Spoilers for Cybersix.
Content Warning: Discussion of gender essentialism, queerphobia, nazis
Japanese animation has found numerous sources of inspiration, from comics and novels to video games and toys, located from both within and outside of its national borders. But when it came to the 90s, few have the unique history, and overwhelming queer vibes , that the anime adaptation of Cybersix does.
Originally a comic series, written and drawn by Argentine creators Carlos Trillo and Carlos Meglia respectively, for the adult-oriented Italian comic magazine Skorpio, Cybersix followed the life of an android of the same name. Cybersix’s goal was to thwart her creator the evil doctor Von Reichter, a Nazi scientist who fled to South America after the end of the Second World War and created a series of power artificial creations known as “Cybers,” “Fixed Ideas,” and “Technos” to enact his plans of global conquest. Defeating these creations is doubly beneficial for Cybersix, as all of Von Reichter’s creations survive on a chemical known as “Sustenance,” so by defeating his creations Cybersix can feed upon them, not unlike a vampire, to continue living.
Alongside her external problems, Cybersix also had to deal with several internal struggles: her wish to be a human, pursue interpersonal relationships, and desire to live a life free from both Von Reichter and Sustenance. During the day, Cybersix lives her life under the male persona of Adrian Seidelman, teaching English at a high school so that she can evade her creator’s attention. As the series progresses, Cybersix gains several allies who assist her in her quest, one of the most important being fellow teacher and future love interest Lucas Amato. The comic, originally intended for an older readership, frequently included intense violence, explicit nudity and sexual content.
Unsurprisingly, the series underwent several changes in 1999 when the Canada-based Network of Animation (NOA) expressed interest in adapting the comics into a more child-friendly animated series with the legendary Japanese animation studio TMS Entertainment. All of the overt depictions of graphic violence and sexual content were either significantly toned-down or removed entirely.
Other details that were explicitly stated in the comics were instead subtly implied in the animated series. For example, the original comics make it very clear that Von Reichter and his son/clone José are Nazis, while the animated series subtly implied this through José’s outfit and habit of goose-stepping. However, despite these changes, the series is surprisingly accurate to its source material with character motivations, roles, and plot-points being nearly identical to their comics counterparts.
One of the most surprising plot-elements to be retained between the comics and animated adaptation was Cybersix’s secret identity as Adrian Seidelman. The 1990s were not a particularly queer-friendly period in North American animation history. The idea of not only including LGBTQ+ characters but presenting them in a positive light as the hero(in)es was essentially unfathomable.
Those few who did exist, such as Mr. Simmons from Hey Arnold!, Lexington from Gargoyles, and Richie from Static Shock, had their sexualities relegated to subtext. Anime series which explicitly featured characters in love with characters of the same gender, such as Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune from Sailor Moon or Toya and Yukito from Cardcaptor Sakura, would have their love censored when their series were initially dubbed into English.
Queerness was predominantly shown in children’s cartoons through stereotypes, such as Him from The Powerpuff Girls or the outright menagerie of queer-coded villains from Disney’s animated films, conveying queerphobic views about LGBTQ+ people to their impressionable audiences. As a result of this, LGBTQ+ viewers would commonly latch onto queer subtext and reinterpretations through fanworks as a means of positively placing themselves into a media landscape that did not welcome them.
Cybersix is one of these pieces of media; as having a protagonist with feminine and masculine personas, and having this aspect of her identity not be vilified, sparked the interest and admiration of transgender viewers, which continues to this day. It would have been very easy for the animated series to change or outright remove Cybersix’s secret identity as Adrian, but by maintaining it, the queer subtext not only remains but arguably flourishes.
In the original comic books, there is an explicit reason given as to why Cybersix adopted the identity of Adrian Seidelman: after escaping from Von Reichter, Cybersix encounters the remains of a car crash where a family of three was killed. One of the people in the accident was Adrian Seidelman, a young man similar to her in age and appearance whose identity she takes on.
This serves the double purpose of allowing Cybersix to evade Von Reichter and gain a legal identity without any potential paper trail. In contrast, the animated series never explicitly explains Cybersix’s decision to assume the identity of Adrian, or why she has chosen a masculine persona for herself. That ambiguity opens the door for trans viewers to potentially see themselves in her, whether as a fluid character inhabiting different genders comfortably or a more binary figure using one presentation to mask the other.
Aside from these more overt instances of queer subtext, Cybersix’s internal character struggles are ones that many LGBTQ+ viewers resonate with. Because Von Reichter and José are constantly hunting her down, Cybersix is unable to openly live in public during the daytime unless she does it as Adrian. Even then, the only times Adrian socializes is on the weekends or during his regular after-work dinners with Lucas.
Episode three specifically focuses on Cybersix’s frustration of wanting to live her life and spend more time getting to know Lucas openly, without living in fear of being hunted down–an angst distinct from many plots about crossdressing cis women because Cybersix’s distress is focused more on hiding her powers than on her masculine presentation. Cybersix is also an android who desperately wishes she could be human, only to be constantly reminded of her supposed monstrosity as she fights against Von Reichter’s other creations. Watching these creatures regularly harm innocents makes Cybersix question whether she could also be perceived as a monster.
