Homoeroticism on Screen: The Best Ships Never Sailed
Plot twist! They weren't quite sent to super hell for being gay.
While we gays are finally getting more of a look-in with TV and film (and games!), the amount of actually, openly, canonically gay content out there is a fraction of what it so easily could be. There are some glaringly obvious examples of characters and twosomes where, in better circumstances, we could have so easily had some gorgeous gay, lesbian, and bi representation play out on screen. Often a lot of the backlash against these couples being actualised on screen is, perhaps obviously, down to homophobia - either overtly or more subtly. We’ll skip over the discussion of the overt homophobia for now, because I think that if you’re reading this, you’re going to be familiar with the idea “gay = bad”.
A lot of the more subtle homophobia in media rep stems from erasure and excuses. For example, there is this pervasive suggestion that intimacy between women is somehow devoid of romantic or sexual notions, because that’s just “how women are”: see also the erasure of lesbianism through the queerbaiting “gal pals” trope. It leads to the total erasure and decimation of sapphic connections and intimacy on screen. For men, there’s also the notion that male friendship is sacred, and would somehow be damaged by the presence of gay love. Sure, male friendship is important - all friendship is important - but how could something so precious possibly be tarnished by the presence of love and/or sex, too?
The above perspectives both act to undermine gay connections between characters, leading to a much more (at face value) “friendly” way of writing off gay romance on screen: “They’re just friends! Can’t we have friendships on screen anymore? Must the Politically Correct Brigade make it impossible to be friends?” and so on. The overall knock-on effect of these perspectives is that gay love is somehow abnormal and unclean in comparison to just having a squeaky-clean, hetero buddy. It's outright harmful - and ridiculous, too. You can't tell me that LGBTQ+ folks aren't the experts of being friends with their lovers, after all.
Let’s take a look back through the history of TV, film, and games at some of the most glaringly missed opportunities for gay couples on screen, while digging into some of personal our favourite homoerotic pairings. We explore what could've been, in a different world with lessened censorship, heteronormativity, and all other things that have, and continue to, stop explicitly gay shit from happening on screen. Full disclaimer that we aren't accusing anyone of erasing homosexuality with this article, and that this list is non-exhaustive - but why not let us know about your favourite ships that never set sail in the comments?
Katy/Calam - Calamity Jane (1953)
Calamity Jane is a queer film in that very 1950s way where it’s not really - if your nan was watching it for example - but when viewed with lavender-coloured glasses it becomes hard to ignore.
When wild-west gunslinger Calamity Jane (portrayed by Doris Day in that infectiously sincere and chipper style rarely found outside of these technicolour musicals) goes to Chicago to fetch a famous stage actress for her frontier town’s theatre, she instead finds the star’s maid Katy (Allyn McLerie) who is more than happy to impersonate her employer for a chance to tread the boards. When Katy’s ruse is discovered by the angry, horny frontiersmen of Deadwood, Calam befriends her and they move in together, using “A Woman’s Touch” to renovate an old cabin and live happily ever after in a cottagecore lesbian fantasy.
Well not exactly; the real plot involves a love quadrangle where two suitors (Calam’s rival Wild Bill Hickok and a very boring union solider) compete for Katy whilst Calam makes efforts to be more ladylike until everything resolves itself in a nice little hetero package. But its so, so close; a few choice edits away from being the true sapphic masterpiece of the technicolour age where Calam pines for the shiny buttons of a blue dress and not the uniform of a Second Lieutenant; One where Doris Day’s heartfelt 11 O’Clock Number “Secret Love” is about the genuine secret affection for Katy and not just that asshole Bill Hickok. Would that be so hard to imagine? ~ JC
Spock/James T. Kirk - Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-1969); Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979); Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
It would be ludicrous to talk about homoeroticism and shipping without talking about Spirk. A pairing so long-standing, persevering, and timeless that it has it's own Wikipedia page (one of the only ships to have that kind of claim to fame, at time of writing), Spock/Kirk is the couple that launched a thousand-- well, you know. Ships. With almost sixty years of fanon and crit to sift through, it's difficult to know where to begin when summarising American Sci-Fi's favourite sweethearts - and difficult to know what to say that hasn't already been said better.
