Image source: アニメ「セントールの悩み」公式 on Twitter

Equality and egalitarianism are overwhelmingly the watch words of the Japan in A Centaur’s Life. So far it has dealt with its Japan’s response to racism, religious hatred, mixed heritage, and xenophobia. However, it also subtly has commented on LGBT issues through its presentation of three different female/female relationships.

The Twisted World of Enforced Equality in A Centaur’s Life

What it shows is a Japan that is quietly more accepting of female/female romances than perhaps our actual Japan.

A Centaur’s Life follows the adventures of a group of high school girls in a world where human evolution—and evolution in general—took a very different path.

Let’s Overthink the Evolutionary Biology of A Centaur’s Life

Mythical creatures like centaurs (the titular character is named Himeno), satyrs, fawns, mermaids, angels, and draconoids exist. As previously mentioned, the show has spent a great amount of time exploring both current attempts by the society to enforce egalitarianism, and also to show historical flashbacks of the awful events which precipitated this need.

Image source: アニメ「セントールの悩み」公式 on Twitter

We haven’t yet seen specific flashbacks that deal with homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, or any kind of queerphobia. In fact, much to my considerable surprise, there appears to be no great resistance to female/female relationships. We see no evidence either way for male/male relationships nor do we see any transgender characters. There’s no way to really know because the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Since the series often focuses on “cute girls doing cute things,” it would make sense that any homosocial or homosexual relationships we see would be between the girls.

There are three main relationships we can consider when thinking about how female/female relationships are portrayed in A Centaur’s Life. The first is the relationship between Mitsuyo Akechi and Inukai Michi. We meet them early and their relationship is very public. It’s also no big deal. While Akechi seems committed to her relationship with Michi, she has absolutely no issue teasing other girls. She’s definitely committed to testing the sexuality or romantic persuasion of the other characters. There seems absolutely no pushback towards acknowledgement that she and Michi are “girlfriends.” Both girls are “goat folk/satyrs/sheep people.” Michi has a unicorn horn and Akechi has ram horns.

Image source: アニメ「セントールの悩み」公式 on Twitter

The only momentary sort of commentary we receive is when Tama, a main character and an Angel person, comments seemingly negatively about Akechi’s idea that girls can kiss girls, even as adults. This seems a throwaway comment at first, or perhaps even suggests that Tama might be homophobic or prudish. A recent episode puts this entire exchange in a different light, and Tama is one half of the second relationship we should consider.

In the most recent episode of A Centaur’s Life, Himeno, Nozomi, and Kyouko are spying on a date between snake-person Suu-chan and a male classmate. However, much to Himeno’s surprise, she comes across Tama on a date with a female classmate, Omaki. When Himeno asks them about being on a date, they both become immediately flustered and break apart. This is the first major indication we get that the embarrassment is deeper than just being “accused” of being on a date. They in fact are on a date, and they are embarrassed that their (as yet definitely unknown ) relationship has been discovered.

Image source: アニメ「セントールの悩み」公式 on Twitter

If left there, it might be difficult to ascertain just how much of a real “date” this date is. However, A Centaur’s Life has shown that it has a great diversity on narrative structure, often jumping between times, events, perspectives, and flashbacks in whatever way reveals the information in an important manner. Thus, the first half of the episode, which is from Himeno, Nozomi, and Kyouko’s perspective gives way to a rewind and re-showing from Tama and Omaki’s perspective. And what we learn is quite interesting indeed.

When Omaki comes to pick Tama up at the house and shrine where Tama lives, her little sisters make rude comments about Tama ditching them to go hang out with a boy. Indeed, I also absolutely thought that Omaki was a male character. As it turns out, she’s not. She’s very boyish and has a low voice. Tama, while very much a leader as a member of the student council and class representative, is still more traditionally feminine. This is a much more common type of queer female relationship to be found in Japan and in much of Asia while Akechi and Michi, are a more modern, less gender expressively dimorphic, pairing.

We can tell just how far to the masculine side of the spectrum Omaki is because when she successfully talks Tama into linking arms (despite Tama’s nervousness), the people they pass mistake them for a straight couple. The ease with which they volley back and forth implies strongly that Omaki and Tama have a deep relationship and have had one for some time. These are certainly old friends, and there’s something more, too. When we consider the comments Tama makes in light of her (somewhat hidden?) relationship with Omaki, then perhaps it’s not really Tama talking to Akechi and Michi at all. More likely, this is Tama conflicted with herself. Perhaps, if there is any homophobia to be found in A Centaur’s Life, it can be found only in an internalized form.

Image source: アニメ「セントールの悩み」公式 on Twitter

The final relationship we should consider is one which is far more typical of our real Japanese society and is used as a trope repeatedly in Japanese media. That’s the relationship between Himeno and her archery junior Ayaka. This would be where I would label this relationship “homosocial” rather than “homosexual” or “homoromantic.” Himeno is an amazing archer and she has a great deal of natural talent. It means that while she actually is very serious about archery, she doesn’t appear to put in a lot of obviously hard work. Ayaka is very strict towards her senior, but she not so secretly yearns to be just like her (this yearning in Japanese is called akogare, a hard to translate term which in English means “admiring or adoring because of aspiration to be like.”), and it’s very common in Japan. Kyouko knows the truth and tells Himeno to ask her out on a date, when Himeno still believes Ayaka’s behavior is actually borne of dislike.

Many expressions of akogare in Japan, and therefore in anime and other types of Japanese media, are read in the west as being “homoromantic” or even overtly “homosexual.” Yet, the context is far more ritualized than many western commentators believe. It’s grounded in emulation and mimicry, as well as a kind of transitory idol worship. In some of the more extreme cases, it can appear “romantic” as you might end up with “romantic gestures” like letters of flowery language or presents. These relationships have long been encouraged in Japan but are not supposed to last. What we see between Ayaka and Himeno is another example of how Japanese cultural parallelism developed in A Centaur’s Life but holds value by being compared to the previous two relationships.

Image source: アニメ「セントールの悩み」公式 on Twitter

We know what the relationships between Akechi/Michi and Tama/Omaki are because we have a clear comparison to what they are not. We can then compare this to the behavior towards each of the relationships. In our Japan, even recently, an “akogare” relationship believed to have become something more has its very immediate detractors. Especially older generations. Unfortunately, I have personal experience dealing with virulently homophobic parents in Japan. It is not a pleasant experience. Although Tama and Omaki were thought to be a heterosexual couple by passers-by, we see no indication of disapproval of those who might have seen Omaki as her rightful gender. Likewise, we see no disapproval of Akechi and Michi, and of course, none of Himeno and Ayaka.

If I were to draw a conclusion, and indeed, I have drawn one, it would be that perhaps lesbian relationships at least are even more accepted in the Japan of A Centaur’s Life than in our own. However, I also fully believe that like every other part of the series, this is a mirror. The ease with which the characters accept the various forms of affection (friendship to sexuality) plays a vital role in the growing acceptance of LGBT issues in Japan. While there has been a long history, including recently, of LGBT related bullying in Japan, there has been recent progress with official anti-bullying policies, and changes in attitudes of how parents and guardians think about LGBT children. I have also personally seen significant changes in my time in Japan, and anecdotally, I feel the situation is getting better.

Positive and normalized depictions in anime and manga of LGBT individuals and relationships is part of this shift. A Centaur’s Life serves to keep a positive representative feedback loop going. The normalcy of the lesbian romantic relationships in the show both reflects and projects growing acceptance.

A Centaur’s Life can be streamed on Crunchyroll.

Comments (2)
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