For many LGBTQ+ people, the fear of being perceived as monsters in the heterosexist and cissexist societies we live in is still very real. There is a long history of queer people being vilified by the general population, the state, socio-cultural institutions, and news media which unfortunately persists to this day. Fictional works would most commonly portray us as literal or metaphorical monsters whose mere existence “corrupts” the existing status quo and, as a result, harshly punished by the narrative. These narratives have, undoubtedly, had a severely negative impact on LGBTQ+ people and can be attributed to the desire to stay closeted for one’s safety or to develop into internalized self-hatred towards oneself or others.
However, some queer people have recently decided to turn this narrative on its head, by reclaiming the title of “monster” for themselves as a means of empowerment. While not all members of the LGBTQ+ community equally agree on whether the label of “monster” can, or should, be reclaimed, the impact and connection queer people feel to the image of “monstrous other” persists. It is unsurprising then, that Cybersix’s internal character struggles are something many queer viewers can empathize with; we can interpret her struggle as one to not only affirm her humanity but also as a desire to live openly within a cissexist and heterosexist world.
On a more personal level, this struggle with queerness being perceived as something monstrous is something I understand acutely through observing how my own bisexuality is treated. The common perceptions of bisexuality include being “greedy” nymphomaniacs with uncontrollable sexual desires who commonly cheating on their partner(s), or that it is just a liminal phase to “experiment” sexually before realizing they are hetero or homosexual. Seeing these messages reinforced through various outlets, particularly in the especially cruel and ironic spaces of online queer communities, has proven to be very disheartening for me.
Those who know me personally will know I’m a sucker for a good romance and would be happy with the opportunity to have a fulfilling long-term relationship. However, seeing people who do not even know me already decide that I would be unfaithful and untrustworthy as a prospective romantic partner based on these harmful stereotypes breaks my heart. Fortuitously Cybersix is one of the few examples of a series with a prospective bisexual lead, who is not only the main love interest but is constantly shown as someone who Cybersix can always depend on.
Lucas Amato constantly supports Cybersix throughout her many endeavours to thwart José and helps her alter-ego Adrian feel welcome in the city of Meridiana. This is especially noticeable during their introductions in the first episode of the series; Lucas not only helps Adrian shake off some ruffians but also takes him to a local restaurant, which soon becomes their shared after-work respite, despite never talking with each other before.
The two instantly hit it off and become fast friends despite Adrian’s evasiveness. Later in the same episode, Lucas first meets Cybersix and despite his confusion at her situation, her superhuman powers, and her insistence to not get involved lest he is endangered, he still goes out of his way to assist her. While Cybersix still feels guilty at involving Lucas in the danger, he soon becomes one of her few human confidants that she can readily rely on.
Throughout the series, it quickly becomes clear that Lucas has fallen in love with Cybersix, yet does not realize that Adrian is her alter-ego, which is reinforced in nearly all of the episodes of the series. Along with this some queer viewers, myself included, have interpreted Lucas’s relationship with Adrian as also being a romantically coded one. Along with their after-work dinners, there have been numerous hints that indicate that Lucas is also romantically attracted to Adrian; from trying to show him the location of a bookstore he believes Adrian would enjoy, inviting him to see a romantic movie together on Valentine’s Day, and general body-language indicating flirtatious interest.
With all of these indicators, the series can be interpreted as being a queer love-triangle between two people. What is especially lovely about this is the emphasis throughout the series that Lucas is an especially loyal person to both Cybersix and Adrian, both in terms of being their friend and in terms of his romantic interest. He does not push their boundaries unless he feels they are in danger and is always willing to go out of his way to support them whenever they need help.
The one time he does behave dismissively towards them is when he is being mind-controlled in episode ten, reemphasizing that for Lucas to behave in this manner is out of character. To me, Lucas is an admirable example of a character whose love for multiple genders is not vilified but rather highlights his obliging nature to those he loves and to those around him.
While Cybersix does not depict explicit queer representation, it is a series with many queer fans who find some aspect of the series that either resonates with their experiences or provides a form of comforting escapism. Cybersix’s genderfluidity and Lucas’s bi/pansexuality are never questioned or vilified in the series’ narrative but are instead accepted as parts of their overall character. Ambiguous forms queer representation, particularly in older works of media, have helped sustain the imaginations of queer viewers, allowing them to (re)interpret a piece of media into something that is considerably more empowering and welcoming to them.
Thankfully, the tide has been turning and positive animated depictions of LGBTQ+ characters are gradually becoming more commonplace. Perhaps one day soon we will find a spiritual successor to Cybersix, where a genderfluid and bi/pansexual protagonist can both co-lead a series with beautifully animated action, without fear of being seen as monsters. Until that day comes, we can still enjoy Cybersix, and take comfort in its surprisingly queer-friendly narrative.
Editor’s Note: This article was edited after publication to swap out a promotional image of Lucas and Adrian at a urinal, which added by the editor, and does not reflect the fluidity-normalizing tone of the finished series. We sincerely apologize for this mistake and any harm it caused our readers.