No. 6: A Queer Rejection of Boys’ Love’s Normative Sexuality?

no. 6 bateszi
I wanted to share this post the usual way one goes about these things on WordPress, but share links were nowhere to be found! Screenshot and hyperlink it is.

Hi, everyone! To get straight to the point, I found this fantastic essay excerpt from Kiara of Bateszi Anime Blog today, and it got me thinking so many exciting things that I wanted to share it with all of you! One argument it makes in particular about how the anime adaptation of Atsuko Asano’s No. 6 functions as a queer text really struck me, so I want to dissect that here and offer my own alternative perspective regarding No. 6‘s relationship to both BL and its queer potential. If my comment on the post itself makes it out of moderation (as the blog hasn’t been updated since last August, I’m not sure anyone’s still paying attention!) you may see a few points recycled from there, but I’ll try not to make this post too repetitive.

To briefly summarize the post, Kiara begins by describing the ‘paranoid fan,’ an audience that is suspicious, actively looking for hidden meanings in the media they consume in order to fit these texts within their own expectations and desires. The post then links the paranoid fan to BL via engagement with the construct of the seme and uke pair, arguing that the paranoid fan (usually, but not necessarily, straight women consuming and creating fandom content), so badly want texts to conform to their pleasure that they flatten all interactions between male characters in media into homosexual romantic-sexual couplings, regardless of whether this interpretation is supported by the text. Kiara argues that No. 6 rejects and disrupts this mentality by having no clearly defined seme or uke, and through the ambiguous nature of Rat and Sion’s relationship–the portrayal of their feelings for one another as irreducable, impossible to categorize, and, contrary to the genre conventions of BL, non-sexual.

Our current society believes that “if you don’t love someone romantically, you love them “platonically,” which means that you want to be friends and not a “couple,” because only romantic-sexual pairs can be couples with a primary relationship” and this is very problematic.[4] This is the very reason why No. 6 is not labeled as BL, because even in softer BL, actions are laced with sexual tension and there is no such thing happening in No.6. It is because of this habit to expect sexuality that Asano took it upon herself to do make a queer series that breaks the romantic-sexual/platonic dichotomy.

This is a SUPER interesting reading of the anime (Asano’s original novels more heavily suggest that Sion’s feelings for Rat include sexual attraction); I’m especially intrigued by the post’s analysis of how Sion’s socialization to interpret his own emotions through a medicalized lens defuses situations which might otherwise suggest sexual desire. Kiara cites the scene where Rat pushes Sion down onto the bed during their first meeting as an example of this, and although, if I remember correctly, this specific form of defusion doesn’t appear after Sion and Rat escape No. 6 in the first episode, the anime still resists clear confirmation of whether or not their relationship includes sexual desire. For example, after Rat and Sion dance in episode 5, Sion reaches out and touches Rat’s neck, expressing how much he cares for Rat and causing Rat to swallow. In another series, this might have been a tender, romantic moment, with the gulp indicating strain from suppressing sexual desire; here, it is ominous. The music, camera angles, and Rat’s expression all create a sense of unease rather than one of sexual intimacy. 

Rat gaping in horror and disbelief after Sion reaches out to and touches him

However, I’m not sure I agree with Kiara that this absence of sexuality represents a queer refusal of the overly strict, normative sexual models inscribed in fandom engagement by the ‘paranoid fan.’ For one, on a more nitpicky note, I lean more toward characterizing fans who “[constantly] search for the homosexual” as playful rather than paranoid–Patrick Galbraith has done some great ethnographic work in this vein with fujoshi in Japan, and his essays “Fujoshi” and “Moe Talk” are great reads if you can get access to ’em.

I also believe that in addition to the hypersexualization of gay identity in society (e.g. gay people being characterized as inherently sexual and predatory; Tatsumi Kanji’s Persona in the Persona 4 visual novel is a good example of this what this stereotype looks like in Japanese media) gay relationships are often desexualized in order to portray same-gender desire as ‘safe’ and ‘normal,’ or in order to erase its significance altogether. We can see examples of this in the treatment of gay & bisexual women in Japan, where romantic affection between young women is viewed as a non-sexual, non-threatening, natural phase which will inevitably give way to properly heterosexual performance in adulthood, as well as that of gay & bisexual men in a Western context. I’m definitely not an expert on how, or to what extent, this issue manifests in Japan, and would welcome any insight from commentors more knowledgable about this issue than I am, but I just don’t quite buy that the absence of sexual attraction in the No. 6 anime is subverting an influential media paradigm regarding gay relationships, even specifically in contrast to BL–that it is necessarily or inherently queer.

In my opinion, where No. 6 truly shines as a queer text is in its critique of the state and the connections it draws between freedom of desire and freedom from state repression. It does not deal overtly with homophobia, the structural, systemic marginalization of people based on their sexual expression, but in specifically positioning the love between Rat and Sion as the keystone of a narrative about revolution and freedom from an oppressive state (one that attempts to sanitize and control human emotion, no less), it pursues a queer thematic project. In No. 6, the narrative gives credence to Rat’s insistence that boundaries between people matter, exposing Sion’s naivete and privilege when he proposes attempting to use the city’s own oppressive institutions to save the lives of its citizens, but ultimately validates his commitment to a destruction of No. 6 which acknowledges that “we’re all human beings.” Social differences imposed and encouraged by the state do have significance, but they are also arbitrary and can be broken down. What’s left in the world without a wall is not perfect, but it is potential. The potential for a society which can allow the freedom to feel. And to love whoever you choose.