Sunday, March 30, 2014

Battle of the Ambiguously Sexual Signifiers, Anime-Style

Honestly, I don’t know enough about anime to proclaim any given scene the most homoerotic-ever.  However, I know an opportunity for over-reading when I see one, and the 80s action series Saint Seiya is fruitful, so to speak.

In the universe of Saint Seiya (or Knights of the Zodiac, depending on what translation you’re watching), saints are armor-clad superheroes who derive their powers from constellations, because no one on the Japanese side of this project knew a Catholic person.

This scene, which comes from the series’ sixth episode, the pits the Andromeda saint — pink armor with an especially busomy-looking breastplate, and don’t forget that the constellation is named for Greek mythology’s No. 1 damsel in distress — against the purple-clad Unicorn saint. The more passive of the two, Andromeda resists fighting, but he’s goaded by Unicorn, whose most outstanding wardrobe feature, it should be noted, is a single protruding horn. “It sounds like the ladies really love you, don’t they, pretty boy?” Unicorn taunts. Andromeda is unflustered. “I’m sad, and filled with emptiness,” he says, which is clunky entendre but which still gets the point across. The two engage. We get a pink-hued freeze frame of the two intertwined — Unicorn looking focused and aggressive, Andromeda looking serene, even pleased.

Andromeda, however, flips the script when he proves more powerful by virtue of his telekinetic control of a chain — a long, snaking instrument that acts like an extension of his body and which has a pointed tip at the end. (“That chain! It’s like a living thing!”) The scene inexplicably shifts to a celestial backdrop, where he’s superimposed on an image of the Andromeda constellation. It’s a mix of signifiers — phallic weapon combined with maiden imagery. Time literally stands still. Unicorn persists in attacking, and Andromeda calmly sends the chains after him, penetrating him repeatedly. (“Of all the parts of the Nebula Chain, the top is the strongest!” Really.) Based on the noises you hear from the crowd (and the reaction shot you see of the Lady Purple Hair), it’s all being done for the delight of female spectators. You don’t hear a single male voice cheering.

The lesson? Appearances are deceiving, and the dude with flowing ladyhair may be the strongest one in the room.

That’s pretty loaded, just from the standpoints of gender and sexuality. I realize there are always problems in a person from one culture using his terms to analyze something produced by a second culture. But no matter how a Japanese audience would have read the scene back in 1986, this guy over in America in 2014 has a hard time not seeing a whole lot of sexual cues.

Why am I watching Saint Seiya in 2014? I don’t really know. I was trying to look up one minor trivia point and ended up finding a cache of the episodes available online. It turns out I like the look of Japanese animation from back when I was a kid even if I wasn’t watching it at the time. I don’t know why. Regardless, the combo of awkward translations plus bizarre line-readings makes for a more entertaining experience than you might think. Case in point: “My cosmos is about to explode,” which is either bad grammar or bad innuendo or both.

The less said about Death Queen Island, the better.

EDIT: I have encountered another.

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