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. As of this post’s publication, we don’t have plans to host Rainbow Releases as a panel at any future anime conventions. We’re unsure when it will be safe to attend conventions again, or safe to be held at all. For now, Rainbow Releases will remain as our list of titles throughout the year and seasonal recaps such as these.
The Case Files of Jeweler Richard
The Case Files of Jeweler Richard anime is based on a series of mystery novels written by Nanako Tsujimura and illustrated by Utako Yukihiro (currently unavailable in English). The series follows a Japanese college student named Seigi who befriends the eponymous appraiser through a fateful encounter. Together they work at Richard’s shop and solve mysteries around their clients and gems, many of which involve marginalized people. Richard’s business has a policy against discrimination, including based on sexual orientation, and will correct Seigi when he casually says offensive things.
The second episode features a closeted lesbian customer named Sasu, who has been mentally suffering ever since she left her woman partner of seven years and married a man. Case Files portrays Sasu with sympathy in her struggle to follow social norms and to cultivate a relationship with her husband, rather than deceitful for hiding her orientation from him or at fault for not loving a man. Sasu amicably ends their relationship instead of resigning herself to marriage. Shouko, one of Seigi’s friends, expresses a similar struggle to be with men romantically. She says she doesn’t understand love in general, which leans more aromantic than Sasu’s case where she knowingly loves women.
As for the main characters, whether or not they’re “canon gay” is a more complicated matter. See this post from A Fan of a Certain Age for an in-depth analysis of the translation from novel to anime in portraying Richard and Seigi’s arguably romantic relationship. Ultimately, the inclusion of openly gay minor characters and LGBTQ topics make for an LGBTQ-friendly viewing experience and lens through which to interpret their relationship.
The Conditions of Paradise
Finally, a manga by lesbian mangaka Akiko Morishima in English that isn’t published by Tokyopop. Akiko Morishima makes no secret of her love for women, such as in the afterword of The Conditions of Paradise. “I live for drawing soft and attractive girls!” she declares. This book admittedly indulges in Morishima’s tastes through multiple short stories all about adult women, some previously unpublished and others from Comic Yuri Hime. The titular chapter looks at Sumi and Sari, two lesbians in their mid-20s in a “friends with benefits” relationship, as seen on the cover. Two more chapters follow them as they grow more intimate and their relationship more serious. Other chapters feature a 20-year-old art student who asks out her 30-year-old instructor, a pair of 29- and 25-year-old childhood friends with secret feelings for each other, and a fairytale about a princess and her knight. Overall, Conditions of Paradise is a testament to Morishima’s adorable artwork and adulthood in yuri manga. Future volumes following the same couples will be published by Seven Seas Entertainment.
Given vol. 1
There isn’t much more to say about Natsuki Kizu’s Given, a boys love manga about a teenage guitarist who befriends and falls in love with a grieving classmate, that we haven’t discussed before. See here for our recap of the anime adaptation from last year. The original manga version of Given has the same lighthearted banter, gentle approach to suicide, and introduction to music told through Kizu’s captivating artwork. It also comes with the same trigger warning for suicide in this volume, as Mafuyu’s boyfriend Yuki has killed himself before the story starts. The manga has some new content for those who have already seen the anime, such as character profiles and bonus four-panel strips. One bonus strip includes Mafuyu speculating that Uenoyama is “a virgin,” implying that Mafuyu has had sex earlier than the confirmation in the anime. It’s just a nice reminder that outgoing Uenoyama may be the knowledgeable one when it comes to music, but soft-spoken Mafuyu is actually the one with romantic and sexual experience.
My Androgynous Boyfriend vol. 1
We’ve included My Androgynous Boyfriend by Tamekou partially to clear up any confusion people may have on whether it has LGBTQ characters based on the title. The answer: no, as of the first volume, except for a side character who could be read as asexual/aromantic. Although the Japanese title Genderless Danshi ni Aisareteimasu describes the eponymous boyfriend with the English word “genderless,” it does not mean agender nor refer to gender identity. In Japan, genderless refers to a fashion movement in which men dress and style themselves in ways typically considered feminine, and women in ways considered masculine. For men such as Meguru, this includes jewelry, colorful makeup, and “cute” clothing.
As far as stories where cisgender straight men are mistaken for gay and/or women go, we find this one inoffensive. Tamekou makes it clear from the first chapter that Meguru identifies as straight, which doesn’t get readers’ hopes up for LGBTQ representation like an ambiguous character would. Meguru and his girlfriend Wako don’t get offended when others are mistaken, nor do they make homophobic/transphobic remarks when correcting others. The manga is more about Meguru and Wako’s long-term relationship and how they’re gender non-conforming. It may not depict LGBTQ life, but does tell its story in an LGBTQ-friendly way. For androgynous guys drawn by Tamekou who aren’t straight, some of her boys love manga are available with a Futekiya subscription.
