From the New World and Bisexuality
Warning: The series I am reviewing contain depictions of child abduction, disappearance, murder and violence in a future totalitarian society. It also depicts sexual violence. The show also contains relationships sexual relationships between young people. That is the trigger warning. Leave now if you wish. Also, spoilers for the whole series. Do not read any further if you don’t want spoilers. I know I said I would post this at the same time as my recap of episode eight, but this is finished, and I want to get it out there. I will recap episode eight asap though. Also, this based only on the anime, I have not read the novel nor the manga.
Are the characters in the anime From the New Word bisexual? The characters in From the New World (FTNW) never verbalized their sexuality in terms we in our culture would use-i.e. words like bisexual, gay, straight, lesbian etc. But similarly, so characters like Bo and Lauren from Lost Girl never express a label either yet from the show it is clear that they are bisexual and lesbian respectively. So, from watching the anime can we tell what orientation these characters are? First off, I need to address the fact that the characters in FTNW are from a very different culture and time period to me. They are living in a fictional future in dystopia Japan. So, the cultural context these characters are in is very different from my own. So how does this cultural context view sexuality?
For starters most of the characters are engaged in relationships with members of the same sex. Satoru and Shun are together, Saki is with Maria. Only Mamoru is not engaged in a same sex relationship instead in Saki’s words he spends his time pining after Maria. In their society it is presented as the norm to have same sex relationships until a certain age with Mamoru being viewed as unusually for not having a boyfriend. They are expected to later form a relationship with a person of the other sex. In other words, they are expected to grow out of their same-sex sexuality. There are no adults in the series who are in committed same sex relationships. None of the teenagers in episode sixteen pair with a member of the same sex. It seems that same sex relationships are expected to be something one grows out of.
The False Minoshiro in episode three further supports this. Human society has become like Bonobos (whom have sex many partners of any sex). A society of love. This basically means that I doubt these characters are meant to be monogamous either. But I won’t be talking about that here that is a topic for another post entirely. Getting back to the subject at hand, this idea of someone growing out of their same-sex attractions happens to Queer people in the real world. In the show this is referred to as playing a game by Shun. I myself have been on the receiving end of this. Another problem with this depiction is the idea that everyone is bisexual. Because if everyone is bisexual then rather than bisexual being an identity and community it is instead a universal human experience. This is a form of bisexual erasure. Putting it into a future does not change that. So, is problematic tropes the only thing FTNW offer us in terms of bisexual representation? No, it’s not that simply.
For starters Saki and Maria continue their relationship when they have paired with Satoru and Mamoru. There is no problem expressed in the story or from any of the characters with this. Saki’s and Maria’s relationship clearly remains strong and even at the age of twenty-six Saki still thinks of Maria. She even has a moment when she dreams of Maria and the following takes place. Maria is justifying why she left with Mamoru and one of those is ‘It’s not like two girls can start a family’. Did Saki and/or Maria want that with each? It is very possible that they did but that their society clearly does not facilitate it. Maria leaving breaks Saki’s heart and Maria’s letter clearly shows she too is devastated.
In short even though their society expected them to outgrow their same sex relationship they clearly haven’t. Saki and Maria are both bisexual women. Are they marginalized in the village for their sexuality? There is no indication that is the case in fact these two have other things to be worried about. Maybe because it happened in their youth they were accepted for the time being. Maria does not stay in village, so we don’t get to see what kind of conflict if any their relationship would have caused had it continued into adulthood. That’s unfortunate but it at least does enough to subvert the whole ‘you grow out of queerness’ trope that could have been present.
So, I’ve talked a lot about the girls in this anime but what about the boys? I talked a bit about Mamoru before so what about Satoru and Shun. At the start of episode eight they are in a relationship but on realizing he is becoming a karmic demon Shun breaks off the relationship rather coldly. Even going as far as to say, ‘Haven’t we played this game long enough?’ Satoru is hurt by this. He later starts seeing another boy as part of a rebound or to make his ex-boyfriend jealous. Shun dies soon later. Shun says he was in love with Saki. He never says anything similar to Satoru even though there is clearly tension between them after they break up. We don’t get an enough of Shun’s perspective in the anime to really tell us how he viewed his relationship with Satoru. But we do know he was in love with Saki. The tension after they break up and why Shun broke up with him show that he did at least care for Satoru in some way. There are examples of him caring about Satoru throughout the series for example in episode seven when they are reunited he and Satoru are the first to embrace. Shun may have cared for Satoru not in the same he did for Saki but in some way, he did.
However, Satoru is another story. There is much more information on his feelings for Shun then on Shun’s feelings for Satoru. Satoru was very much in love with Shun. Saki even saying when they spoke about Shun’s replacement Ryou that ‘(Ryou) is not the person we both fell in love with’. Satoru’s actions after he and Shun break clearly show he is not over him. He is worried about Shun and is the first to leap into action to find him when he disappears. With Shun dead and Satoru’s memories of him erased he doesn’t think of Shun as Saki thinks of Maria. But we learn in episode twenty that he still wants to regain his memories of the faceless boy (Shun) so he can come to terms with whatever happened and move on. When Saki says Shun’s name in episode twenty-five we see Satoru’s eye widen. Is it possible he has recalled who Shun was? Very much so.
The ending only further supports this when we see Saki had regained all her memories, even those of Reikio. I like the interpretation that he did. Even if he didn’t Saki may have restored them. She clearly shows she is able to work well with hypnosis in the series. Because he is able to remember Shun Satoru is finally about to move on. Satoru like Maria and Saki subvert the toxic tropes as well. Making him not just a bisexual character but a male bisexual character. Boys who are bisexual are still so uncommon in media, so it is great to see one. There are other things the show does that is praise worthy, even with all the characters who die there are two bisexual character who get a happy ending Satoru and Saki. Happy ending for Queer characters are still so rare and it’s great to see one. The heterosexual relationships in the show are treated with respect and developed rather well. None of the hetero relationships come out of left field.
Despite the good the anime does with bisexual character there are few things that could have been done better. I wish is that the show had gone a little bit further in showing these character’s relationships. Especially Shun’s and Satoru’s romance. Since Saki is the point of view character we only get inside her mind in depth. Also, this begs the question what about monosexual queers (gays and lesbians) do they not exist in this world since human society is meant to be a society of love? If that is the case how come someone like Mamoru the token heterosexual exist? Even if you make the argument that he is not straight just always in love with Maria what would the situation have been like if she was a boy? Alas we never get an answer to this.
So how does From the New World hold up as a representation for bisexuality. It is a very solid one. Does it do everything right and explore everything about queer identity in this world? No but it does more than enough things to represent some pretty cool bisexual characters including subverting some pretty toxic tropes. If you want a cool science fiction anime with bi character this is probably the best out there and well worth watching.