This post contains spoilers for chapter 36 and later.
This post is weeks overdue, but it's taken a while for me to put my thoughts into words. Now that four characters have been revealed as being attracted to people of the same gender, it's important to discuss the treatment of LGBTQ+ characters in this book.
I am not an expert on the subject. My thoughts on this issue are heavily influenced by a discussion Zac Bertschy (rest in peace) and Erica Friedman had on an excellent episode of ANNCast last year, in which they discussed the difference between BL and yuri works aimed at queer audiences and works aimed at straight audiences. (I'm simplifying the discussion to keep this note brief, but if you want to listen for yourself, it starts at 17:58 and ends at 40:22 in the podcast linked above.) Although I am a gay man, and I wrote this book for my husband, the final result more closely resembles what Zac called “fetish for straight people.” There are a couple reasons for this.
The first reason is that most of the LGBTQ+ characters are lesbians, I am a gay man, and I did no research, nor did I consult any lesbians, on the issues that young women face when coming to terms with their sexuality. Instead, I used the lesbian characters as vessels to convey my own experiences. I tried writing stories about gay men, but found myself mirroring too much of my life experiences in the stories. They ended up being too personal, and I felt uncomfortable publishing them. Because of this, I tried to limit the depiction of issues surrounding homosexuality to what I believe to the common experiences of gay men and women, which left room only for surface-level explorations of issues like prejudice and coming out.
The second reason is that, in writing a story about the darker sides of fandom, but aimed at anime fans, I attempted to employ tropes which I believe are most visible in mainstream anime, which often does not do the best job portraying its queer characters. The purpose of this is to shine a light on the ways these tropes can be harmful when applied to real people. However, it often comes off as too subtle. I first started writing Meipoouchou years before the 2016 election, but was very much inspired by the slow-boil into fascism I saw happening worldwide following 9/11.
Horrible things we can't control are happening around us, sometimes closer than we realize, but if they don't effect our daily lives too much, we an ignore them and cling to normalcy. This, in turn, enables less obvious evils to proliferate in plain sight. This is reflected in the story by the characters' casual attitudes to the atrocities being committed in their world. Taking them at face value, these atrocities are easy to dismiss as normal, but when you think about them, you realize how horrifying they are.
One example comes early in the book, when Momo goes into heat. This is a trope used in anime such as Cat Planet Cuties and Hyper Police for the purposes of arousal or comedy, and I heard from some readers that they interpreted the scene in Meipouchou as serving the same purpose. But the nekomimi in Meipouchou are horrific in themselves. Created in a laboratory through genetic engineering, there were doubtless many failed attempts, and the successful specimens were forced into a breeding program to ensure their genetic diversity. I attempted to mirror the grotesqueness of this situation by describing the contortions of Momo's face as she hissed in that chapter, but because I did not explicitly lead readers to think about these things, it was lost on many of them. As the author, I bear responsibility for that. And so, by attempting to do the same to tropes involving LGBTQ+ characters in anime, I may have ended up reinforcing those tropes instead of criticizing them.
(This was not intended as a criticism of the tropes themselves, or the people who enjoy them in fiction. I have no quibble with catgirls in anime—I think there are some great catgirl characters—but rather the idea of genetically engineering catgirls in the real world. Meipouchou is all about the small tragedies that occur when people don't separate fiction from reality.)
While Meipouchou may not be a great example of queer representation in modern fiction, by hewing so closely to contemporary anime tropes, I'm confident that I haven't done any worse than most pop media. If you've enjoyed Meipouchou to this point, I hope the next two books in the trilogy will continue to entertain you.