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The Paranoid Reader and the Nonsexual in No. 6

(In my attempt to procrastinate a Haikyuu!! post I’ve been meaning to write for months, I present to you an excerpt from a final paper I wrote for one of my literary theory classes last year. Yeah, I’m that girl who always finds a way to connect her assignments to anime. No shame.)

In the anime and manga world, there have been countless debates on whether, No.6, a series by Atsuko Asano, is considered to be BL. BL, or boys love, is a genre of stories that depict romantic and sexual relationships between men. But although No.6’s main characters are both male, and they engage in acts that may be considered homosexual, Asano adamantly refuses the BL label. In her attempt to pull the series away from the charged label BL, Asano opens up the possibility of seeing it as queer. No.6 is a queer text because of its rejection of paranoid reading and exploration of nonsexual romance between men.

A Paranoid Fan:
Women active in writing fan fiction would be the extreme of a female paranoid fan; she is so anxious for her suspicions to come true that she takes the initiative to write it herself. And why does the usually heterosexual fan enjoy this kind of relationship? Because “BL emphasizes the pleasure felt by both the seme and the uke, juxtaposing panels of each face in a shot-reverse shot style” and “invites the reader’s identification with both partners”. Both the seme (aggressive, masculine role) and uke (passive, feminine role) roles have subjectivity, the subject giving love and the subject receiving love, unlike the usual heterosexual set up of the subject and the object of love. The female fan finds pleasure and is filled with agency when assuming the different roles, either as the viewer, the seme, or the uke.[1] The issue is that though “the gender representations and sexuality in boy-love manga challenge and trouble the belief that these categories are ontologically coherent, contained, and one dimensional- something that is at the very heart of queerness”, this queer-ing project has been taken up by fans that think that two guys looking at each other for more than two seconds must be homosexual, and it has become mainstream.[2] The constant search for the homosexual has done away with ideas of “bromance”, such a friendship between men has been flagged as homosexual. And it is into this kind of industry, one in which interactions between men have been flattened by the fans of the very genre that is trying challenge such actions, that No.6 was born.

Asano and Her Attempt to Work outside the Box:
No.6 is a science fiction story that takes place in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian world. Social-economic ranking depends on IQ (more specifically, a test the citizens take when they are 2 years old) and the society garners those natural abilities, structuring a hierarchy where those with more intelligence are much better off than and those who lack it. The first episode puts emphasis on the bracelet ID’s, often zooming in when Shion, the protagonist, passes checkpoints. Following the “big brother is watching” society archetype, No.6’s “Moon Drop” keeps a very close and extremely strict watch on its citizens. The first scene in the series resembles the scenario mentioned in Foucault’s The History of Sexuality. Shion is seen in a classroom, engaging with highly scientific material. It is obvious he is very intelligent and the viewers later finds out he is a rank A in intelligence and a future member of the gifted course. It soon becomes apparent that from a young age, citizens are taught to view their world through a medical lens, which turns them perfectly passive and controllable.

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The fated encountering that would change Shion’s life, where he meets the person he would become enraptured with, is in itself the most medical of all the scenes in episode one. Shion tends to Nezumi’s wounds, stitching him up even though he is only 12 years old. It is a bit jarring to see all these cold and medical scenes, but at the same time the viewer gets the sense that the No.6 frame allows only for these kinds of actions. And Shion’s medical outlook on things always cuts into scenes that would let the viewer’s mind wander to the sexual and the violent. For example, the scene in which Nezumi violently pins Shion onto the bed, whispering in his ear. Shion’s natural reaction is to be impressed and ask about the science behind pinning someone down. This pulls the viewer’s mind away from those dirty thoughts the she might have had. Though the series does let “cute”, warm scenes go mostly undisturbed, like the one of Nezumi and Shion holding hands on the bed (though they did try to break it up with Shion suggesting to go get antibiotics), anything that gets away from the nonsexual is pulled back to the medical lens.

