Hidamari Sketch as a Yuri Series
Although the investigation has operated under the assumption that all possible female characters are closeted lesbians, the existence of yuri in Hidamari Sketch is ambiguous. Creator Ume Aoki and producer Studio Shaft have both made conscious decisions to leave all lesbian subtext in the series implicit, leading to some debate over whether Hidamari Sketch can be perceived as a yuri series or not (a meme in Hidamari threads on /a/ has been to insist the characters are “just good friends”). It is true that referring to Hidamari Sketch as yuri has been speculation; however, it is not an entirely unfounded speculation, and it is one which strengthens the show as a whole.
The definition of yuri that has been used through the investigation is simply “lesbian content.” For the purpose of defining Hidamari Sketch as a yuri series, we will specify yuri to refer to media that portrays “intense emotional connection, romantic love or physical desire between women.”*
Intense Emotional Connections
The form of emotional connection described in the working definition of yuri is likely close to the Japanese concept of “shinyuu” (親友), referring to a very intimate friendly relationship a person will typically only experience a handful of times in their life. There are many connections of friendship in Hidamari Sketch, but examples of shinyuu are more infrequent. The best example of bonds of shinyuu is the Hidamari family unit, referenced multiple times from x365 onward to refer to how the Hidamaris interact with each other and view each other as a surrogate family, with the intimacy and closeness such a relationship implies. By considering the Hidamaris a family, they are implicitly acknowledging that their relationships with each other exceed that of normal friendship: compare how Yuno acts toward other Hidamaris to how she acts toward, say, Mami or Nakayama. Emotional yuri is of the sort that the investigation has referred to as “friendly” yuri, and there were many instances of it in Hidamari Sketch.
Romance of the sort yuri media is generally about is not explicitly present in Hidamari Sketch, which is the main reason some do not consider it yuri. However, implications of romantic love are very frequent, especially in later seasons. The most significant implications of romance are the relationship between Sae and Hiro and the attitude of Natsume toward Sae, which are also the most frequently cited examples of yuri in Hidamari Sketch.
The existence of some kind of love between Sae and Hiro is essentially canonical. Not only do the two engage in acts typical of lovers (sleeping together, frolicking in fields, quarreling about their boundaries, etc.), but other characters even make note of their intense closeness (Hiro is called a “housewife” or “wife” repeatedly, Sae and Hiro’s school trip is called a “honeymoon”, Yuno wonders in one episode if they are having a “lover’s dispute”, Natsume worries about Sae being taken by a “cute girl”, etc.). Taken as a whole, Hidamari Sketch is rather unsubtle about a romance between the two.
Likewise, Natsume has all the signs of an outright unrequited love for Sae, short of Hidamari Sketch making this explicit. The strongest indication of this is xHoshimittsu OVA 01, depicting Natsume seemingly becoming smitten with Sae, longing to be shinyuu with her (see above), and then being crestfallen by Sae’s closeness to Hiro (see not-quite-as-above). Many of the images in the segment carry heavy romantic implications, notably the omnipresent motif of cherry blossom petals and the final shot of Natsume’s room, entirely colored the same as Natsume’s hair with the exception of a blue curtain (the color of Sae’s hair) decorated with hearts. In other episodes, particularly x365 10, Natsume conveys traits of a typical tsundere, rapidly shifting between warmth and animosity toward Sae; tsundere characters in anime nearly always have a romantic or sexual affection toward the target of their mood shifts, so the deliberate invocation of tsundere conventions is likely an indication that Natsume similarly has an affection for Sae. In both Natsume’s case and Sae and Hiro’s, even if the show is not explicit about bonds of love between characters, to deny that these romantic loves exist requires outright denialism or hostility toward yuri.
Implications of sexual or erotic relationships in Hidamari Sketch are more or less nonexistent. Of the tracked characters, every Hidamari and Yoshinoya are canonically virgins, while Natsume and Chika are presumably virgins as well given their ages; the only possible tracked characters to have had sex are the Landlady and Kuwahara, and even then only because little is known about their backgrounds (both appear to be single, however). Other than occasionally bathing together, the only notable moment of erotic interaction in Hidamari Sketch is when Nori and Nazuna fondle Miyako in xHoneycomb 02. However, it should be noted that sexual relationships in yuri media are not usually the genre’s focus; most yuri concerns non-sexual, emotional relationships between women, hence the notion that yuri is “the purest form of love.”
