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. Thank you to everyone who attended at Chibi Chibi Con 2019, Sakura-Con 2019, and Kumoricon 2019!
For 2018, we transcribed our midyear panel as a single blog post, which left out unprecedented works later in the year such as Zombieland Saga. Since then, we’ve 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.
Unfortunately, we won’t be hosting Rainbow Releases at Sakura-con 2020 as the convention was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is the list of anime and manga that would have been touched on in our presentation. The future of convention panels, anime production, and physical book releases are uncertain, but we will continue to update our blog with seasonal recaps of what makes its way to the US.
At long last, here is our recap of LGBTQ-themed anime and manga from the autumn season of 2019! With that, all of 2019 has been covered.
Kase-san and Morning Glories – Sentai Filmworks/HIDIVE
The OVA adaptation of Hiromi Takashima’s beloved Kase-san yuri series is now available through streaming on HIDIVE, as well as on DVD/blu-ray! The English dub was directed by David Wald, an openly gay voice actor and ADR director.
This OVA begins at the point of the story where Yamada and Kase have just started dating, and all the awkwardness that comes with a first ever relationship. Yamada deals with sharing attention from her more popular partner, finding time to be intimate together, and figuring out where their choice of colleges will take their relationship. Misunderstandings are given just enough time to sink in before being resolved, rather than dragging them out into petty conflicts. As innocent as Yamada may appear and as cutesy as the series may look, the characters make no secret of their sexual attraction for one another. For a short and sweet sample of the Kase-san series, look no further than this OVA.
Our Dining Table – Seven Seas Entertainment
Seven Seas continues their foray into boys love publishing with Our Dining Table by Mita Ori, a self-contained volume about two men who bond through sharing food. Yutaka, who has anxiety around eating with other people, lives off a combination of prepared supermarket meals and handmade onigiri. When he befriends Minoru, who has even less cooking skills to provide for his little brother Tane with, he finds himself teaching another person about food. In terms of foodie manga, Our Dining Table features simple meals ideal for families–onigiri, curry, hot pot–and “cooking hacks” rather than complex recipes.
The story is just as much about joining a family as it is about finding a partner, as Yutaka gets to know Minoru’s father and Tane as well as learns about Minoru’s deceased mother. It’s also worth noting that Yutaka is an adoptee, who was accepted by his adoptive family except for a verbally abusive older brother. Yutaka and Minoru both hesitate to show vulnerability and start their relationship, but there is a happy ending. We recommend this book for anyone looking for romance that looks beyond the get-together into in-laws and the future.
Our Wonderful Days vol. 1 – Seven Seas Entertainment
Our Wonderful Days by Kei Hamuro looks at four high school girls living in the (unspecified) Japanese countryside, one of whom recently moved back home from Tokyo. The cover shows one half of the friend group: Mafuyu, a lonely girl back from Tokyo, and Kohaku, the only person who ever befriended her. Now that they’re reunited, new feelings are stirring between them. Meanwhile, their friends Nana and Minori live together after moving out of an even smaller rural town. Nana and Minori don’t say they’re dating, but their domestic scenes are like that of a married couple. In the context of originally being published in the yuri manga magazine Comic Yuri Hime, underlying romantic feelings in both duos are definitely there. The budding romances as well as friendships across the main couples may appeal to lesbians and other LGBTQ people from small towns and rural communities.
Seven Days: Monday-Sunday – SuBLime
Thanks to SuBLime, Venio Tachibana and Rihito Takarai’s boys love modern classic Seven Days is back in print. The title refers to the single week the story takes place over, when a high schooler named Yuzuru Shino asks out his underclassman Toji Seryo knowing Seryo will dump him in a week like he has with every girl before. Girls always expect Shino to act like a charming prince based on his looks, but dump him when they realize he’s a rude slob. Now, the promise to date for a set amount of time allows him to be his “true” self, though the relationship isn’t “real.” It’s fake dating, so of course they fall in love for real, but Seven Days has more going on to keep it interesting. For one, Seryo is being emotionally manipulated by his older brother’s girlfriend. SuBLime has combined the two volumes into an omnibus available in print and digital, while the separate volumes are also available digitally at Renta.
Stars Align – Funimation/Hulu
Stars Align, an original anime directed by Kazuki Akane about the boys’ soft tennis team of a Japanese middle school, was the surprise LGBTQ hit of the season. Homophobia and transphobia are some of the many social issues touched on in Stars Align, along with child abuse and bullying, and comes with trigger warnings for them.
The soft tennis team is composed of social misfits and low achievers, so the student council threatens to pull their funding and subsequently dissolve the club unless they finally win a competition. Captain Touma, the only member with any skill for the sport, recruits his childhood friend Maki who has recently moved back into town with his single mother. Touma and Maki make a deal: to join the club, Touma will provide Maki with money every month. What Touma doesn’t realize is that Maki needs money because his physically abusive father regularly breaks into and robs his ex-wife’s apartment.
Stars Align shows many forms abuse can take–physical, verbal, mental, emotional, financial–through the different experiences of the club members. The mother of Yuu, the team’s manager, psychologically abuses her child by misgendering and forcing them into the closet. At first, the show introduces Yuu as a boy accused of being gay and bullied by classmates. Maki, who proudly wears a “girly” visor rather than a cap, reassures Yuu to like who they like. The soft tennis club accepts Yuu and even defends them from homophobic bullies.
