As any anime fan can tell you, anime fans love to argue about almost anything. I don’t think it’s too surprising, therefore, that the most recent forest fire in the anime fandom was started by a transgendered zombie.
In the anime Zombieland Saga, there is a character named Lily. If you, like I, never watched this series or heard anything about it before a few days ago, congrats. But by this point, you’ve probably heard that Lily is, in fact, a trans girl.
The initial response to this, as you can imagine, was mixed. On one hand, many LGBTQA fans, especially trans fans, greeted this news with excitement and joy. Representation in anime, especially fair representation, is hard to come by. Many fans are willing to take what they can get.
However, a subset of fans were less than enthusiastic. They believed that Lily wasn’t really trans at all, that she was actually a he. They claimed that anime streaming service Crunchyroll deliberately mistranslated the original Japanese in order to make Lily sound like a trans girl, when, as they believed, Lily was really a crossdressing boy.
Now, these fans might have been onto something. There was a “fan translation” floating around that contradicted Crunchyroll’s translation and companies like Funimation and Crunchyroll had, in the past, deliberately altered dialog to insert more “social justice warrior” content into their dialog. Most notably, in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid.
But the side claiming Lily was a crossdresser lost a lot of steam when the official Twitter for Zombieland Saga came out to say Lily was, in fact, a girl.
So, naturally, anime fans who were against Lily being trans…kept staying mad.
They claim that, in recent years, anime has become “infected” with a social justice bug. That, recently, anime has pushed for a more diverse body of characters to appeal to Western SJWs. Like ComicsGate and GamerGate and the Sad Puppies before them, a subset of anime fans are arguing that SJWs are ruining their favorite medium.
But is that true?
Japan and Homophobia
One of the big points of argument is that Japan is far more homophobic than America is. This is presented as a blanket statement, often, as in all of Japan is all homophobic. Fans who say this often treat Japanese people as a monolith. The basis for this is that the Japanese government has pushed a considerable amount of homophibic laws into motion, so, therefore, the whole country is homophobic.
This is the same as saying, since Brexit passed, all British people are in favor of Brexit, and that, since Trump is President, all Americans love Trump. Both of these statements are ridiculous to anyone living in Britain or America.
The same is true for Japan.
Yes, many facilities have denied service to same-sex couples over the years. Yes, same-sex romances between women have been treated as “just a school girl phase” throughout the nation. And, yes, for the most part, same-sex marriage has yet to be legalized in Japan.
The LGBTQA Community in Japan has been gaining steam in recent years. Very recently, a very large protest took place after a Japanese politician wrote a very anti-LGBTQA article. This is just one of many recent protests pushing for equal treatment of LGBTQA people in Japan.
In 2017, Osaka even allowed same-sex parents to adopt and foster children. To Westerners, this may sound like a small victory in light of greater oppression, but it’s a victory all the same.
So SJWs are out there in Japan, fighting the good fight for those disenfranchised by decades of oppressive laws. It’s comparable to the gay rights activists of the 70s and 80s, protesting oppressive laws when the government as a whole seemed to disregard them as people.
And progress has been slow, but building.
The idea that Japan is somehow a sanctuary from the SJW menace these subsets of fans loathe is ludicrous. Yes, you can buy your big-titty anime figurines in Akihabara, but you can also expect to see a mounting rise in pro-LGBTQA discourse.
Social Justice in Anime
But alright. So maybe that’s all well and good, but Japanese anime has never been this social justice-y before. We never saw gays and trans people in anime like this before, so surely this is some SJW agenda! Out to ruin the wholesome Nippon cartoons fans so desperately crave!
Well, again, no. Anime has always been a vehicle for social justice, and there have always been fans who seemed too oblivious to realize the messages anime contain.
But the anti-SJW crowd does have one point I should acknowledge now before continuing: anime is becoming more LGBTQA friendly. There are many examples of wholesome LGBTQA friendly series, but I’d be pulling the wool over your eyes if I didn’t acknowledge one of the more successful examples in recent years.
Yuri on Ice is by no means the best anime of all time, but it managed to become an international success for a reason. It’s a romantic sports anime that features a same-sex couple engaging in a healthy, mutually beneficial relationship. In earlier years, yaoi and other male/male relationships tended to rely on stock tropes, often seen in pornography. Yuri on Ice made it painstakingly clear to many people you can have an anime with queer leads who can be their own characters with their own hardships, and still draw in an audience.
You see, anime does overly rely on tropes and story telling cliches, more so than some other genres. How many isekai anime are there that follow the same, basic tropes? How many harem anime follow that same basic formula?
And how many anime, after that big series, be it Gundam, Dragonball, Evangelion, or Sailor Moon, just follow the leader, imitating the tropes of the popular anime without always understanding why those anime were good at all?
