Yozakura Quartet – Hana No Uta is remarkably nuanced. It has a lot of unresolved sexual tension, some of which serves to underscore some of the bizarre conventions of anime.
Ao is a catgirl, not a human; she is theoretically supposed to be 15, but in some ways acts much younger or much older (which might be understandable if her psychology is more feline than hominid). She shows no sign of going to school, and while she demands a lot of cuddling from friends of both sexes, she shows an unrealistically small awareness of sex. She is as receptive to caresses as a lonely kitten, but frequently cares for the heroine as if Ao were a mother and the heroine were Ao’s daughter.
In particular, she allows her 16-year-old best friend to lick her nipple through her swimsuit and then carries on as though nothing had happened. If such a thing were to happen in a realistic character drama, there would have to be some social resolution.
The girls could have a fight (“You really have to stop touching me like that – no more licking!) or the girls could become conscious lesbians, or the girls could have a session of very awkward laughter (“Okay, we’re totally not gay, and we’re never going to talk about this again…”).
I think the writers had a very specific and ignoble purpose in Ao’s lack of resolution. I think they wanted to make Ao into a fantasy sex object that would appeal to the widest possible audience. If she had acted realistically, the writers would have alienated several large market segments. Because she did not react with any depth, she remains a mostly-blank screen onto which the viewers can project whatever sexual fantasies they prefer. Some viewers would want Ao to be bisexual; others would want her to be entirely lesbian; still others would want her to be hetero and to dislike her friend’s advances. The writers can leave her as a shallow character and sell merchandise with her likeness to all of her conflicting fan bases; if the writers had given her realistic depth, they would have made her a less profitable item of intellectual property.
I don’t mind shows with gay characters; I award extra points to fairly realistic portrayals of gay problems, such as Samurai Flamenco, in which hetero Mari exploits bi/lesbian Moe’s attraction to her. Lots of viewers get aroused by watching Mari kissing Moe, just as lots of viewers get aroused by watching Ao get licked. But when Mari kisses Moe, she’s deepening the characterization and advancing the plot, and when Ao gets licked, she’s going from a character with potential for depth to a shallow cardboard cutout, suitable only for fanservice.
Sometimes it’s pretty easy to spot a character whose sexuality was fixed by the writer as part of the essential vision of the story. Gantz and Berserk have some very sexual characters whose sexuality is calculated to repel and disgust the audience at least slightly, but they are repellent for a reason; they are statements by the authors that these shows are not just typical fan-service vehicles.
This franchise will probably get dragged out for a long, long time. I generally dislike prolonged shaggy-dog stories, because they generally happen when producers force the writers to keep writing established characters long after the writers’ inspirations have run dry.
With Hana no Uta, I get the sense that the author really has fun with these characters and continues to get artistic inspiration relating to these characters. The author even uses his fantasy magic system to make some claims about the philosophy of science:
I have seen many claims about science, but for sheer style, it’s hard to beat claims delivered by a shaven-headed man in a double-breasted suit.