Spinning with the Stars Above: Beyond ‘Bury Your Gays’ with Yuri Kuma Arashi and San Junipero

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“But everything is over when you’re dead…”
“It’s not over! What Kenji was trying to say is that it’s actually where everything begins!

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That San Junipero would rise from the paranoid hotbed of technological instability that is Black Mirror, that Yuri Kuma Arashi would from the ashes of disingenuously cloying S constraints results in a fierce and resounding call for inclusivity dousing the flames of conditional sentiments often inextricably tied to queer narratives. In the rare instances where such relationships are portrayed sans restraint they often end in tragedy, commercialized for entertainment purposes loaded with insidious queerness as crime implications. It seems to suggest they are doomed to succumb to stagnancy, gaudily contrasted against heterosexual counterparts riding off into the sunset, their happiness assured. The afterlife proves to be a paltry consolation prize with decades of struggles towards visibility and acceptance undermined, the more disingenuous situations lapsing into tokenism – a queer character may appear, yet they will seldom reach the end unscathed let alone with their partner or love interest. As the years go on it has become increasingly impossible to ignore such an unsavoury trend which has brought upon what has now become a worn fandom staple (‘Bury your Gays’) lurking in the shade of every ostensibly jubilant queer union, every smile and affectionate touch, every unabashed display of sexuality. Such is its prevalence that 2016 boasted a staggering 25 cases of explicitly queer women being killed off [1], inevitably leading to strained questions regarding the supposed worth of their narratives and whether television is doing enough to combat the issue’s urgency.

Few series care to explore what occurs to those left behind following the sacrificial baton toss to more socially acceptable counterparts, narrative dregs having fulfilled their role only to be left plummeting down to the nebulous nadirs of network television constraints. Inclusivity is rarely considered with such ruinous tenets instead serving as dramatic impetuses to drive the broader narrative forward, queerness arguably ending before it can even begin as writers lapse into sensationalist portrayals. These characters serve a specific function in adhering to such treacherous staples, gaudy entertainment as opposed to critical representative icons. This in turn inevitably has a grave impact on those who would possibly identify with such characters, particularly at a malleable age which is certainly cause for concern this year, and every year – we can do better, these stories are worthy of depiction rendering fandom’s prolonged campaigning frustrating. We should by all accounts have long since left such incendiary stories behind back with the first televised lesbian to be run over by a truck chasing her love interest [2]. San Junipero and Yuri Kuma Arashi instead serve as crucial milestones which aggressively strive to defy such lazily repugnant strictures, with their unabashedly queer couples intentionally transcending the notion of death itself through walking off into a glittering future beyond traditionalist narrative confines, beyond ‘Bury your Gays’.

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Two worlds collide in the gaudy party town of San Junipero where Pacman arcade machines line every corner, big shoulder-pads and even bigger hair swaying in tandem to glitzy synth-pop staples. It is in the midst of such an unabashedly ‘80s simulacrum where bespectacled wallflower Yorkie is pulled into the vivacious Kelly’s orbit, sprouting magnificently alongside their achingly heartfelt magnetism. What initially appears to be a sweet period piece fashioned out of searing stares and enlightening exchanges however distorts alongside time itself, their burgeoning relationship unfurling within a digital afterlife spanning across the distant shores of time; swept away in the annals of time before midnight strikes and they return to poignant presents. Glitzy neon brights prove to be a far cry from solemn white corridors where aged counterparts draw closer to death with every passing second, the clock’s ticking long and heavy reminding them of just how little time remains. Quadriplegic Yorkie bedridden and yearning for the release which her homophobic parents never granted her, on the verge of marrying a nurse so that she can at last be euthanized. Kelly terminally ill and grappling with the moral strictures of either being put to rest with husband and daughter, or uploading her spirit to a digital Valhalla alongside Yorkie allowing the newly wedded couple to live ‘til power outage do they part.

“It’s got different endings, depending on if you’re in one or two player. It was kinda the first game to do that.”

Although Black Mirror has gained notoriety for its unrepentantly bleak view of humanity’s relationship with technology, the Emmy-nominated San Junipero positively offers its characters a new lease of life beyond the narrow confines of mortality. Transforming ‘heaven’ into ‘a place on earth’, the synths of Belinda Carlisle’s classic orchestrate a dazzling boisterous display of love as Kelly and Yorkie indulge in each other’s company, eternity within their shared grasp. They are able to joyously transcend the narrative shackles weighing heavy on all of which their existence suggests, unabashed elation beautiful in light of all the queer characters cast aside to death and perpetually silenced in its margins. Death is by no means an ending, but a beginning glittering in the depths of a starry seaside party town. All the more remarkable is that the pair connect without any of the anticipated angst-ridden tenets, their first sexual scene refreshing in its refusal to succumb to leery, invasive cinematography commodifying their forms; sexuality a part of who Kelly and Yorkie are but by no means defining them, the sixty-minute span of the episode imbuing their characters with impressive depth. The giddy sincerity of what their union represents irrevocably shatters the fragility once encasing queer characters, transgressive in its statement of intent.

