Transit Girls is the story of Sayuri and Yui, two girls thrust together by their parents’ marriage. Sayuri resents the intrusion and doesn’t believe that anyone could be a replacement for her late mother. And she certainly doesn’t believe that she needs a new sister. Even though Sayuri is cold and distant, Yui tries her best to help her warm up to the idea of being a family. Overcoming every reservation she used to have, Sayuri falls in love with Yui, who was smitten from the day they met. But there’s one big problem… no one can find out.
This drama is the first of its kind in Japan, making history as the first J-Drama depicting a lesbian couple. While there have been plenty of yuri-themed anime over the years, the mainstream Japanese media has been reluctant to include LGBT representation, due to the country’s more conservative attitude towards homosexuality. Before its release, there were concerns over whether this series would be a positive thing, because sometimes no representation can be better than bad representation. The whole idea of a ‘forbidden love’ is outdated to say the least, but Transit Girls may have been able to pull it off.
How lesbians were portrayed in this series was bound to come under a lot of scrutiny, being the first of its kind. With so many eyes watching, you’d expect the production team to be especially careful. And the effort to challenge some of the more common stereotypes hasn’t gone unnoticed. It could be argued that including them in the first place reinforces those ideas, but they’ve got to start somewhere. By doing this, it gently eases the audience in with what they already believe. Across the series, there’s a shift from seeing Yui and Sayuri’s relationship as a “temporary delusion” to something serious that they’d “like to embrace”. Using tired misconceptions and then rejecting them is an effective way of bringing the viewers on the characters’ journey, and could possibly change their own opinions along the way. Transit Girls hints at the topic of bisexuality, by suggesting that Yui is interested in both men and women, but never really explores it in depth. If the series was renewed past eight episodes, it would definitely be something that should get more coverage. Admittedly, it may not be the most progressive LGBT media ever, initially treating the whole situation as “wrong”, but at least it’s trying.
Despite its flaws, Transit Girls provides something that not a lot of LGBT media has… a happy ending.
Due to heterosexual influence in the 20th century pulp fiction scene, a lot of gay stories were altered to avoid government censorship. To stop their books from being destroyed, the endings were changed to cover fake homosexuality, institutionalisation, and death (from Sara Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness). The deaths of LGBT+ characters in the media are so widespread that they’ve become a trope called Bury Your Gays.
The concept of denying queer characters a happily ever after was carried over to Japan in the 1970s, with the same restrictions creeping into the yuri genre. Because the idea of LGBT+ people finding happiness at the end of a story is so unfamiliar, it’s refreshing to see Transit Girls turn its back on over four decades worth of expectations. It definitely shows that there is a change happening- that it’s gradually becoming more and more acceptable to be gay in today’s society.
Towards the end, it feels as though the parents’ objections to the idea are not based in the fact that they’re both girls, but in the fact that they’re a family. Even though Sayuri and Yui are not related by blood, which prevents it from bordering into incest territory, they’re still sisters by marriage. In the last few episodes, Yui’s mother (Madoka) seems more concerned with not breaking the family apart, than with her daughter’s sexual orientation. This is a completely valid thing to be worried about, especially as they’ve just uprooted their lives to move in with Sayuri and her father. Seeing Madoka’s concerns shift away from sexuality to more logical reasons is an interesting piece of character development.
Madoka may just be the character who goes through the most changes. Yui stays relatively consistent through the series, mostly leaving Sayuri to come to terms with her new-found love for her step sister. This is understandable, as Yui is a few years older and more comfortable with her interest in women. But while Madoka has watched Yui mature, she had yet to fully confront her own opinions about it. As stated earlier, she acts as an outlet for the audience to reflect on their feelings, so her development is an important inclusion.
Another person who undergoes a drastic change is Sayuri’s childhood friend, Nao. Completely infatuated with her, he becomes jealous of Yui. However, unlike many boys in real life, instead of becoming bitter about being relegated to a non-existent friendzone, he decides to support Sayuri regardless. While his behaviour in the beginning wasn’t promising, his realisation that she’d be happier being with Yui than pretending to be interested in him shows a more mature side to him.
Sayuri’s arc doesn’t always follow a straight path, which adds the element of realism. Her situation is one that is not easily settled into, with a new family and new feelings presenting problems for her. It could be considered that, after being with Yui for a while, she regresses as a character. Even though she has become used to being in a relationship with a woman, she is hesitant to hold Yui’s hand in public. While this seems like maybe she wasn’t as comfortable as she thought she was, cultural differences must be accounted for. Japanese society has more reservations towards public displays of affection, even in heterosexual couples, and a homosexual couple holding hands would be even less accepted. However, she overcomes worrying about what others think of her in the end.
And the end is definitely the drama’s high point. Not only is it happy, but it perfectly links back to the beginning. With the final scene reflecting the first, it shows just how far Sayuri and Yui have come in eight short episodes. From being complete strangers, to falling in love and getting over every obstacle thrown their way, their journey hadn’t always been easy. In the opening minutes of Transit Girls, Yui sees Sayuri praying at the local shrine, wishing to find her “fated person”. And in the closing scene, Sayuri discovers Yui in exactly the same place, praying for the girl she loves to “find [her] some day”. Their prayers for the future mirror each other’s exactly, tying their characters together.
It could be argued that a lot of the plot was rushed, without much in-depth development. But given that it’s almost a mini-series, only totalling a maximum of four hours, there isn’t a lot of room to explore everything. However, despite some issues with pacing, it’s a heart-warming story which could pave the way for more dramas like it. Being the first lesbian J-drama, it’s likely that it was given fewer episodes to gauge public reaction before putting similar series into production.
Only the future will tell.