metaphorical confines as well as physical institutions. This is a series to keep an eye on.
Yuri Life – Yen Press
Yuri Life is a collection of same-gender couples all written and drawn by a single person, unlike the majority of yuri anthologies published in English that have multiple authors. Kurukuruhime began on Pixiv with four-panel strips about the domestic life of a dating web designer and illustrator (the ones of the cover and with the most strips), then expanded to more cohabitating couples. Some are down-to-earth, while others are gimmicky (e.g. yandere and partner) or even supernatural (a grim reaper and the human she’ll eventually cross over). The book is divided into segments for each couple, beginning with a profile on them to explain who they are and why they’re living together. You can decide at a glance whether you’ll want to see more of them or not, which is convenient if you’d like to avoid the yandere or high school student/teacher segments.
Like any collection, it’s a mixed bag. Most interesting concerning LGBTQ themes is the self-aware chapter on two real estate PR employees assigned to live together for a “yuri cohabitation” project to promote apartments. One of them has a crush, and they get along swimmingly living together. Their promotional Twitter account proves popular, but is accused of making light of lesbian relationships (as yuri manga also often is) and they’re forced to deactivate the account. In actuality, the promotion brought the two lesbian employees close enough to move in together for real, it attracted the attention of lesbian customers, and the real estate company decides to advertise to same-gender couples directly in response. Read as a metaphor for yuri manga, the genre doesn’t diminish or misrepresent lesbians, but is a space for them that can lead to tangible social change.
The Poe Clan vol. 1 – Fantagraphics
For the first time ever, Moto Hagio’s classic manga The Poe Clan is available in English! Moto Hagio is famous for her work in shoujo manga exploring gender and sexuality in the 1970s, as one of many artists considered part of the Year 24 Group/Magnificent 49ers. The Poe Clan is not only important to the development of shoujo manga, bishounen, and boys love but the history of all manga; as it was one of the first released in tankoban format.
The story is told non-chronologically through eras as it follows a pair of “vampirnella” siblings named Edgar and Marybelle, and their friend Allen turned by them. Vampirnella resemble vampires in that they feed on living humans, but they conduct energy through physical touch rather than drawing blood. The need for touch lends itself to homoeroticism between vampire and victim, including Edgar and Allen who wander the Earth together after the death of Marybelle. Besides the main pair, the end of volume one takes place in a German gymnasium (not unlike that of Moto Hagio’s The Heart of Thomas) where another boy falls in love with his classmate. Be warned the boy meets a tragic fate, as expected of 1970s shoujo manga, but the book is still well worth reading.
Promare – GKIDS
Without giving too much away, Promare is certainly worth discussing when it comes to queerness. Director Hiroyuki Imaishi and Studio Trigger’s theatrical debut is a spectacle of action, color, and music set in a world where select humans develop spontaneous combustion and subsequently face social persecution. The supernatural flames conjured by the “Burnish” are bright purple and triangular in appearance, which coincidentally results in embers shaped like pink triangles (a symbol used in the Holocaust and reclaimed by gay men). The Mad Burnish, a terrorist group, are led by a young androgynous man named Lio. With that said, the plight of the Burnish is general enough that it is not a one-to-one parallel to LGBTQ people or any specific real world marginalized group. Discrimination against the Burnish also resembles racism, xenophobia, ableism, etc.
Still, Lio’s heavily implied romantic relationship with Galo of the fire rescue team is the heart of the film. They begin as enemies, but unite against the true villain and together reach a climax of physical intimacy. While the moment could be waived away as “not gay,” the significance of the act and the romantic mood created by the lingering camera say otherwise. More symbols of love and sentimental lyrics on the soundtrack also add to the romance. Galo and Lio are a welcome change from Imaishi’s earlier depictions of male queerness, such as the caricatured Leeron and Garterbelt used for homophobic gags in Gurren Lagann and Panty and Stocking respectively.
Autumn 2019 recap coming soon!