It's remarkable that, unintentionally, the creators of the show managed to construct a narrative so evocative of gay love and gay experiences. Perhaps this is because of the way that Spock (Leonard Nimoy) seems to express the most "non-Vulcan behaviours" when around Kirk (William Shatner) in a way that's reminiscent of being able to connect with long locked-away, repressed gay feelings after being in the closet for a lifetime. It evokes the feeling of waking up and understanding who you could, maybe, actually be. Alternatively, Spirk may just be a shipper's paradise because touching hands is equivalent to a Vulcan kiss - and boy, do those guys touch hands a whole bunch. Including on Spock' deathbed in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Nothing like passionately kissing your bros on the mouth one last time before they die, huh? ~ Toni Oisin H.C.
James Bond/Q - Skyfall (2012)
To be fair, any iteration of Bond and Q could work here, but it's Q’s long-awaited return in Skyfall that remains the definitive representation of the couple for me. I don’t know if it’s a hot take to say that Daniel Craig is by far the best on-screen portrayal of James Bond, but either way, he’s electrifying in Skyfall, giving his greatest acting performance up against villain and arguable love interest, Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem). However, for as brilliant as Bardem’s performance is, the gayest Bond film yet is taken to another level in any scene with Bond and Q (Ben Whishaw), MI6’s quartermaster, technical expert, and twink-y eye candy.
It would be foolish to suggest that Skyfall marked the first “gay Bond film”. There’s been gay villains previously (most notably From Russia With Love’s unforgettable Rosa Klebb [Lotte Lenya]), and who can forget the homoerotic tension between Bond and Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) in Casino Royale? However, it’s Whishaw’s charming Q who is, to my knowledge, the first canonically gay man in the series, as of No Time to Die. To have grown up with the Bond series, meticulously collecting the Ian Fleming novellas, staying up to watch the big screen theatrics - to finally see positive representation feels glorious. It’s such a simple revelation - Q anxiously awaiting his date’s arrival - but it feels so good.
So, given we know Q is gay, and we’ve seen Bond have queer chemistry with a number of characters - why the hell shouldn’t they be a couple?! There’s palpable tension - nay, flirtation - between the pair, Craig’s gruff Bond a yin to Whishaw’s sardonic Q’s yang. Come on, just look at the way they look at each other! Given the backlash Eon Productions got for simply hiring Sam Smith, a nonbinary singer to do the Spectre theme song, I say they should go all out and make Bond the gay spy he’s always threatened to be. It’ll never happen, but hey, I can dream. ~ AC
Dale Cooper/Harry S. Truman - Twin Peaks (1990-1991)
Watching Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle Maclachlan) and Sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean) interact has the exact same vibe as watching a gay couple from a Hays Code era film be affectionate towards each other. Given how laden with 1950s nostalgia all of the original run of Twin Peaks is - the styling, the diners, the 4:3 aspect ratio - you'd half expect that to be intentional, if it weren't for, y'know, all of the other ways the show violates the Hays Code (the sex, violence, and other [Gordon Cole voice] Real Weird Stuff). The chemistry between these two "partners" is hard to take your eyes off from the first time they meet on screen. It seems that Sheriff Truman feels the same, as he gazes in bewilderment and awe at Agent Cooper at... Basically any given opportunity, and then some.
The word partner covers a whole host of sins. Apparently in this case, it covers for falling in love with the Special Agent assigned to "protect and serve" in your fucked up little town. There is the belief that etymologically, words like "partner" and "companion" share the same word root as bread, or, "someone to share bread with". With this in mind, Cooper and Truman are certainly partners in more than one sense already. Barely an episode goes by where the boys don't luxuriate in a platter of donuts in the Twin Peaks Sheriff Department conference room, or enjoy a meal together while "totally not being on a date" in the Double R Diner. The gentle intimacy of the pair is fully reflected in their unspoken affection shared through delicious food and cosy drinks. The excessively horny copy used on the posters of them eating together is just the, excuse the phrase, cherry on top. Fellas... Is it gay to ravenously share donuts with your partner?
