Saturday, October 1, 2011

And now for something different, Diversity in everything else under the sun

 As I said in the first post, books are hardly the only kind of fiction I consume. I read somewhere between 30 and 50 webcomics a week, I've spent this past summer watching waaaaay too much anime and rounded that out with a few movies and tv shows and I've noticed some interesting and different trends in each medium concerning LGTB and PoC characters. So I'll cover all of that in this post starting with anime and working my way through each medium (warning, I watch/read some really weird stuff, it's just that most of it is good weird stuff). As a refresher, the point of the original challenge by the Diversity in YA people was:
By diverse we mean: (1) main characters or major secondary characters (e.g., a love interest or best friend kind of character) who are of color or are LGBT; or (2) written by a person of color or LGBT author.
LGTB=Lesbian, Gay, Transsexual or Bisexual
PoC=Person of Color, anyone who isn't of white European ancestory

Despite the fact that I watch a lot of anime I'm actually even less of the target audience for it than I am for western YA novels but since that didn't stop me from talking about books I don't see why that should stop me from talking about anime. Also, in the context of this challenge, anime is a bit odd since all of these titles are produced by Japanese staff (original creators, voice actors, directors, producers and animators in most cases) and nearly every show is set in Japan so, hair colors notwithstanding, most of these shows feature entirely Japanese casts as well. However, most of these anime are really lacking in the LGTB character department and sadly in the strong female character department as well (and almost every foreigner that appears in any anime ever will be heavily stereotyped, Japan has some issues there). However, when I was making up this list I noticed something funny, the shows that aren't explicitly set in Japan (in most cases I can tell just by looking at the architecture or other little things) actually do much better in in LGTB/PoC departments so I'm going to highlight those shows instead.

An odd first example is Tiger and Bunny which was actually designed with marketing to an American audience in mind, abet probably not myself in mind (a male 14-22 year old audience although, thanks to a huge female following in Japan, never underestimate the fujoshi, it's become a hit over there as well). The basic concept is that it's an alternate New York City where people with superpowers (NEXT) exist and some of them work as superheroes that are sponsored by big companies in the city. Despite the weird set-up for the show (it's basically a buddy-cop movie with superheroes instead of cops who are corporate mascots with real world companies helping sponsor the show) it's a really good reconstruction of the American superhero genre and I would whole-heartedly recommend it to people who aren't bit fans of the superhero genre such as myself and it has a surprisingly diverse cast. However, at first glance it's a bit cringe worthy, one of the heros (Nathan/Fire Emblem) is a twofer character, black and gay, and he's flamboyently gay with fire superpowers, he's a flaming gay! Honestly, from seeing an interview or two about how the show was designed and it appears the staff had (and possibly still don't) have any idea about that stereotype, and generally today we would say "camp" instead of "flaming" but it's still a pretty cringe-worthy moment (apparently one of the real-world sponsors decided not to sponsor him after finding out he was gay which is really unfortunate). Later episodes show that he's a very capable character and he gets fleshed out (he's actually the CEO of the biggest energy company in the city) but it takes a few episodes to get to that point. And, while he is the only LGTB character he is far from being the only PoC character, a good portion of the cast is. One of the leads (Kotetsu/Wild Tiger) is Japanese (he's a native to the city though, his hometown is just outside and has the unfortunate name of "Oriental Town" the general fan theory is that his mother is from Japan) and one of the side characters appears to be Japanese based on his name, Doc Saito. Pao Lin (/Dragon Kid) is shown to be from either China or Hong Kong, Antonio (/Rock Bison) is Hispanic and I've seen people suspect that one of the major villains, Jake Martinez, was also Hispanic based on his name (I can't tell from looking at him since frankly I'm more interested in his multi-colored hair and tattoos). Yet another character (Ivan/Origami Cyclon) is also explicitly stated to be from Russia (although that would make him just white, the entire fandom questions his sexuality however and there are some canon hints that could be taken either way) and Kotetsu's former manager (who appears a lot in the second half of the show) is black, all in all making for an incredibly diverse show with the main cast alone. I actually have a theory about this, since it was a more diverse show than normal that was being produced for a more American audience, so remember that, I'm coming back to it later on. 

Next up is an example which I kinda think fits and kinda think it doesn't, No. 6. The two main characters in this show are male and while some people didn't think any of it at first (I didn't) there were some shippers who were hoping that it would become a boy's love series (although it seems like most of them already knew the story before the anime started or waited a few episodes before really starting to hope) and then there were tons and tons of people who whined about the characters being "teh gay" after just one episode, because the two characters (both 12) fell asleep holding hands. That's pretty disturbing that people are put off of a show for something not even specifically romantic like that which does bring me to the problem with listing this show here, it's never made explicitly clear if our two leads (Sion and Nezumi) are in a romantic relationship or have romantic feelings for each other. If there was a word for the kind of relationship that is between platonic and romantic then that's what I would label them as but the author of the original novels intentionally wrote a very ambiguous relationship between them (I think she said in one interview she was tired of seeing how the main boy and girl of a story would be paired up, something I found interesting especially after a friend said that people wouldn't be freaking out if one of the characters was a girl instead, or possibly if they were both girls) so it's hard to tell. And having said that, there are two, on the lip kisses between the two boys (and clearly shown on screen, no cuts to black or to an alternate view to make it hard to tell) which is still considered a bit unusual and, as one poster I saw pointed out, you have to be in a certain kind of relationship for that to be considered normal.

