Or: “Hey, remember that Hyouka Episode Twelve post I did with the screenshot that I wrote GAAAAY on? Well, here’s why!”.
EDIT: The post I mention further down as pending for the battery post that’s happened here has been published, see here. Posted up here since a bunch of you have likely already read this post, so want to put that bit up front.
So, I don’t know how to quite start this post, although I think the fashionable thing that all the kids are doing these days is going with a cold opening. However, merely by acknowledging that, I have already failed at being fashionable. Yawara would never approve.
Once upon a time, AJtheFourth, from Altair and Vega, and I decided to do a battery post for our favorite Hyouka character, Satoshi Fukube. In particular, we decided to address the fact that we both interpret him as gay.
Now, hold on, don’t get riled up quite yet; it always seems that folks get riled up when one goes about saying that Character H is gay. I can understand it when there is a clear case of Delusional Fu(jo)(dan)shi Syndrome, in that the character being claimed for The Gay is pretty clearly not gay (only dates people of a different sex, only shows interest in people of a different sex, a few other etc.), as I tend to get my feathers all in a hurricane when folks do the reverse with a character who is clearly playing for Team Gay (see previous parentheses, change ‘different’ to ‘same’). But, most often, when I observe this unhappiness over someone saying your favorite character is gayer than gay, it just stems from knee-jerk homophobia. So if your disagreement with my post boils down to, “ZOMG FAGGOT HOW DARE YOU”, then, well, expect to find your comments mysteriously Raptured to the trash bin.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I also feel it is only to fair to warn you that I am fairly certain that AJtheFourth’s post will, ultimately, be smarter than mine! I haven’t read it yet (she’s writing hers as I write!), but she went for what I think is ultimately a more nuanced look at the evidence at hand. As such, I strongly encourage you to check hers out as well, and I will link here when it has been posted.
A lot of my conclusions have been drawn from things that, to me, are fairly obviously meant to lead us, as viewers, to certain conclusions. I would like to do a separate post about this at some point, but allow me to explain it succinctly. I think of these things as ‘signposts’ – things that are generally understood (whether they are accurate in real life is another matter) to be indicative of homosexuality in a character. For example, a female character who plays softball and has short hair. Here, softball and short hair would typically be assumed to be indicative of her sexual orientation; they work as signposts marking that the lady in questions enjoys the company of other ladies, wink wink, nudge nudge. Its a way for the author, the director, the whomever to “out” their character without saying so directly, even as they go for the stereotype to maximize audience comprehension of the character’s gayness.
Hopefully that made sense to everyone. But I may’ve been too culturally specific, what with softball (probably not as much with short hair). Maybe I should’ve presented a different example, such as a young man who is a member of the Handicrafts Club, owns a lot of bags, shows no interest in his obvious female counterpart, who…
Oh. Sounds like someone we know.
Firstly, I want to address the most potentially problematic item I’ve already mentioned, and that is that Satoshi displays no interest in Mayaka. This is potentially problematic as, done the wrong way, it could come off as my insisting that a male character must display interest in a female character who shows an interest in him in order to be considered heterosexual (unless its a harem show, in which case the male character should just be terrified constantly). I don’t want to further that idea at all, because it perpetuates an idea of masculinity which is extremely hostile to any deviations from what is considered the norm, i.e. that all straight men who’re manly always have sex with attractive women when given the opportunity, and anyone who doesn’t is a sissy and a “fag”.
So, in the case of Satoshi with Mayaka, its a matter of how the show positions its characters. We’re presented with a two boy, two girl core cast, tempting for simple shipping. Houtarou, at the very minimum, has a physical attraction to Chitanda, as demonstrated by his flustered state in the open-air baths when he imagines her partially exposed. He doesn’t show a non-platonic interest in Mayaka at all; ditto Satoshi toward Chitanda (in fact, Satoshi encourages what he sees as Houtarou’s interest in Chitanda early on). Thus, Houtarou and Chitanda are our first pair.
