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. With anime conventions on hold for the foreseeable future, you won’t see Rainbow Releases: LGBTQ Anime and Manga in person any time soon. However, we are looking into digital events. For DigiKumo, the online alternative to Kumoricon 2020, we pre-recorded a video to be streamed by the organizers. Thank you for tuning in!
As always, we will also provide blog post companions to our panel as well as a list of releases throughout the year, even if they are delayed. There may be some inconsistences between the recorded panel and these posts, as we correct and learn new information after recording. Without further ado, here is our recap of spring and summer 2020.
BL Metamorphosis vol. 1 – Seven Seas Entertainment
Like Skull-Faced Bookseller Honda, we’ve included Kaori Tsurutani’s BL Metamorphosis for how it looks at readers of boys love manga in Japan. It is worth a read for those interested in boys love as a literary genre and its fandom, although it is not a work of BL itself and more about intergenerational friendship.
The story follows an elderly widow named Ichinoi who buys a staff-recommended manga from her local bookstore, unaware it’s BL. She ends up not only loving the manga, but also befriending the teenage clerk and BL enthusiast who recommended the book. The insecure Urara at first hesitates to share her copies of “spicy” BL with her new friend, but Ichinoi accepts them wholeheartedly. Volume one portrays BL as something that anyone can enjoy, and not something to be overly embarrassed about.
Blue Flag vol. 1 – VIZ Media
Series content warnings: homophobia, assault, “gay panic” reaction, forced outing.
We’ve discussed Blue Flag by KAITO previously when it was released digitally through Shueisha’s Manga Plus in early 2019. Only a handful of chapters are still available on Manga Plus as of this post’s publication, now that the series has been licensed by VIZ Media for print and the Shonen Jump mobile app.
As we explained in our Winter 2019 roundup, Blue Flag involves a love square in which two characters have crushes on classmates of the same gender. Touma is in love with Taichi, and Masumi is in love with Futuba. Now that Blue Flag has completed its run in Japan and the love square has been resolved, discussing the series in terms of LGBTQ content has become more complex. It would obviously be a “spoiler” to say whichever characters get together. Going more in depth on the LGBTQ identities of the characters could also be considered a spoiler, and may give away too much about any future couples. So, we’ll say LGBTQ characters are part of Blue Flag, which is still a coming of age drama rather than a love story.
Another thing that has changed about Blue Flag since Winter 2019 is it now comes with a content warning for homophobia. A student being outed sets off a chain reaction of homophobic responses from other characters (including physical violence) as well as classmates verbally hashing out their thoughts on LGBTQ issues amongst themselves. It reads like a thought exercise as told through fictional teenagers, including homophobic rhetoric and playing devil’s advocate.
Personally, neither of us were wholly disappointed in Blue Flag. There is no other manga like it: a relatively lengthy series that includes LGBTQ main characters and addresses homophobia (albeit messily) in a realistic setting under the Shonen Jump brand. As VIZ continues to publish the eight volumes, please keep the content warnings in mind.
Goodbye, My Rose Garden vol. 1 – Seven Seas Entertainment
Content warnings: (historical) homophobia and lesbophobia, suicide ideation.
Dr. Pepperco’s historical yuri Goodbye, My Rose Garden opens in 1900 England, during Britain’s Victorian era and Japan’s Meiji era. School teacher Hanako travels from Japan to England in search of Victor Franks, the elusive author of her favorite novels, and meets Lady Alice in the process. The noblewoman promises she’ll introduce them, on the condition that Hanako kills her afterward. Hanako accepts and becomes a maid to Lady Alice, who’s surrounded by rumors that she sleeps with women.
Historical references to the death of Oscar Wilde following his imprisonment and trial set the stage for homophobia against Alice and Hanako. While Hanako asserts all people should be free to love (coming from a country without laws against sodomy), Alice fears for her life as a lesbian. In the volume extras, Dr. Pepperco admits they were moved to tears when researching the history of women and same-gender relationships in Britain and Japan to develop this manga. The research comes through in Alice being torn between her love for women and marrying a man to survive, similar to historical dramas like The Handmaiden and Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Volume one alludes to literary tragedies–Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Oscar Wilde’s Salome–and it remains to be seen how tragic the end of the three-volume series will be.
How Do We Relationship? vol. 1 – VIZ Media
Content warnings: (internalized) lesbophobia.
