steven universe animation

From princesses to shapeshifters: Animation and queerness

Discussions of queerness in film and television don’t often mention animation.

People usually don’t take cartoons or anime all that seriously, and a lot of content is indeed aggressively heterosexual. 

But many cartoon shows have given us a range of queer representation, even with homophobic backlash and being banned in countries that still see queerness as illegal. 

Neon Genesis Evangelion

One of the most emotionally intense anime ever released is Neon Genesis Evangelion

Unfortunately, the English dub available on Netflix is queer erasure. 

The plot of the show is complex, with protagonist Shinji (Casey Mongillo in the Netflix dub) struggling with mental health, having a terrible father, and forming a found family – not unfamiliar experiences for queer people. 

Shinji being queer isn’t simply speculation. In a later chapter of the 2006 manga, he confirms his feelings for a character named Kaworu. 

In the original English version of the anime, their relationship isn’t ambiguous, with Kaworu’s confessing his love being a pivotal moment in Shinji’s life. 

Despite controversy about Netflix’s horrible choices regarding the translations, a nice tidbit is that actor Casey Mongillo is nonbinary. 

Image: YouTube | Netflix Anime.

Adventure Time

A show about a boy and his adoptive brother (who happens to be a dog) who live in The Candy Kingdom may not sound queer. 

But much about Adventure Time is, such as themes of rejecting gender norms, embracing the weird and whimsical, gender fluidity, and explicitly queer characters. 

The relationship between Princess Bubblegum (Hynden Walch) and Marceline the Vampire Queen (Olivia Olson) is the most notable queer relationship in the show.

Throughout the series, they are heavily implied to have been together at some point. 

The finale did what regular shows don’t, completely canonising the relationship as the pair kissed. 

Their relationship was explored even further in their special episodes. 

To have that visibility, in a show for kids and adults, is still major. 

Image: YouTube | Adventure Time.

Steven Universe

This show is more a journey than anything else, and a very queer journey at that. 

It follows the adventures of a young boy, Steven Universe (Zach Callison), who lives with the alien Crystal Gems – Garnet (Estelle), Amethyst (Michaela Dietz), and Pearl (Deedee Magno Hall).

Most of the characters are explicitly queer and defy gender, providing various representation. 

Creator Rebecca Sugar is queer herself, and that makes it all the more special. 

The relationships in the show range from tragic to beautiful. 

Pearl spends most of the show in grief over Rose Quartz, Steven’s mother, showing that grieving and heavy heartbreak aren’t solely for cishet men.

Garnet, who is two Gems together, shows a healthier queer love. 

The representation and impact of the show will be long-lasting for sure.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

This version of the anime follows the same plot as Fullmetal Alchemist (2003).

Brothers Edward (Vic Mignogna) and Alphonse Elric (Maxey Whitehead) undergo alchemist training to bring back their deceased mother, which backfires and changes their lives. 

It’s a great anime that explores themes like genocide and corrupt leadership, but it isn’t big on queer representation.

The one character who should be mentioned is Envy (Wendy Powell), a genderless homunculus who embodies envy. 

Their humanoid appearance is very androgynous, and they have the ability to shapeshift, which is interesting considering they are agender. 

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure 

Listing the explicitly queer and queer-coded characters in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is almost impossible because there are so many, and that’s certainly a good thing. 

Almost all the main characters, including antagonists, fall into one of those categories, and the manga that came well before the anime is just as queer.

jojo's bizarre adventure
Image: YouTube | DarkCatapulter.

Every part of the series features queer moments, queer people, and clothing that doesn’t adhere to heteronormative standards – and that’s just pertaining to the men. 

Part 5 (Golden Wind or Vento Aureo) is especially drenched in queerness, including its characters, attire, relationships, and vibes. 

It’s a glorious and bold anime, one that isn’t afraid to throw a middle finger up to heteronormativity. 

The series has more parts to explore, such as the upcoming anime adaptation of Stone Ocean, and others that have yet to be added.

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