I’ve spoken about my thoughts on LGBT anime in the past. I’ve grappled with my thoughts on how homosexuality is portrayed in Japan and my feelings with shows that I’ve loved in the past that had queer-coded elements or queer-baiting. But in the last year especially, I’ve started to look on the brighter side of things. I’ve started to appreciate what my earliest exposures to queerness in anime gave me, regardless of any flaws.
Representation can only get better with time and with more diversity in the room when stories are being crafted. With studios like Blue Lynx producing higher quality gay cinema, gay representation in anime reaching new heights. And after delaying it for FAR too long, I’m happy to say that Studio Hibari’s The Stranger by the Shore is the best gay romance I’ve seen yet, but for very particular reasons…
I should start with what I consider to be the biggest standout: the English dub. Funimation’s English dub, directed by voice actor David Wald, now famous for his recent performance as Adam in SK8 the Infinity, served as vocal director. This might be the smartest move they could have made. David Wald is not only one hell of a talented director, but also gay.
This gives him the right perspective to tackle this story in English with a certain nuance that I latched onto very quickly. Intimate moments or sensual moments between the leads sounded natural in a way that I could tell it was directed by someone who is gay.
To someone outside the community, that allure might be lost, but rest assured, I say it as an appraisal of the story’s legitimacy, not a pre-requisite to entry. Representation is about creating moments of unique connection to a part of the audience. Hearing the way the characters talked about their sexuality and their sex life sounded believable and personal in a way a lot of other gay anime haven’t.
This comes in the quieter moments too. There are moments of homophobia, primarily in flashbacks, that depict it as a casual, thoughtless fear of the “other.” For instance, conversations among classmates about a character being gay and remarks among young men that they need to be “careful” of someone who’s gay.
David Wald took on a small but incredibly meaningful role in the story as well. He plays the father of Shun, one of the protagonists. When asked about how it felt to play that role as a character who marked the protagonist with specific trauma, he said this…
I thought those words might bite harder if viewers heard a gay man spitting them back at them. Our experiences of homophobia are acute and specific, and Shun’s memory had to be the same. But I didn’t want to ask another actor to put themselves through that.David Wald, Director of The Stranger by the Shore’s English Dub, July 11, 2021
Wald makes a great point about effectively portraying homophobia. Sometimes, it’s about the little things. Small moments that leave big emotional scars. While the specific traumas explored in this film are limited, they are more than enough for the story and certainly enough to make it clear why Shun is the kind of person he is.
The English dub of this film hit home thanks to not only the talents of the cast and Wald’s directing but also his perspective. This is what we mean when we say we want more LGBT representation. It’s not just about being there. It’s about lending our perspectives to tell more multi-faceted stories in ways that are big and small.
I already tweeted something to a similar effect not too long ago, but Josh Grelle really impresses the hell out of me. They’re a voice actor that can let their delivery be dramatic and out there, but also casual enough to reel you in with how natural they sounds. In Snow White with the Red Hair, they were the charming Prince Zen and stole my heart. Now they’re half of one of my favorite gay couples in anime as Shun. They keep winning.
And Justin Briner as Mio? This guy fucking rocks. He’s so god damn talented. I’m pretty sure voicing Deku in My Hero Academia boosted his popularity three-fold and thank god for that. Some people like to shit-talk the My Hero dub. Fuck those people. Justin Briner is awesome. I don’t have anything more constructive to say on the matter. I just think he’s cool.
Perhaps now that I’m done fellating the English dub team, I can talk about the film in more extensive detail. It’s short. Like, only an hour-long kind of short. And I think that is far too short. Some might disagree though. A short film has its perks, after all. The biggest issue I have with the length is that the “spark” of the film’s relationship feels all too quick.
Shun is a novelist living in Okinawa. He meets Mio, a quiet boy in his senior year of high school who is mourning the death of his mother. Shun becomes captivated by Mio and tries to get closer to him. Though at first there is some tension due to some misconceptions between them, they get along nicely and hit it off.
But soon, and I mean, pretty dang soon, they have to separate. Mio has to leave and doesn’t have the means to stay in touch. They part ways, but three years later, he returns. It looks as though Shun and Mio can finally be together, but Shun is hesitant. Mio tries to break the ice and figure out what changed. Shun tries to battle the doubt and fear inside himself. All the while, old wounds reopen with the arrival of people from Shun’s past.
Even as I typed that last paragraph, I was struck with a feeling of “oh man, what a great story,” and I really did love it. However, the introduction could have been longer. I felt like there was more to show of Shun and Mio getting closer before they had to split. It didn’t need to be too much longer. Perhaps a few more days or the impression that some time had passed.
Romances that bloom within super short periods never feel super believable to me. There’s a reason I don’t like Romeo and Juliet. Separation is an effective emotional hook, but only if what was being separated is believably meaningful. Young love isn’t always well-thought-out. That said, it isn’t inherently meaningless, either.
Three years would have been enough time to create doubt and a divide regardless of the time beforehand, assuming it wasn’t more years together than apart. I didn’t feel a believable bond at first. Then again, a lot of Mio’s arc revolves around his advances towards Shun seeming like he’s too forward and naïve. In reality, Mio has thought things through way more than Shun gives him credit for.
So he’s rightfully annoyed by how he’s blown off. I’m torn, but I generally believe that a longer opening act would have strengthened the romance. I have a hard time buying that a four-volume manga was captured in 60 minutes without cutting out some stuff. After the time skip, however, the film starts to slow to a more reasonable pace.
It’s short, but barring the introduction, I wouldn’t call it rushed. I came to care for these two and I saw two different parts of myself in each of them. In Shun I saw my current self in him being a novelist just as I aspire to be. I also saw some of my personality and attitude in him. In Mio, I saw my younger self and how I was during my previous relationships. I wish I’d thought them through as much as Mio did, however.
I guess this is another thing about this film – and other like it recently – that’s special after growing up seeing romances primarily between heterosexual pairings. It’s one of the first gay romances I’ve seen where I’ve strongly related to the characters based not only on personal traits but experiences specifically related to my sexuality. Both at the same time. And that… that feels really good.
Studio Hibari is known primarily for Assassination Classroom and Danganronpa, so they aren’t newbies. That said, this is the first project of theirs that I’ve watched and I wasn’t disappointed. The character designs and art direction were so clean that I could have sworn from early previews that this was being made by Bones. And if it looks like Bones, it’s a great sign.
Apart from the technical aspects, Stranger by the Shore is short but sweet. It might rush its introduction, but it also doesn’t let itself be boring like other, lesser romance films in the post-Your Name boom. It cuts to the core of these characters and what kind of factors complicate what should be very simple. They fall in love, and for some ungodly reason, they struggle even to accept it themselves because far too many people in this world are still afraid of love.
This film wasn’t just what I needed. I think it’s what everyone should watch. It’s what we need more of. Maybe that’s the real reason I wanted it to be longer. I want to see more movies like it. And not just for the big picture reasons. I want more films like this, for me.
And I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
The Stranger by the Shore is available for legal streaming through FunimationNow in both English and Japanese. English Dub Recommended.
What did you think of The Stranger by the Shore? Leave a comment below and tell me what other LGBT anime I should review.
Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you next time.