Seems that if I’m going to talk about Bleach, I’m going to talk about lesbians.
Look, anime nerds, you may be all about your ‘madokas’ and your ‘love lives’ where characters are ‘gay’ in that completely deniable way that nonetheless you’ll defend to the death because you saw it when you were fourteen and your entire sexuality suddenly unfolded like a flower in front of you, but you know what? You don’t have to be a frilled dress wearing moeblob who has maybe heard of sex. Over in shounen anime, we can bait a pair of lesbians as well as the best of them, with characters that are clearly adults and have histories and lives and special sick powers that involve swords and poisons and maybe even a teleporting cat or two. It’s Queerbaiting that fucks.
And the characters do things too!
It’s Bleach, so none of the things they do matter, but that’s not important.
Okay, first up, Yoruichi, on the right. You’ve probably seen her in promotional art for Bleach and she’s a rare prominent character from anime with dark skin who… No, that’s all the qualifiers I need, I guess. Yeah, Yoruichi was Anime’s Not Racist card for a bit there, I guess.
When Yoruichi was introduced, she was introduced as a cat. Not a cat-girl, but just an actual cat. She spoke at this point with the voice of Shiro Saito, the voice a Japanese dub listener would recognise as such characters as Jake the Dog, Frozone from the Incredibles, John Rhys-Davies, and Peter Stormare. This guy voices Christopher Lee’s version of Death. He’s the dub voice of Kramer from Seinfeld. Like this is not an ambiguous voice, by the way we use the term.
Then she shapeshifts into a humanoid form later in the story, and then, surprise, she is a hot lady with big boobs and no sense of nudity discomfort, got you with a big surprise there, it’s definitely something that was planned and not pulled out of the air at the last minute because oh wow wait I bet I could do this.
Okay, whatever, origin point aside, Yoruichi says trans rights, yada yada yada, who is she.
Yoruichi is basically a ninja wizard. She’s a member of a noble family and was in charge of the Second Division of her part of the Bleach Setting, known as the Gotei 13. Divided into 13 divisions, each with specific abilities and purposes within some nondescript military structure that includes medics and, in the Second Division’s case, Ninja. In a setting where Everyone Is A Sword, Yoruichi is a rare exception: She’s not a sword, and doesn’t have one. Instead she teleport-fights and uses magic and pressure point malarkey to fight people. Now, there are all sorts of theories about what that means. One theory, which I do not think is true, but segues well into the next bit, is that she gave up her sword when she abandoned her position as head of the Second Division.
And when she left, she left behind Soi Fon.
Soi Fon, on the left, being very straight, is one of those characters that’s got basically one or two specific interests and it suffices in the place of a complex personality. In the same way that a simple set of rules in a videogame can create elegant, emergent play states, though, the basic stuff at the heart of Soi Fon creates a pretty robust characterisation you can grab in three short bullet points:
- Likes following rules
- Is mad at Yoruichi for leaving
- Likes Yoruichi an awful lot
Like that’s basically it. She’s a petite, huffy little class dobber who has elevated herself to the position of Head Ninja after following in the footsteps of a woman she very much obviously had a crush on, and Yoruichi leaving everything behind – including Soi Fon – resulted in something like a jilting and a sudden, slavish devotion to the rules that then let Soi Fon play ‘villain’ for a few episodes where all that pent up emotion about how she missed Yoruichi and Yoruichi broke the rules resulted in a good ole tense gay crush fight. You know the type, how dare you leave
me your duties, the typical kind of thing. It also was a fight where Soi Fon got to paint her logo all over Yoruichi’s body, which isn’t gay necessarily but it is pretty fanservicey.
The thing is, while it’s never stated and never acted on, and I have no idea what Yoruichi thinks of it, Soi Fon very much has a crush on Yoruichi. Soi Fon’s crush on Yoruichi is more of a canonically enforced thing than long-term romantic interest is in a number of ‘canon lesbians’ shows I’ve seen. She buys merchandise of things that remind her of Yoruichi. She tries to give Yoruichi Valentines Day candy. She openly daydreams about their time together when they were younger, to the expense of her duties. Soi Fon designed a phone that matches her symbol of a bee with Yoruichi’s symbol for a cat, and said it’d let her talk to Yoruichi whenever she wants.
Soi Fon is ‘good friends’ with Yoruichi, to the point of buying pictures of Yoruichi to stare at blushing and pulling faces.
They do a little of the ‘maybe she’s not gay’ by having late-manga Soi Fon react blushingly to Yoruichi’s little brother, but that’s after literally years of this kind of non-stop thirst.
The dynamic is a nice one, if you think about ways these two could relate. Soi Fon is your obnoxiously strict strait-laced bossy little brat who is absolutely head over heels for the stacked racked and jacked corrupting catgirl known as Yoruichi. Where Yoruichi encourages people to have fun, to relax, Soi Fon is the kind of person who alphebetises her paper clips. The pair neatly encapsulate two different halves of the great edict Be Gay and Do Crimes.
It’s important to remember a caveat with Bleach that any time I talk about it I’m going to talk about a series that, by most useful definitions, is kinda bad. It has a plot that goes nowhere and means nothing. Its themes are much more about a specific crystal in time, a few months of what ideas Tite Kubo liked. At its kindest, Bleach is the anime rendition of Star Trek Voyager: Wonderful concepts and characters with amazing potential, such great ideas, that you will then never see do anything particularly interesting or cool.
What’s more when we talk about ‘representation’ in media I have a fairly acidic opinion on anime being seen ‘as queer.’ Typically, it is not work that expresses queerness seriously or represents queer lives as being things people live and deal with, and when it does come up it’s often with the lightest of touch; characters that may express an opinion of an attraction or maybe even say something like ‘I don’t mind seeing other girls naked’ may still yet imply later on that they’re straight, and the phrase was something about a lack of discomfort.
Also, Bleach did regularly bring up just how bad Soi Fon had it for Yoruichi. She wasn’t just vaguely about it, she says and does repeated things to signify her interest, and that’s kind of hard to ignore. Like, I like this pair and I think that in a show that isn’t narrative NASCAR, I’d be able to share how much I like them and why you should too.