Jessi’s Corner

Jessi Siebert, Staff Writer

Last week I started this little series with the intention of introducing people to the concept of representation of LGBT+ characters and stories in our media, and at the very end I promised I’d write about something that fails to do that properly, and boy do I plan to deliver. But before I get into all that, I believe it’d be a good idea to go over my criteria again. The way I determine if something has good representation is by three criteria. The first is accuracy, how truthfully it represents LGBT+ people. The second is positivity, how hopeful the message the representation sends is. This can mean anything from the queer character not dying, to having them die for a valid reason, to the character having a happy ending that doesn’t play to stale tropes. The third and final criteria is relatability. Having a queer character is good and all, but if the audience can’t connect to the character, if they don’t look at the screen and say, “Hey, that’s me up there,” then it’s failed as proper representation. Each criterion is scored out of five, for a total of 15 points. With that explanation out of the way, I can get into the meat of the topic at hand.

When you think of LGBT+ representation in media, typically you’d think of movies or more adult-oriented live-action shows. One doesn’t usually think of cartoons, especially those aimed at children, but that’s why it’s important. A cartoon with good representation can teach young children that being queer is OK and normal, and it’ll ultimately make the world a more peaceful and safe place to be in. However, I’m not writing about good representation in children’s cartoons this time. No, for this week, I’ll be writing about a cartoon that thinks it handled representation with grace, but failed. Today I’ll be talking about the Dreamworks and Netflix Original cartoon Voltron: Legendary Defender. 

Now, a little bit of preface for this week’s piece. I will only be talking about the actual representation in the show, not the blatant queerbaiting, where you subtextually make the promise of representation but never deliver, that took place between Lance and Keith. That’s a topic for a later date. However, let it be known that the showrunners did queerbait, and that set the stage for the failure that was the representation that did make it in. And a bit of exposition for those who haven’t watched VLD, the character in question is Takashi Shirogane, also known as Shiro for the entirety of the show. He is implied to be Asian-American, and for over six seasons is the leader/mentor role. During San Diego Comic-Con in 2018, the showrunners accidentally confirmed that Shiro was gay, and that it would be shown in the upcoming season. This spread like wildfire on the internet, and overall had a positive feedback. They started marketing the show using the newly confirmed queer Shiro and his lover, Adam. However, in the show, they made zero mention of the relationship, and after about three or so minutes of screentime, Adam was killed off. Shiro was delegated to a sideline supporting role and lost a lot of qualities that made him the great leader he used to be. At the end of the show, they tacked on a marriage between Shiro and an unnamed character that showed up once in the background.

Accuracy: 2.5/5
Starting with accuracy, I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t do an OK job at it. This is mostly because queer people act like normal people and can fill any role or job they are given. He doesn’t act like some awful stereotype, but he isn’t perfect either. Most of what has been said is because, for the majority of the series, he wasn’t gay. He could fill the role of any straight person because he was never coded to be gay in the first place. So naturally, they get brownie points for this, which is why I decided a two and a half would be the most fair.


Positivity: 1/5

What much is there to say? Adam dies, unceremoniously, offscreen. Shiro gets no time to properly mourn his death, and it plays absolutely no role in the plot. Shiro gets sidelined, then married off to some nobody at the end. Yay, woo, happy ending right? First male gay kiss in a kid’s cartoon! Positive representation! Woo! Just ignore the fact that his lover died after no time at all and that you can’t get invested in this new romance!


Relatability: 1/5

I’m going to start by saying that if I didn’t set some arbitrary rule of  “no zeros” on myself at the time of writing this, this would have gotten a zero out of five. There is literally no substance to the representation other than some queerbaiting advertisements, the “confirmation” from the crew, and the very end scene of an empty marriage between two characters with less than no interaction. There is no substance to this representation except death and empty character interactions.


Final Score: 4.5/15

For a test where the lowest score is three out of 15, which is equal to roughly twenty percent, to score only minorly higher is insulting. There isn’t much to say other than it fails, miserably, but tries to pander and claim that it is so much more than it really is.