So, what’s the deal with lesbians in Anime?

Or rather, what’s the deal with the ridiculous amount of lesbianism in anime, even with a distinct lack of actual lesbians? Other than some of the most explicit Yuri genre works, almost no characters are ever identified as lesbians, or even circumscribed with anything like “interested in girls”, or “in that kind of relationship”.  Tvtropes has two pages that are describing the phenomena, but they both boil down to “It’s a Japanese cultural thing”, that sounds suspiciously like an explanation that was reverse-engineered from the trope’s existence, rather than actually confirmed as a fact by sociology. If there is one thing that western otaku have a special interest in, it’s throwing around various hypotheses about how Japan might work, based on Sankaku Complex articles, and from taking anime content at face value.

Actually, there are two facets of this issue. First, there is the typical serious relationship situation, where two girls who are really, really, really, really close to each other, to the point that it’s even explicitly romantic, but it’s still somehow “different” from sexuality. It never gets acknowledged that they would be interested in “going out” with a girl, or physically attracted to one. It’s just romantic friendship.

But there is also another character type, that’s almost the opposite of that, but with the same result. The comically perverted girl, who happens to perv over girls as much as boys. Usually also a sadist, a yaoi fangirl, a molester, and generally obnixious person, who simply doesn’t care about any social conventions. But even though she is physically attracted to girls, she is not portrayed as a viable couple with any other girl either, if there is a character that she is seriously interested in, that will be a man.

I’m told that male homosexuality is also portrayed in these formats in Yaoi-implying works, but I’m not familiar enough with these. Also, the general otaku-oriented anime that I watch rarely discuss male homosexuality, but I feel that these points don’t apply to them so much. For example, in Suzumiya Haruhi, there are at least two references to male homosexuality, one in Endless Eight when Haruhi randomly drops a statistic about how “10% of men are gay”, and one comical scene in a later novel, when Kyon accidenally thinks that he got a confession from a male ex-classmate. Both of these scenes acknowledge that men attracted to men exist.  But with girls, the titular character is firmly in the second category, molesting Mikuru, but never even considering that girls might fall in love with girls.

Why these character types exist, can be explained both ways. Negatively, as a sign of Japan being deeply homophobic, and refusing to seriously acknowledge that homosexuals exist, even while masturbating to them. Strangely, that explanation is more supported by the seemingly innocent first, than the more offensive second character type. At least the “depraved bisexual” characters demonstrate that physical attraction to the same sex is a thing, while the former essentially teaches that same-sex romance is not the real deal, just a childish friendship thing.

In a positive explanation, we could also say that Japan, being untainted by our homophobic Christian culture “doesn’t care about labels”. Even when it occasionally uses juvenile jokes about homosexuality, japanese people see the whole issue in a different way, that is more accurate according to the Kingsley scale, focusing on the individual relationship, and not automatically  labeling anyone as “straight”, “gay”, “bisexual”, “transsexual”, etc, but even the more bigoted members of society are only caring about labeling “normal people” and “perverts”, but don’t make a distinction between the various “perversions”.

Whether or not that is better for equality and tolerance, I can’t tell. On one hand, both of these prsentations have degrading implications, and right now, the Anime industry seems to be very backwards compared to Hollywood that at least makes active attempts to take LGBT equality for granted. On the other hand, if there is only one degrading label, it’s easier to get rid of it. If only a more open-minded new generation in Japan would get rid of the “normal-perverted” dichotomy, they would suddenly get even more progressive than the west in that regard.

In either case, I personally don’t like these tropes. I just like my good old-fashioned labels too much. Those are useful for letting me to empathise with characters. I know how heterosexuality works, so I can easily imagine homosexuality as “like that, but with the other sex”, and bisexuality as “like homo- and heterosexuality at the same time”. These strange anime sexualities on the other hand, they just don’t make sense. Especially in a story with important romantic subplots, where it would be an important question to say the least, it’s annoying if I can’t properly imagine what’s going through a character’s mind, and how they really feel about other characters.

It’s like watching a football match in thick fog, and having to make guesses about which team has the ball with them. It’s not entertaining, it shouldn’t be the point of the game, it’s just confusing for confusion’s sake.


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