Dale/Harry really just embodies an almost perfect ship for me: the adoration those two hold for each other is a wonder to behold. You could cut the subtext with a knife. There's even that one deleted scene (or outtake) where they nearly kiss. With a director as deliberate as David Lynch, it's really hard to imagine that the homoeroticism between these two wasn't intentional - or, I can at least choose to believe that in the back of my mind. I can also choose to believe that they probably fucked in the back of that police cruiser, too. I mean, those cuts between them in the car and Julee Cruise singing "Are we falling in love?" seems pretty suspect to me. ~ Toni Oisin H.C.
Johnny Utah/Bodhi - Point Break (1991)
The 80s was a period of infamous excess, especially in the much parodied machismo of the Stallone/Schwarzenegger style of action movie. So to ring in the new decade of post-Reagan America, Kathryn Bigelow took us to the beach for this subtly subversive tale of an undercover agent (Keanu Reeves, still shaking off his Bill & Ted persona) and his enigmatic criminal quarry (Patrick Swayze, a sexy, in-demand romantic lead following huge hits like Dirty Dancing and Ghost).
The best villains represent some deep desire within the hero that they can’t access, because of job or duty or morality; the villain’s role is to tempt and test the limits of the hero’s taboo. Here, our hero Utah’s job is to infiltrate a gang of bank robbers and bring them in. To do so he must commit to the intoxicating lifestyle of these surfing, skydiving free spirits who have found a way to finance their daredevil exploits away from the offices and choked highways of America’s capitalist, republican hellscape (Bodhi does wear a Reagan mask during the robberies after all).
Utah falls in love with Bodhi, not physically (although they do sleep with the same woman, Lou Petty in a very cool but unfortunate role caught in the crossfire), but totally for the ideology he represents, gradually peeling back the taboos of his law-enforcement pretence and when he is rumbled, who cares? Bodhi wants him on the squad and he deep down wants to be there. They need each other, can’t be with each other, and the only thing that can separate them is the giant pacific waves in a perfect storm. “You want me so bad it’s like acid in your mouth!” Oof. ~ JC
Nicholas Angel/Danny Butterman - Hot Fuzz (2007)
My favourite scene in Edgar Wright’s classic cop comedy Hot Fuzz is when no-nonsense “supercop” Sgt. Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) goes for a quiet drink upon arriving at the quiet West Country village of Sandford. Among all the instantly-quotable jokes (“What year?” “Every year.”), he is introduced to the wide-eyed Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), a small town lawmaker who wanted to be a policeman after watching Point Break. I repeat: he wanted to become a cop after watching the unmissable gay romance between Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze that is Point Break. I could end this section here, and you’d have a pretty clear picture.
Of course, there’s more to Angel and Butterman’s dynamic (or AngelButter, as some have lovingly dubbed them) than just Keanu Reeves-esque idolatry. As the film’s grisly plot unfolds, their chemistry deepens. Angel manages to soften with Butterman in a way that is never shown with his ex-girlfriend Janine, and Butterman comes out of his shell more, the pair bonding in a way that mirrors Pegg and Frost’s beautiful real-life friendship. However, it’s strongly implied that their relationship goes beyond platonic love - in a promotional interview, Simon Pegg described their dynamic as a “love story”, and that there’s “totally” gay subtext. As for Edgar Wright? Well, he’s shared gay fan art of the pair to his Twitter, so we know where he stands. I’d argue this all goes beyond subtext and into canon, and therefore shouldn’t really belong on this list - but I digress. What a beautiful pairing. ~ AC
Oswald “The Penguin” Cobblepot/Edward “The Riddler” Nygma - Gotham (2014-2019)
“I will stare you in the eyes as I stab you in the heart.”
