Thursday, September 11, 2014

Yuri Subtext, Bromances, and Heavenly Friendships

One potential criticism Christians (and others) may have of many "cute girls doing cute things" shows (which, if you have not figured out already from reading my blog, is one of my favorite types of shows) is that they are filled with yuri subtext, frequently teasing romantic attractions between girls (albeit never quite forming any definitive romantic relationships). Of course, this is part of the draw of such shows for their targeted fans, but for others, especially Christians who consider homosexuality a sin, it can be a distasteful distraction from the rest of the show.

The purpose of this post is to explain why I am personally okay with the yuri subtext in these shows. I am not aiming to make some blanket statement that yuri subtext is okay; I am simply sharing my own perspective. And while this post is related to my previous posts on the potential worth of yuri anime for Christians, this post will specifically focus on cases of yuri subtext, in which the relationships do not explicitly cross into romantic territory.

And while this post focuses on romantic subtext between girls, it by all means applies to romantic subtext between guys as well. Such "bromances" have gained their own popularity thanks to the female anime fandom which loves shipping males together in all sorts of shows, and shows like Free! which target that fandom gleefully. And in fact, to illustrate my perspective, I will be looking at one particularly close pair of males... straight from the Bible. I am, of course, talking about David and Jonathan.

Pictured: Nanoha and Fate of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, and one of the most famous really close two-girl friendships in anime.

The story of David and Jonathan, for those that need a refresher (or don't know the story), is that David is a shepherd boy that has been anointed to be the next king of Israel. While still young, Israel finds themselves faced with a vicious enemy army of Philistines, led by a certain Goliath. Of course, this part of the story is well-known: while the rest of the Israelite army quivers in fear, David slays the giant with a well-placed stone slung into his forehead. His display of courage and trust in the Lord catches the attention of the current king, Saul, as well as his son, Jonathan.

The verse that starts the chapter immediately following the battle against Goliath goes as such:

As soon as [David] had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. (1 Samuel 18:1, ESV)
Well, dang. That's a line that would make yaoi fans go crazy! And that is only the start of David and Jonathan's story. Reading through more of 1 Samuel reveals a deep friendship in which Jonathan willingly gives up the throne of his birthright to David and helps protect him from Saul when he starts going after David's life. Eventually, at Jonathan's funeral, David even remarks that Jonathan's love for him surpassed the love of women! This makes your average anime with homoromantic subtext seem downright platonic. In fact, many proponents of homosexuality use the story of David and Jonathan as evidence that the Bible does not really consider homosexuality as sinful.

However, regardless of the morality of homosexuality, trying to describe David and Jonathan's relationship as romantic is ultimately missing the point of their relationship. David and Jonathan exemplify a truly godly friendship, one which is characterized by selfless love for each other. I do not think it is fair to say that they are "just" friends, as that implies that such a friendship is inferior to romantic love. As far as I see it, such a friendship is simply a different type of relationship, one that is ultimately just as fulfilling as a romantic relationship--perhaps even more so, in its own, non-romantic way.

God gives us the example of David and Jonathan to encourage us to pursue this kind of selfless, loving friendship with other people, regardless of gender or other factors. (Even in romantic relationships, a foundation of selfless friendship is critical to the strength of such relationships.) Unfortunately, in our current society, due to various cultural stigmas, it is hard for two people of the same gender, especially males, to really get intimate with each other in this way. I cannot help but imagine that, in Heaven, these stigmas and other obstacles to true interpersonal intimacy will be removed, and we will have extremely close and fulfilling friendships with many people of the same gender--so close, in fact, that if we could see them now, we might wonder if there's something kind of romantic going on there.