Tamifull aimed to create a manga both about lesbians and “a relationship where you’re trying to love someone you’re not quite sure you even like,” according to the volume one extras. In How Do We Relationship?, two college students named Miwa and Saeko start dating on a whim when they drunkenly come out to each other as lesbians. On top of Miwa navigating her first relationship, they must balance dating with being in the same rock band. Volume one never says the word “lesbian” (though does say “gay” to encompass all genders at one point), but it does address lesbophobia.
Until college, Miwa only had unrequited feelings for her female classmates and stayed in the closet. She finally starts dating a woman, but becomes nervous to be intimate with Saeko even though she has fantasized about having sex. Rika, one of Miwa’s straight friends, acknowledges that not all relationships have to be sexual, but that’s not the issue here. Miwa and Saeko have similar libidos, but one is more comfortable than the other. Saeko acts more open, with more dating experience under her belt.
However, Saeko isn’t without her own struggles. When a bandmate discovers their relationship, she downplays it by calling herself “gross” and claiming she took advantage of Miwa. She faced lesbophobia in middle school for dating a girl, forced herself to be “normal” by having sex with a boy due to society’s compulsory heterosexuality in high school, and her internalized lesbophobia still takes the form of self-deprecation. Miwa and their male bandmates accept her and their relationship, but they have a long way to go as a couple.
I Wanna Be Your Girl – Mangamo
Content warnings: transphobia, transmisogyny, lesbophobia, bullying.
The English release of Umi Takase’s I Wanna Be Your Girl (known as Kanojo ni Naritai Kimi to Boku in Japan) has flown under the radar, as it is only available through a paid subscription to the new app Mangamo. On top of that, Mangamo is currently only available on iOS devices, though they’re said to be working on a version for Androids.
Takase tells I Wanna Be Your Girl from the perspective of Hime, a cisgender girl with an unrequited love for her childhood friend Akira. When they start high school, Akira decides to wear the girl’s uniform and come out as a transgender girl to her classmates. Hime starts wearing Akira’s abandoned boy’s uniform in solidarity, though she doesn’t identify as trans and doubts the sincerity of her own actions. Akira is not the protagonist, but Takase portrays her in a sympathetic light and does not draw her like a caricature.
Still, this series comes with a content warning for transmisogyny: transphobic classmates bully Akira, her parents expect her to re-closet herself after high school, and even her crush misgenders her. However, she thankfully forms a support group of friends. With that said, the focus stays on Hime even as it explores trans social issues. Like Blue Flag, it is a coming of age drama with LGBTQ characters (lesbian and aromantic asexual side characters join the cast as well) rather than a love story.
Love Me For Who I Am vol. 1 – Seven Seas Entertainment
Content warnings: transphobia, anti-nonbinary transphobia, transmisogyny, misgendering, homophobia, slurs.
In Love Me For Who I Am, Kata Koyama explores how a nonbinary teenager named Mogumo navigates their identity and gender expression after they’re offered a job at a crossdressing maid café by one of their classmates.
Tetsu is a cisgender boy who sees that Mogumo is lonely and isolated by transphobic bullying, so he promises that they will be accepted at the café. The business is owned by Sacchan, Tetsu’s transgender older sister. She advertises it as a “cross-dressing cafe” where all the maids are “otokonoko,” which a translation note defines as “people assigned male at birth who dress like women in Japan, not limited to certain gender identity or sexuality.” By this definition, otokonoko is an umbrella term for cross-dressers, trans women, and other trans people assigned male at birth. The staff of Question encompass all three of these groups as the characters have varied motivations to wear women’s clothes (as well as individual fashion styles).
Within the first volume, Koyama shows many things nonbinary and other transgender people may experience in their lives through Mogumo: using a gender neutral public restroom, choosing a high school based on freedom of gender expression, dreading drastic bodily changes from puberty, being misgendered and misunderstood by others, wondering if another gender identity would be more accepted, etc. Koyama also seeks to show how a nonbinary person may feel alienated in both a hostile cisnormative society and an LGBTQ-friendly space trying to accommodate different people’s needs. In turn, Mogumo learns about LGBTQ experiences outside of their own.
Love Me For Who I Am, as per the English title, is also a teen romance between Tetsu and Mogumo, with Mogumo feeling accepted and safe around Tetsu and him confused how to navigate his attraction to a nonbinary person and a relationship that would legally be considered “same-sex.”
