Is There a Double-Standard for Same-Sex Relationships in Anime? – This Week in Anime

Is There a Double-Standard for Same-Sex Relationships in Anime? - This Week in Anime

Following the obfuscation of Miorine and Suletta’s marriage in anime“>Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury, Nick and Nicky discuss canon vs non-canon relationships and why the barrier to acceptance seems higher for same-sex pairings compared to their heterosexual counterparts.


Disclaimer:The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

Nicky, I’m not feeling this season. There’s some nice stuff, but we’re lacking something in the current lineup. But maybe I’m just falling off the high of last season’s finales. Like, man, can you believe G-Witch ended with Suletta and Miorine [REMOVED TO PRESERVE AUDIENCE INTERPRETATION]?

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Wait, what the hell—

Oh no. Is it happening? Have they finally flipped the censors on This Week in anime because we waste too much corporate money talking about good friends holding hands with each other?!

Well, whoever at corporate is hitting that button can [INTERPRET] my ass.
But yeah, somehow, weeks after the conclusion of The Witch From Mercury, Suletta Sundays found a way to return in the dumbest way possible. Long story short, an interview with the lead voice actresses wound up being edited to remove mention of the main characters being married, with Bandai Namco releasing a statement saying that they wanted to leave things like that open to fans’ interpretation. This was, to quote Douglas Adams, widely considered a bad move.
It was bizarre to come back to after what I had felt was a satisfying conclusion for the two. Throughout the series, I had always felt that the relationship between Suletta and Miorine was unquestionable. While their engagement resulted from a bunch of unseen hands pushing them together, it’s clear that there’s nothing anyone could do to pull them apart. Once Miorne had opened the “door” to Suletta, there was no closing it. The final scene even mirrors this moment when Miorine returns her hand to Suletta. The warmth of their story touched fans across the globe.

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And while I saw very few complaining that they never so much as kissed or said the words “I love you” at the time, I felt these were minor gripes when the whole intent of the story was right there. How could anyone interpret this otherwise?
It’s not exactly the first time somebody holding the purse strings or outside the main creative team of an anime has tried to walk back something like this, but it’s for sure weird because of how, uh…not at all vague G-Witch was about these two being married. Like, even outside of their relationship being the emotional backbone of the whole show, the fact that they spoke multiple times about getting married and that they end the show with matching wedding bands on their fingers, there’s also about as blatant a confirmation as possible in the actual dialogue of the finale.

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The only ways to “interpret” that line are: A) The two women who spend nearly the entire show engaged and who have matching wedding rings are, in fact, married. B) Miorine had a secret brother we never see or hear about, and sometime before the epilogue, he met and married his sister’s fiancé and is never spoken of in any capacity by either of them.
Last weekend was also the hotly anticipated Summer Comic Market 102. While Comiket is widely popular as a grey area to sell limited printed copies of fanworks, including many SuleMio works, it’s also a place where anime staff might release limited illustration books, sometimes filled with production notes or their art celebrating the series. Since some are usually only sold once, you will find them in high demand and a hefty price on the aftermarket. The line for this particular book was reported to snake into the street and around the block, and who wouldn’t with THAT cover?!

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It certainly made for a funny press merry-go-round. Logistically speaking, all those art pieces were finished and submitted well before the whole interview, yet there are multiple illustrations of Suletta and Miorine in wedding dresses, wearing their matching rings, or just generally being physically affectionate and romantic. Why, it’s almost enough to make you think their relationship wasn’t a vague, open-ended question. That interview edit was a misguided ploy for plausible deniability about a mainstream anime“>Gundam entry featuring a lesbian marriage!
Even much of the other official press and merch emphasize their union, like the official Twitter describing them married as part of the alt text, or this image of the two holdings a huge commemorative bouquet (with the two matching keychains nestled there to boot). The hands drawing the anime didn’t get the memo from the hands reaping profits from their hard work. G-Witch has been a solid victory for anime“>Gundam, a series that both feels pretty solid and managed to inject a bunch of fresh blood into an old fanbase, with SuleMio being a huge draw as the story’s central relationship.

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And, like, I’m all for having an interpretive view of art. I do not care about “Word of God” declarations or post hoc info that’s dropped in press releases afterward. A piece of media should be able to speak for itself, and any ancillary meta-text is something to flavor discussion rather than define it. But all the talk about leaving this particular detail “open to interpretation” requires the viewer to pretend they don’t understand what is in front of their face.

The whole thing reeks of Ye Ole’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” It’s the kind of antiquated policy that many people lobby against when discussing the portrayal of non-heterosexual relationships in media.

