Is Yuri Anime Decent Representation?

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Anime is one of the few mediums where you can really say that there’s something for everyone. Or at least, that’s the idea. Recent anime has scarcely provided anything interesting, but at least this season has something slightly different: Sakura Trick.

Representation of anyone other than straight people is rare in media, and anime is no exception. So, of course I was immediately interested when I caught wind of this series because the endgame couple is made cannon from the very start. There’s no question that Haruka and Yuu are together, which means that for once, cannon is doing work that fans often have to do in order to feel that more people like them are in the stories they love. Simply relating to characters is one thing, but being able to share any part of your identity with a character is something else. Ask any person of color what it means to see (or not see) people who look like them in movies, books, TV shows, anime, etc. and they may give you tons of examples of whitewashing, exotification, and stereotypes. The same goes for women, disabled people, and LGBT+ people (Hourou Musuko is the one anime out of every anime I’ve watched ever that has actually done a very good job of portraying transgender people. That’s one anime out of everything I’ve watched).

When we look at stories, there are two questions we have to ask ourselves: who is this story about and who is this story for? I think how we answer these questions can help us determine if a historically oppressed group of people is being treated as fully human by the creator(s) of the story.

Who is yuri anime about?

On the surface, the answer to this question is obvious: yuri is about girls who fall in love with each other. Most, if not all, of the characters are female. If dudes make an appearance, they’re older brothers, fathers, random family members that appear to make the series last a little longer, etc. In that sense, yuri rejects the tendency of just about every other kind of story ever to focus on men in some capacity. All of this seems great for more diverse representation, but the analysis can’t end with this question.

Who is yuri anime for?

This is where things get more complicated. Yuri series like Sakura Trick and Strawberry Panic are saturated in femininity to the point where they’re almost parodies of high school anime in general. Because these series don’t even have a dude there for romance, one would logically think that dudes would pass over them since these stories are not about them.

But usually, these stories are still for them, especially the anime. Every unnecessary boob and thigh shot in Sakura Trick is a reminder of the irony that a lot of media that represents gay women isn’t actually for gay women. I don’t find it appealing when the camera focuses on body parts detached from the rest of the person. In general, I don’t like this trend of dividing people, especially women, into tantalizing parts. When yuri “doubles the fun,” so to speak, it becomes more obvious. There’s this prevailing idea that two women in a relationship together exist to please or entertain a straight dude and that couldn’t be further from the truth. I once had a conversation where someone offhandedly remarked how Orange is the New Black is clearly trying to get their male audience by showing the sex scenes between Piper and Alex, and I just stared at them blankly for a second before we moved on to a different topic. It’s like people forget that some gay women can and do enjoy that content, or that gay women exist for themselves and not for the male gaze.

Because of this, yuri often makes me feel divided. The surface level representation is nice, but the way it translates to the screen makes me question whether or not a given series exists for the people it’s about or if it exists for people who want to fetishize gay women. For this reason, I’ve found that manga and light novels can be less promblematic, but even that depends on how the story is told.

Yuri and Unrealistic Expectations

Furthermore, most yuri recycles the shoujo manga idea of romance just falling into your lap. Strawberry Panic takes that to an extreme and presents a fantasy in which literally everyone is at least a little bit gay. This is a nice escapist fantasy since it’s never that easy to find anyone in real life, especially if you’re gay. Even outside of anime, a lot of stories about gay people present this false notion that romance/relationships happen easily (not to mention that a lot of those relationships are destructive. I’m looking at you, L Word). However, for anyone just coming to terms with their sexuality, it could set them up for a lot of disappointment when they find that romance still isn’t easy even though they now understand themselves much better.

Media representation still paints a pretty bleak/unrealistic/incomplete picture. On the one hand, things are progressively getting better, but on the other hand, I’d personally like to see more shows like Orphan Black where two of the main characters are gay, but their romantic relationships are neither dramatized nor erased nor the central focus of who they are as characters. I’ll have a glowing blog post to write if Krista/Historia x Ymir becomes 100% undeniably cannon because it would be in this same vein.

