Otaku Queer: Milly Ashford

I find that anime and its surrounding mediums and cultures are really interested in queer people in interesting ways. Japan's particular brand of sexual repression has resulted in some strange and varied examples of queer character in their pop-fiction, and a lot of those characters helped me figure out a lot about myself and others. However, they're almost always loaded with problems in how they're represented, or the text is afraid to actually state their sexuality or gender identity outright. So, for this series, Otaku Queer, I'll be looking at different queer or queer coded characters in Japanese media (I will try to avoid headcanon stuff too often) and seeing what is done right and wrong in how they're represented.

To start off, I decided to look at a character from one of my favorite anime that happens to share my own sexuality, bisexuality. We begin with a look at Code Geass' Milly Ashford.

Now, this is Code Geass we're talking about, so I plan to return here a lot because I am convinced with every passing year that less than half of the cast was in any way straight. That series is basically a bunch of pretty bisexuals trying to kill each other over international politics and magical conspiracy. But I wanted to start with Milly because she's one of the three most obviously queer characters in the cast, and arguably the best represented because she's not the main antagonist or creates the atomic bomb. She's also especially interesting to me because she's the first character I can remember in anything I watched televised that made me think “wow, this person is really, really gay.” She might be my first example of bisexuality that I can remember so clearly.

Milly is apart of the family that runs Ashford Academy, a school main character Lelouch attends between his rebellion plans with the Black Knights. While she ends up on the back burner as the series goes on, she isn't an insignificant character. She effectively rules over the academy, where the main cast live normal lives and the series can take comedic breaks from the grim main story. She's also the guardian of Lelouch's normal life and family, helping hide them from Britannia after their invasion of Japan. As a result, she's central to Lelouch's growth as a character by giving him a safe zone, and also forcing him and other characters into situations way outside their comfort zone. She's basically a comedic character forcing herself into a drama and making the series bend to her wills and desire for an episode at a time, sort of like a less fantastical Bat-Mite, in a way.

Even when R2 takes away a lot of her importance due to plot developments forcing Lelouch and Kallen out of the school, she's still given her own character arc, and an entire episode dedicated to that arc. Milly is treated as the big sister to the school cast, messing with them but always looking out for them. She keeps Kallen's family situation secret, tries to hear out Lelouch when she feels he needs it, and is the only cast member to give Shirley actually useful advice after the death of her father. She also remembers all of her friends closely, even offering advice to Nina when she runs into her again after graduation. Her kindness, empathy, and boundless hope is necessary in the series ending, as people like her help bridge the divides between different countries.

In many ways, she's one of the series best characters, and her sexuality fits into her wild and eccentric personality. She likes putting on parties and celebrations partly for her friends, trying to help them out of funks or connect better with each other. Those parties usually revolve around outlandish outfits, cross dressing, ridiculous spectacle, or relationship games. She also tries creating a safe space for the Japanese as well, who are shown to be allowed in the school with no problems during one festival. That positive energy and thinking she shows is what really makes her stand out, as she's constantly shown as a symbol of emotional love. She also teases Shirley a lot. A LOT. That and the crossdressing party feel like the writers going “SHE'S NOT STRAIGHT” as loud as they can without just saying it. She also clearly has complicated feelings for Lelouch, so bi is definitely the read. It's that love angle that seems to say the most, though, as the writers seem to use her sexuality as shorthand for her caring nature, not worried about how she acts around the same or opposite gender, unlike most of the other cast when emotions get high.

Milly is a great character in a lot of respects, and one of my favorite bisexual characters, but her sexuality is also presented a bit too comically. There's this running problem with queer characters that making jokes or gags based around their sexuality or gender identity too often can rob that character of their queerness in the eyes of an audience. This happens all the time with characters like Deadpool, who's one of the most openly queer characters in comics, yet constantly gets mistaken for straight and cis (identify as their assigned birth gender) because so many examples are gags (for the record, he's pansexual and hinted to be bigender). Milly ends up falling into the exact same trap.

I can't help but notice that a lot of fan circles ignore how ridiculously thick her sexuality is laid out and try attributing it to seeing characters as romantic rivals. That is part of it, but it also seems to be simplifying the relationships she has in the series. This is because her teasing Shirley is presented mostly as a joke, as is the majority of things she does. It ignores that her playful actions inform to her character and that she's just not a thing for people to point and laugh at. The series inability to show her more complicated emotions more openly ultimately hurts her presence a little, which is a significant issue.

I can at least say other media doesn't hold back as much. The DS visual novel, Lost Colors, has a pretty funny crossressing sequence that really amps up Milly's obvious queerness, and a lot of fan groups tend to portray her as bisexual (and I noticed they pair her with Kallen a lot, which I am okay with). But this series is far more clear with the sexuality of other characters, though those characters end up being demonized in some way, or their homosexuality ends up playing a massive role in causing a tragedy. Despite how amazingly gay a series Code Geass is, the hetero-normative writing feels suffocating at times, Milly just gets out best in that department. Overall, I adore her, and she was one of those characters that managed to get me to realize my own sexuality. I just want her queerness taken a tad more seriously.

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