So yeah, following the success of Yuri on Ice, it makes sense that other shows would be greenlit, including a series called Banana Fish. Look at this gay anime. It looks JUST like a Yuri on Ice rip-off, if you mixed it with a mafia AU. Surely this anime is a sign that anime is being taken over by those SJW monsters. I mean, look at this new series that’s totally original and came out just this year.
…or at least I can imagine one of those anti-SJW fans saying that. Because Banana Fish is a LGBTQA anime based on a manga that debuted in 1985. A year after Dragonball debuted in Shonen Jump.
Social Justice Has ALWAYS Been in Anime
No, Yuri on Ice didn’t make anime gay. No, SJWs didn’t make anime gay. Anime has ALWAYS been gay.
And anime has ALWAYS been driven by social justice messages.
Let’s start with the gay bit, since that’s the more obvious point of contention these anti-SJWs have with recent anime. Sailor Moon is undoubtedly one of the most popular anime of all time. There are fan interpretations (some written by me) that argue that the main character Usagi is a bisexual, but let’s ignore fan interpretations and arguments. Let’s look at solid, explicit canon.
In Sailor Moon, there are several LGBTQA characters. Haruka and Michiru are the obvious examples (with Haruka being a gender-queer lesbian and Michiru being bisexual, judging by her flirting with men and women alike). But beyond that, you have Zoicite and Kunzite in the anime, Fish-Eyes from the SuperS arc, Seiya in Stars…that’s a lot of gay. In the manga, Rei Hino is almost explicitly asexual.
And there’s Usagi, whose sexuality I debated at length before.
Then there’s CLAMP’s body of work. CLAMP, the creators of Magic Knight Rayearth, Cardcaptor Sakura, Tsubasa, xxxHolic, and Chobits. They include several LGBTQA characters in their work. To go over all of them would be ridiculous.
Oh, and how about Revolutionary Girl Utena? Do I even need to talk about how everyone in that series is overtly bisexual?
And those are JUST the popular series. We aren’t even getting into the more obscure stuff.
These shows were so gay that American censors stepped in to remove the homoerotic imagery when these shows were aired on television.
“But okay,” you may be saying, “so there are gays in anime. But that doesn’t mean they have to shove their agendas down our throats!”
Except you’ve literally been spoon-fed messages by anime for years, and you never complained then.
Hayao Miyazaki’s films all contain very heavy-handed messages. Fascism is bad. Technology can ruin everything. Nature is the highest good we seek. You’d have to be blind not to pick up on his messages. The man refused to pick up his Oscar when Spirited Away won because he protested America’s War in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But Miyazaki, he’s unique, right? So what else is there?
How about Gundam? Anti-fascism, anti-war…again, obvious messages. Even G Gundam, a series featuring every racial and national stereotype in the book, features a very strong anti-war and pro-humanity living with nature message that the plot literally grinds to a halt to spoon feed its audience.
But my personal favorite is Neon Genesis Evangelion (which, again, also features a gay character in the form of Kaworu (and possibly Shinji as a bisexual)). In terms of fans missing the point entirely, the show is about self-reliance, focusing on finding internal reasons to keep going rather than depending on some exterior motivator. It’s a very powerful message told in a powerful fashion.
But there’s one point a lot of fans seem to ignore…a scene that directly attacks fans for their terrible behavior. In End of Evangelion, Shinji Ikari masturbates over his comatose friend and companion, Asuka. This is one of the most iconic scenes in the series. There is a Pokemon ship named after it (no, really, look up ComaShipping).
Most people involved with Eva, be it in Japan or stateside, seem to agree this scene is a big middle finger to fans who sexualized and fetishized the characters in the series, without ever taking away the greater message that led up to that finale.
And for the last twenty-one years since End of Evangelion came out, fans responded…by continually fetishizing and sexualizing a cast of fourteen-year-old kids, ignoring almost completely the greater messages of the series.
So yeah, anime? It’s ALWAYS been focused on social justice and greater messages.
The only conclusion I can take away from all this isn’t that anime is being infected or corrupted by SJWs. Rather, we have a different sort of virus in the fandom. We have ignorance.
Fans who don’t understand anime history, who appreciate the medium from a superficial standpoint. These are fans who are either too oblivious or too foolish to see anime for all its bounty, and instead are looking for the next bit of fetish fuel to enjoy.
And you know what? You can have that. Anime is FULL of sexualized characters and scenarios for you to enjoy.
But when it comes to shows trying to tell a deeper message, trying to represent under-represented minorities, then you need to either get on board or shut up about it. There are shows for you. There are shows not for you. Not everything is going to cater to your needs directly.
So just let people like things. Criticize a show based on the story it is trying to tell. Ask yourself: does this series succeed at its own goals? If not, why?
This is the approach LGBTQA people have taken to anime for years. It’s why shows like Yuri on Ice and Banana Fish have eclipsed the old-school yaoi bait. Japanese creators saw what came before, saw what works were buried behind the smut, and tried to bring out quality entertainment that offered under-represented people their chance to shine.