Last night I was checking out some of the new anime for the winter season, and one of the anime I watched was Haruchika: Haruta to Chika wa Seishun Suru (referred to as Haruchika from now on). Haruchika tells the story of a highschool girl who used to be a tomboy, but wishes to become a “cute girl”. In order to accomplish this, she joins the music club in her school, where she finds out that one of her friends from childhood, Haruta, a boy, is also there. She develops a crush for their 26-year-old male attractive music teacher, which is when she discovers that Haruta (I repeat, a boy), also has a crush on him. OH NO, THE HORROR.
WARNING: Slight NSFW talk and images
Short explanation in case you’re not familiar with anime, its genres and how homosexuality works in this medium (otherwise, skip to next paragraph): First things first, anime is a medium that is highly stereotyped and where series are restricted to labels. For example, if you’ve watched more than three anime of the same genre, you’ll soon realize that you’re starting to see common patterns, from the characterization to the events that happen in the stories. Overtime, it can become boring and predictable, which is why it’s so hard to find good, unique popular anime. After all, Japanese people usually like these formulas and, while having 5-10 series that are pretty much identical wouldn’t work in the West, it actually works wonders in Japan. Labels are much more important in anime than they are for western TV shows. When deciding what TV show to watch next, we usually check the synopsis and the trailer, but we barely ever look at the genres (after all, genres are very limited and everything seems to fall under ‘Drama, Comedy, Action’ and not much else). However, choosing an anime to watch is like opening a menu, reading the ingredients and deciding what you feel like watching for that day. Why am I telling you all this? Because it’s actually very relevant to understanding the backlash that Haruchika got. “Yaoi” or “shounen ai” are used to refer to male homosexual relationships, while “yuri” or “shoujo ai” are used for female homosexual relationships. Meaning that, if you see a homosexual relationship in an anime, you won’t be surprised because you had already read the labels and agreed to them. The fact that TV shows like Orange is the new black, Orphan Black or Modern Family could be labeled under “queer relationships” is unthinkable to us, right?
This is where Haruchika is different. The anime was labeled under ‘Mystery’, ‘Romance’, ‘School’ and ‘Slice of Life’. Not a mention of ‘yaoi’ or ‘shounen ai’. I went into the episode expecting to see a fun school anime with music themes and some mystery on the side. I finished the episode and I was pretty happy with what I saw, but, apparently, that wasn’t everyone’s reaction. So many people were dropping the series JUST because one of the main characters is gay! The discussion was everywhere: Youtube, comment sections of anime sites and especially on the MyAnimeList forums. Reading some of the arguments from homophobic people only made me appreciate Haruchika more for not adding the “yaoi” or “shounen ai” tags, and I’m probably being delusional when I hope that Haruchika is able to start a new trend in which these labels are dropped and left only to hentai. Queer characters shouldn’t be limited to appear in a specific minority of anime. Queer characters should be able to be anywhere because queer people exist, whether you expect them to be there or not. Separating queer relationships by labels doesn’t only feed the wall that separates heterosexual people from LGBT stories, but it also separates queer stories from heterosexual ones, as if they were any different. Heterosexual anime are granted the label of ‘Romance’, while anime containing homosexual relationships are categorized as a specific type of anime and left to a small section of the audience, very often stigmatized (did you know that female viewers who like gay romance are called fujoshi, a term regarded as derogatory?).
This situation has created my personal “favourite” arguments: “I’m not homophobic, I just don’t feel like watching homosexual relationships”. As a bisexual person, I kind of fall in the middle of the spectrum here, but next time I see my gay friend I will ask him if he’s been unable to enjoy any romantic fictional story that our heteronormative society has been feeding us since the moment we were born. Leaving actual homophobes aside, other viewers are annoyed at the fact that “shounen ai” wasn’t tagged and, therefore, they weren’t “warned” about the presence of a non-straight character. That’s what I like to call semi-homophobia: they might not be complete homophobes, but deep down they certainly have some intrinsic preconceptions that they won’t be able to get rid of until they educate themselves on LGBT issues first.
Let it be known, I’m obviously not talking about ALL the anime community (didn’t see any complaints on Tumblr, as expected). And yes, I know that homophobic/semi-homophobic viewers are everywhere and that this is nothing new. That’s why I added the “hypocritical” in the title for this article. Apparently, a big majority of the viewers (mainly, straight macho men) who find yaoi to be “disgusting” (a term I actually found reading reactions for this episode), don’t seem to have any problems with yuri. This fact is rooted in a very common observation in LGBT matters: there are homophobic men who actually enjoy watching lesbian porn (hence lesbianism being often so sexualized). Talk about double standards, huh? And what’s next is even worse, as the hentai genre has some of the weirdest, most problematic genres ever: incest, pedophilia, rape… Apparently, that’s all good, but a high school boy developing a crush for his male music teacher is not. OK.
Overall, this isn’t even about Haruchika. I haven’t read the novels and I can’t judge the whole series after having watched only one episode. Who knows, maybe Haruta is actually bisexual and the romance will eventually be between him and Chika, or maybe they’ll treat his character very badly and he’ll end up being a stereotyped running gag. Also, Haruchika is not even the first anime to do this (remember Shinsekai Yori?). No, this is about innovative anime highlighting an on-going problem in the anime community. I have read people saying that they dropped Haruchika because they were expecting to see a “normal romance”, hence implying that a homosexual romance is “not normal”, but a specific genre only left to “fujoshis” who actually like that stuff. This is a problem that won’t be solved until the the anime industry changes its labelling system, or until these viewers actually realize that they’re being hypocrites and that they should educate themselves because it’s 2016.