Finally, the third show I've seen this past summer which I thought best fit this challenge (again, by the challenge's definition practically any anime would have actually qualified) was CroiseƩ in a Foreign Labyrinth, a rather sweet show about a young Japanese girl (Yune) who comes to 1880s Paris to help manage a shop as an apprenticeship of sorts and the culture clash between her and the rest of the cast comes up quite often. Sometimes it's played for laughs and other times it's more serious (with one character, usually Claude but this happens to Yune as well quite often, misunderstanding the other because they are still adjusting to how people of the other culture feel/act and then apologizing to make things right). It's a character driven series so those bits make up a good deal of the series and, since I remember calling out Clockwork Angel on it earlier, no Yune does not experience any kind of racism which would be expected towards an Asian person in 1880s France. However, unlike Clockwork Angel, it would have been completely against the mood of the series so I'm glad the author chose to focus on how the difference in race effects Yune's relationships with other characters rather than how the world as a whole perceives her.

Related to anime, I also read a far bit of manga when I have time and sadly there are very few PoC or LGBT characters in any of the series I read. I will say however that I prefer to read stories without any romance in them so a good half of the series I follow don't have any romance in them at all (either the characters are too young or just too busy with the plot to have a relationship, straight or otherwise). I will admit that I do read a lot of shojo (which, if the story isn't primarily a romance to start with usually has it as a strong secondary genre) but even the stuff I'm reading is generally a decade or two old, American YA wasn't that diverse back in the '80s or '90s either. I would really like to see more stories with diversity in mainstream titles, not relgating PoC characters to side positions or LGBT characters just to BL and GL stories. Finally, this applies to the anime as well, in most series I'm not looking for PoC or LGTB characters, I'm looking for a capable female lead, if a medium is having a hard time representing half of a population I'm not expecting them to be any better at representing minorities.

Some summers I watch a lot of movies and some summers I don't, this was one of the summers where I didn't see a lot of movies (although I am starting to catch up with what my school is showing). The only two recently made movies I've seen recently that come to mind are Thor and X-Men: First Class which aren't really great in this department either. Thor actually did alright with having some likable and capable female and PoC side characters, many of whom I thought were even cooler than the main characters, but they were only side characters and the story probably could have existed without them. X-Men was a bit strange because by the very end of the story every character who wasn't white and male (and presumably straight, none of the characters had any indications that they weren't straight) was evil. Since the story already had to contradict some of X-Men continuity couldn't they have worked around this? Heck, that's the first time in a while I've seen the "black man dies first" trope played straight and didn't even make any sense in this context, it just felt like they weren't even trying here.

When I was first coming up with the categories for this post I thought "oh crap, but I don't watch any tv!" and then I remembered that Doctor Who was airing this summer and breathed a sigh of relief. Back when I started watching DW two years ago (starting with the 2005 series and working my way up to the currently airing episodes) I was surprised at how many PoC or LGTB background characters there were in the episodes set in contemporary Britain. The UK has an even higher population of Caucasian people than the US does (90% vs 72%, source Wikipedia) so the show could have been technically accurate if it had had all white background characters, by not doing so it highlighted to me just how strange US television is for doing just that. When the first episode of the current season premiered this year there was some discussion on the internet on the fact that there was a black secret service man who was personally assigned to President Nixon, set in 1969, something that many people, including several who self-identified as PoC, found strange. Apparently there were black secret service men at this time but some people still debated whether someone like Nixon would have had one on their personal staff and someone made a comment that really struck me, there was a black man there because the British audience expected to see one there. Going back to Tiger and Bunny, who also had a much more diverse cast set in a US setting than a US show in a US setting would have, the world seems to view the US as a diverse country (which it is) and therefore makes an extra effort to show them that way in their stories, something we don't seem to do, wohoops. And beyond that one scene character, there are two couples (one lesbian and one gay) in the mid-season finale, two characters who fit the challenge's definition but would be spoilers to mention, and a Muslim girl who was an important character in one episode and who I really really liked. Also, before people point out that these characters normally end up dead by the end of the episode, most side characters in DW who are kinda important to the story but not especially end up dead, gender/sexuality/skin tone play no part in it. Thankfully the series doesn't kill off as many characters as it used to (one reason I like the switch in showrunners) but it does tend to kill off a lot of great characters that way. And, since I've rambled too long on just one property now, check out this great post for a breakdown on all PoC/LGTB characters in NuWho and other details.


  1. Tiger and Bunny and Croisee are wonderful anime examples xD

    I think No.6 is one of the "mangaka-wants-it-gay-but-can't-so-trying-not-to-make-it-gay" types. Ugh, whatever. Gay or not, I hate the characters and the plot. Hmph. (LOLz, not throwing tantrums at you. I just... don't like it)

  2. I actually have read an interview or two saying that she was trying to make an ambiguous relationship partially because she was tired of how people always assumed that a male and female lead would get together. And I have to admit, I'm less happy with the anime now that I've read some of the light novel snippets/summaries, the story just seemed to flow much better there.