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Yuri Kuma Arashi occupies a similarly transgressive space of medium liminality, serving as a scathing treatise of explicit othering and oppressive orders which condemn the marginalized. Its existence lives in raging defiance of a black lily laser aimed at Ginko teetering on the precipice of social annihilation, of demure exchanges strewn amidst a pristine garden forbidding lilies from ever flourishing, of stifling sexuality. Its central characters alongside the show itself dare to defy the sanctity of yuri’s history through openly performing queerness, shattering a medium built upon tenuous staples, breathless ‘but we’re both girls’. In order to assimilate and retreat into the welcome arms of nonthreatening invisibility Kureha is essentially required to kill off her queerness embodied as Ginko, yet instead severs off illusory pretences through an unabashed visible display of queerness even in the midst of gunshot and chants calling for exclusion drowning her out. Following in Yorkie and Kelly’s wake, Ginko and Kureha walk off into a glittering future through ascending an iridescent Jacob’s Ladder to join Kumaria, transcending severance. Resisting the restrictive shackles of vitriolic mobs curbing desires, lapsing into ostracism.

In Yuri Kuma Arashi’s wake such a (deceptively) traditionalist ending once again resorting to expected crime as queerness connotations understandably drew criticism; disillusionment unavoidable as Uchiko witnessed Ginko and Kureha’s ascension, religious imagery suggestive with the ill-fated pair at last being together in death. However given all the subversive conceits the show champions a depressingly reductive retreat at the eleventh hour would be questionable, instead inviting the uninitiated to take a closer look at director Ikuhara Kunihiko’s oeuvre. His major works are inextricably bound by a remarkably cohesive and uplifting mantra defying anticipated narrative developments, death generally coded as a beginning upon which Unchosens are able to healthily take control of their own futures sans toxic influences; coffins destroyed, altering personal fates through kindness offered. Likewise in both Yuri Kuma Arashi and San Junipero painful pasts are cast aside in order to safely make that transition to a glittering future filled with acceptance, creating their own world free of strictures. They both in turn become stirring queer narratives boasting personal journeys where love manages to prevail, Kelly and Yorkie alongside Ginko and Kureha no longer Others or marginalized. Resonating across the often restrictive confines of their respective mediums into something beautiful and harmonious.

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When progressive epoch-defining pieces appear they generally pave the way for similarly resolute offerings, the combined efforts of San Junipero and Yuri Kuma Arashi serving as examples upon which their respective mediums ought to follow through normalized portrayals of queer relationships able to thrive without succumbing to ‘Bury your Gays’. As Uchiko gazed at Ginko and Kureha’s ascension in awe, countless other creative minds may have felt something within them stir. As subtext and insidious queerness as crime implications fade, the notion that such relationships are valid and worthy of depiction strengthen for they don’t have to end in death, especially when death itself can even be a beginning.

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Sources Addressed

[1] GLAAD – Where We Are on TV Report – 2016. (2016). Retrieved from https://www.glaad.org/whereweareontv16

[2] Bury Your Gays: Why ‘The 100,’ ‘Walking Dead’ Deaths Are Problematic (Guest Column). (2016). Retrieved from http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/bury-your-gays-why-100-877176

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One thought on “Spinning with the Stars Above: Beyond ‘Bury Your Gays’ with Yuri Kuma Arashi and San Junipero

  1. inksquid43 says:

    I’m reminded of the ending of the Utena movie, which also echoes the idea of “if this system oppresses us for who we are, we’ll escape into a new world where we can be ourselves”. I think this trope of yearning for escape can be seen in the context of other taboo relations, the one that comes most easily to mind being between Catherine and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights.
    And while this yearning for escape is kind of beautiful in its own right, I guess the ideal state would be a representation in which we know they’re openly LGBTQ, but no one bats an eye. And we almost have that in the main family of Maid Dragon–I say almost because despite the subtext, there is a scene in which Kanna says Kobayashi is like a mother, and Tohru like a sister.
    Lol excuse the rambling I think I covered four topics in two paragraphs

    Like

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