And that is where yaoi and yuri subtext in anime come in. Now, I am not going to deny that such subtext is used specifically to cater to yaoi and yuri fans by specifically pushing up against romantic boundaries. And yet, when I see two girls (or guys) be so close that it seems that their souls are knit together, I cannot help but have a certain appreciation for their closeness. It is as if, somewhere deep down in these creators' souls, they really want to demonstrate the full potential of same-gender friendships, free of those cultural barriers that too frequently impede them in real life, and the only way to do so is to push their relationships close to--and sometimes even over--the romance line. (Of course, I'm probably wrong about that and they really are just making something to appeal to the appropriate fanbases and make money, but still.)

In short, to me, those moments of yuri and yaoi subtext are displays of heavenly friendships: a glimpse of what friendships between two girls or two guys might be like in Heaven when we no longer have to worry about saying "no homo" when we want to be a bit affectionate to our same-gender friends. And while again, I am not aiming to justify same-gender romantic subtext overall, I do encourage those anime fans who are not yuri/yaoi fans, especially Christians, to appreciate those moments of uninhibited friendship. And even for yuri and yaoi fans, while I will not stop you from your shipping endeavors, I do encourage you to appreciate the friendship that is between those two girls or two guys, not because I want to argue that they are "just friends", but because friendship is a wonderful thing, whether or not there is any romance involved as well.

(As a side note, this is also the reason why I don't really mind mild pseudo-romantic subtext between siblings, whether of same or opposite genders: if not taken too far, it can help portray how close siblings will be in Heaven.)


  1. I love David and Jonathan's friendship. Actually, I love every deep friendship I come across, whether real or fictional. The relationship between Gon and Killua, for example, is one of the many reasons I love Hunter x Hunter (and, best of all, they're only 12 years old, so the yaoi fangirls take it easy with the fanart!). When I watched the first season of Free!, I did my best to enjoy the friendship and ignore the yaoi subtext. I might eventually watch this summer's season, partially because of those relationships. I dream of such friendships, where two people get to know and love each other deeply, unhindered by cultural norms or fear of rejection.

    It's interesting, to me at least, to realize that I can find a zillion Christian articles and blogposts about romantic relationships. But for friendship? If I want guidance, I look to the Bible, my parents, and... anime (okay, anime, due to its fictional nature, gives more encouragement than guidance, but still). I understand why romance is such a popular subject, but I think our hearts—certainly my heart—long for "just" deep friendships, too. Such friendships should be pursued, treasured, and defended (I say that slightly hypocritically, as someone who is really cautious and rather shy about pursuing). And, honestly, anime gives more examples and speeches (and often better ones) than I hear almost anywhere else, including the Christian community.

  2. Given how inhibited cultural attitudes can be regarding close friendship display, is it any wonder that we often look to romantic relationships as the end-all be-all? Hello shipping goggles! I think there's something beautiful about a strong platonic friendship. It takes me back to...when I was younger, when my outlook on relationships was more innocent. And there's a freedom in that. For example, in the Harry Potter series, I loved the platonic friendships among the characters more than the romance.

    Do you think all these cultural attitudes may be (part of) why contentness while single is hard?

    Here's another article which describes the phenomenon of: "if a friendship appears very close, then it's likely a romance":

    As an Axis Powers Hetalia fan, there's a struggle between my values and (distancing myself from) the slash shipping in the fandom.

    And stardf29, your post was beautiful. I wouldn't have thought of the connections myself, but it makes sense. I hope we can have friendships like that in Heaven!

  3. My best friend and I are very very close. To the point that we regularly make jokes about what great lesbians we'd make. But the interesting thing is, it's completely platonic. She's like my sister. It's be fundamentally weird to think of her that way. Of course I know this partially because I have experienced romantic attraction to women as well. There is a BIG difference, for the same reason you can't imagine yourself in a relationship with your sister.

  4. My best friend and I are very very close. To the point that we regularly make jokes about what great lesbians we'd make. But the interesting thing is, it's completely platonic. She's like my sister. It's be fundamentally weird to think of her that way. Of course I know this partially because I have experienced romantic attraction to women as well. There is a BIG difference, for the same reason you can't imagine yourself in a relationship with your sister.