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Why Anime Needs to Rethink its Gay Villain Stereotypes

In the vast, vibrant world of anime, we encounter an intriguing range of characters and stories, each imbued with unique personalities and engaging narratives. But sometimes, the use of certain tropes can veer towards unfair representation. Among these, the character type of the gay villain, often portrayed as an 'obsessive ex-boyfriend' archetype, has started to draw criticism.

Consider the iconic anime series Naruto, where characters like Orochimaru, while not explicitly gay, are often depicted with traits stereotypically associated with homosexuality, like effeminate mannerisms and an obsession with the male protagonist. Or another reference of making Madara like an "obsessive ex" with Hashirama giving them like a Shakespearean love tragedy (if watched with a certain lens). And it's not just Naruto. There are tons of anime that focus on bromances that work, but then make at least one of them seem like an obsessive ex-boyfriend.

These portrayals have the potential to foster harmful stereotypes in general. I love Naruto ships overall and also like how some ships seem more canon than others, but this isn't a Naruto discussion (yet).

Delving deeper, we often find that these teased or supposedly gay villains aren't given nuanced arcs or redeemable qualities. Instead, they're used as plot devices, often subjected to a bitter end or serving to bolster the straight main character's storyline. A case in point is Hisoka from Hunter x Hunter, who, with his obsessive and perverse tendencies towards the young male protagonists, has become a poster child for this trope. Many anime follow this portrayal and thus make it seem like all potential gay characters are or should be like Hisoka (which is concerning).

These characterizations risk reducing homosexuality to a trope of obsession and villainy. Rather than expanding representation, it can inadvertently associate 'gayness' with negative connotations, which is a far cry from the diverse realities of the LGBTQ+ community.

This villain trope often fuels the 'macho alpha dog' narrative of the straight main characters, showcasing their power, dominance, and often their heterosexuality. "Look I'm the main character! Look how straight I am for destroying a more fem male character!" Like it's gross, annoying and needs to stop. And it's only with male characters. If it's Yuri it's celebrated, at times over sexualized, but not mocked or berated.

The anime Bleach, for instance, features the character Yylfordt Granz, whose interest in Renji Abarai is suggestive, and yet it seems to mainly serve as a setup for Renji's triumphant win against him.

While it does make for a compelling hero vs villain face-off, it also reduces the hinted gay villain to a mere foil, lacking in depth or complexity. And when these characters meet an unfortunate end, it sends a skewed message about homosexuality, implying that it somehow aligns with villainy.

The great power of anime, and storytelling in general, is its ability to influence cultural norms and perspectives. By portraying gay characters as villains and then condemning them, we miss an opportunity to foster understanding and acceptance of identities.

So how do we correct this? The answer lies in better representation. An example of this is the character Yuri Katsuki from Yuri!!! on Ice, who is depicted as gay but not villainous, showcasing a more nuanced and positive portrayal of a gay character.

Anime creators have the creative license to portray characters as they please, and yes, villains can be gay. However, the repeated pattern of making the gay character the villain needs thoughtful examination.

While the "obsessive ex-boyfriend" gay villain trope provides dramatic narrative tension, its overuse can inadvertently spread harmful stereotypes about the LGBTQ+ community. As fans and consumers of anime, we can enjoy the excitement and drama of the genre while also advocating for more diverse and respectful representation.

After all, the LGBTQ+ community isn't a monolith, and its representation in anime shouldn't be, either. It's time to move beyond the binary of "villain" or "angelic side character" and embrace the full spectrum of experiences and personalities within this community.

An anime like Banana Fish, for instance, offers a step in the right direction. It presents a gay relationship between its protagonists, neither of whom are villainized for their sexuality. They are complex, multi-dimensional characters that challenge the status quo of representation in anime.

And that, dear anime and BL lovers, is something truly worth getting excited about!


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