Early in 2014, when I was just getting into anime, I decided to watch Free! Iwatobi Swim Club, the now-famous sports anime by Kyoto Animation. Being in the closet at the time, I went into it with the kind of ironic half-interest that wouldn’t tip off my friends that I was hella gay (which didn’t work anyway).
To put it bluntly, Free helped me come out of the closet. Granted, the characters never canonically became boyfriends or stated they were gay in the show. Regardless, the characters were all content in their masculinity and displayed a level of intimacy and emotional expressiveness that was really meaningful to me. I will always have a soft spot for that series. I talked more about this in my tribute to Kyoto Animation that you can read here.
Ever since then I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the Boys Love/ Yaoi genre of manga and anime. There are great stories that have been told, especially recently. Yuri on Ice hit the mainstream with gayness like a nuke and we’re still waiting for that fucking film. Sarazanmai went even harder, though I can’t say it was too memorable. The romance in No. 6 was the saving grace when the rest of it was a rushed mess. Finally, dated as it was, Banana Fish was the action drama infused with gay romance I always wanted and I should really finish it.
For every decent to great gay show that has seeped through the cracks, a lot of yaoi shows have turned me quite cynical towards the genre. The trash-tier of yaoi can be downright infuriating. Shit like Junjou Romantica and Love Stage too often treat non-consensual sex as the starting point to a relationship. There are a lot of really unhealthy tropes that have made it hard to get into anime with gay romances.
There is a lot of garbage out there, but recently, anime with gay characters are being produced more and more. Hell, half of the good examples I mentioned before came out in the last couple of years. And today I want to talk about a show that broke through a lot of that cynicism for me and left me a lot more hopeful for future stories like this.
Devilman Crybaby wasn’t my favorite show. In fact, about a year after its release, I was surprised to find that I gave it a 6/10 on MyAnimeList.net. I must have been somewhat underwhelmed upon finishing it. After all, I wouldn’t call it a show with an incredibly satisfying ending. But it was an ending appropriate of the source material it was adapting.
Go Nagai’s Devilman taps into the darkest reaches of the human condition and juxtaposes it with the horrors of demonic monstrosities. The story tells of the end of days; the brutal end to an imperfect race consumed by sin, depravity, and hatred. Masaaki Yuasa’s vision of the story modernized the doom and gloom, creating a unique series with far more of an international appeal than many anime.
It had issues, to be sure. The abundance of Engrish lessened the impact of big narrative moments and certain characterizations paled in comparison to previous adaptations. The animation – while lively – could be laughable at times, teamed with some inconsistent artwork that I could take or leave. Despite all that though, I think I was too harsh on this series. I came to that conclusion when I reflected on one scene which has stuck with me to this day.
One of the earliest scenes in Liz and the Blue Bird depicted the protagonist, Mizore, waiting for someone at the school gate. One girl comes through the school gate, but Mizore is met with disappointment as it is not who she is waiting for. And then, the music swells from a scarce pluck of the string to a delightful melody, as the tapping of one girl’s steps is heard along the pavement.
But it’s not just any girl. It’s THE girl. Like a wind coming from the distance, Mizore and the audience know that someone important is coming before they even see her face. It’s as if hearing the quickening heartbeat of a shy young girl faced with her crush, translated into song.
Yuri on Ice, Directed by Sayo Yamamoto and created by Mitsurou Kubo, is the latest project from Studio MAPPA, who’s previous projects include Cowboy Bebop director Shinichiro Watanabe’s Kids on the Slope, the beautiful Rage of Bahamut: Genesis, and the very bizarre Punchline. Yuri on Ice has also the been the subject of much debate over the implied relationship between the two main characters, with some heralding the show as a masterpiece for that element in it of itself. But can this thoughtful experiment in characterization stand on its own, or does it fall flat as a paradigm of pandering?