Something you’ve probably already figured out if you’ve been reading this blog for a while now is that I have a huge interest in two things Utopia/Dystopia Science Fiction and LGBT+ characters. Putting the two together in a story is garneted to engage me in the narrative. I’ve blogged a lot about From the New World so here I am going to talk about another Anime with Queer characters and a Utopia/Dystopia civilization. No:6 is the title of the anime and the name of the city which is the primary setting and focus. Rather than try to provide an over view of the entire city the anime focuses only on two boys. One Shion who is from the upper crust of the city and the other called Rat who is an escaped prisoner from the slums outside the city. What is also refreshing is that this story has both its protagonists as two young queer characters and their relationship is just as much part of the story as anything else. Since these are our main characters the strength of the story rests on the two of them and they raise to challenge with fantastic results. However, throughout the whole story there is a lack of how their society views their homosexuality, particularly a society like No:6 that punishes non-conformity.
The first of the two characters we meet is Shion. Shion has traits that can be both positive and negative depending one’s view. He is a very caring person putting the needs of others before himself. Examples include when he helps Rat after the latter breaks into his home, despite the risks and later, consequences to himself. Later on, Shion saves a baby during the clean up before the Holy Day. Shion is the type of person who is always willing to help and save other people when they need him. However, there is also a negative way of viewing this. Constantly putting others first to himself is a risk. While he has good intentions, he is also naive. This is especially true when he thinks he can simply just break down the walls of No.6. He thinks in doing will make everything will be right with the world. He also seems to think he can do everything such as invent a serum to save the lives of people of No.6, rescue his mother and Safu, break down the walls and be with Rat. Shion does not recognize he is one person with very limited power particularly on his own. This later becomes more evident when he set out to rescue Safu all by himself without asking Rat assistance. Certainly, going to get himself killed in the process.
In the last two episodes, however viewers get to see a very different side to Shion. Shion is confronted with the reality of No.6. He becomes increasingly pushed during the dangerous mission to rescue Safu. Shion has never done something like this before. He also becomes ruthless. When Rat is nearly killed by a guard Shion, overcome with anger, kills the guard. Shion himself is shocked that he could such a thing, only putting aside his trauma when he has to comfort Rat. Shion was a new and unpredictable environment, this went to his head. This showed just how far he is willing to go to save those he loves such as Rat and Safu even if it means abandoning his gentle nature to kill. His idealism is broken when confronted with what No:6 has done to Safu. Finally, he hates No:6 and vows to destroy it. Shion shows just how a character’s good traits can also be his flaws making him a complicated and layered person and character.
The other main character is Rat, who is everything Shion is not. While Shion is very book smart and academic Rat is street smart. Shion is overwhelmed by the West Block, by disease and vice but Rat just shrugs it off. Shion would be lost outside the walls without Rat. But Rat would be dead without the kindness Shion should him back in episode one. Rat returns this kindness by both saving Shion from the wasp embedded in him and by being his guide as Shion adjusts to life in the West Block. Rat is the last of the forest people who in the series have been wiped out by No.6. For this reason, he hates the city and those who dwell inside it. He seeks revenge for what happened to him and his people but in doing so would become the very thing he hates. In the end however he finds a way of doing this without massacring the city himself. The parasitic wasps that emerge from the upper class bring an end to the elite. Rat for his part destroys the main the main computer feeding No:6 bringing an end to the place. Rat gets what he wants but also avoids becoming what he hates. When No: 6 walls are broken down not only is Shion’s idealism proved to be correct but so too is Rat’s dream because No:6 is finally gone. Rat is just as complex and rich a character as Shion is.
While these are two fascinating characters in a dark setting there and their relationship was interesting the way, their sexuality is handled felt somewhat amiss to me. I could understand why these two were attracted to each other, they were different in a lot of ways that worked. Shion was an idealist that was grounded by the more cynical Rat. Rat was street smart and Shion was book smart. But the thing was amiss was that while this was a romantic relationship between two young men it is never commented on how No:6 views such a relationship. No:6 is a totalitarian society were those outside the norm are hunted, punished at best, and eliminated at worst. Even if they are children or if they have committed the crime of doubting No:6. So how is homosexuality viewed in such a city? We are never told not once. Homosexuality isn’t something that is usually tolerated in such regimes but not so much as a comment is made about Shion’s and Rat’s relationship by anyone. Not even one warning them to stay in the West Block because they would be persecuted for their sexuality in the city. Would a gay couple be accepted in the city? We don’t really know.
This a recurring trend with depiction of LGBT+ characters in anime and manga. There will be gay, lesbian, or bisexual characters but the way the dominant heterosexual society views them will be either glossed over or not addressed at all. The same thing happened in From the New World when all the same gender relationships ended before we could really learn how they viewed by the Village. It’s the same thing here really. Rat leaves at the end of anime just before Shion is reunited with his mother and adopts a small baby of his own (the child who he saved earlier in the story). While it does seem possible that Rat will come back and they will be together it does leave off where there could have been a very happy conclusion and an answer to how their society views their relationship. I understand there are also light novels that may provide answers to some of these questions but from the anime alone these things are left lingering. That all being said if you want to watch an anime with gay characters and dystopian society this is still a very good watch.
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