Q&A: Seeing Myself in Yurikuma Arashi

I’ve often thought about putting some of my ask.fm answers on my blog, either compiling related ones I’ve already answered, or turning longer ones into a single post here. I liked the way Bobduh has done this on his blog, and figured it would help me create more frequent content. But for whatever reason, I never got around to it–until now. Because one of you asked me a really good question, but my answer went over ask.fm’s word limit. And by God if I was gonna let that stop me from giving this the thorough answer it deserved.

Here’s the question: Are there parts of Yurikuma [Arashi] which resonate with you as a bi woman? I am a cis homosexual woman myself and find the characters too “moe-infantalised” to find attractive, but I do identify with their experiences. I am just interested in your opinion. yurikuma for blog 2 And my answer:

One thing that resonates with me a lot about Yurikuma is the way social exclusion is used to enforce the heterosexist status quo, since “being made fun of even more by the other kids” was a big reason why I suppressed my attraction to girls as a teenager. My parents were perfectly accepting and I didn’t give a shit about religion; it’s because I was already weird, already being teased and I didn’t want more of that. yurikuma for blog 5 Another thing is the way that it blurs the line between friendship and romance. I’ve seen a lot of criticism for that but I think it’s absolutely intentional and ties in with the show’s themes, and it’s also something particular to the queer female experience (as in, it’s less true for gay and bisexual men, since the line between “platonic” and “romantic” affection with guys more strictly enforced). Even here, where we don’t have the weird Class S baggage per se that Japanese culture has about lesbians, female friendships can be very affectionate and it’s often hard to know if your interest in another girl crosses that line–and easily to deny it if it does. I had an inkling even at 13 that how I felt about certain other girls–being unable to stop looking at them in class, fantasizing about being close to them, feeling this powerful yearning to be around them all the time–was not that different from my crushes on boys. But because I didn’t want to believe it, it was easy to pretend it was just a “strong friendship” feeling. Which I think Yurikuma captures well with the way that all these girls who are clearly in love with each other keep referring to their girlfriends as “my special friend” or “best friend” or whatever.

(Two things that make this worse that also don’t apply to men: Girls spend a lot of time looking at each other to compare and compete (that part in the movie But I’m A Cheerleader where Megan realizes she’s looking at other girls for different reasons than everyone else also resonated with me). Also, while boys are implicitly encouraged to do things like look at porn and otherwise try to explore and understand their sexualities, girls are not or even actively discouraged from doing so. That stuff can confuse even straight girls, so of course it compounds the problem further when you have a minority sexuality. In parentheses because that’s getting off-topic from Yurikuma specifically, but I thought was worth noting anyway.) yurikuma for blog 3 I also found some of the sexy parts titillating in spite of the girls’ “moe” appearance, and in a way that kind of illuminated for me why a lot of anime doesn’t do that for me. There’s a noticeable difference between portrayal of lesbian sexuality for actual lesbians (or bi women, in my case), and for straight men where you don’t want to disrupt their entitlement to watch or otherwise be a part of it. Something about Yurikuma’s sexuality is very “NO BOYS ALLOWED” and a lot closer to the ways that lesbians actually have sex (that probably seem kinda gross to the straight guys who fetishize us). That might just be my impression, but the fact that the Sakura Trick fanboys seem really uncomfortable with Yurikuma would appear to back it up. (And man, does their rage warm my heart.)

I don’t know how Ikuhara does it, what pact he’s made with the Lesbian Goddesses or whatever. But he’s consistently the best at depicting the lesbian experience in film, in spite of not living it himself. Certainly way better than Actual Lesbian Ilene Chaiken, anyway.

Eric’s 12 Days of Anime #9: Tokyo Needs More Gay

I don’t have many strong feelings regarding Tokyo Ghoul. I started watching it in October, but only recently finished it despite it being only 12 episodes. Chalk that up to there being a lot of other good shows I was watching and me not being invested in Tokyo Ghoul’s story. It’s rushed and does little to distinguish itself from other recent cannibal monster anime like Attack on Titan and Parasyte. I’ll probably check out the second season if only to see how they follow up the non-ending of season 1, but my expectations are low. So why am I talking about a show I mostly have middling feelings toward? Because of this guy.

shuu crazy

Shuu Tsukiyama is the first major villain in Tokyo Ghoul. His primary motivation is to eat Ken Kaneki, the main character, because he smells good. He’s more of a monster-of-the-week who does little to further the plot, but I couldn’t get him out of my head. Because I absolutely hate this character and everything he represents. His characterization harkens back to the gay-coding of Classic Hollywood. Characters couldn’t be explicitly homosexual under the Hays Code, so filmmakers had to be creative and find ways to imply a character was homosexual. However, this was problematic because these implied-to-be-gay characters were depicted as villainously perverse or inferior because of their homosexual and effeminate behavior. These films created and encouraged negative gay stereotypes despite never once explicitly talking about homosexuality. It may be 2014, but these stereotypes persist, even outside of the Hollywood system.

In the short amount of time he matters, Shuu exemplifies these old gay stereotypes to an uncomfortable level. He takes an uncomfortable interest with Kaneki the moment he meets him, prompting Touka to call him gross. In another scene, he snorts a handkerchief with Kaneki’s blood on it. Tokyo Ghoul goes out of its way to portray this as creepy villainous behavior, as if to say “this guy has the hots for another guy and that’s totally fucked up!” As a bisexual man, I can’t help but be appalled that this character was ever allowed to exist. Tokyo Ghoul, with its story about lost souls trying to live in a world that hates and fears them, could have been a great showcase for gay characters. The metaphor of fear and acceptance is right there, yet Tokyo Ghoul unironically and uncritically falls back on gay stereotypes to characterize a major villain. It’s a huge disappointment. Well, at least he’s the only horrible gay stereotype in this show, right?



Next post: something more positive.