There are but a few works where homosexual feelings can be stated as canon (aside the BL genre). Instead, we often have to make do with subtext and ambiguous sentences, situations, or facial expressions.
The height of frustration, that is.
Not being able to ship two male characters without receiving the fatal “That’s just your yaoist imagination” argument is considerably irritating, and comes from the fact that you just have the subtext on your side, whereas the text will rather be on the side of your adversary.
(Note that your adversary may have already eaten his/her hat on Killua’s case in Hunter X Hunter, where the amount of subtext may have exceeded the amount of text.)
Let’s take the example of Hikaru no Go. The two main reasons that are opposed when shipping Akira and Hikaru to people who can’t even consider the idea are the following :
1. Hikaru is interested in Akari.
2. There are not romantic feelings between Akira and Hikaru; they merely see each other as Go rivals.
The first reason is not even worth lingering over. When does Hikaru ever think of Akari, except when he randomly bumps into her at school ?
The second reason is more interesting, and it may concern many other works than Hikaru no Go: that so-called lack of romantic feelings between true rivals.
(Who are so much rivals that they think of each other each hour of the day.)
But what are we exactly saying when waving that “romantic feelings” argument ? Are we speaking about some shojoish sentimental effusion ? Or about unexpressed, bubbling feelings ?
For those who may not know, romanticism is not exactly what the word means to most people nowadays – some insipid, mushy romance that movies, books, animes, and bad shôjo are filled with.
Romanticism, basically, is an artistic movement that aimed at revolting against classicism and rationalization by letting intense emotions run wild out of aristocratic norms. These emotions being multifarious and (fortunately) not limited to love. Romanticism, hence, may be expressed through violence, desperation, morbidity, passion, obsession.
(That is not to say that the romantic movement was free from insipid and mushy romances.)
If we were to take musical exemples : Thais’ Meditation, which everyone of you has at least heard once (and which may have, hence, led you to think that classical music is fundamentally insipid, mushy, and boring) could easily fit in the failures of romanticism, which explains quite well why it now invades the worst tear-jerker works of our time.
Whereas Liszt’s Sonata could, in return, give a perfect example of the masterpieces that romanticism is able to create.
Let’s go back to Akira and Hikaru, now. We all agree there is no confession whatsoever. Actually, their interaction is extremely limited all through the manga, whereas we all have the impression that it constitutes the majority of the book.
That is precisely because both Akira and Hikaru share the same obsessional passion towards each other. They are constantly worried about their own progress in Go, but not only.
Can you remember Akira, panicking as Hikaru, depressed from what happened to Sai, thought of stopping Go ?
Can you remember how easily both of them, and especially the well-mannered Akira, lose their temper when interacting with each other ?
Can you remember the intensity of their long awaited match, for which Akira counted the exact amount of time they had to wait ?
Can you remember how Akira guesses right about Sai, saying he is the one that “understands Hikaru the most”, and how Hikaru reacted as if these were words of confession ?
(That was, actually, more than a confession. That was the irrefutable proof that Akira has cracked the most intimate, and rationally unbelievable, secret of Hikaru.)
Advancing individually on a common path to an upcoming and awaited reunion, yet worrying about the other and thinking obsessively about him to the point of fully understanding him without almost any direct communication ?
Could there really be a more fundamentally romantic background between two characters ?
Among all the series featuring a rivalry between two protagonists so intense that you have no choice but to ship them, Hikaru no Go still has, and will probably always have, an unfathomable superiority, an impenetrable depth that outdistances any similar shônen series – with the single exception of Togashi’s Hunter X Hunter and his outstanding Gunji players, which precisely happens to be an obvious reference to Hikaru no Go.
First, because Hikago, behind childish comedic elements, remains an extremely serious work. About Go itself : matches and skills are very close to reality; and about the general tone : still now, it remains one of the most beautifully painful series due to its harshly realistic treatment of death.
Hikago is not only the story of a child who happens to discover his passion and talent for Go, and run after his exclusive eternal rival. It is the bitter story of the wheel of life and death, of the link between past and future burdened with the sorrow of passing – of time, and of beings.
Second, because Hikaru and Akira happen to be one of the most profound and unique unofficial ships it is possible to find in manga. They are, actually, the exact opposite of the overly numerous queer-baiting couples, where shipping is mostly induced by “accidental” suggestive words, physical positions, or sweet isolated scenes – whose meaning is often negated afterwards. Hikaru and Akira, on the other hand, have very few physical contacts. There is no place for meaningless flirts here. If they are shipped together, it is first and foremost because they acknowledge each other as their eternal rivals from the very beginning, no matter how much Akira tries to convince himself of the contrary. But eternal rivals, here, is to be taken literally : in their field of vision, they see no one but each other, both knowing from the start this fact will never change as long as they are alive.
However, what makes them an extra-ordinary couple of rivals, apart from the mutual obsession and the common passion (which remain relatively classic rivalry ingredients, though particularly intense here), is how, in spite of their distance, they managed to share Hikaru’s most precious and personal secret. When Akira finds out about Sai, he not only shows an incredible understanding of Hikaru’s Go, he also dives into Hikaru’s sheer intimacy, into the most secret areas of his soul. The bond they share is, literally, a bond of soul-mates.
Compared to that, it is funny to note that the only point in the series where a Hikaru / Akari ship is suggested is through a mere photo of them taken by Kaneko, i.e. exactly the way queer-baiting is usually done – except in that case, the author shifts the responsibility of this ship on one of the characters who knows next to nothing about Hikaru.
As if Hikaru and Akira’s relationship was not profound enough on its own, it is still exalted, elevated by the series’ unquestionable seriousness and maturity. Because the Go representation always stays so close to reality, because Sai’s disappearance cuts our heart with a wound that nothing can soothe, because so many elements in Hikago are fundamentallyromantic, because at no point we feel cheated by tawdry pomposity or easy narrative tricks, Hikaru and Akira’s mutual feelings appear all the more touching, natural, imprinted with a sincerity rarely equaled in shônens – which makes them so special. As perfect, as cute as other unofficial couples might be, a chasm will always separate them, to our eyes, from Hikaru and Akira.
It is true that we do not write that often about Hikaru no Go. But if some of you ever wondered why we specifically chose AkiHika as the name of our Tumblr, you should henceforth know the answer.
As a side note, an extremely interesting visual analysis of that last picture can be found here.
In a somewhat bemusing moment of
déjà vu, the priest presented Hikaru with a stack of ofuda. Granted, they were
being politely offered rather than flung in terror, but there was a definite
familiarity to the situation.