But it unravels past that point. We are told directly that Mayaka has an interest in Satoshi. We are likewise, however, told directly that Satoshi does not have an interest in Mayaka. Further, his behavior bears out his words; he isn’t practicing denial, but genuinely isn’t romantically interested in her (he does display genuine interest in her on friendly terms; I have a few things to say about that further down). It stands out a bit considering the group structure we’ve been given, a structure which suggests pairing off the girls and the boys, and which either explicitly would in other instances, or at least imply that they could be read that way. By not holding up his end of the bargain, Satoshi throws the entire thing off, and the audience is nudged.
Mayaka is hardly the only female character rolling around as romantic potential for Satoshi, although she is the most obvious and is the only one we actually see. Perhaps its a Toradora situation! There were three girls and two boys in that one, but one of the boys wasn’t interested in any of the girls in the core cast because he was pining after the (female) class president. Satoshi is a member of the Handicrafts Club, and while we may not get explicit confirmation of it, it is safe to assume that the membership is primarily female. And why is it safe to assume that? Because it is the stereotype – girls like to sew, the Handicrafts Club’s primary existence is to sew things (as indicated by the costumes we see worn by Satoshi in the show), therefore, the Handicrafts Club is mostly girls. If it were different, Hyouka would’ve indicated that, because that would make if different from expectations of the audience. It isn’t necessary to show the audience what the audience already knows.
And, yet, despite being apparently surrounded by many girls, Satoshi makes nary a peep about girls – his only wink wink, nudge nudge-type moment occurs when he is encouraging, as I said, Houtarou’s apparent interest in Chitanda. Unlike the tide of male sidekick characters (which, admittedly, Satoshi far exceeds as a character in his portrayal), Satoshi doesn’t bounce around talking non-stop about the ladeeeez and being a generalized “pervert”. He doesn’t show the slightest romantic or sexual interest in girls, period.
I want to re-emphasize that in talking about all of this, I am pointing these items out as signposts, and that there isn’t necessarily any legitimacy to them in real life. They act as shorthand for indicating a character’s sexual orientation, or potential sexual orientation, because they are things an audience will identify as being “gay”, regardless of the accuracy of that identification. If you’re still having trouble understanding the concept of the ‘signpost’, I would actually point you to my post ‘Hyouka Episode Twelve’ which is honestly just a really dumbed-down version of this post. Everything that I had circled in that screenshot and yelped about briefly in the post’s text is a signpost – something stereotyped as “gay” and which in turn is assumed to say something about the person who has ownership of it (i.e. “they’re gay”).
Which might as well carry us into those bags. Even if we’re dealing in stereotype, Satoshi’s room is presented to us fairly nonchalantly by KyoAni. Lets do a simple thought experiment: if you took Satoshi out of the screenshot, would you think that that room belonged to a high school boy, or a high school girl? We could quibble about the bedspread, but much of the content of the room is stereotypically female, which if in the possession of a male becomes stereotypically gay. There are a ton of bags, and they’re by and large not “manly” bags either. There’s an animal print, there’s one with butterflies, there’s a couple purple ones, there’s one with splotches of bright colors, there is a quilted bag which suspiciously looks like a purse, and a couple of them look like kinchaku (the bag that women will carry when wearing a yukata or kimono). Not only does it lend further credence to the idea that Satoshi isn’t part of the Handicrafts Club for all dem ladies, it simply stands out, because what teenaged boy has lots of bags like that, lots of bags like that of which many are apparently explicitly feminine? Again: signpost.
I want to point out that any of these taken alone doesn’t really mean anything – it more has to do with the constellation of signposts than with any single one alone (even if I do make a lot of hay out of those bags, because, well, like the girl who plays softball, the boy with lots of bags is sort of the equivalent of being hit over the head while someone screams “GAY GAY GAAAAAY!” at you). We could have a boy who likes to sew and isn’t gay very easily – see Uryuu Ishida in Bleach, for example. But Ishida doesn’t display any other potential indicators like that (i.e. of the stereotyped variety, furtherly i.e. “signposts”) of his being gay. Its the numbers thing here.