It’s also ridiculous because, as a anime“>Love Live! fan, I know that if Sunrise and Co. wanted to keep their deniability plausible, they could have. The girls of School Idol-dom have been testing the boundaries of how thinly one can veil romantic tension without just outright acknowledging it for a decade now.

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Trust me; there’s some real The Princess Bride “as you wish” stuff going on there.
Bandai Namco also received plenty of angry responses from fans of the series. They were even called out by “Marriage For All Japan,” a campaign organization pushing for the right to equal marriage. Same-sex relationships, particularly marriage, are still an issue in Japan, as same-sex unions have yet to be widely recognized by the state. From a corporate perspective, mentioning something not technically legal might be considered rocking the boat. Still, several recent surveys have shown that most public attitudes have shifted to support marriage equality.
I mean, even the legality excuse doesn’t hold water because G-Witch is a far-future sci-fi story that only occurs partially on Earth, let alone in Japan. What I imagine is happening is that somebody in a suit got itchy about associating anime“>Gundam with the topic of gay marriage, and thanks to some lax editing from Gundam Ace‘s print division, they got caught trying to play interference.
Oh yeah, even the most generous interpretations feel out of touch, but it’s also not surprising. What stinks is that whatever other corporate decisions were made about the series probably would’ve been fine had they not been caught. I’ve seen plenty of anime that use queer coding or subtext effectively to fly passed the public radar. Most of it is not subtle. To bring up BandNam’s OTHER series, some parts of anime“>Birdie Wing feel like being whacked with a rainbow-spewing golf club.

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anime“>Birdie Wing was another one that everyone half-expected to end with either a kiss, a wedding, or possibly both the heroines dying a tragically romantic death from golfing too hard. I suspect fans would have been satisfied with any of those but had to settle for the silver medal of Eve and Aoi golfing into the sunset together.

While ending on the promise to continue their rivalry and eventually meet again, it is still a conclusive ending for the anime“>Birdie Wing. I was only MILDLY disappointed but maybe hopeful for a sequel or movie, given how little the two would sometimes get to spend with each other. I wouldn’t have called it “bait” or “deniable,” as some might say, just because they aren’t making out with each other on the green in front of golf-clapping onlookers.

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However, that raises the question of what exactly we want from a fictional relationship, queer or otherwise. Sure, a strictly romantic declaration would have been nice there, but the lack of one doesn’t invalidate the actual relationship built between the two of them. As somebody who likes shipping primarily for those interpersonal dynamics, it can be frustrating when fandom gets hung up on traditional displays of romance over the actual substance of the matter.

It’s frustrating because it comprises such a massive amount of anime. Anything that isn’t an explicit boy’s-love or girl’s-love series could be going off of mostly implication and still convey a strong emotional bond between characters and sometimes achieve greater nuance or thematic storytelling than if they had just said some things outright. Many archetypes that makeup anime have elements of romanticism and fatalism to them, from heated rivalries to everlasting friendships, and part of the considerable appeal to me comes from being able to see an intimacy that isn’t defined by the same power dynamics or expectations as many “traditional” romances.

I don’t worry too much about expecting series to put precise labels on it because the actual character writing speaks for itself. Would it be nice if the anime“>Love Live! franchise was allowed to drop the veil and call each other girlfriends? Sure. But even without that particular step, these characters are written as straight as paperclips, so the lack of “canon” pairings doesn’t materially change much. There is simply no heterosexual explanation for Ayumu.

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Also, before anyone asks, I’m caught up on anime“>Jujutsu Kaisen. Yes. I am suffering. I’m going to avoid making this whole column about Getojo. Though, it’s a good example of a popular “interpretation” and an interesting one to search evidence for, as many writers do often consider their works on multiple levels, and doing so might help some people have a deeper understanding of their favorite series. Even if my favorite pairing or read isn’t canon or intentional, it’s still worth exploring. There’s so much value to be found from even the feelings we project onto the things we see.

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For sure. As I said, I’m all for people making their own interpretations, so long as it comes to them honestly and isn’t a smokescreen deployed by the suits at the top. Who, it should be noted, are more often than not responsible for tamping down on subtext—and sometimes just regular text, like the infamous obscured kiss in anime“>Yuri!!! on Ice which is extra funny considering that show features this:

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Oh yeah, two bros honoring their bromance with a broposal promising holy matrimony. Much open, and very interpretive.