We should note this story is written by a self-admitted outsider who explains that they learned about nonbinary/x-gender people during research for a manga originally about a more manipulative crossdresser character. Also, with the crossdressing maid gimmick, it contains some level of nonsexual fanservice of cute, feminine characters that feels a bit at-odds in exploring genuine transgender and nonbinary experiences when passing is not addressed as an issue (though gender presentation is a big topic).
Anyone interested in this kind of story should take a look at Love Me for Who I Am. It’s a rarity to have a manga with a nonbinary main character that takes their identity seriously. While there is a large focus on Mogumo’s stress over both interpersonal and internal conflicts, the story ultimately validates Mogumo as living in an unfair society.
My Next Life as a Villainess – Crunchyroll
Content warnings: one sided adoptive incest, casual fatphobia.
My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! is available in English as the original light novel, a manga adaptation by Nami Hidaka, and an anime adaptation. The anime adapts the first two light novels, following a teenage otaku girl reincarnated into the villainess of an otome game brought to life. With memories of her past life playing the game of Fortune Lover, Catarina Claes knows she will suffer no matter which route the player character Maria takes in choosing a male partner. To avoid death, she strives to do her best and accidentally takes the emotional place of Maria on many occasions. The characters end up falling for Catarina instead, whether they’re one of the game’s potential male partners, female side characters, or Maria herself.
One of the potential routes available to Maria is Keith Claes, Catarina’s adoptive step-brother. In Fortune Lover, Keith’s backstory involves being abused by Catarina as a child. In My Next Life, he has a “sister complex” towards Catarina as a result of her treating him with kindness instead. The anime lumps Keith in with Caratina’s love interests, though he still calls her “Sister.” This (as well as another suitor kissing an unconscious Catarina at one point) may understandably put off some viewers.
However, Catarina is as oblivious to Keith’s affection as she is to every character’s crush on her regardless of gender. Catarina’s implicit acceptance of her lesbian friends and Fortune Lover’s references to same-gender couples create the feeling of a “queer utopia.” Most viewers describe Catarina as bisexual due to having men and women alike as admirers, and she’s open to asexual and aromantic readings as well with how she doesn’t reciprocate their feelings. Katarina is happy to be friends with everyone, and everyone is happy to be with her even if they admittedly wish to be closer. They’re accustomed to all being together, which makes the anime polyamory-friendly as well. These things may not hold true for the light novels, as they have progressed far from the material covered in the anime, but we recommend the show if any of that sounds up your alley.
Not Your Idol vol. 1 – VIZ Media
Content warnings: physical and sexual assault, stalking, sexual harassment, victim-blaming, misogyny, violence.
Volume one of Aoi Makino’s Not Your Idol comes with the tagline, “after that day, she stopped being a girl.” VIZ Media describes Nina, the main character, as a former idol who “shuns her femininity and starts dressing as a boy.” Like we did with My Androgynous Boyfriend, we want to clarify that Not Your Idol does not necessarily have a transgender protagonist.
However, the manga does explore gender expression. The story follows Nina, a teenager who recently quit being an idol after a fan stabbed her arm. She changes her name, cuts her hair short, starts wearing the boys school uniform, and seems to bind her chest. Ever since Japan’s Ministry of Education directed that students should be allowed to wear the uniforms they prefer in 2015, more and more schools have allowed any student to choose between skirts or pants.
Nina starts presenting in a gender non-conforming way, disillusioned with the hyper-femininity of being an idol. In a flashback of when she first chopped off her hair, Nina’s internal dialog declares “I’m not a girl!” In the present, she says out loud, “I’m not an idol.” To her, “being a girl” means things like wearing a miniskirt. To avoid being assaulted again, she changes her appearance to pass as a boy. A lot of series about gender non-conforming girls end with them going back to being feminine, but hopefully Not Your Idol will be an exception. For now, it is a biting examination of gender expression and misogyny in Japanese society.
Sarazanmai: Reo & Mabu – Seven Seas Entertainment
Content warnings: gender essentialism, police.
The manga Reo & Mabu by Misaki Saitoh was originally serialized in Japan before the Sarazanmai anime aired on TV. This manga introduced the world to the characters that would go on to be the antagonists of the TV series, the eponymous Reo and Mabu. Here Reo and Mabu are not mysterious villains wrecking havoc, but lovable goofballs with mundane daily lives. The “buddy cop” tropes that influenced them are on full display: two male police partners getting along despite their differences to solve episodic cases. They even live together (and complain about their poor salaries). The polar opposites dynamic of “buddies” and the black/white dynamic of boys love manga go hand in hand here. The manga doesn’t label their relationship, but running in the BL magazine Rutile provides more than enough romantic context.
