Thoughts on Yuri Anime – Protagonists and Awareness of Sexual Orientation

Nothing in this world is truly black and white, but play along with me here.

A protagonist in a yuri anime will either be conscious or not aware of her own sexual orientation. In other words, I’m asking you to understand that I’m simplifying things since I’m considering confusion (about sexual orientation) to be on the same side as being unaware.

With such a reductionist limitation in place, I ask you this: is it better for a yuri anime protagonist to be aware or not?

Unlike in real life, where I would unhesitatingly say it is much better for people to be comfortable and aware, the answer isn’t as clear-cut in yuri anime.

An unaware protagonist means there will eventually be an Eureka moment. Things will click and the character will realize, “I’m gay!” (or bisexual or pansexual or so on). Sometimes it’s flashy and the narrative will put this quest for sexual identity on prominent display. In Flip Flappers, for example, Cocona has to come to terms with her attraction to Papika throughout the entire series and her struggles define episodes 5 and 7.

For those of you who aren’t aware, Cocona and Papika travel to and from Pure Illusion, which represents a part of someone’s psyche or unconscious desire, for most of Flip Flappers. In episode 5, the girls travel to an all-girls boarding school (the classic setting for Class S and yuri anime/manga/visual novels/etc) and in episode 7, Cocona has to sit through and see alternate versions of Papika play the role of romantic interests as commonly seen in anime and manga.

While such depictions are both flashy and entertaining, such moments of realization are usually not like this in other series. The female character, upon realizing her sexual orientation, is apt to deny herself as she, brainwashed by a heteronormative society that condemns relationships that aren’t between man and woman, believes it’s improper for girls to like other girls. She is scared of being wrong. “Girls can’t like other girls” is how it goes.

What’s actually wrong, of course, is rejecting homosexual relationships.

This leaves me to believe that the inclusion of such a trite and overused line is, in poor taste and harmful. Yet to outlaw the phrase (and related variants) with no exception is also to ignore reality. For there are people who are confused about their sexual orientation and seeing characters go through similar struggles may empower them to come to terms with themselves.

If the protagonist is already aware, then a lot of that tension and drama (and politically incorrectness) dissipates. It’s not a bad thing, but then the narrative loses out on the potential message to be had in yuri anime.

After writing all this, I’m still not sure if it’s better for the protagonist to be aware or unaware. Is the trade-off worth it? The probable answer is most likely, “It depends.” Sorry for the cop-out.

10 thoughts on “Thoughts on Yuri Anime – Protagonists and Awareness of Sexual Orientation

  1. I find a measure of confusion regarding sexuality especially in young characters believable and relatable. It echoes my own experience as well. I was pretty glaringly bisexual for years before I actually realized that was the case. Society and its rampant heteronorativity can do a lot to blind you to things that should be obvious.

    But the whole ‘it’s wrong to be gay/bi/ace/whatever’ plots that sneak into these stories tend to irritate me a lot. True that a lot of people go through that but a lot of the time, it just feels like the story is making a plot point out of such denial just for the sake of tension.

    On the other hand, I adore stories with out and proud characters and even the odd lgbt+ utopia where all kinds of love is easily accepted.

    On the matter of yuri anime, your uncertain ‘It depends’ might be the best conclusion. We can’t really pass blanket judgement. Better to judge on a case by case basis.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Heteronormativity sucks, I agree.
      Seeing confused characters are thus helpful and even hopeful. I hope people can see their struggles and come to be more self-aware (if they’re uncomfortable or confused, that is).

      Mmmm it really comes done to how it’s handled, I think. If done poorly, I’m left unhappy. Matt did a great job describing how it could be handled properly.

      Mmm utopias are also nice!

      Guess that’s how most things in life are. Nothing is truly black or white.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m a little divided on this one. Although I can clearly see the potential of a narrative honestly exploring a girl/women’s awakening and questioning, with all the soul searching and social considerations, I am also really fed up of the clueless romantic lead trope (this is not exclusive to yuri) but generally I would like to see women take a bit more agency of their love lives.

    In any case, it’s an interesting question.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Mmm I can see your points and I agree with all of them. The romantically oblivious protagonist drives me up the wall. And some women seem to be puppets manipulated by the writers and/or love interests, unfortunately.

      Thank you. There’s probably no clear-cut answer. I surely didn’t provide one here and the article is not as fleshed-out as I would like, but it’s a starting point.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. To me, this comes down to what you’re trying to achieve with a series.
    From a personal standpoint, I can see the positives of both routes, but I tend to focus on characters that are already aware of their orientation in my work. This mostly comes down to wanting to portray ‘genre stories’ where the characters are already adults and comfortable with themselves in terms of orientation; in other words, the story fits with the genre and the protagonist just happens to be a lesbian (that’s certainly how I approached my most recent series anyway). The point of telling stories like this is, to me, to show that LGBT characters fit into stories the same as heterosexual characters. It makes them relatable to fans of things like sci-fi, fantasy and so on.
    Like I said though, there is certainly a purpose to portraying those still finding themselves. Growing up, I didn’t really see much representation in any media that showed someone struggling the way I was. Even now, bisexuality isn’t seen as much on TV for example. When you look at it from that standpoint, characters that are struggling or are confused give people in the same position someone to relate to. As you say, the ‘girls can’t like other girls’ has the potential to be harmful, but it is sadly rooted in reality for many. To me, the key is to explain why a character feels that way, explore the reasoning behind it, even if it comes down to simply declaring it a social construct, and show them working through it and becoming comfortable.
    So, in summary, it all comes down to the sort of show you’re making. Not being sure yourself is a potentially excellent way to reach out to those suffering and those who like an orientation based coming-of-age story. Already knowing is a great way to normalise roles in various genres and give people someone to look up to.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You covered it in a lot more detail than I did. I wasn’t aware of the term, normalization, but now I can see how it is important. But showing characters who are confused can really reach out to those who are struggling in real life, too, and that is also valuable.
      As you said, the potentially harmful line (and its variants) has to be handled carefully. That way it won’t come across as a bigoted statement and instead will be more of a starting point for a PSA, perhaps. Like, “Hey these beliefs may be shared by some people due to this and that but it isn’t fair” or something.

      It really does depend on the type of narrative the story is aiming for, doesn’t it?

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Absolutely. Though I must say, I’m still mixed on normalisation as a term; it fits with what’s needed, but I really don’t see LGBT issues as things that should need to be normalised, they should just be seen as normal things.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. I was about to say that the term implied that LGBTQ was abnormal, which I was uncomfortable with. I ended up not including it in the comment since I was not sure if I was being pedantic. Glad to see we’re on the same page here.

          Liked by 3 people

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