I think I may have made some of my readers uncomfortable while Free! aired this summer. It certainly compelled me to share a very fujoshi side of myself, culminating in the post, Do you think anime characters are sexy?
But in my personal life, watching Free! was far from a lewd experience. In fact, I got together each week with my husband and a mutual friend, Grant, to watch it. I doubt they were as hooked as I was, but they certainly humored me. What I didn’t expect was how much watching Free! with two straight men would impact the way I experienced the show.
By now, even western audiences have accepted that a romantic relationship between two attractive men is a type of fan service, in the same way lesbian kisses are. But anime publishers know that fan service that overt could drive viewers of other sexualities away. As a result, fujoshi have learned to take even the tiniest cues as evidence of a gay romance. In Free!, CPR between two hot guys is likened to kissing. And hugging after a big win? Totally gay.
It wasn’t until I was watching this with guys that I realized how much this limits men’s behavior. As a result of our seeking out “coded” gay gestures, the briefest male/male contact can be perceived as romantic. Case in point: the band One Direction, whose fandom’s fervor for finding hints of a forbidden love has actually hurt bandmates’ relationships with one another:
“This is a subject that was funny at first, but now is actually hard to deal with as I am in relationship,” Louis said in July. “Me and Harry are best friends, people look into our every move, it is actually affecting the way me and Harry are in public.”
I asked Grant to write a bit about his experience watching Free! He wrote enough for a guest post in itself (comment if you’d like me to post it!) but this is the paragraph that stuck out for me:
“Free! was an interesting viewing experience for me. I had been trained to look for ‘coded’ gay gestures for years as a matter of defending my claim to manhood, and doing it in this context—for humor and titillation—was different because the stakes were different. I was interested to discover that I was able to appreciate Free! in many of the the same ways I’d appreciate a hetero-male-oriented comedy, by looking for more-or-less overt innuendos and laughing at the characters’ ‘accidentally’ bawdy behavior, for example, or finding humor in a ‘fish out of water’ situation. It also helped me understand how some women can enjoy fanservice shows made for straight men.”
Free! may sexualize male touch, but as Grant points out, this isn’t breaking news. Long before Free! taught him to look for subtle homosexuality, he was already aware of it. It’s not fujoshi that robbed men of male touch, but decades of homophobia. The only thing different is the context.
This post is the second installment of The Twelve Days Of Anime, a blogging series in which anime fans write about shows that inspired or impressed on them this year.