The Rose of Versailles vol. 1
Despite the popularity and impact of The Rose of Versailles in Japan, the manga has never been entirely available in English. After years of localization development at Udon Entertainment, the first volume of The Rose of Versailles is finally available. Riyoko Ikeda, also known in the United States for Claudine…! published in English in 2018, originally envisioned The Rose of Versailles as a biography of Marie Antoinette for young girls in the 1970s. However, the Dauphine’s fictional gender nonconforming guard named Oscar soon eclipsed her popularity among readers and overtook the political drama. Readers were probably intrigued by Oscar’s unique role as a woman soldier as well as an unpredictable fictional presence. The decadent aesthetics, melodramatic visual language, character dynamics, feminist themes, and genderplay of The Rose of Versailles have influenced shoujo and yuri manga ever since. Although not a royal herself, Oscar is one of the most famous in the long line of “princely girls” throughout anime and manga.
In the opening pages, General de Jarjays becomes fed up with having daughters and declares newborn Oscar his “son” and heir to the French royal troops. As far as stories about children “raised as another gender” without their consent go, The Rose of Versailles doesn’t take Oscar being raised as a man literally and thus avoids some transphobic implications as of volume one. It would be more accurate to say Oscar was raised as if she were assigned male at birth–studying manly pursuits such as sword fighting, horseback riding, etc.–than she was raised to be a man. As a result, she possesses skills and serves a position women around her do not. There is no “gender reveal” to the characters (nor the readers), as they are generally aware of Oscar’s sex and refer to her as a woman. Oscar takes offense to being called a “lad” at one point, but doesn’t take kindly to people enforcing femininity on her either. Oscar’s nanny believes masculinity improper for a lady, while some women of Versailles find gender nonconforming Oscar more charming than cisgender men. Rosalie, a poor young woman taken under Oscar’s wing, falls in love with her. Interpretations of Oscar’s gender and sexuality differ across fans, but hopefully we can all agree she’s an icon.
Staring at Your Back
Kuro Nohara’s Staring at Your Back began as a one-shot commissioned for 10 Starts, a Japanese organization supporting gay youth, and has since grown into a story with eight chapters. Like Gengoroh Tagame of My Brother’s Husband fame, Kuro Nohara is an openly gay mangaka whose career began in gay magazines such as Barazoku. He creates geicomi for a gay male audience as well as manga with gay characters aimed at everyone. See his interview with bunk., an online showcase of homoerotic artwork, for more about his life and art.
Staring at Your Back follows a Japanese high schooler named Takeru who feels pressure to someday marry a woman. When his childhood friend Kotaro moves back to their small town, he confesses to him and they start going out in secret. Together, they deal with having to pretend they like girls and figuring out each other’s comfort zones. Kuro Nohara is a master of illustrating everyday life, from bike rides to heartfelt talks, and this is no exception. His grasp of realism adds to the genuine depiction of gay youth: hopeful, awkward, insecure. Staring at Your Back tells anyone feeling hopeless that having just one person who accepts you can bring you belonging. Unfortunately, this manga is only available digitally as individual chapters and there are no plans for an English physical release at this time.
Just before movie theaters closed to reduce the spread of COVID-19, Tokyo Godfathers returned to United States theaters for the first time in 17 years. Tokyo Godfathers, one of director Satoshi Kon’s masterpieces, follows three homeless people on a mission to return a lost baby to her parents during a whirlwind holiday season. Hana, Miyuki, and Gin reflect notable demographics of real homeless populations: transgender people, teenagers, and people with addictions respectively. Satoshi Kon juggles the struggles homeless people face (including physical violence against them) and the warm fuzzies of a Christmas movie.
This GKIDS rerelease, which will eventually find its way to DVD and blu-ray, includes a new translation of the Japanese version as well as its first ever American dub. Unlike the Japanese version, the English dub cast transgender actors for the transgender characters: transgender activist Shakina Nayfack as Hana and nonbinary gender theorist Kate Borstein as Hana’s adoptive mother. Unlike the subtitled version from Sony, extraneous transphobic language was not used in the GKIDS translation. (Characters are still transphobic toward Hana in the original Japanese version and English dub, but not on that level.)
Although the name of the movie refers to fatherhood, Hana’s character arc involves motherhood as she has longed to be a mother all her life. Hana could also be interpreted as a cross-dresser or drag queen, but her desire to be a mother strongly suggests she identifies as a woman and GKIDS has embraced that. Miyuki and Gin initially dismiss her dreams because she’s trans as well as homeless, but they come to respect her more over the course of the film. Hana doesn’t keep the lost baby as her own, but still gets to be a caring and thoughtful mother figure. That’s not to say she’s an angel, since she can be as stubborn and selfish as well. She’s one of the most nuanced trans characters in anime, and well worth your attention.