Saturday, February 1, 2014

A Sakura Trick Question: Is It Good For Christians To Watch Yuri Anime?

Whoo, time for probably my most controversial post yet on this blog.

First of all, a bit of a clarification: this question isn’t really a “trick” question (I was just trying to make a pun off the anime title) in the traditional sense. That is, a traditional trick question has a seemingly obvious answer which is actually wrong; however, I have no right or wrong answer for this question, and am posing it to offer it as a point of discussion.

If there is a “trick” to this question, it’s that I did not ask “is it okay for Christians to watch yuri anime?” I think when we Christians discuss discernment in terms of media, we focus too much on whether something (R-rated movies, stories about magic, etc.) are “okay” or not. And to an extent, that is an important question to ask, too. But that question’s nature is simply one of whether a show’s value is negative or not. A show can have absolutely no value for viewing; it’s not offensive and is perfectly “safe” for Christians, but they won’t get anything from it, so what’s the point of watching it? It just feeds into the criticism of entertainment as a brainless waste of time.

In asking if it is “good” to watch something, we instead flip the perspective of the question to whether something has positive value: whether or not there is something worthwhile in spending time on something. Of course, a lot of “good” things are not “safe”, and there may be some things that are “good” in various ways that are just not “okay” for certain people, and they need to avoid it for their own growth, at least for the moment. That is something that is ultimately up to personal conviction. But if we do decide that something is “okay”, we must then decide if it is “good”.

The focus of this post will be on yuri anime—that is, anime featuring romance between two girls. In particular, I will be focusing on the currently-airing Sakura Trick, quite possibly the first “true” yuri show to come about in a while. That is, unlike shows like Yuyushiki and Kin-iro Mosaic, which hint at romantic feelings between girls strongly but avoid anything explicitly romantic, Sakura Trick is pretty clear-cut in its romance, with girls kissing each other frequently and treat each other, if not completely like girlfriend and girlfriend, then definitely as two people in a budding romance.

And what's a budding romance without some jealousy and clinginess?
Before the jump, there are some things to note. Most importantly, I am writing this from the personal belief that homosexuality is a sin, according to the Bible. And in particular, when I ask whether it is good for Christians to watch this show, I specifically mean those Christians who believe the same way. (That said, I have no hatred of gay people. I love all people regardless of who they are or what they do.) That said, I welcome those who do not believe the same to keep reading and participate in this discussion from their own perspective, especially as this post will cover things about gender and relationships that are worth talking about regardless. For everyone commenting, please be respectful of others’ opinions and do not personally attack anyone, or else don't expect your opinion to be taken seriously. 

With that said, let's take a look at what value there is in a show like Sakura Trick


First of all, there are a handful of more "serious" yuri shows, namely Aoi Hana (Sweet Blue Flowers) and Sasameki Koto, which look into the struggles of lesbians in a society that isn't still particularly accepting of gay people. There is definitely worth in these series for Christians, as an important part of our faith is loving all people--I'd say including sinners, but fact of the matter is, everyone, gay, straight, bi, or asexual, is a sinner, so that shouldn't even be a factor. That said, understanding what a gay person goes through, especially one that hasn't fully come out of the closet, can be very helpful in how we can best show such people that we care about them even if we do not agree with everything about their way of life.

However, this post is based more around Sakura Trick, which notably lacks any of the drama surrounding the "taboo" nature of the girls' feelings towards each other (at least in the first four episodes), so we'll have to look for other reasons for Christians to consider watching this show for.

A Look At Gender

The first thing we can look at in a yuri series like Sakura Trick is what role gender plays in the show. After all, the most distinctive thing about a yuri series is that, in the romances involved, the guy is replaced with a girl. The question we can ask is, how does that change how the show works, if at all?

Of course, if you are like me and find anime females more appealing in general than males, then the increase of females in yuri series has at least that appeal. But at the same time, watching a show like Sakura Trick--and enjoying all the cuteness within--I can't help but wonder: would the show be any different, and if so, how, if it were a mix of guys and girls with standard hetero romances? Or, for that matter, if the cast was all guys?