I think the reason so many of Batman’s rogues keep being sent to Arkham is because their works are not so much grabs for power or fortune as they are desperate cries to be seen and understood. For me, being A Queer, that’s always been pretty relatable. A lot of fans didn’t know how to respond to Gotham, Fox’s campy imagining of Batman (and his rogues)’s origins, but I think the show nailed that desperation for understanding. The rogues of Gotham use crime to carve out spaces for the connection and intimacy they crave - none moreso than the fledgling Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) and Riddler (Cory Michael Smith).
If there are plenty of ships running the course from enemies-to-lovers, Ed and Oswald (often termed Nygmobblepot by Gotham fans, and Riddlebird by fans of the ship as it appears in other Batman media) run the entire gamut of potential relationships. Enemies, friends, rivals, reluctant allies, unrequited lovers… Oswald starts out as Ed’s reluctant mentor in criminality and violence, but the two of them quickly end up on equal footing, tumultuous partners in crime who alternately rescue and attempt to kill one another. They need one another just as the head needs the heart — and their fucked up codependency is built on that desperation for understanding and love. By the end of the series they’ve gone through every cliché in Gothic melodrama, and frankly it’s fabulous. At one point Ed thinks he’s murdered Oswald, and has visions of his ghost seducing him with song in a tuxedo and top hat, bathing Ed in neon red light — a passion quite opposite and complementary to the Riddler’s usual calculating green.
While Gotham has queer rep of… varying quality, Ed and Oswald don’t explicitly enter any kind of relationship. Oswald is canonically queer and at one point confesses his love to Ed, but Ed doesn’t return the feelings, despite his aforementioned… confusing hallucination. (Oswald’s actor, himself a gay man, has spoken on his own feelings about this arc, suggesting Penguin’s desperation for love goes beyond gender and sexuality labels.) Paths towards a romantic/sexual relationship are repeatedly deferred — they are never in quite the right place at the right time. Their reconciliatory embrace at the end of the series is cast as one between ‘brothers’. According to Tze Chun, writer and executive story editor (in response to a deleted tweet), this was a production edit against his own wishes.
Regardless of the executive meddling, the strength of Ed and Oswald’s relationship determines the chaos of the show. When all is not well in the Penguin/Riddler alliance, Gotham burns - while when their relationship reaches resolution at the end of the show, Gotham is finally able to find a status quo, shitty but stable and ready for Batman to arrive. So while I wish we’d had a romantic resolution, I think their ending — one where they actually get to remain together — is a happy one. It’s a refreshing move to elude tragedy for a pair of queer villains, especially given how the series treated its others. But then, being iconic villains and needing to live till Batman took up the cowl prevented their premature burial. A troubled ship, in more ways than many, but a comforting one in my eyes. ~ Mal Morgenstern
Wallace Wells/Lucas Lee - Scott Pilgrim VS. The World (2010)
It's hard not to ship Wallace Wells (AKA Succession's campy darling Kieran Culkin) with basically every boy-character in Scott Pilgrim VS. the World. He seems to have the rare sibling-device to the gaydar: the gay magnet. Every man we see him around for longer than two minutes seems to fall to his charms. Besides, unfortunately, Ramona Flowers' ex Lucas Lee (Chris Evans).
Wallace is totally smitten with Lucas - it's understandable, I too am a gay guy a little too interested in Chris Evans - and tails him around Toronto as he films his terrible new action movie. Lucas, however, doesn't seem to return the feelings. At all. Don't we all know that gays are notoriously good at crawling all over each other's exes half the time? It would've been great to not only get to see Evans in a gay role (y'know, in case seeing him in spandex as Captain America wasn't gay enough), but also to get to see Wallace get his fantasy moment. ~ Toni Oisin H.C.
Eleanor Shellstrop/Tahani Al-Jamil - The Good Place (2016 - 2020)
Ah, The Good Place. Surely the best show ever made about moral philosophy. There’s so much to sink your teeth into here. There’s so many interesting lofty themes to engage with, it’s emotionally devastating, and perhaps above all, it’s truly a shipper’s delight. Each of the show’s colourful cast members are so wonderfully fleshed out, you could throw a dart at any two characters and chances are you’d end up with a pairing that sticks. Lovable himbo Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto) and all-knowing nonbinary legend Janet (D'Arcy Carden)? Hell yes! Reformed(ish) demon Michael (Ted Danson) and evil queen Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson)? A no-brainer! That being said, standing head and shoulders above all potential pairings in the show is my true OTP: central protagonist Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) and her perfect foil, the hilarious Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil).
