In my last article, I talked about how I was once a homophobe. In a strange twist of events, I have recently come to recognize that I am actually asexual.
So imagine my delight and surprise to find that Bloom Into You isn’t just a story about two girls developing feelings in high school. Bloom Into You is a story about Yuu, an undoubtedly asexual girl, struggling to understand her own situation.
Many people have a misconception that being asexual (also referred to as ACE) automatically means that you are never attracted to anyone. That is not necessarily true, the first being asexuality like sexuality as a whole works on a scale. Terms such as Grey ACE describes people who take a much, much longer time developing sexual attraction, where one must first fall in romantic love before ever feeling a physical term. This is a term usually prescribed to Yuu’s situation. The second being that in psychology, attraction works in two dimensions. Usually, people have both dimensions – romantic attraction and sexual attraction. Romantic attraction generally centers around personality traits such as mannerisms and ideals. Sexual attraction generally centers around physical aspects, such as height, eyes, hair, and the general desire for physical contact.
Asexual people simply lack the sexual attraction. They recognize the beauty in physicalities, but it never translates into actually desiring physical contact. Kissing sometimes doesn’t leave a mark on their emotional states, and any sexual activity is often described as a task to simply complete versus an enjoyable activity one yearns for or need with some finding it outright repulsive. That being said, asexual people do feel romantic attraction. Many have the desire to be in relationships and are sometimes married with children in society. However, because they are missing one half of the equation that translates into developing feelings for a romantic counterpart, asexuals are often observed to take a longer time when it comes to “falling in love” with their boyfriend or girlfriend.
When I had my first kiss with my past boyfriend at a time when the relationship was still in the honeymoon stage, my first thought was, “Is that it?” I felt no thrills, no excitement, and not any bit happier or upset that he kissed me. When Yuu had her first kiss stolen by Nanami, her first thought was also, “Was that it?” Yuu’s self-reflection and struggle to understand why she seems to be incapable of falling in love paralleled my own questions of why I seem to take so long to feel deeply when in a relationship. The relatability was so painfully realistic that I felt my chest tighten seeing a reflection of myself on screen, almost crying at feeling understood.
So, Bloom Into You started as a wholly unique story for representation with just Yuu. Yet the anime has jumped far beyond my expectations as it not only leaps beyond the usual yuri and shoujo-ai limitations, but it also completely shatters them. As mentioned in my previous article on my qualms of the yaoi and shounen-ai genre, much of the same criticisms exist for lesbian relationships. One girl is usually forced into the relationship physically. Power imbalance isn’t as much of an issue, but mental and emotional manipulation comes more into play. Relationships jump from 0 to 100. The characters are incredibly flat. And once again, LGBTQ relationships have become nothing more than a fetish for other people’s fantasies with particular attention to boobs and butts in the drawings.
Bloom Into You taunted my discerning eye by throwing all my criticisms into the trash can. The first thing is that the girls are drawn incredibly normal. There’s varying body shapes that completely make sense to growing girls with no attention ever actually placed on their bodies at any point or time. TROYCA, the studio that produced Bloom Into You, deserves particular praise in this choice as it is more often that an anime studio decides on providing more fanservice than the actual source material. In the team’s conscious decision to keep the focus on the eyes and face where emotions are reflected, they prove their dedication to the story they want to tell: developing emotions between two high school girls, simple and straightforward.
And slow and gradual are these developing emotions. Since Yuu is asexual, all her emotions towards Nanami would have to develop in the romantic dimension. Nanami is pushy at times, but what’s particularly telling is that Yuu is not insecure. She does not give in because she feels the need to. Even though she might not feel the desire to kiss or cuddle, she certainly still has the curiosity to explore and see if her lack of feelings towards such romantic gestures would change the way she sees Nanami. Her decision is hers alone. Missing is the toxic emotional manipulation often seen, and the relationship literally cannot jump around so quickly if the author is to remain truthful to how asexuals develop feelings in the first place.