Such thinking can expose some interesting things about how we perceive gender. For example, one of the more amusing parts of Haruka's personality is how easily she gets jealous when Yuu gets friendly with another girl, though some might consider it annoying. However, if Haruka were a guy, such jealousy would be pretty much considered universally annoying.

This gender perspective can extend to roles in relationship, and how they might differ when both people are girls. In the case of Haruka and Yuu, the two of them do seem to have distinct roles in the relationship: Haruka is overall the more proactive of the two and shows her affection more openly, while Yuu is generally the one that "goes with the flow" more, though as the show goes on, she's the one that asks for kisses more often. What exactly this says about relationship roles and gender… that's still up for debate.

Nevertheless, it is a fallacy to think that there is no difference between the genders, or that gender doesn't play a role in relationships. Perhaps through watching a show about characters in relationships other than the heterosexual "norm", we can take a look at the question of gender from a different perspective.

A Look At Relationship

On another hand, we can also ignore the genders of the characters involved and simply look at the relationships of Haruka and Yuu, as well as the others, from the simple perspective of learning about relationship. Things like how to deal with jealousy or what makes a romantic relationship "special" compared to normal friendship are still worth looking at, even if the people involved are both girls.

Of course, whether the girls' relationships have anything actually meaningful to say is still in question. Even if it's not, though, there's at least some appeal simply in the fact that, regardless of the genders involved, this is one show where the romance gets underway from episode one. Compare that to the number of anime series that spend almost an entire series waffling with the whole "will they or won't they" aspect before either hastily getting the couple together in the last episode, or just continuing to leave the whole thing open-ended, and I can't really blame anyone who wants to watch this show simply because it actually is about a romantic relationship, instead of being bogged down by the standard rom-com's relational indecisiveness.

Comedy, Cuteness, and Entertainment

I've been talking about learning all this serious stuff about gender and relationships, but what happened to just plain enjoying the show as entertainment? Well, there's that, too. And while many will proclaim the evils of mindless entertainment, I personally believe that, in moderation, there is nothing wrong with  simply enjoying a show as entertainment, without using an iota of mental energy in trying to engage with the show otherwise. After all, sometimes our minds just need a break, and we just need to have a good laugh and/or see some cute girls frolicking around to unwind after a hard day.

For Christians, it's important to view "pure entertainment" the right way: it shouldn't be seen as a spawn of the devil to be forsaken entirely, but neither is it something that is to be done entirely apart from God. Remember that God created us to enjoy things, and that enjoyment is a form of worship, in that when we truly enjoy something, we can praise God for creating the thing that we are enjoying, and for creating us to be able to enjoy things.

Is It Bad For Christians To Watch Yuri Anime?

With all that said, while this post asked whether it is "good" for Christians to watch yuri anime, it is important to consider what dangers there are in watching such anime. There will inevitably be the argument that watching people engage in homosexual relationships is the same as supporting the sin of homosexuality, but that's the same argument as saying that watching a violent anime supports violence, or watching a show about magic and sorcery supports magic and sorcery, and that argument is highly flawed. Sure, for some Christians who might want to honor God by recognizing homosexuality as a sin but find it easy to waver in that regard if they see fictional depictions of lesbians, perhaps yuri anime just isn't something they should bother with. But for those that believe strongly enough that homosexuality is a sin, then while a yuri anime might be distasteful for some, but it shouldn't be a stumbling block.

That's not to say that yuri anime is without its potential pitfalls. Sakura Trick, in particular, is very much focused on the physical aspect of the girls' relationships, and while it hasn't gone past kissing, the kissing itself does get rather sensual, so those who are sensitive to that might be best to avoid this show. Even ignoring personal sensitivity, a portrayal of a relationship that is so focused on the physical, at least in my opinion, is not really the best picture of a relationship. That's not saying this show is completely bad, and there's still aspects outside of all the kissing shown; it's just something to watch out for.

An Unanswered Question

I am not writing this post with the intention of answering the question of "is it good for Christians to watch yuri anime"; what I wanted to do was to ask the question, and explore some of the ways to explore that question. I will continue to watch this show to see what further answers I can find myself.

