Otaku Queer: Queen's Blade

Since I brought it up with my last article, I figured I might as well get some more Queen's Blade thoughts out by looking at the franchise's odd relationship with queerness. What I mean is, since it's an ecchi franchise, it does fetishize lesbianism, but it also subverts some of the usual characterization that tends to come with that. Despite it being the poster child of everything wrong with ecchi anime, it's strangely manages to avoid some of the usual pitfalls, and even allows for genuine character development and arcs.

In most works like Queen's Blade, if a female character expresses interest in another girl, they will either be treated as the butt of a joke (that joke usually being “haha, lesbians exist!”) or be portrayed as some sort of dangerous predator. In the rare cases a lesbian or bisexual woman in not treated like this, you can expect them to die a horrible death at some point. Heterosexual targeted ecchi works tend to be misogynistic (shocker), and that extends to how they portray women attracted to women. The character could just be faking it or has some sort of phobia of men, or they're doomed to a tragic ending. If none of the above, they're just a cartoonish villain. What's weird about Queen's Blade, a franchise that builds characters by starting with a single fetish and adding on, is that doesn't do this ...mostly.

There are four obviously queer characters in this series, and they're all portrayed as lesbians, though Echidna is debatable. Menace, Elina, and Irma are all portrayed only having interest in the same gender, while Echidna is might be bisexual instead. I'll get to her and Elina last, though, because there's a ton to go over with them. Consider them the more obviously problematic queer characters, and both Menace and Irma as the opposite. And yes, I too am surprised Menace could be considered a good example of a queer character.

The thing with Menace is that while she is an antagonist and has no heroic qualities, she's not exactly evil either. Menace is never marked as comedic, evil, or wrong for being gay, and the series seems oddly sympathetic to her. The show wisely cuts out the worst parts of her back story (which I will not get into) and keeps it simple. Menace is the way she is not because she's a lesbian, but because she's a hedonist. It's not being attracted to women that's her problem, but her inability to properly rule her country, which lead to it being destroyed and her closest lover betraying her. Change her sexuality, and barely anything about her story changes significantly. If anything, it would make her less sympathetic, because she was betrayed by a rightfully upset servant and not someone she seemed to have real affection for. Not even jokes aimed at her go for her sexuality, but instead her dim and self-indulgent personality. It's fitting that she just sort of leaves the main story to go do her own thing, and pretty much everyone involved is happier for it.

Irma is also one of the most sympathetic characters in the series, though she sadly doesn't get enough screen time, plus lacks the ability to fight on the same level as everyone else. Her role as an antagonist is complicated, because it comes about from being trained by Echidna, who never really bothered to set her moral compass right. She's a genuinely kind person who will do horrible things if she believes it will result in moving her own ambitions. She's another character never shamed for her queerness, and she manages to survive her story, despite the logical endpoint seeming to be a tragic death.

Both Irma and Menace really stick out in the franchise because while they are fetish heavy characters, it's not in the expected ways. Menace is often portrayed as a ditzy layabout or dom, never plaything up her lesbianism too much outside her love of massages. The only other times it does come up is for drama and character definition, as she despises the woman who betrayed her and it remains one of the few things that gets her to take anything seriously. Truth be told, her queerness has little to do with her appeal, especially because this franchise will come up with all sorts of idiocy to have girl on girl stuff happen.

Irma also remains one of the few standouts for her surprisingly normal personality. Her entire thing is using a strong outer face to hide a more timid personality, which is one of the single most overused personality types in the history of ecchi. Her relationship with Echidna even gets treated with respect and not just an extra bit for sex appeal. How she reacted to what Echidna taught her and did to her is core to her entire characterization and arc, and the series wants you to understand her feelings and emphasize with them.

Speaking of Echidna, this is where things start to get ...squicky. See, all the people she's shown the most interest in have been much, much younger than her. I mean granted, she is 500 years old, but she had probably been sleeping with Irma since the girl was 15 (!!!!!), and the franchise occasionally likes to use her for a bit of femdom content by having her around Cattleya's son, who is a literal child in every respect (!!!!!!!!!!). So yeah, that's kind of a big problem. It's downplayed to the point of not really happening in the anime, but there's official art where she's torturing the poor kid while he's stuck to a tree, so ...yeah.

Echidna's entire character, though, is based around flaws. She's not a terrible person, and she will do the right thing when the chips are down, but when it's just a normal day, she will do whatever for the hell of it. She's also the master of bad personal decisions, leaving her own kind to have fun with humans, only to come across the problem that she'll outlive everyone she knows. This is where her relationship with Irma really becomes a problem. She knows she's just going to hurt her in the long run, but does it anyways. But in a way, how she's portrayed in the anime is better than in the game books. Shes given a few more layers and it's clear she's aware of her own flaws. They also never do anything gross with the literal child and her, so that's a huge plus.

So it seems like Queen's Blade is surprisingly progressive, as least as far as these sort of franchises go, right?

Well, unfortunately, Elina exists.

Elina is genuinely one of the worst characters I have ever seen in any piece of media in existence. She's an unlikable, self centered bully and a lazy psycho lesbian stereotype, and she's forced to be one of the most important characters in the story due to her bloodline. Her entire thing beyond being a spoiled brat is being a crazed lesbian who not only wants to make out with her sister, but control everything she does and rob her of all agency. Her sadomasochist streak is simply vile with how she normally interacts with people, especially when it comes to how she interacts with her family and allies. She's even a classist on top of it, and not a single character calls her out for her bullshit except one equally as awful as her.

Elina's rival character, Nyx, suffers from similar issues to Elina, and it's the core of every joke that gets passed off with them. See, Nyx isn't gay, but she is mentally unstable, just like Elina. Nyx is bipolar, while Elina suffers from a borderline personality disorder, causing the two of them to go on angry fits, and it's all played up for laughs. It's gross with Nyx because every single thing about her character is basically pointing and laughing at the victim of abuse, but it's even worse with Elina because her very serious mental problems are treated as wacky character traits. Tossing in terrible lesbian and BDSM jokes in there does not do her character any favors.

It's odd these two ended up being so terrible, because the anime does genuinely improve on the source material a lot, like toning down Tomoe's prudishness, or changing Echidna from a manic sadist to a reserved dom. We see from Menace and Echidna a lot of positive changes and tweaks to their basic core, but everything horrible about Elina and Nyx both get played up to the point of being disgusting. But at least they kept the terrible character traits to one queer character and not all of them. I'd even say there are elements of Menace and Echidna to note for a good example of sexually open queer characters. But man, it's amazing how much one bad character and spoil things.


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