From a young age, anime has been a large part of my life, taking up a lot of my childhood and a fair amount of my adulthood. Growing up with all the different stories that anime had to offer is partly why I grew up to have such a love for writing. Over my 20 year involvement in the culture, I’ve noticed quite a lot of things that I was almost oblivious to when I was younger. Especially after our decoding masculinity event and with our upcoming queer bodies event, I’ve been thinking about the perception of masculinity in anime and the way in which homosexual characters are represented especially.
Anime dates back to the early 1900s and is a style of animation, aimed for all ages. The name is “shortened from animēshon, based on English animation.”. As one would expect in the 100 odd years that anime has been around, there has been many changes in the culture. From almost day one anime has had a strong fanbase, mainly in Japan its country of origin, but since then the culture has grown exponentially; with conventions and film screenings in countries across the globe. To cater to its newfound global popularity anime has had to change and adapt, and with that change you can now visibly see a lot more western influences in the content being created than you would have say 30 years ago. For example, western cultures are often referenced, like in ‘Kuroshitsuji’ (‘Black Butler’), the whole plot is centred around the upper class in the Victorian era with a supernatural twist and other popular series such as ‘FullMetal Alchemist’ and ‘Attack on Titan’ that refer to German culture heavily.
Although anime appears to have made all these changes one thing that seems to have remained the same over all these years, is how gay characters, non-binary characters and really just all male characters who don’t necessarily act how society thinks masculine men should are portrayed. These characters are often used as the comic relief in anime, meant to bring laughter with their overly flamboyant actions, odd appearances and the awkward situations they put themselves or the main characters in; like Grell Sutcliffe a crazy non-binary grim reaper from ‘Kuroshitsuji’ or Bon Kurei a cross dresser from ‘One Piece’. I find it odd that anime is trying so hard to change and modernise, yet still keeps this derogatory portrayal around. It’s not to say that this is the case for all anime, but in a large amount of it, this problem is still around. What makes it more strange is that when you have a gay female character or a female character who is doesn’t fall into societies normal stereotypical view, she’s often portrayed as quite cool or ‘badass’.
So really I just want to ask why does masculinity in anime seem so black and white? If someone doesn’t act in a way society deems normal, why does that then immediately make them odd? How much longer do we have to wait for anime to change?
Questions to the culture. You would’ve thought a century was long enough, right?
Words by Michael Ukaegbu.