Queerbaiting is one of the most apt words I have ever seen in the lexicon of modern media discussion. As its name implies, it’s the act of baiting, or luring in, an LGBT audience by implying a story will cater to them. Except when the fish bites, they find only a hook that strings them along and seeks to drag them unto the barren dryness of straight media. Where the heterosexuals will then dance around a fire as they flambé our skin and feast on our flesh. Save for the genitals, for that would be gay.
Project A-Ko at first seemed like a show that would be the next addition to my list of classic LGBT-centered anime. The story of a young girl with superpowers protecting her cute, innocent girlfriend from a jealous villainess attempting to steal her away. Everything in the first two movies seems to imply just that, as A-Ko and C-Ko share many scenes where they go on dates, hold hands, and cuddle, not to mention the galaxy-spanning conflicts A-Ko gets embroiled in for C-Ko’s sake. B-Ko too has no shortage of affection, being willing to bankrupt her family and publicly embarrass herself just to win C-Ko’s heart.
Like a proper bait-and-switch, no romance is every explicitly confirmed or denied. The movie does everything it can to keep the assumption in your mind, only to then pull the rug out from underneath it by episode 3. Suddenly both A-Ko and B-Ko are enthralled by a handsome biker that they begin fighting over instead. C-Ko is largely side-lined, treated like a childish annoyance, and her relationship with the other characters is recontextualized as “very close girlfriends”. We’ve never heard that one before, did we?
Aren’t we all fans of that classic literature trope of dueling to decide whom becomes the fair maiden’s close friend?
While the third and fourth Project A-Ko movies are still good enough and maintain other strengths of the series, enjoying them was proving difficult after the romantic subtext was so thoroughly straightened out. Anime has many examples of fantastic LGBT anime, but Project A-Ko deliberately chose to roll back its progressive ideas instead. Queerbaiting at its worst.