Much like traditional American and European TV, anime can be split into a number of different categories or subgenres.
While there are many that crossover between the two cultures like action adventure, there are a number that are done in other cultures that we as North American’s don’t really deal with.
It just so happens that some of these ideas and troupes can be related to romance or rather sexual content.
When one mentions anime to someone who isn’t familiar with it there are a number of different ideas that come to their minds. Probably two of the two biggest examples are shows like Dragon Ball Z or porn.
Those two options are not only worlds apart but don’t even begin to represent the many ideas and stories that the medium can explore.
Today, I wanted to talk a bit about one genre that I had no experience with until recently, Yuri. Upon going deeper into the genre it left me with a number of conclusions that I wanted to share.
So let’s jump in. NOTE: I’m going to bring up a number of titles, but these are far from reviews.
So let’s get the basics out of the way; Yuri is a genre of manga and anime that either focuses mainly or partly on the sexual or emotional relationships between two women.
Now by saying that there’s a majority of women who might read this and get offended, however this isn’t necessarily porn or exploitation fiction.
While granted I’m sure some of these titles go into that direction, the basic idea of the genre is to explore the complexities that come with a same sex relationship. In fact, Yuri could be considered the Japanese equivalent to lesbian fiction like The Well of Loneliness (granted there was already a Lesbian literature community in Japan, but you get my point).
This genre came to my attention after I watched a few episodes of Sakura Trick.
The show follows a group in an all girl high school. The two main characters Haruka and Yuu, have been friends for years but upon entering high school they’re afraid that they’ll drift apart and no longer be friends. So the two want to do something that only they do together, as a way of making their friendship special. It just so happens that the special thing is kissing.
Right away after the first half of the episode when said element was introduced I was taken a back to say the least. As mentioned before in North America these types of stories aren’t focused on a lot, although it’s becoming more common. Having watched a lot of anime and knowing how some of the titles lean I thought the show would move into a different direction.
From that blurb the show does sound like the basic plot to a feature length adult video, however the show ends going into a different direction all while playing with our expectations.
At first the two are weirded out by the kiss but after a while a relationship of sorts starts. As the series progress the show ends up playing a bit with the erotic elements only to pull away from it and it ends up making a comment about the genre as a whole.
The majority of the series then focuses on the awkwardness of trying to be in a romantic relationship with a friend. The humour of the show comes from the two’s interactions and the way that they react to each other’s affection.
It’s not like after the first kiss the two are in love. They’re put into situations that lead to the two being alone such as having to physically hide from Yuu’s disapproving sister Mitsuki. The two start to grow closer as the series progresses.
The series is a romance drama that works a great deal like so many other romance titles, it just so happens to be about a lesbian relationship. That added element ends up adding to the situation opens up the narrative for something different.
What makes this more interesting is the fact that both characters are developed and rounded, something that a majority of popular anime titles lack in their female characters. While the characters personalities are a bit stock, they end up working well in any type of romance story.
Haruka is goal oriented and focuses on her studies while Yuu is the dreamer who Haruka tries to motivate. The basic idea is that opposite personalities attract one another, this title uses this but adds the same sex relationship as a way of being different.
The majority of other anime doesn’t even bother giving love interests such details. For editorials sake here’s a few examples of popular titles.
Death Note was an extremely popular manga and anime created by Tsugumi Ohba and later directed by Tetsuro Araki. The series main character was Light, a young genius that has the power to kill anyone he wants with the use of a notebook given to him by an angel of death.
Light is shown at first as being bored in life, but once the book is given to him he seems to have purpose. He wants to be a god and ends up letting the power go to his head.
The stories main female character, and Lights love interests is Misa Amane, a pop Idol who’s so devoted to Light that she has no other character traits past her love for him.
Over the course of the series she’s used as a tool for Light as she sacrifices her life or rather life span to help Light in his plans. Beyond that she stands in the background and fawns over the horrible man.
Another example is Highschool of the Dead created by Daisuke Sato and also directed by Araki. The show follows a group of survivors of the zombie apocalypse. However, the main female leads are all charactures rather than developed people.
Rei is a glorified damsel in distress who’s soul purpose is to argue with main character Takashi, Saeko is the sword touting killing machine who doesn’t have a heart, Saya is a know-it-all that yells at everyone she meets and Shizuka is…well this pictures sums it up doesn’t it?
Minni from Macross/Robotech? Sociopaths who almost ruins Rick Hunter’s life.
Yuno from Future Diary? Insane in the membrane.
While it might seem like I’m picked on smaller elements of the stories (at least Tetsuro Araki directed a better title in Attack on Titan where female characters have backstories and motivations) these are popular titles that have feature laughable female leads at best.
Not only is Sakura Trick well written but its kind of heart warming at times to see two well rounded characters who fall in love.
Now I’m not saying that all Yuri are well told stories, in fact I’m sure there are more than a few that dive deeply into male fantasies and feature lack luster characters, but with no expectations I was amazed just how interesting and funny Sakura Trick was.
Lesbian literature is nothing new, but it’s interesting to take a dive into something new and being surprised about what you see.
Sakura Trick was based upon a Manga series created by Tachi and was produced by Stuido Deen. The title has been licensed by Sentai Filmworks but is streaming on Crunchyroll.