Reo and Mabu also adopt an abandoned baby a la the classic comedy Three Men and a Baby. The manga uses the baby, named Sara after the Japanese word for “dish,” to address stigma against same-gender parents. Reo acknowledges they “can’t make a baby together,” but they nonetheless raise Sara as their daughter. When Mabu and Reo later argue over which one of them should be Sara’s father (as opposed to mother), they agree they’ll each be both for Sara’s sake. In the chapter after deciding he plays both roles, Mabu still becomes insecure and worries that Sara actually belongs with a cisgender woman for a mother. Reo reassures him that they’re “the ones who can make Sara happiest.” The manga not only rejects a gender-essentialist approach to parenting, but clarifies that Sara doesn’t require a “mother” in her life to be happy. This compliments the theme of non-nuclear family in Sarazanmai, though the TV series doesn’t dwell on Sara’s connection to her fathers.
Canis: Dear Mr. Rain – KUMA
Content warnings: suicide ideation, child abuse, organized crime, violence.
FAKKU, which mostly localizes pornographic manga, has been publishing BL through their LGBTQ imprint KUMA for a while now. Canis: Dear Mr. Rain is the first title we’ve been able to include in Rainbow Releases because it is not rated M. As you might expect from the rating, it’s a rather tame slow burn compared to their other manga.
Canis follows Satoru Kutsuna, a hatter (or hat maker), who owns a popular boutique. On a rainy night, he finds a young man named Ryou Kashiba lying in the middle of an alleyway, half-conscious and starving. Satoru takes him in for the night and finds out that Ryou has traveled from New York to Japan with the intent to die.
This is the kind of romance that stews in the parallel backstories and psychologies of its main pair. Ryou’s backstory is the most dramatic, as he’s a neglected orphan who joined the mafia. However, the specifics are left somewhat vague as the plot is more of a vehicle for the two leads to meet and get together. That’s not an insult, but we recommend reading this with an eye more on the atmosphere, character interactions, and art more than anything else.
ZAKK’s art is quite gorgeous and stands out among other BL, with a unique style that’s both cartoon and lush. This aids in the storytelling as the physical intimacy between the two men is very tame and not explicit, but feels laden with sexual tension anyway. The volume is not numbered, but ends with “to be continued.” Future volumes may be licensed to continue the story.
Fushigi Yugi: Byakko Senki – VIZ Media
Byakko Senki is the missing piece of Yuu Watase’s Fushigi Yugi franchise, looking at the fourth and final Priestess transported to the World of the Gods. In 2018, Yuu Watase published a personal blog post about being diagnosed as x-gender, a Japanese term for nonbinary gender. Shojo Beat has confirmed that Watase prefers “she” and “her” for pronouns in English.
In the blog post, Watase goes on to explain how a doctor first described her as having “no internal sense of gender” in 2002. She frames being x-gender as a diagnosis and distinguishes it from being LGBT. She has struggled with editors forcing her to draw shoujo manga and heterosexual romance throughout her career, when she would rather write male characters in shounen manga. When she began work on Byakko Senki, having to write and draw heterosexual romance from a girl’s point of view again made her hit a creative wall. Changing to multiple points of view, including a male lead, seemed to relieve some of her troubles, but Byakko Senki has apparently not updated in Japan since.
Happy Go Lucky Days – Chicago Asian Pop Up Cinema
Content warnings: unrequited love between student and teacher, sexual harassment of a child by an adult family member.
The film Happy Go Lucky Days was briefly available with English subtitles to rent during Chicago Asian Pop Up Cinema. While there is no official MPAA rating for the movie, and would likely be rated R if ever more widely released in the USA, it’s rated as R-12 in Japan.
The film adapts four chapters from the manga series of the same name by Takako Shimura, the creator of Wandering Son and Sweet Blue Flowers, which is not available in English. The selected chapters look first at a lesbian couple getting together after the wedding of a friend they were both in love with, then an all-boys school teacher fantasizing about his students having crushes on him, and finally a boy and girl having an awkward sexual awakening from a heterosexual porn video starring the boy’s cousin.
