Being part of the LGBT community is not always easy, even as things are improving nowadays. The general population is getting more accepting of us, but there is no denying there are still people who face discrimination from employers, family, or even complete strangers. I’ve been there myself and it can be rough. Fortunately, those of us who are into anime have long been able to find supportive messages and relatable characters in the media we consume.
We are all familiar with yuri and yaoi being separate genres, but even in mainstream anime there is a lot of love for alternate sexualities. This has been true for years; best demonstrated by the 1984 anime Stop!! Hibari-kun! which was based on a manga series that began publication in Shonen Jump in 1981.
It’s about a male-to-female transgender girl who is part of a mafia family. I was caught off-guard by how empowering and positive the show is. Hibari has to deal with bullies, oppressive parents, jealous girls, and is constantly at risk of being unwillingly outed. Yet, contrary to the show’s title, she can not be stopped by anything. Hibari is a real LGBT hero; a girl who stands up against those who want her to “be normal” and is unrelentingly determined to express her true self.
Hibari-kun! is probably the oldest anime I have seen that was specifically about LGBT themes and it was followed up by other prominent anime like Revolutionary Girl Utena and the Japanese version of Sailor Moon. In fact, Sailor Moon became an iconic anime for the LGBT movement, exactly because of the clumsy attempts at censoring even the most innocuous of non-hetero themes in the old, English dubs.
Such shows were the pioneers of the old times. Nowadays, you got so much choice that it’s almost perplexing that there are still dedicated yuri and yaoi genres. Kyoto Animation has Dragon Maid, MAPPA has Yuri on Ice, Shaft has prominent gay characters in Monogatari and Madoka, and Utena’s own director returned to anime after several years of hiatus to make even more experimental shows with prominent LGBT themes. Welcome back, you lovable weirdo.
Even smaller anime, shows that aren’t major hits and may be forgotten come next year, are now including interesting LGBT characters. Zombie Land Saga was one such show and the emotional storyline that came from its non-hetero character was a memorable highlight for me. Even more remarkable was Anima Yell; a show I only found because people were sharing its heartwarming and beautifully-directed coming-out scene online.
Anime has always been there for the gays, lesbians, transgenders, and bisexuals. Our stories have been told in the most mainstream of anime like Sailor Moon, as well as in cult hits like Dragon Maid. We have starred in highly-acclaimed movies like Tokyo Godfathers and a boatload of… less-respectable works. Considering how well anime is doing today, I am curious to see how many new all-time classics are in the works right now that will star LGBT heroes, villains, and side-characters. What show will be the next Revolutionary Girl Utena? Only time will tell.