As with most characters in the show, we’re introduced to Eleanor and Tahani under false pretences. Eleanor is initially incredibly selfish and mean, lashing out against most characters and talking behind their backs, especially her canon soulmate, Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper). Meanwhile, the upper-class Tahani is at once judgy and snobbish of other’s actions, while simultaneously defensive and insecure of her own status due to her upbringing, where she was constantly unfavourably compared to her younger sister Kamilah (Rebecca Hazlewood). At a glance, it’s not a pairing that seems to make sense, but their chemistry is undeniable - as they begin to feel more comfortable with each other, the mutual barbs are replaced with cheeky flirtation and genuine emotional connection.
If there’s one major gripe I have with The Good Place as a show, it’s the ending. At the risk of spoiling more than necessary, there’s a lot of things I’d change about the heartbreaking final episode. Sure, some of those changes would be purely selfish ones - it’s been a long time since a TV show episode upset me quite as much! - but one logical change would be to give Eleanor and Tahani the happy, coupled-up ending they so clearly deserve. While their growth as characters is primarily for themselves, it’s clear to me that they grow into themselves as a couple, too. It’d be only fair to offer some relief in an otherwise devastating season finale, and the show’s ultimate couple would be a perfect conclusion. ~ AC
Newton Geiszler/Hermann Gottlieb - Pacific Rim (2013)
Ahh, my sweet, sweet science husbands. What would’ve become of you if Guillermo Del Toro didn’t want to make you into a seamonster shagger? I guess we'll never know.
Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Herman Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) make for an unexpectedly adorable, domestic couple in the apocalyptic retrofuture that Pacific Rim takes place in. Newton acts as the overbearing, over affectionate, hyperactive partner to Herman's foil. I love a ship where the foil is still incredibly ridiculous, and Newton/Herman definitely ticks that box for me. I would love them even more if they were allowed to be a little more blatant onscreen than a few awkward cuddles and overly-familiar pats on the arm.
But, I digress: these two are perfect for each other. Not only is the chemistry (no pun intended) and tension between them completely palpable, they’re also literal, canon soulmates. What’s more romantic than being able to control a mecha purely with your shared brain power? Certainly nothing else that we get to witness in Pacific Rim, that’s for sure. Especially not those scenes where Newton seems to have married a kaiju organ. Fucking hell. ~ Toni Oisin H.C.
Hannibal/Will Graham - Hannibal (2013-2015)
The TV series Hannibal could have easily been a lavish police procedural, based on iconic characters from pop culture and with a new shocking serial-killer of the week for our hero Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) to catch every episode, with help from his chum Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen). That’s what the first season seemed to suggest, with the team from the FBI’s Behavioural Science Unit going up and down the USA catching monsters (A guy who turns people into cellos! A guy who turns people into beehives!) whilst hot on the heels of a killer who, spoiler I guess, turns out to be Lecter himself.
But showrunner Brian Fuller had a more interesting recipe up his sleeve, mixing ingredients from Thomas Harris’ novels and the iconic movie adaptations, adding a pinch more diversity and cooking up the darkest of gothic romances between one man who is a gifted serial killer and another who is cursed with understanding what makes them tick.
Mikkelsen portrays a Hannibal who not only has the debonair iciness to be a heinous sociopath but also the physical prowess to be fully capable in extreme violence. An untouchable god/monster who, as far as I can recall, is never once flustered and dominates every scene with calm European authority. Dancy’s Will Graham, meanwhile, always looks like he’s in two places at once, forever on the verge of either breakdown or epiphany. And so he spirals into Hannibal’s web of lies and terrible horror until no-one is quite sure who is the man and who the monster. And isn’t that what love is?