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The only way to understand why Asano allows warm scenes and disrupts scenes that invite sexual thoughts is to closely follow Shion and Nezumi’s relationship. At first Nezumi claims he only saved Shion to pay back the favor, but it is evident that both their feelings become very complicated. They both feel very indebted to each other, since one without the other would be dead. Before they met each other, each was pretty emotionless and not attached to anything. They became each other’s reasons to feel deep emotions, especially anger, fear, and possessiveness. In episode seven, Shion pointedly states a mutual feeling shared between them, “If I hadn’t met you, I never would have realized what kind of person I am”.[3] They are so dependent on each other they are willing to die and kill (which Shion does) for the other. Word choice in this series is extremely important. Asano avoids words that are linked to the viewer’s contemporary romantic-sexual definition of love because she wants to stress that the intense feelings that Nezumi and Shion share is not “love” in the sense that the audience wants it to be. So what is their relationship? It is an extremely complicated romantic nonsexual relationship; something not often explored much in anime, or culture in general. It is important to stray away from using the world platonic because “ Usually, when people use the term “platonic love” to describe love that isn’t sexual, a simultaneous lack of romance is implicit too.” But it isn’t a stretch to say there is a romantic quality to Nezumi and Shion’s relationship. They do want to be a couple in the purest sense of the word: although Shion expresses his romantic feelings more than Nezumi does, they both want to be together for the rest of their lives and they feel complete around each other. Our current society believes that “if you don’t love someone romantically, you love them “platonically,” which means that you want to be friends and not a “couple,” because only romantic-sexual pairs can be couples with a primary relationship” and this is very problematic.[4] This is the very reason why No.6 is not labeled as BL, because even in softer BL, actions are laced with sexual tension and there is no such thing happening in No.6. It is because of this habit to expect sexuality that Asano took it upon herself to do make a queer series that breaks the romantic-sexual/platonic dichotomy.


In a way that affirms Asano’s desire to introduce grey areas into our ideas on sexuality, the viewers are left without closure. The fact that at the end of the series, Nezumi and Shion go on different paths, promising to meet again, adds another shift to their relationship. Can the viewer even say that their relation ship is romantic and nonsexual? If it was truly romantic and they wanted to be a couple, wouldn’t they have stayed together? Asano wants to show the viewer that she doesn’t actually have a grasp on human relationships, they are much too varied, multilayered, and complex to be correctly described with one umbrella term. And as an extension to that, she breaks with the tendency of most anime geared at women. She shows that not every relationship, especially one as complicated as the one Nezumi and Shion share, has a happy ending.

[1] Kumiko Saito. “Desire in Subtext: Gender, Fandom, and Women’s Male-Male Homoerotic Parodies in Contemporary Japan.” Mechademia 6, no. 1 (2011): 171-191. (accessed May 23, 2014).
[2] Wood, Andrea . “Straight” Women, Queer Texts: Boy-Love Manga and the Rise of a Global Counterpublic.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 34: 397. (accessed May 23, 2014).
[3] Asano, Atsuko. “No. 6 on Crunchyroll!.” Crunchyroll. (accessed May 24, 2014).
[4] “Platonic love” is a problematic term.” The Thinking Asexual. (accessed May 24, 2014)

11 replies on “The Paranoid Reader and the Nonsexual in No. 6”

Hmmm this is all very interesting. (And, also, so cool that you wrote this for school.) I don’t know if I agree with everything you’re saying, but I think the problems that I have might just be a matter of my definitions not matching up with yours. Also I’m just generally stupid about things, so it could be that.
(Is it helpful to say I’m a gay dude who has not actually seen No. 6? Giving context.)
So the word “queer”. For me, the word implies some sexual attraction to it. (Queer = gay = homosexual = homo + *sexual*.) That’s not how you’re using the word though, and when you talk about “queer”, the thing I think you’re talking about is asexuality. Romance without the sexy stuff. I’m wondering why you don’t ever use that word in your paper (I mean, besides referencing a blog called The Thinking Asexual).
Do you think these characters are asexual? (They’re maybe not hot for each other, but would they get nasty with someone else?) Does the term queer include asexuality and I’m just a big dumb-dumb? (An obvious yes to the second part.)
Your whole comment about the two guys basically wanting to be a couple (minus the sex) I find so interesting. It got me thinking about other couple-esque characters and how we would define their relationships. So say Edward and Al in FMA. I consider their relationship way more central to that show than anyone’s relationship is with Winry. (Sorry Winry.) Because they’re brothers in a show not about incest their relationship isn’t sexual, but would you call what they have romantic? They totally complete each other and, you know, do some pretty crazy shit to keep the other alive.
Or like how Natsuki feels about Shizuru in Mai Hime. Is that romantic love? If your best friend is the most important thing to you, do you have romance with that person?
Your paper is making it pretty clear to me that I have no effing idea what asexuality is, what queerness is, what anything is really, and that I need to go to the damn library and pick up a book.