Alternatively, even today, we don’t always recognize how hard creators must fight to get these moments on-screen. It’s common when I see people dissatisfied. They might direct their attacks at creators before knowing what they were going through when they wrote something. While creatives are human beings and therefore not perfect, neither is the world, and it’s a shame when I see artists and writers say they feel discouraged when they think about being attacked just because of how someone interpreted what they made.

That’s fair. Any mass media is an expensive and collaborative effort, especially in anime, which means creators are making concessions and compromises to the often conservative producers. This is why I encourage folks not to live or die based on hardline, irrefutable confirmation but rather to embrace the text and your relationship to it first and foremost. Like, I don’t expect anime“>BanG Dream! It’s MyGo!!!!! ever to put a diagnosis to Tomori’s personality quirks, but I can still appreciate and connect with how she displays common traits of neurodivergence that mirror my own.
I also consider it a double standard because plenty of other anime with a similar focus on heterosexual relationships are also based on subtlety or even the barest hints for the characters to be accepted by the audience as canon. However, the good news is that we are also getting more explicit reps. We’re gradually getting more yuri, BL, and anime that doesn’t fit as neatly behind relationship labels. I could never forget the explosion during anime“>Promare‘s infamous “Kiss of Life” for the first time with a huge crowd in the AX premiere room.

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Seeing this happen in reverse to straight couples is also extremely funny. anime“>The Ancient Magus’ Bride spends countless episodes having Chise and Elias prod and gesture at their bizarre, complicated relationship without coming to a clear, definite label. Yet because it uses a blunt visual metaphor for them reforging their bond at the end of season one:

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…I had to explain to multiple people during season two that, no, they are not married, and in fact, I’m pretty sure Elias doesn’t know what sex is.

Ah yes, the Royal Very Good Friends, as historians would later describe them.

Do you ever steal your brother’s rejected fiancé, but then she decided to have herself adopted by your parents just to live with you forever? AKA the historical way many same-couples get married as a workaround to the still existing law.

I’m not sure if it’s intentional commentary—though considering how the last arc handles Anis’ expectations as Queen, it certainly could be—but Anis and Euphie having to become technically adopted sisters at the last second to be allowed to share the throne is a hilarious detail. The show and light novels may be able to commit fully to their romance, but the goddamn line of succession cannot accept having lesbianism in the books.

Though, I was more touched by how the show handled Anis having to accept that who she is isn’t what other people expect of her, especially how she breaks down to her parents. While hidden under a metaphor involving royalty, reincarnation, and other things, it all comes to which they still accept her as their daughter the way many people wish their parents would if they were to come out to them.

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It’s a highly touching—and intense—character arc that made the series for me, and why I think a lot of folks should check it out despite the over-long title. As much as I think there’s value and worth in more “subtextual” stories, MagiRevo is a good example of how tearing down any plausible deniability can allow for memorable, emotionally compelling stories.

MagiRevo doesn’t hold anything back between Anis and Euphy, that’s for sure. It also does plenty of things indirectly to justify comparisons to the real world in the fantasy setting of the story. So there’s plenty of room for different storytelling methods without compromising how straightforward or complex we want everything to be. Even the series teases tropes about love being vague before ending on a scene that is there for people to interpret what it means to have a blurred image of the two kissing on the bed from the fireplace. Think about that.

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Again, it feels like a pointed call-out of the exact kind of bad faith “interpretation” that got us on this topic in the first place. As if the creators were actively telling people to go [INTERPRET] themselves if they wanted to pretend they weren’t seeing what they were seeing.

That leads us to my last point: If there happens to be someone who can’t help but turn away from what’s presented to them, that person is incurious. Why should the creator be responsible for catering to people unwilling to engage with what’s being said? It’s not like anyone can control what anyone else thinks. Sometimes, I would like it if people didn’t assume things about me, but I also don’t have to allow others to define me just because they think they know me better than I do. That’s not for them to interpret.

Yeah, the most frustrating part of the whole G-Witch discourse was seeing folks act like Bandai Namco‘s canned corporate statement had somehow erased or overwritten the actual text of the show. Not only is that assigning way too much authority to people who didn’t even write the damn thing, but it feels like allowing the most stubborn, bad faith-driven perspectives to steer the discussion.

While I always encourage others to express their opinions, that’s on the condition that everyone listens and respects each other equally. I try hard to hear others out, but I don’t have to force myself to talk to people who don’t listen, and I shouldn’t have to keep my mouth shut just for them. Media is just another form of communication. It can take some work to understand fully, but I hope everyone will get the message one day.

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In conclusion: engage with art as honestly as possible, don’t let corporate bet-hedging define your connection to anything, and be sure to do lots of [INTERPRETING] with your Good Friends.

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