No. Absolutely not. But Hannigram is your problematic fave, a dark story that is as challenging as it is rich, like a deep-red claret or one of those weird meals that rich people eat. What meat is this, again? ~ JC
Phoenix Wright/Miles Edgeworth - Ace Attorney
Ace Attorney: in my humble opinion, the gayest game franchise to ever exist. Even ignoring the pseudo-canon gay pairings - Franziska Von Karma and Adrian Andrews definitely had something going on and you can’t tell me otherwise - there’s more homoerotic tension than you can shake a stick at. Most prominently, of course, it’s between the series’ most famous protagonist Phoenix Wright, and his childhood friend, rival, and begrudging co-worker, Miles Edgeworth.
Just to recap: Wright and Edgeworth met in school when they were both just nine years old. When Wright is accused by his classmates of stealing money from Edgeworth, he gets put on trial, with seemingly everyone prepared to brand him a thief. It’s Edgeworth himself who saves the day. He’s always looked up to his father Gregory Edgeworth, a renowned defence attorney, and it’s his strong sense of justice that gets Wright out of trouble and makes them the closest of friends. It all goes south when Gregory is murdered, causing the traumatized Edgeworth to move away, isolate himself, and with his faith in the justice system shaken, train to be a prosecutor. Determined to see his friend again, Wright devotes himself to study, spending many years training to be a defence attorney, with one goal in mind: to see Edgeworth again. Swoon.
Men, eh? Men will construct intricate rituals which allow them to be with other men. This apparently includes training to be a fucking lawyer. It’s not even the most ridiculous part of the pairing - at one point when Edgeworth works abroad for some time without warning, Wright gets paranoid and thinks the bastard is dead. It’s no wonder both characters are teased about their love for each other, and it’s frustrating that they never admit their mutual longing to themselves. To paraphrase One Direction, everyone else in the (court)room can see it.
Any case across the Ace Attorney franchise which features both Wright and Edgeworth is scattered with gay moments, with both characters being flustered at the very mention of each other. There’s no other pairing in the series which makes nearly as much sense as this one. Both characters come close to sacrificing their careers for each other - in Wright’s case, a career which only started because of his love for Edgeworth. If that isn’t love, what is? ~ AC
Buffy/Faith - Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)
Introduced in Season 3, Eliza Dushku’s “dark slayer” with a Boston attitude came in “hungry and horny”, an instant foil for the West-Coast blonde, high school archetype Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Geller) who had spent much of last season fretting about losing her virginity (in exceptional circumstances, to be fair).
In that same season’s Bad Girls, Faith tempts Buffy away from school to be, well, bad girls; stealing stuff, running from the cops and sweatily dancing with each other in an iconic scene at The Bronze. Her later heel turn provided plenty of opportunities for the pair to get physical, with Faith being one of the few recurring characters who could really kick Buffy’s ass. The two slayers even ended up, um, exploring each other’s bodies in Season 4’s Freaky Friday-esque Who Are You? and seeing Dushku and Geller play each other’s characters is a delight; way more homoerotic than anything Willow and Tara could ever hope for.
Faith’s recurring ally/rival/villain (delete where appropriate) added a breath of fresh bisexual air to the high school era of the series, before the Scooby Gang became an explicitly queer space and while Buffy’s het romances ranged from serious to boring to abusive and back again, Faith could always be relied on to bring some raw, fun sexuality into the show whether it was to flirt with Buffy, fight her or actually steal her boyfriends. How ‘bout it, B? ~ JC
Jake Peralta/Doug Judy - Brooklyn 99
A key plot point of almost every Brooklyn Nine-Nine episode hinges on Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg)’s jokey nature, the court jester of the Nine-Nine precinct. Over the show’s many seasons, his relationship with straight-laced Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) blossoms, and despite their undeniable chemistry and the charm of their rivals-to-lovers arc, there’s another character who makes for his perfect partner.