Getting a little more into the speculative territory, I did say I was going to touch on my assertion that Satoshi displays a friendly interest in Mayaka, albeit not a sexual or romantic one. I’m on much thinner ice here, because it admittedly has more to do with my gut than anything – although, I’ll have you know that I’m fairly good as sniffing out LGBT characters in fiction even before they’ve been outed and even in fiction that isn’t marketed as LGBT. Which isn’t altogether too shocking considering I spent a good deal of my adolescence doing my best to sniff out books with LGBT content that weren’t porn. If you’ll humor some reminiscence, my senior year of college I mentioned this fact to a straight friend, who expressed skepticism about it. To demonstrate my ability, I took them to the library, went into the fiction section, dug around in the shelves a bit, then handed them a book, told them to read it, and let me know if I’d been right. I think you can guess what the outcome was.
So, Satoshi’s conversation with Mayaka in Hyouka’s twelfth episode stood out to me, because it felt *so* familiar. I know that vibe. I have had conversations with that vibe, conversations with men whom I have a friendship with and who have been romantically interested in me when I have felt no active interest in men (I tend to go up and down the scale a bit, although I do average out to a 50-50 split interest-wise; I know, I know, bisexuality’s weird – we’re going to destroy humanity with that weirdness, don’t worry). I have also witnessed that vibe in interactions between friends of mine, gay men and the straight women who hadn’t quite put two and two together yet, or who had and yet hadn’t quite gotten past it. I know that vibe so well, and I got that vibe from that scene – Satoshi cares about Mayaka, but not the way Mayaka cares about him, and Mayaka’s got that acute sense of misery one gets when their love interest is complimenting them and showing an interest, but they know that it is purely platonic. And Satoshi is totally guileless here, because he knows she likes him, but he doesn’t understand that his words and behavior are simply painful for her in this situation.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the “shocking pink high school life” line from Satoshi… and I might be remiss anyway, since I’m not going to get into the rest of the conversation had there (if I recall correctly, Houtarou’s mildly weirded out by the remark). But it made me think of a scene in the book A Separate Peace (John Knowles), a slim volume which used to be a lot more popular and which persists as a frequent assignment in high school English classes in the U.S. If you are unfamiliar with it, it concerns a pair of room-mates/best friends at a la-di-da private boys’ school during WWII and the nature of evil. The boys are Gene, an introverted guy, and Finny, an extroverted guy with a devil-may-care attitude. To excerpt:
“What’s that thing?” [Gene asked]
“This is a tablecloth,” he [Finny] said out of the side of his mouth.
“No, cut it out. What is it?”
“This,” he answered with some pride, “is going to be my emblem. Ma sent it up last week. Did you ever see stuff like this, and a color like this?…”
“…Pink! It makes you look like a fairy!”
“Does it?” He used this pre-occupied tone when he was thinking of something more interesting than what you said. But his mind always recorded what was said and played it back when there was time, so as he was buttoning the high collar… he said mildly, “I wonder what would happen is I looked like a fairy to everyone.”
*shrugs* For whatever its worth, it made me think of that scene, and in a literature-referencing heavy series like Hyouka, I may not be too out of left field here.
Anyway, in speaking with AJtheFourth, it sounds like her post will definitely look into the Satoshi-Houtarou dynamic, which I was satisfied to skip entirely and leave to her. As I said, she also will likely present something more nuanced, as she pointed out more subtle things such as changes in the lightning of certain scenes. I’m quite honestly really looking forward to reading her post, and it should be up sometime this weekend, so you should absolutely check it out when it does appear.
So I’ve convinced, or I haven’t convinced you, or I’ve suddenly made it so that you see The Gay everywhere, and not just in Hyouka with one character. Everywhere! I’ve ruined you for life! You’re probably unfit for marriage now, I presume. And that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.
Oh, and if you didn’t quite catch the title’s reference…