However, while Yuu is so unique, I at first found Nanami to be incredibly flat. She’s a girl who just randomly and supposedly falls in love with Yuu, declares it, and of course is hiding a secret insecure side despite being such a perfect student. That is, until the narration shifts into Nanami’s point of view and reveals an incredibly complex and flawed girl who is also trying to find herself behind this mask of perfection. And the best revelation of it all is that Nanami is incredibly selfish. She chose to fall in love in hopes of never being loved without ever telling that to Yuu all the while desperately seeking affection from the asexual girl. She is not a flat perfect character with a perfect flaw. She is literal imperfection.
But the biggest surprise of them all is actually Sayaka, Nanami’s best friend who is secretly in love with her. Rarely are love rivals given background or development in the first place, but I think Sayaka’s backstory is the most important element that elevates Bloom Into You far and beyond other lesbian relationship stories. Through Sayaka, Nio Nakatani, mangaka of Bloom into You, directly confronts the idea of sexuality and erases the idea that sexuality is ever a phase.
One of the biggest problems in LGBTQ stories in anime is oftentimes, the characters suddenly find themselves attracted to a character of the same sex without ever exploring why. It’s something that just happens and gets accepted. This is actually something that even Banana Fish fails to do. However, in Bloom Into You, Sayaka discovers her attraction to girls instead of guys in middle school and spends the remainder of her middle school life attempting to quell that fact. She tries to convince herself that she was going through a weird hormonal phase, and it isn’t until she laid eyes on Nanami, whom she found absolutely beautiful, did she accept that she was undoubtedly a lesbian who is not just going through a phase at all.
The anime took it even further by introducing an adult lesbian couple who had been in a long term relationship for years and would undoubtedly be married if they were allowed to. One of the adults becomes a mentor figure to Sayaka, and once again sexuality is directly confronted when the character asks her, “Are you into girls?” and says “Is she not into girls that way?” when asking about Nanami’s sexuality. She goes on to help Sayaka feel more confident about her lesbian status, helping the younger character talk through her insecurities. It is a beautiful illustration of the struggles that LGBTQ people have to confront during their teenage years. On top of that, the addition of this longterm couple proves that LGBTQ people have not “increased” throughout the years. They have always existed and been around, only in hiding because society and governments aren’t willing to accept them.
What’s profoundly interesting about the Banana Fish and Bloom Into You is how different the two are in comparison of stories and characters. While Banana Fish favors an unpredictable plot with hardy characters fighting for their lives to lead the relationship between Ash and Eiji, Bloom Into You favors straightforwardness and calmness with relatively normal characters to explore the relationship between Yuu and Nanami. But no matter how different the two look in regards to the details, their underlying strengths are what led to both of their successes. Themes of truth, emotional development, and well-written stories.
Just slapping together a LGBTQ couple and putting them on the screen isn’t enough to make an impact on people. Neither does it truly represent the community. DAKAICHI – I’m being Harassed by the Sexiest Man of the Year, a Fall 2018 yaoi anime, and Citrus, a Winter 2018 yuri anime, are prime examples. While Banana Fish never left the Top 10 during the Summer season, managing to score 4th place in the Summer Awards, and winning the last week advantage on the Anime Trending polls, DAKAICHI’s highest spot has been 15th place and has continued to drop since then. And although Citrus started strong at the beginning of the Winter season, even earning 1st place at one point, it failed to snag a nomination for the big Anime of the Year award ending in 10th place. Meanwhile, Bloom Into You has only gained momentum since it started.
And the numbers on our polls prove that as long as you can present a good story, even if the characters and themes do not align with someone’s personal views, you are capable of enticing change and spreading true awareness and equality. Bloom Into You and Banana Fish present that to the audience this year, and for that reason, I see 2018 as one of the biggest triumphs for the LGBTQ community. I await the future for even more stories such as these to crop up in anime.