First of all, I’m flattered by how much thought you put into this. Also, I am happy that as a gay man you didn’t feel excluded by me talking only about the female paranoid fan. I was going to put a note that I had excluded the paragraph that explained that most of the fan base is heterosexual females, and that I would be focusing on that since it is the majority. But on to your questions.
1. Oh yes. This is a very theory heavy definition of the word queer so it’s completely understandable that it doesn’t match your definition of queer. Though if you delve into the theory world, there are A LOT of definitions for queer that change depending on context, etc, for this paper I was working with the definition that queer is something that rejects/breaks/bends labels (very crude way of summarizing a huge theory, but it was a while ago that I took the class so I’m a bit rusty).
2. I think the reason I didn’t ever talk about whether they are asexual is because we don’t have enough proof for it and it wasn’t what I was interested in. They might be asexual (and following the definitions of asexual, I think it’s not possible for them to be asexual for each other and then sexual for someone else. If you are asexual you are adverse to sexual encounters in general). I went along with the term “nonsexual” because I was referencing that article “Platonic Love”, and also because I was talking specifically about their relationship, not each of their orientations. So yes. They might be asexual (though I have a feeling Nezumi is not), but the point is that I believe their relationship is nonsexual. While maintaing this nonsexual relationship with Shion, Nezumi might just go and have a sexual relationship with someone else, for example.
3. For FMA I feel like they just really loved each other as brothers and familial love falls out of the range of this kind of romance. But I’m not too sure about that— it’s all so complicated, and when it comes to romantic orientation, there are countless levels. So if someone were to argue that Al and Ed’s love went beyond the familial and into the romantic, I probably would be able to understand that as well. (Haha..oh Mai Hime. It has been a while but if i remember correctly, I think that you can definitely count that as romantic.)
4. Yeah, it’s all a learning process. I am no expert, especially since I’m a cisgender heterosexual (though recently, I realized I might be grayromantic, but thats a personal journey in itself). So don’t beat yourself down too hard!
Lastly, you should definitely see No.6! The anime isn’t as good as the novel or manga, but it is still a good series and you will probably enjoy it.

This is absolutely fascinating! Attending to the intrusions of a medicalized worldview on scenes that would otherwise suggest sexuality/sexual tension as key to understanding the series’ themes surrounding the nature of love instead of skimming over any metatextual significance is really fantastic analysis. I do have a few questions (/critiques?) that I’d love to hear your thoughts on, though. For one, the question of sex is introduced very early in the story /by Safu/ once we meet her and Shion as teenagers. She initially frames her feelings in medicalized terms, but as the story progresses (if I remember correctly) it’s made very clear that she loves Shion romantically and sexually. What do you make of heterosexual love being clearly romantic and sexual while same-gender love is non-sexual? BL’s vision of sexuality definitely has its own problems, but forgoing any depiction of sexual desire and presenting love between men (in this case) as ‘pure’ and incomparable to heterosexual love can be othering and sanitizing, implying that same-gender desire is acceptable only if it is sufficiently powerful and pure, while heterosexual desire escapes scritiny and is allowed to run the gamut of human sexual expression. Also, if I remember correctly, the novels very heavily suggest that Shion experiences sexual desire for Nezumi (albiet, the scene I’m remembering is when Nezumi is threatening to kill him. Babe.) Also, the original novels seem to be meant for a general young adult audience (as they were published by Kodansha’s YA!Entertainment imprint) but it is interesting that the manga ran in a specifically shojo magazine. That may simply be the result of a highly specialized publishing industry not knowing how to categorize Asano’s work, but I do think it’s worth noting.
Personally, I would argue the has more potential as a queer text in its critique of state power and class inequality as it shapes and restricts desire (I just discovered that Asano supports the Japanese Communist Party which is SO EXCITING???) That’s a central theme in both the novels (up to the point I’ve read, at least) and the OVA, and the idea of sexual freedom(/freedom of desire, sexual or not) as rebellion against an unjust society which classes people as subhuman based on their desires is like the core of queer political theory and resistance (at least it should be/as far as I understand.) Thanks so much for this great post, it really made me think, and I learned quite a bit through copious googling in order to leave an informed comment, which I really appreciate. ^_^

Hi! I would just like to say that I am happy you found this fascinating and that I also enjoyed reading your response to this. I’m sorry I can’t really comment anything more informed than this since I wrote this back when I was a sophomore in college (haha, it’s been 3 years) so all the theory knowledge I had is long gone. But I was very pleased to have this pop up again in my life and liked being reminded of how enjoyable writing literary pieces on anime used to be. >_<

You were able to read that deeply into the anime? Without even peeking into the novels or manga? Colour me impressed. That was the best reading of No.6 that I’ve found so far. Kudos!
If you would like to read more about Shion and Nezumi’s relationship, there are several interviews with Asano that address that topic 🙂

Hello, epib post. Can you recommend any more animes like this? I haven’t really thought of their relationship in this way and you opened my eyes.

Well, unfortunately there aren’t much anime like this, but you might try some K Project if you like the dynamics

Your analysis is really something! I love it honestly. It inspired me to write my own analysis of the story after years of being a fan of no.6. There are some parts which I can’t say I agre but also I can’t say I disagree either. Thank you for that article !

I completely agree with the author’s sentiment on the importance of context and nuance in understanding the nonsexual aspects of anime. It’s easy to fall into the trap of fetishizing certain aspects of Japanese culture without truly understanding the cultural context in which they exist. Thank you for shedding light on this important topic.

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