Enter Doug Judy (Craig Robinson), the charming jack-of-all-trades best known as the infamous “Pontiac Bandit”. Judy is a regular fixture on the show, making an appearance in almost every season in some form, whether it’s helping the Nine-Nine rope in his estranged brother, or working as a lounge singer on a fancy cruise. If Peralta and Santiago are complementary colours, Peralta and Judy are analogous - closer in energies, continuously bouncing off each other like loved-up pinballs. Unless anything awful happens in season 8 - I haven’t seen it yet! - my strongest Brooklyn 99 headcanon is that Peralta and Judy are the real dream couple of the show. Whether it’s their consistent one-upmanship of each other, their genuine romantic chemistry, or the incessant flirting, it’s all-too clear how well suited they are for each other. Hell, I bet Judy’d say as much himself. Plus, Peralta is a bisexual king. Let them be a couple! ~ AC
Kiryu Kazuma/Majima Goro - Yakuza (2005-)
There’s a scene in the first Yakuza where you (that is, Kiryu) and Majima brawl your way through a dilapidated soapland, eventually crashing through the floor into the basement. You fight Majima in the dark and, upon defeating him, he lies there splayed out over the rubble with an absent blissed-out smile, his last words to you being how amazing you are. The Yakuza movie adaptation (directed by an icon of homoerotic yakuza cinema, Miike Takashi) does away with the ruins and keeps the sexy hot pink lighting of the soapland, with a couple new additions: a part where Kiryu and Majima both grab shotguns and pump them repeatedly at one another, and a scene where Majima pins Kiryu down and straddles his neck, Kiryu’s head snug between his leather-panted thighs. I wouldn’t say that the movie is subtle.
If the Yakuza (or Ryu Ga Gotoku) series could be seen as a loving pastiche of yakuza films, it’s certainly inherited their homoeroticism — male-dominated, built up on found-familial bonds and the pacts of trust required when you embed yourself in the underworld. I could’ve spoken about a lot of pairings here — one even playfully referenced in the series itself thanks to their “Passionate Manly Bathhouse Battle!” — but I settled on the fandom’s most popular pairing, known as Kazumaji in the English-speaking fandom. Kiryu (Kuroda Takaya) and Majima (Ugaki Hidenari) are a pair of opposites — Kiryu joining the yakuza due to indebtedness and duty to a crime syndicate that kept a roof over his head in childhood (his adoptive father also being yakuza), and Majima taking the path of chaos, a hunger for power, but most of all a thirst for a good fight. Thirst in its multitude of meanings, of course.
The Kiwami remakes of the first two games even brought in some new mechanics to sell the depth of their relationship, adding a mechanic where Majima will stalk Kiryu, challenge him to fights, and flirt with him (at one point even doing a pole dance for him), and an entire new minigame story arc that includes, among other things, Kiryu rattling off pick-up lines to Majima while they’re Having A Drink With The Boys.
For all their posturing and for all they find some arbitrary reason to fight in almost every Yakuza game, they care a lot for one another. Majima even more than Kiryu, a lot of the time, despite ostensibly being the more morally flexible of the two. Kiryu will grant Majima’s violent antics a soft and knowing smile, while Majima will act selflessly and take beatings, knives and bullets for Kiryu, often claiming it’s because he refuses to let anyone else kill him — that’s his privilege and his alone. But when he thinks that he’s accidentally killed him in Yakuza 3, he’s distraught. Given both men’s lack of an on-screen body count, it solidifies the idea that violence is these two’s love language and they can’t bear the thought of any permanence damaging… whatever the fuck they have going on.
With Kiryu’s story complete and the Yakuza series passed onto a new protagonist, Kiryu and Majima’s relationship is unlikely to come to the forefront again - unless, perhaps, RGG Studio responds to the fans’ call for a sequel to their acclaimed prequel, Yakuza 0. But I love the way their relationship fleshes them both out, all while sowing a little queer ambiguity into the many, many, sweaty shirtless fights of the series. ~ Mal Morgenstern
AC is the Head of Written Content at QSO Media. Follow them on Twitter.
Mal Morgenstern is a writer, visual artist, and musician. Follow them on Twitter here.
Toni Oisin H.C. is the Head of Audio at QSO Media. Read more of his writing here.