Animating LGBTQ+ role models

Tribune News Service
Joel Frambes Copy Editor @JoelPole12

Joel Frambes
Copy Editor
@JoelPole12

The integration of LGBTQ+ culture in the U.S. has increased the prevalence of gay marriages and its focus in media and entertainment. Homosexuality has long been considered taboo or an adult subject in television and movies, but as society is moving away from that stigma, we have introduced it to broader audiences.

Children are starting to be included in this widespread exposure as anime and cartoons adopt a more liberal stance on the sexuality of their characters.

Cartoon Network (CN) is proving to be one of the more progressive networks with more than one show in their current lineup featuring an LGBTQ+ relationship, but the title for biggest sexuality plot twist belongs to Nickelodeon (Nick).

In the sequel to their cult cartoon “Avatar,” Nick dropped a bombshell in the finale of “The Legend of Korra.” After three seasons of complicated relationships with her male counterparts, Korra journeys into the spirit world hand in hand with Asami, her trusting friend.

While the ending did have romantic implications, their relationship was never explicitly declared within the show. Co-creator Bryan Konietzko took to Tumblr to confirm the rumours.

“Korra and Asami fell in love,” he wrote. “Were they friends? Yes, and they still are, but they also grew to have romantic feelings for each other.”

CN’s “Clarence,” “Steven Universe” and “Adventure Time” have all shown varying degrees of expressing non-heterosexual relationships to develop already wholesome characters’ dynamics and backstories.

As the most recent addition to this lineup, “Clarence” has pushed the heteronormative boundaries to regions unexplored by previous shows on CN. The show depicted a kiss on the cheek between two men meeting at a restaurant. After sparking controversy with the network and barely making it on the show, this depiction of gay men is the first of its kind for CN.

Although it is a minute detail, Jeff, one of the main characters of the show and friend of Clarence, is depicted in his home with a picture of his parents in the background. In similar fashion to the restaurant scene, the picture displays a loving relationship between his two moms.

Relations in “Steven Universe” are a bit more complicated than the groundbreaking characters of “Clarence”. Garnet, one of the mythical, ageless protectors of Earth called the Crystal Gems who are all female except for Steven, is revealed in the season one finale to be a fusion of the two other Crystal Gems Ruby and Sapphire. The two fused together almost permanently to be as close to each other as possible.

This is not an intense, platonic relationship as was intended by creator Rebecca Sugar. When Ruby and Sapphire reunited after being captured and tortured, the two kissed each others’ tears away and expressed how deeply they cared for the others well being. The animated women clearly loved each other.

“Steven Universe” also touched on a transgender character with the fusion of Steven and his girlfriend Connie. This new character, Stevonnie, was the subject of infatuation among both men and women and showed mannerisms of both compositional genders.

Like “The Legend of Korra,” two of the main female characters of “Adventure Time,” Marceline and Princess Bubblegum, were in a bisexual relationship, but it has not yet been explicitly shown in the show.

Fan theories were confirmed when voice actress for Marceline Olivia Olsen recalled in a YouTube video of a book signing that she discovered the relationship after learning more about her character from creator Pendleton Ward.

“He’s trying to write the book [for ‘Adventure Time’] and stuff, so I wanted to pick Pen’s brain a little bit,” she said. “And he says, ‘Oh, you know they dated, right?’”

While these complex and atypical relationships have been hard to come by, they should give credit to predecessors. In the 90s, “The Powerpuff Girls” featured a transgender villain known as “Him,” who had a voice synthesized from male to female and cross-dressed along the same transgender lines.

“Sailor Moon,” which debuted in 1992 in Japan and 1995 in the U.S., featured a lesbian relationship between Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune in the original version that aired in Japan; however, in the English version, their relationship was changed to cousins.

Censorship like this surely limited the number of early examples of LGBTQ+ culture in cartoons, but it continues to restrict the more modern shows. Writer and voice actor for “Clarence” Spencer Rothbell recalled on Twitter the day the episode premiered the struggle he had getting the network to approve the gay relationship.

“Originally the guy had flowers and they kissed on the mouth,” he said.

Regardless of this struggle to expose audiences to relationships outside the boundaries of heterosexuality, the ideas are still out there.

Conveying the message to youthful audiences is incredibly important because their understanding of homosexuality can only be improved through more accepted and prevalent portrayals of diverse sexualities and genders.

Each step taken towards normalizing homosexual relationships will lead to gender equality beyond cartoons and the media.

“Maybe one day the main character can be gay and it won’t be a big deal,” Rothbell said on Tumblr in response to fan criticism.

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