In the eighth episode, Yuu comes out to Maki about questioning their gender identity and leaning toward x-gender (a Japanese nonbinary identity). In an interview for Anime News Network, director Akane described the development of the episode:
In Stars Align, there’s a plot where the boys dress as girls so that they can gather intel on a rival school. When I was writing it, I heard that people who question their sexuality and gender exist. So I actually gathered information about it. Someone I know introduced me to a person who presents as male, but the family registry says he’s a woman. Through talking with him, I understood that this kind of plot shouldn’t be mere comedy. When he told me that he’d been questioning his gender ever since he was a child, it made me think about the struggle we all have to reconcile our identities and where we belong in the world.
Insight from a real transgender person turned a cross-dressing gag into a poignant portrayal of dysphoria, identity, and queerness. The experiences of Akane’s trans man acquaintance were also incorporated into the character of Shou, a friend of Maki’s mother. Maki describes his own feeling of being “out of place” and Shou’s life as a trans man to comfort Yu. Stars Align makes a point of how Yuu isn’t sure of their exact identity and resents the pressure to label themself for other people’s convenience, rather than offer a simplistic narrative in which Yuu has always been sure of a binary identity. The episode instead focuses on Yuu’s inner conflict between the livable discomfort of staying in the closet and the fulfillment, along with danger, of coming out.
At the end of Yuu’s focal episode, their mother discovers they borrow their sisters’ clothes and asserts their gender assigned at birth. Yuu’s identity is not brought up again as the series focuses on other characters for the remaining episodes. This is not a case of erasing or backtracking a character’s identity, but the result of Stars Align’s production committee pulling its funding. Only 12 of 24 episodes were fully animated and aired, and as of this article the rest of the story has not been told through any medium. It’s a shame how an anime with something to say, especially about LGBTQ people, has been cut short. We believe if or when the story continues, Yuu’s arc will be revisited. As it stands, Stars Align has a down to Earth and moving portrayal of queer youth and rightfully shows how transphobia is child abuse.
Yuu and Shou are the only explicitly LGBTQ characters, but others are open to interpretation. Maki in particular is comfortable with feminine gender expression for himself and accepts same-gender love in other people, though he says he can’t understand Yuu’s gender dysphoria. Shou’s presence in Maki’s life seems to have made him comfortable with LGBTQ people and topics, whether or not Maki is or will identify as LGBTQ someday. Maki is also comfortable being physically intimate with Touma, his partner for doubles tennis, such as hand-holding and hugging. Each pair for doubles tennis has chemistry, although not explicitly romantic. Akane takes intimacy between boys seriously, rather than portray it as laughable or disclaim it with heterosexuality. Where many anime centering close friendships between boys have homophobic and transphobic caricature characters on the side, Stars Align has accepting allies like Maki and trans characters like Yuu and Shou. Instead of a dissonance between idealized potential same-gender pairings and offensive depictions of LGBTQ people, Akane intertwines queer issues with themes of finding one’s place in the world.
A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow vol. 1 – VIZ Media
While not from a yuri magazine, slice of life manga A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow appears to set up a romance between its main characters. The story begins when an introverted high schooler named Konatsu moves from Tokyo into the small town of Nagahama, Ehime. Author Makoto Hagino, a native of Ehime prefecture, draws heavily from the real aquarium club at Nagahama High School. A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow promotes tourism to the area, and has even collaborated on a pilgrimage route.
There Konatsu discovers her new school has an aquarium club with tanks full of fish, salamanders, and more, led by another girl named Koyuki. She’s in fact the only member of the aquarium club, and hopes Konatsu will join. As they become closer through the club, they share an indirect kiss (by using the same hose to fill tanks) and knowledge of aquatic animals. The first volume also seems to set up Kaede, one of Konatsu’s classmates, as a “rival” for Konatsu’s affection. It remains to be seen how far romantic subtext between the girls will go, but for now there’s really no heterosexual explanation for how flustered they get around each other.
The Wize Wize Beasts of the Wizarding Wizdoms – Seven Seas Entertainment
Nagabe is best known in the United States for The Girl From the Other Side, a spooky fantasy manga about a young girl and her monstrous caretaker, but he has created a number of boys love stories (unavailable in English) as well. The next time someone says only women create BL manga, remind them of Nagabe. The single volume collects multiple stories set in the same universe, in which wizards bestowed humanoid form and intelligence on animals. The character interactions draw heavily from animal traits, such as a lizard cuddling his fluffy deer roommate for warmth and two vampire bats sharing food through mouth-to-mouth regurgitation. Although the chapters are all pre-relationship, mutual pining, or one-sided (including one with a teacher and student) they’re none the less tender.
As a short story collection, it’s inherently a mixed bag as there will be tropes any reader will like more than others, depending on personal taste. A few merit some content warnings such as the first story that involves a love potion akin to mind control, another story that’s about a teacher/student pairing with the mutual feelings but not consummations of the relationship, another story between a crow and peacock that ends with a heavy yandere-esque twist, and finally a story about a unicorn professor whose past involves non-graphic though explicit homophobia. As short stories, they can be easily skipped if desired.