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Queer Characters: Akira & Nolan

Concerned teens, cute couple.

I already gave my review of don't take it personally, babe, it just ain't your story, but as it has two same-sex couples, I decided not to focus too in-depth on such in the review itself (though obviously it is a factor). Therefore, I wanted to more closely explore both Akira and Nolan individually, as well as how their relationship occurs.

There will be spoilers, so if you haven't played the game yet and want to, you may wish to wait a bit.

On the one hand there is Akira: a precocious boy whose intelligence is marked upon by his being the youngest in your class. On the other, you have Nolan: a seeming slacker who starts off dating Taylor (the resident blonde Mean Girl), and while he isn't stupid, he lacks drive and motivation. The former is presented as a not socially awkward nerd from the start, while the latter would fill what we'd typically deem the 'jock' role, but falls more into 'spoiled rich kid' (which could be argued is the case for all but one of the kids in the class, from what we see).

When the game starts, neither is openly out, however. In fact, Nolan's 'outness' is a topic unto itself I wish to address.

As I mentioned in the review, we get to see Akira's coming out process fairly early in the experience. He tells his best friend, who offers a 'no duh,' followed by his wanting to prove her wrong by posting it on Amie. In what is likely an increasing way of coming out to as many people as possible, it makes sense that it develops into a discussion with support, and a bit of bickering; the bickering stemming from Kendall wanting to prove her point that no one is surprised by his being gay.

What becomes a bit heavier, while still keeping an element of comedy, is when he details coming out to his parents, and how he was let down by the process. Not because they disapproved, but one just laughed about the entire affair. While it does not put Akira in a situation where he is in any danger, it still touches on the fact that coming out can be a very emotional experience, even one that does not end in tragedy.

What follows is his awkward way of approaching the boy on whom he has a crush, Nolan. By this time Nolan has broken up with Taylor, though their conversations and interactions are still strained with the weight of two people who can't communicate effectively. In fact, this is just one of many mirrors for the main theme of the game overall: how does one effectively navigate communication, and by which channels? Therefore, seeing Akira use the route I have used in the past when more timid about wanting to tell someone I liked him was affirming in that way that media can be: I'm not the only one who can be a complete dork about such things.

Nolan never really sees himself as gay or even bisexual fully, therefore when he approaches John, the protagonist you play, about what to do, the advice I saw myself giving was of being openly communicative about boundaries and with what Nolan may be comfortable. After all, as a loner, Nolan is also looking for friends, and his biggest issue with the entire thing is, "What does this guy see in me? Do I want to let go the chance that I could have a friend?"

There are certain people, and areas of thought, for whom sexuality is more fluid, rather than deadset. What ends up evolving between Nolan and Akira is evidence of this for at least Nolan, who further shows how confusing sexuality can be. Who's to say everyone fits nicely and neatly into one of three categories: straight, gay, or bisexual? What's intriguing about how the relationship unfolds is John's own commentary on it all: constantly referencing how he's stepping on the toes of Nolan's masculinity, and how certain situations emasculate him.

Grammar errors aside, it is cute.

What's important to distinguish is that Nolan's masculinity is up for debate, which John seems to see, but interpret in what I saw as the wrong fashion (and he is fallible). As John illustrates early on in the game by asking his class for the definition of what it means to be a gentleman, the definitions of masculinity and gender change over time, and yet still he projects his own definitions and expectations on his students. Nolan's apathetic approach to life is one we have seen mostly exhibited by men in media, and recalls the whole rebel persona, but it fails in that he isn't rebelling. He's that slacker who plays games, and really doesn't feel he fits into school, among social groups, or in life in general. Nolan is the quintessential confused teenager.

What does awaken him are his feelings for Akira, particularly when Taylor starts trying to break them up by playing them against each other. Most notably, she starts preying on Akira's fears that Nolan is really straight, and not into Akira as anything more than a friend; further supported by Nolan having never changed his relationship status on Amie, it's easy to see how that fear hits home. In a world where we joke about how relationship statuses on Facebook are a minefield to be tread, one can only imagine how an entire generation growing up with that expectation might feel toward it.

What ends up being displayed is that while the two have a more positive experience with communicating with each other than Nolan had with Taylor, there is always room to grow, and in the case of sexuality, it can be quite confusing as to when that discussion occurs. On the one hand, you don't want to push someone into uncomfortable territory. On the other, as said before, it is very confusing, and those doubts can easily feed the fears of an already insecure teenager.

This also brings in Akira's mother, who comes close to calling you a homophobe because of your not preventing the bullying her son has received. Of course, this is at a point in the story where John doesn't realize everyone else knows he has access to their posts, so he's been playing it safe the entire time. In retrospect, the mother's anger at John seems firmly placed in the fact that she is aware he knew about what was going on, and did nothing to stop it--she was wholly justified in her anger. It's a point where she almost slips about the entire ruse and game that's being played on him, because she is that incensed her son is being attacked. Kudos to supportive mothers.

We need more mothers like these.

Eventually that plot thread is resolved, and Nolan ends up changing his dating status to reflect his partnership with Akira. Further, he changes his sexuality to indicate that he's mostly straight with one exception. Furthermore, in what seems to be a nod to what would likely be our own curiosity as to whether the relationship has any physical component, at one point Akira is messaging back and forth with Nolan, asking what they'll do when they next hang out, discussing how he wants to learn to play games so he can play with Nolan, and then laughing as they admit they may likely end up just using it all as a crutch to end up making out.

What Christine Love has presented us with these two characters is not just a male teenaged same-sex couple, but also put on display questions of what labels in sexuality mean, how confusing everything can be (especially when a teenager), how gender standards both change and don't, and how even an authority in power (John) can be supportive, and still fumble in his attempts to understand some of it.

2 Comments

Chris said:

OMG I just started this game. Thanks for the Recc!!!

dm3k said:

Just finished 2 of the endings (out of 3, I think).

I generally loved that VN. My favorite couple was the lesbian one though (I am officially str8 for Kendall, and thats weird in so many levels).
For some reason I couldn't relate with Akira nor Nolan.
Akira it's very close to being a stereotypical uke and, i dunno... I kinda dislike these seme/uke attitudes.
Nolan is interesting. The relationship with Taylor that couldn't work, the loneliness he felt, the insecurity about his masculinity and all. A great character actually.
My background doesn't allow me to easily accept his fluid sexuality, but I want to believe that he's truly attracted to Akira...

And girls who like girls who like rumble packs!

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dm3k on Queer Characters: Akira & Nolan: Just finished 2 of the endings (out of 3, I think). I generally loved that VN. My favorite couple was...

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