Anime Expo has officially closed its door after yet another successful convention. As the last of our heat-stroked heroes exited the halls, I got to thinking about which panel I enjoyed the most. As a member of the press, the industry panels should be the clear winner. And yet, I find myself inclined to nominate the modest panel, “LGBTQ+ in Anime, Presented by Crunchyroll.”

Crunchyroll Presents ‘LGBTQ+ in Anime’ at Anime Expo.

The Crunchyroll Crew (+1)

The panel was moderated by Cayla Coats (Editorial Programming, Crunchyroll). She was joined by Crunchyroll artists Raye Rodriguez and Jamie Batrez and Events Project Manager Tylor Starr. Rounding out the crew was Jacob Chapman, an Associate Editor at Anime News Network. All are members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Coats broke the panel up into two parts. The first half was a moderated discussion among the panelist about how anime and manga helped each of them contextualize their gender and sexual identities. The second half was an open Q&A session between the audience and the panelists.

Questions such as how each of the panelist discovered that they were LGBTQ, what has been their journey since that discovery, and how anime or the community helped them during that process were posed early on. On the latter point, Rodriguez revealed that he used anime to cope with being a girl when he didn’t know he had any other options. Cosplay was another huge influence on Rodriguez and Batrez, who spoke openly about how cosplay allowed them to safely explore and experiment with gender identity growing up. On the other hand, Starr looked to anime for confidence by connecting with characters that challenged the hetero-normative narrative.

Queer Soup for the Soul

Panelists also discussed, in length, about which titles had the greatest impact on them. Series such as REVOLUTIONARY GIRL UTENA, MAGICAL KNIGHT RAYEARTH, GRAVITATION, KAIBA, and WANDERING SON were all given a moment in the sun for their portrayal of queer stories. Despite the great strides made in creating queer media, there’s still a severe shortage of stories that go beyond queer-baiting.

In lieu of quality representation, many of the panelists found themselves picking apart heavily coded characters to create meaning within mainstream media. Chapman and Batrez spoke candidly of the impact that James from POKÉMON had on them. They found solace in the beloved Team Rocket villain who canonically dressed in womenswear several times throughout the series. The other panelists found similar solace in characters from popular titles such as CARDCAPTOR SAKURA, SAILOR MOON, and NARUTO.

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Closing Words

The hour-long panel wrapped up with an open Q&A session between attendees and the panelists, but not before the Crunchyroll Crew (+ Chapman) had some final words of wisdom for the audience. Coats, a trans lesbian woman, shared her own story about how the community helped her come out and transition. She emphasized that the anime community’s strength lies in its diversity. As a final note, she urged attendees to look around the room as proof of this fact.

Panels like Crunchyroll’s ‘LGBTQ+ in Anime’ remind me of the heart and soul of Anime Expo. Although backed by an industry titan, the panel was, ultimately, for the fans by the fans. At its core, Anime Expo has been, and should always be, centered around the fans. Unlike many other big conventions in the U.S., the community and fan-created content is the blood that keeps Anime Expo going strong. And the fact that it’s a panel about spreading the love and celebrating who we are? Well, that’s the cherry on top.

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