AnimeNEXT – Asexuality in the Anime Fandom – Discussion! (Not Notes?!)

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By: Peggy Sue Wood | @pswediting

This was going to be a “Notes” post, but since no note-taking was done, I decided to invite you all into a discussion with me. 

At AnimeNEXT this year (2021), James Williams hosted the panel “Asexuality in the Anime Fandom.” The panel description was as follows, “Many anime fans identify themselves as asexual, and many asexual characters appear in anime. Join a discussion about asexuality in the anime fandom, led by an openly asexual anime fan with autism who has enjoyed anime since childhood.”

Part One & Three (and subsequent parts) of the panel were just reflections by the host on their experience with asexuality–from finding themselves to finding the anime fandom and the experiences they have had in the community thus far. Part Two went into representation found in anime. In fact, the title of Part Two is: “What asexual representation can be found within anime and related fandoms?” In which, Williams discusses that there are a lot of characters that show ace-tendencies; however, as I continued to listen I decided I needed to step in (not literally) and address the topic. 

This is a topic I–Peggy–am passionate about, which is why I want to open a discussion here and make my own additions. 

When people generally talk about “ace-tendencies” in an anime or manga, they are often pointing to characters that don’t show an interest in forming a love-based relationship with another character. And that’s not–critically speaking–an asexual character. 

Now, there is nothing wrong with seeing a part of yourself in a character or applying your own interpretation to one as Williams does in this panel. However, again–critically speaking–the standards for representation should at least be able to withstand scrutiny equal to a college level paper. (If my interpretation of Dr. Frankenstein displaying homosexual-tendencies had too–so should this, is my humble opinion.)

Plenty of people on a regular basis may have no interest in forming relationships with those around them. I know lots of people who didn’t date in high school because they weren’t ready and as an adult I’ve found even more that don’t want to be in relationship but do want to have sex. And, really, it’s the sex part that defines the character. 

In the romance genre, we can’t say that characters like Makoto Sunakawa from My Love Story or Umetarou Nozaki from Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun are asexual just because they don’t show sexual interest in another character. But people sometimes declare them to be asexual, when–in reality–we just don’t know. More likely than not, Umetarou Nozaki is just dumber than a doornail and busy with work/school so he’s not focused on a relationship right now. And Makoto Sunakawa, who is constantly getting offers and recognizes that a lot of people just like him for his looks is probably less interested in sex or forming a relationship than others because he knows they don’t like him for him and because many of the girls offering are mean to his best friend. He does go out with Yukika Amami once, but ultimately rejects her feelings because he’s not interested in the relationship. Still, that is NOT a clear sign of asexuality. 

In recent history, I can only think of a few really well implied asexual characters in media, one being the main character of the webnovel(?) I Became the First Prince in which a sword becomes human and literally shows no interest in people sexually despite having women regularly, verbally sexualized around him by other men and even some men being described very handsomely (at least not in the 150+ chapters I’ve read so far). It’s that overt introduction of sexual opportunity and the full lack of not only a response (blushing, commentary, etc.) but any lust-implied interest in another for their body. It’s just another person they care for but have no interest in physically pursuing. That, in my mind, is a representation of “ace-tendencies” unlike some of the examples given in the panel or in many listicles you may find online.

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And, of course, characters like Izaya Orihara from Durarara!! who outright states asexuality (as in, he says he has no interest in males or females though he does not use the asexual label verbally), are legit representations. Another example would be Shouko Tanimoto from The Case Files of Jeweler Richard and I’m sure there are a few more. I think characters that the author has declared to be asexual could also count, although I usually leave out author statements (I’m a pretty die-hard supporter of the “death of the author” critical theory). Still, characters like Peridot from Steven Universe would count, by creator commentary, as would Alastor from Hazbin Hotel

I’d be interested in hearing from you all about this subject. Both in terms of representation, whether or not the standards I’ve described match yours, and how you see representation in the medium–maybe your experiences in the fandom if you identify as ace. (Seriously, feel free to reply to this post, reblog with a comment, or reach out to me. I’d love to discuss it more.) 

That being said, and in conclusion, I don’t think that this panel was really a discussion about asexuality in anime or the anime fandom so much as a discussion of the host/guest’s experiences. Was it a bad panel? No. It just is not a panel that required or invited a notes post. Nor did it really open a discussion as it was mostly two people reflecting and talking to each other about how they see representation and what their experiences have been.

So, what are your thoughts? I look forward to hearing them.

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