How an Obscure 90s Anime is Still One of the Most Progressive Shows Around

animeThis post is coming a bit later than I’d hoped, but I am making a post this week as promised. I will get back to my once a week schedule, and hopefully, eventually back to twice a week. Now, I know there’s been a lot going on in the news, most of it having to do with the elections, but I neither feel like discussing that, nor do I feel like most of you want to hear more about it. It’s scary. So instead, I decided I would discuss a more lighthearted issue today: 90s anime. Now, by American standards, I’m probably not considered otaku anymore, though by Japanese standards, I might be, but not for anime. That said, I do love me some good anime, and I actually learned a lot of Japanese from watching anime when I was younger. In the rare hours between working, sleeping, and school (got an A in one course confirmed already, and the other is likely to also be an A, just waiting on the final to be graded), I’ve been rewatching a series I loved as a kid back in the 90s: Yu Yu Hakusho.

The basic premise of the show wasn’t that far off from anything else you’d see around that time: middle school kid gets saddled with magic powers and has to protect the world. In this case though, it’s not a princess from the moon or a kid with a pokemon, but rather, a teenage delinquent who gets killed saving a young child from being hit by a car. Literally, the entire first episode is dedicated to watching the last day of hero Yusuke’s life, followed by his wake. Yeah, the first episode brings me to tears and I know where it’s going. See, Yusuke then spends the next few episodes undergoing a trial to come back to life (as his death wasn’t scheduled or expected), and in return, he gains powers tying him to the spirit realm, and thus has to help protect the human realm from criminals of the spirit and demon realms. It was a great show, though it often got overshadowed by Dragonball Z, which is a shame, because Yu Yu Hakusho has far less filler, making it go at a steady pace, and because it’s actually an amazingly progressive show, even compared to what we see today.

You may or may not have seen Ass Kicking Equality regarding the show making the rounds, as it’s done for a while now, but it’s actually true. Let’s take that first panel into detail to give you an example of what I mean. In episode 24 of the show (titled “The Deadly Triad” in English and “Terrifyingly Mighty Foes! The Sankishu” in the original Japanese), Yusuke and Kuwabara face off against a trio of foes, one at a time. Their first opponent is a woman named Miyuki, and Kuwabara, being the “honorable man” character, refuses to fight her. Miyuki calls him out on this, declaring it as discrimination. Yusuke steps forward, saying he’ll fight her, and when Kuwabara protests, saying that there are just some things a man can’t do, Yusuke states that he doesn’t care who his opponent is, be they a woman, old, or a baby, he will fight anyone who seeks to fight him. Throughout the brief fight, we see this to be true, though there’s one spot where it’s clear that Yusuke groped her breasts at the start of the fight.

After the fight is over, and Kuwabara is chewing Yusuke out for being so rough on a woman, Yusuke declares that Miyuki is actually a man, which he found out when he copped a feel at the start of the fight, of not just the chest, but also of her crotch. Now hold on before you get outraged, because the scene doesn’t end there, though it does seem to make Yusuke out to be bad. See, Miyuki protests that she may have been born a male, but in her heart, she is all female. Yusuke then chews her out for this, stating something along the lines of “If you’re a man, then don’t half ass it. And if you’re a woman, then make it so that your body and heart are unified as one.” Sure, it doesn’t account for non-operative transsexuals or those of other gender identities, but considering what we see so much of today even on “progressive” shows, that’s impressive. A 14 year old boy in the early 90s (that episode first aired March 27, 1993 in Japan and wouldn’t see a US airing until a decade later, April 4th, 2003 to be exact) has basically just told his opponent “I don’t care if you’re transsexual, just don’t half-ass it. Be all the woman you can be.”

For comparison, let’s look at Orange is the New Black. I love the show, and I’ve made posts discussing it as well, but in all honesty, its treatment of Sophia is not good at all. Now, I know they try to be realistic, to a point, but every other character gets to have moments of levity between the metaphorical beatings they receive. Sophia is just one hit after another after another, and pretty much every scene she’s in is all about her being trans, and often with derision cast at her by the other inmates. Even the one scene she has that’s not really about her being trans is still about genitals, as she’s teaching the other inmates about their vaginas (and gets a “I should know, I designed my own” joke about her being trans in there as well). Now, I can joke about being trans, because you have to be able to in order to get by in our modern society. But for all the applause lauded at OitNB for Sophia’s character, she receives none of these scenes, instead being forced into worse and worse situations. It is, as many have said, just torture porn for privileged people. They just keep pushing the envelope further and further with how poorly they can treat their characters (usually the gay, black, and latina characters), trying to outdo themselves with each new season. And the sad truth is, that’s sadly how it is in prison for many.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, for all of it’s hyped up for television nature, OitNB is closer to real life than many other prison shows, and that’s not always a good thing. I would rather watch a 14 year old boy beat up a trans woman once before encouraging her to be the best damn trans woman she can than keep watching a show with an actual trans woman playing a trans character who is constantly being beat down. I watch TV to escape from the horrors of the real world, and I don’t need my news feed following me into my entertainment. So yes, an anime series from the early 90s about a 14 year old boy who beats up everyone is more progressive in many ways than a current running show that is winning tons of awards. If you like anime, definitely look into it.

And send me questions using the “Ask Caitlin” link at the top of every page. Once I start getting some, I’ll answer them here in a sort of “Trans Dear Abby” format.

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