Whether or not yuri anime is decent representation is up to the individual who is being represented. Sakura Trick is a relief to many since it’s so light-hearted. In that sense, it’s a step forward because pretty much every other anime about women in love is very dramatic and usually tragic. At the same time, I think Sakura Trick falls into the same trap that just about every other recent anime has fallen into: the characters don’t act like real people. They’re rarely more that cookie cutter versions of the same tropes. Literally the only difference between Sakura Trick and any other anime about girls going through high school is that the implied yuri in all of those other series is overt in Sakura Trick. It’s fluffy candy, which is all fine and good as long as people recognize that and keep pushing for better, more comprehensive representation.

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5 thoughts on “Is Yuri Anime Decent Representation?

  1. Speaking as a lesbian, Sakura Trick won my affection over because it approaches everything in moderation (obviously erring on the side of comedy and laughs). The girls have sex drives (to dispel that “pure as the driven snow” trope), but they demonstrate needs independent of that (which, in my opinion, off-sets the fetishization).

    I also feel, sometimes, that the sacred cow thing is a part of the discussion. There are extremely defensive people in the gay community who feel any portrayal is shit, you cannot make it an agent of humor, at all, and only the next Shakespeare should attempt it and THAT will magically make everyone “understand” and then it will be okay. It’s frustrating that such a knee-jerk reaction dismisses a positive step forward.

    Though one thing I will fight you on! *boxing gloves* the characters don’t act like real people. While true, I think that is a symptom of comedy, more than anything. I mean I personally can’t name a comedy, anime, CBS sitcom, anything, where people act -completely- normal xD For -comedy- I think Sakura Trick does an exceptional job. But that is my life and my experience =X

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    1. I’m all about life and experience here, so no worries. 🙂

      The sex drive/dispelling the purity myth point is something I didn’t see right away, so thanks! Now I see what you mean about the balancing act in that regard. My personal answer to the question of this post is that yes, Sakura Trick is pretty good representation. I’ve been waiting for something that’s both light-hearted AND makes the lesbian couple crystal clear (none of this Bubbline or Korrasami reading between the lines, if you catch my drift). However, someone else might be watching the show to fetishize and that’s why I have to question some of the editing choices of the show. Then again, I’ve never liked fan service even though I do like girls, so YMMV. That’s also why the “who is it for” question is ambiguous and why I didn’t really give any definitive answers about Sakura Trick in the actual post. I’m more trying to get readers to apply that criticism on their own and come up with whatever answer they come up with.

      I do like this trend of normalizing gay people by placing them in comedies (did you catch the whole “Good Luck Charlie” thing?) and not existing for the sake of being the token hilarious gay person. The defensiveness doesn’t make sense to me either, especially since you can deconstruct anything. In representation conversations, there’s always something lacking. Sakura Trick doesn’t make being gay this DRAMATIC, HEARTBREAKING COMING OUT EXPERIENCE, which is really nice. There are way too many sad/tragic stories about being gay. In the end, what I think we’re looking for is just more options for representation. Sometimes, people want a story that’s all about being gay. Sometimes, people want a sci-fi or fantasy story where that’s not the main focus (Orphan Black, Orange is the New Black, most likely Attack on Titan). So, I guess Sakura Trick is normalizing gay people in the slice-of-life/high school/comedy genre, which brings me to the last thing.

      I’m with you on the genre aspect and I actually thought of that the other day, haha. I think Miyazaki’s recent comments about anime in general were in the back of my head as I wrote that part. Since Sakura Trick is a comedy, I’ve never expected anything more than it has delivered, but at the same time I feel like I’ve already seen these characters in a lot of other shows.

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      1. Nn, sad and tragic is great (Ga Rei Zero is my favorite anime ever xD) but when you do it around homosexual characters, it plays into the old trope of burying the gays from the 80s, even through to Brokeback Mountain, where one of the partners HAS to die, and it is always, ALWAYS, the more sexually aggressive one, because that plays into the “recruitment” myth, as if their hubris caused it. So many unfortunate implications when it keeps. On. Happening.

        So, yeah, breaking away from that is a good thing xD

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