Hanna Lafferty ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Books Section Editor
ConnectiCon 2014 started off with a panel about the representation of LGBT characters in Japanese and American animation. While leaps and bounds have been made in live-action television towards queer representation, animation still has a long way to go.
Japanese animation has a long history of queer characters, but the only American mainstream feature animation with a queer character is ParaNorman. However, queer characters in Japanese animation are still represented in the realms of heteronormative relationships. Panel members, Judith, Natalie, Emily and Cat took the audience through a quick history of the representation of queer relationships in animation and the current issues that LGBT peoples face in the medium.
Lesbian and gay relationships in Japanese animation and in manga began as over-the-top melodramas, with queer characters doomed to tragic fates because of their orientation and relationships. There is a tendency in anime and manga to brush orientation aside and label queer characters as going through a “phase,” especially in animation featuring lesbian characters. Queer male stereotypes in anime and manga feature flamboyant and effeminate men who usually perpetuate gay men as “predatory.” Lesbian relationships aren’t considered as real relationships, but as preparation for young girls when they begin heterosexual relationships (which can be seen in the Japanese-to-English dub of the nineties anime, Sailor Moon).
There is a pervading tendency in Japanese animation and manga to view queer characters and queer relationships as unrealistic. Gay side characters are used in American and Japanese animation as comedic devices (like Seth McFarlane’s Family Guy and American Dad). This trend is starting to reverse in American animation, with characters like Ray in Archer and the hinted relationships of characters in Adventure Time. In regards to representation of queer characters in children’s animation, there is a discrepancy in the way homosexual and heterosexual relationships are presented. While heterosexual relationships are desexualized for younger viewers, homosexual characters and relationships are not represented at all because there is a stigma within children’s media that queer characters can only be associated with sex. Erasure of the orientation of traditionally gay characters in children’s media (such as Richie in the cartoon Static Shock) is an issue that has less to do with the mindset of children than the mindset of adults.
As LGBT peoples demand for more equal representation in media, it is only a matter of time that these stereotypes represented in Japanese and American animation will give way to more realistic portrayals of queer characters.
Stay tuned for more ConnectiCon 2014 panel coverage.