“Blood does not family make. Those are relatives. Family are those with whom you share your good, bad, and ugly, and still love one another in the end. Those are the ones you select.” – Hector Xtravaganza, the “Grandfather of Ballroom”
I first realized that I liked liked girls back in elementary school, when all I wanted was to kiss the cheek of my best friend at the time. I was taken aback by these new and exciting feelings, so one day I went home and told my [redacted] about them.
Their, let’s say, “unsupportive” reaction prompted me to bury my bisexuality in the back of my closet out of the sheer fear of familial abandonment.
This fear is a reality for countless queer youth who are abandoned by their family, friends and/or community after coming out. According to True Colors United, a nonprofit organization committed to ending LGBTQ youth homelessness, an estimated 1.6 million youth are homeless each year and up to 40 percent of them identify as LGBTQ+.
As LGBTQ+ youth represent only 7 percent of the total youth population, this statistic is staggering. And that is why found family, or chosen family, is extremely important to the LGBTQ community.
When a queer youth’s biological ties are severed and they are left abandoned and adrift, found family offers a lifeline of love, acceptance and safety. Found family are not blood relatives, but are people with whom you share a deep and meaningful connection based on shared experiences and mutual understanding. They are bonds forged with a patchwork of people who accept your authentic self wholeheartedly.
Anime introduced me to the concept of found family. I loved to watch these characters with troubled pasts form connections with others and experience a unique and powerful binding type love, a love that I once believed only existed in biological families.
These fictional stories instilled in me a promise that one day my bisexuality would exist beyond closet doors. A promise that the threat of abandonment would no longer cage my authenticity. There was freedom in knowing that fate or happenstance would lead me to find family that would accept the beautiful parts of myself that my biological family did not understand.
These classic anime hold a special place in my heart for their beautiful portrayals of found family.
Samurai Champloo (2004)
From Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop, Space Dandy, Carole & Tuesday), Samurai Champloo follows three strangers: Fuu, a spirited waitress with a bottomless pit for a stomach; the unsettlingly stoic and reserved ronin Jin; and Mugen, the violent, vulgar and brash brawler from the Ryukyu Islands, as they embark on a journey across Japan in search of a “samurai who smells of sunflowers.”
The series is structured episodically, meaning that each episode has its own self-contained story. The purpose of the journey unifies these collection of subplots into an overarching story, ranging from the trio stuffing their faces in an eating competition to them thwarting a human trafficking ring.
Some episodes delve into each character’s backstories while others serve to illuminate their various idiosyncrasies. But each episode never fails to depict the slow, subtle evolution of the unlikely trio’s relationship from begrudging partnership to beloved family.
We see this when Mugen and Jin choose to save and protect Fuu when they are under no obligation to or when Fuu throws herself on top of an injured Mugen to stop a shogunate assassin from killing him. We see them split up and accidentally reunite countless times (Mugen: “I guess no matter how hard we try, fate’s gonna keep throwing us back together!”).
We see these three individuals with empty pockets, empty stomachs, and backstories rife with betrayal and abandonment come together and form a family during their long, winding journey across Japan. And when their journey comes to an end and their destinations splinter, we gain a deeper appreciation for the fleeting, yet transformative nature of human connection and trust that fate will bring this family back together again.
Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
From Satoshi Kon (Millennium Actress, Paprika, Perfect Blue), the critically acclaimed holiday classic Tokyo Godfathers follows three houseless protagonists; Miyuki, a mouthy teenage runaway; Gin, a gruff, middle-aged alcoholic; and a caring transfeminine former drag queen named Hana, who discover a newborn baby girl in a trash can on Christmas Eve and set out to find its mother.
Their journey is filled with hardship, chance encounters verging on divine intervention, laughter, and intense, heartfelt emotion.
Together, this ragtag crew confronts their respective histories of abandonment and shame, learn to face their future with forgiveness and hope, and form a family on the cold streets of Tokyo.
From Rumiko Takahashi (Ranma ½, Urusei Yatsura, Mermaid Saga), the feudal fairy tail Inuyasha follows the titular Inuyasha, a hotheaded half-demon; the outspoken reincarnated priestess Kagome; a cursed lecherous monk named Miroku; a selfless demon slayer named Sango; and a wise cracking young fox-demon named Shippo, on their quest to recover the shards of the sacred Shikon Jewel and defeat the great and terrible demon Naraku.
The story takes place in both the Modern Era and a supernatural take on Feudal Japan during the Warring States Era, a period rife with rampant poverty, bloody civil wars, and social and political upheaval.
In contrast, Kagome, who was born in modern-day Tokyo, lived an ordinary life until a demon pulled her into The Bone-Eater’s Well and 500 years back through time. These five strangers then banded together to recover the shards of the Shikon Jewels to keep them out of the hands of demons that would become more powerful if they possessed them. Oh, and Inuyasha wants the shards for himself so he can become a full demon, removing the human parts of himself.
They share meals, bicker (Kagome: “Sit, Boy!”), banter, laugh, gossip, and risk their lives for one another in the heat of battle. Even when they’re too stubborn to admit it, their loyalty and love for one another is undeniable. By the end of the series, these five strangers form a family that transcends both time and space.
These classic anime taught me that love transcends bloodlines and shared surnames. Found family became more than just a trope, but a symbol of hope. And I am forever grateful for having been introduced to these beautiful portrayals of found family in my adolescence.
How has the found family trope in anime resonated with you? Share this post and let us know! And stay tuned to Funimation for the latest news on all things anime, this season and beyond.