For now, though, this is your opportunity to give your opinion. Is there some worth to yuri anime for Christians that I did not bring up? What do you think about what Sakura Trick and other yuri anime say about gender and relationships? Do you think there are other things about yuri anime that make them bad for Christians to watch? Or am I just a huge bigot for thinking that the question is even worth asking in the first place? Post in the comments and let me know what you think!

6 comments:

  1. Interesting post! I appreciate your perspective on this. I like how you phrase the question as "Is it good to watch..." rather than just "Is it bad..." I have not tried Sakura Trick or any other yuri (or yaoi) anime, because I simply don't feel a need to mess with it. If I were to watch such a show, I'd be very much in "serious mode" as I thought through the perspectives and worldviews presented. I can see how that would have value. But there are plenty of other shows to spend my brain on (not to mention school and other things), so I'll continue avoiding shows in this category for now.

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  2. Yeah, I'm not going to blame anyone whose reason for not watching yuri anime (or any anime, really) is "ain't got no time for that". Anime can sure be a horribly time-consuming endeavor…

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  3. Interesting post. I approach most of this from the opposite perspective as you, by and large. Here's what I would add to what you've got, though: For one thing, a lot of yuri series in general are unrealistic, especially the cutesy ones like Strawberry Panic and Sakura Trick. What I mean by "unrealistic" is that they project a fantasy of everyone being gay, which comes from how difficult it is in the real world to find romance if you're gay. Also, most of these characters just don't act like real people in general. So theoretically, someone could watch these shows and get this false idea that romance just sort of falls in your lap. It's easy to crave that escape since there's that extra layer of "is this person even gay?" on top of all the other angst that goes along with romantic relationships. Like you said in your post, it's fine for a mindless escape after a rough day or whatever, but there's a difference between that and actually believing that the world is like that. You can set yourself up for a lot of needless angst and disappointment that way.

    The second thing is that a lot of yuri caters to straight males despite being about love between two women. In that sense, is yuri there to tell a genuine story with genuine representation, or is it there to be objectified as a fetish? With a show like Sakura Trick, I think that depends on the person's intentions for watching it. There's fanservicey shots (which I find unnecessary), but they don't happen all the time. That leaves it up to the viewer if they're watching the show to enjoy it as a whole or if they're just using it as a means to an end, so to speak.

    What I would like to see more of is series like Simoun which have that element of girl-girl relationships, but it's just one part of a bigger story. Most anime stories that have LGB characters either under develop them (meaning that the ONLY part of that character is that they're LGB), or the entire story is JUST a drama/romance. Take Haruka and Michiru from Sailor Moon. It's clear that they're together (and that clarity is important in terms of representing LBG folks in media), but their relationship isn't the ONLY thing about them and it's definitely not the only thing about the whole show.

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    1. Thanks for your reply!

      I definitely agree with the "unrealistic" aspect of the cutesy yuri series, though of course that's an argument that can be levied on all sorts of anime series, including hetero and yaoi ones. It's one of those things where one does have to be able to separate fiction from reality, as part of being responsible viewers of entertainment.

      That said, I do believe that just because a show is largely unrealistic doesn't mean that there is no truth to be gotten from it.

      And yes, I would love to see more characters which are LGB but have aspects of their personality beyond their orientation. In fact, one thing that I feel has been a problem in how Christians have treated homosexuals is that we can have a tendency to see them only for their orientation, without recognizing the other aspects of their personhood and connecting with those parts to see them as a whole.

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  4. Mr. Japesland,
    I'll be honest to say I'm not a Christian due to the fact many lash out at people for reason like you have mentioned. But I am so overjoyed to see how fair and honest you made this post! I am glad that there is someone out there who understands the struggle people go through because of the way they live, either homosexual or other reasons. This makes me want to goto church again,

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    1. First of all, I am not Japesland; he did link to this article of mine in a semi-recent article of his, but I am just yet another Christian anime blogger.

      That aside, thanks for your comment! I pray that you will find a church of loving, non-judgmental people. After all, the church is a place for jacked-up people struggling with life to gather; if the people in the church recognize that, there is no reason for them to be judgmental. (Alas, there are many churches that do *not* recognize that...)

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