The Role of Yuri in Hidamari Sketch
Given the examples listed above, it is safe to assume that Hidamari Sketch can be considered an example of yuri. However, what good does it to attribute yuri to Hidamari Sketch? Would the show be just as complete without yuri? I contend that it would not, and that yuri is a vital component of the meaning of Hidamari Sketch as an artistic work.
Hidamari Sketch is fundamentally about the social relationships between its characters. The show’s slow pace means any changes in their relationships take place over many, many episodes, and there are also no dramatic shifts or sudden twists or confessions to radically alter how characters interact. Every instance of character or relationship development is the result of dozens of scenes of relatively insignificant daily activities, things such as doing radio exercises, following the lottery, going to the zoo, having dinner, drawing together, or adopting a cat. Through these small events, the Hidamaris steadily become part of each other’s lives. In x365 06, Yuno calls herself, Miyako, Sae, and Hiro a “family”: the four, later six, are as noted above under “Intense Emotional Connections” a family to each other. By the end of xHoneycomb, they are the closest and strongest of friends.
This is the point when yuri becomes significant to understanding Hidamari Sketch: once the characters have become extremely close to each other, some of their relationships naturally progress from a bond of close friendship to one of romance. Sae and Hiro are already beyond this point by the time the series begins, and Nori and Nazuna have not quite reached it, but Hidamari Sketch has already shown us an example of such a turning point: Part A of xHoneycomb 06, when Yuno and Miyako inadvertently reveal that they think the other is “beautiful” and “adorable” respectively, then sleep together. After three and a half seasons of watching their relationship develop, seeing the two enter a romantic partnership comes across as a natural progression from what has come before: from total strangers, the two become casual friends, then inseparable shinyuu, then lovers. It is the central message of Hidamari Sketch in a nutshell: with enough time and shared experience, any two people can become close. Interpreting Hidamari Sketch as a yuri series only reinforces this message, making it so that any two people who share an everyday life can find love together, making it a stronger and more fitting moral.
The data in the Hidamari Yurilevel Project is entirely subjective and not meant to be a definitive measure of each character’s homosexuality in a given scene. The structure of the project is designed to be flexible enough that other researchers can easily retest Hidamari Sketch and draw their own conclusions**, and I encourage this in the interest of peer review. There is a very large amount of data, however, so general trends such as in increase of yuri and placements in overall character rankings are probably roughly accurate.
About Hidamari Sketch:
- Author unknown. "Time in Hidamari Sketch." Girl Cartoons. Dasaku, 16 Sept. 2010. Web. 23 Aug. 2013.
- Cuchlann. "The Architecture of Signifiers." Super Fanicom BSX. 3 Feb. 2009. Web. 23 Aug. 2013.
- Lloyd. "Hidamari Sketch Timeline." Polychromium. Wordpress, 20 Dec. 2012. Web. 23 Aug. 2013.
- Kai. "Yuri – A Subtle or Pure Love?" Listless Ink. Wordpress, 14 Aug. 2012. Web. 23 Aug. 2013.
- Nagaike, Kazumi. "The Sexual and Textual Politics of Japanese Lesbian Comics: Reading Romantic and Erotic Yuri Narratives." Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies 10.3 (2010). Web. 23 Aug. 2013.
*: Source: About.com interview with yuri advocate Erica Friedman, accessed August 14, 2013. As an amusing side note, the writer who compiled the interview is named Deb Aoki.
**: Note that the methodology is not bound strictly to Hidamari Sketch, and investigations similar to the Hidamari Yurilevel Project could be conducted using other shows. I would be quite interested in an analysis of “Strike Witches.”
Corrections: 8/23/2013: The original version of this post made an erroneous presumption about the relationship between Sae and Hiro in Ume Aoki's initial concepts for Hidamari Sketch. The statement in question has been removed and replaced with a different conclusive sentence.
9/30/13: An erroneously repeated word under "Romantic Love" has been removed.