In terms of LGBTQ content, this is a mixed bag. The first story about the lesbians is the most straightforwardly romantic with some sex. It’s sweet in a down to earth way. The second story about the teacher in an all-boys school is a bit more dubious. It’s very meditative on the nature of desire and attraction, and while not about a predatory man, feels excessively cryptic and opaque. Ultimately, though, the film spends most of its time on the straight boy and girl, as their story encompasses two chapters in the manga and about half of the movie’s runtime. It’s also the story with the most off-putting jokes and eye-brow raising moments, including an adult sexually harassing a child.
Overall, the film paints a melancholic picture of complicated forms of love and attraction across genders and sexualities. There’s a non-judgmental, non-titillating quality in its approach of sex and attraction that felt kind. However, it’s also uneven with its story selection and comes off as a series of increasingly uncomfortable thought exercises rather than portraits of potentially real lives and connections. It’s not great to see all these cases, ranging from lesbians complaining about their shared ex to a fifth grader being asked about “doing it” with his girlfriend, treated as the “same.”
Mine-kun is Asexual – Irodori Comics
Content warnings: aphobia, homophobia.
Irodori Comics has emerged as a new publisher of LGBTQ manga, specifically doujinshi available digitally. LGBTQ-themed doujinshi are published under their Irodori Sakura imprint, which currently includes yuri and boys love doujinshi. One of their first releases was a one shot titled Mine-kun is Asexual.
Isaki Uta tells the story from the point of view of Tomoe Murai, a straight allosexual woman in college, who confesses to Mine, her bi and asexual friend. At first Mine hesitates to start dating because he’s sex-repulsed and worries a partner would expect to have sex. Murai likes him so much she decides to try dating without kissing or sex. Mine believes love and sexual desire aren’t the same thing, and is happy to find someone willing to give him a chance. Their relationship goes well, though Murai admits she gets lonely. When one of her friends suggests that Mine is just secretly gay and manipulating her in order to appear straight, she defends him and shuts her down.
At one point, Murai requests that Mine kiss her and he reluctantly complies, but she seems to regret forcing him to do so later. Without giving too much away, they learn from their relationship together and the story has a happy ending that affirms Mine’s identity. We highly recommend this manga as a look into LGBTQ representation in self-published manga, beyond the rather mainstream works that are normally licensed, from an author who describes themself as “leaning towards being asexual” (but prefers to not disclose their identity).
Our Teachers are Dating! vol. 1 – Seven Seas Entertainment
This yuri manga may take place at an all-girls school, but this isn’t about the students. Our Teachers are Dating, as you can guess from the title, instead follows a gym teacher named Hayama and biology teacher named Terano who start going out. More and more yuri about adult women are available in English, including this one that takes place in a popular setting for yuri manga. Fellow teachers and even their students are aware of their relationship and support them.
Volume one looks more at Hayama-sensei and Terano-sensei’s relationship with each other than their roles at the school, though Pikachi Ohi consulted with teacher relatives to write about the daily lives of teachers. Although this manga is rated “Teen: 13+,” it does contain a lengthy sex scene with nudity. Overall, it’s a fluffy yuri with a bit of spice to it.
Toritan: Birds of a Feather vol. 1 – SuBLime Manga
Content warnings: romance between adult and teenager.
Kotetsuko Yamamoto is a beloved author among BL fans. Toritan marks her first manga available from SuBLime, which follows a young man named Inusaki who was born able to talk to birds. However, he’s disillusioned with his powers because of how rude birds can be. One day, he meets a polite crow he nicknames Kuro and starts to change his mind about his powers. Kuro knows him well, but Inusaki doesn’t realize the crow is also the teenage son of a local café owner named Mitsuru. This is a romance between an adult and high schooler, but it’s inconsequential to the point it’s rather irrelevant.
Inusaki gets to know Mitsuru better in both of his forms, and they’re even comfortable discussing sexual orientation with each other. When Mitsuru says he’s not interested in dating, Inusaki asks if he’s gay. He seems eager to meet another gay person, though it comes off as probing. Mitsuru says he’s simply never been in love before, implying he doesn’t yet know his orientation. When he asks Inusaki about his own sexuality, they’re interrupted before he can respond.
Inusaki is more scandalized at the thought of being in love with a bird than with another guy. Falling in love with an animal is played for laughs, especially with the dramatic irony that he is also shapeshifter. There will be one more volume in this series, where they’ll surely sort it out.
Thank you for reading!