Bushiroad’s BanG Dream has taken the West by storm since it was released in April this year. Based off the BanG Dream franchise that kicked off in Japan in 2015, the mobile game follows the story of five girl bands: Poppin’Party, Afterglow, Roselia, Hello Happy World and Pastel*Palettes. Since its release, the fandom has grown bigger and bigger to the point that it’s now one of the most popular rhythm games on mobile—a crowded market, including titles like Love Live, IDOLM@STER and IDOLiSH7.
But what’s even more significant is that, despite only being in the West for such a short time, the mobile game has a huge queer lady following that can be seen even if you’re not part of the BanG Dream fandom. I came to this conclusion after logging onto BanG Dream for the very first time and immediately coming across the username “fleet if gay.” To put it into context, one of BanG Dream’s most prominent characters that is loved by women everywhere, is Kaoru Seta. Kaoru has many great lines, but none as fantastic as “Ah! So fleeting.” So, is it any surprise that the women who play this game are drawn to her?
Fleet if Gay
BanG Dream allows players to freely change their usernames and “shouts out.” Most of the time, people use this for memes to joke with their friends—“road work ahead” and “I sure hope it does” are two of my favorites. But those involved in the queer fandom use these features in an entirely different way. Like the user “fleet if gay,” queer players—mainly women—communicate with one another and signal their community membership through the limited tools the game affords.
I don’t have to tell you that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or any other sexual minority can be rather lonely, especially when you’ve got nobody like you to speak with. So as a queer woman, seeing someone with Kaoru as main star in their band with “fleet if gay” as their username made me feel all fuzzy inside. I felt even better when I saw two players press the “fleeting” sticker in response. Stickers in BanG Dream often have writing on them, allowing you to convey what you want in just a simple press of the button. So seeing this response to a person’s username made me smile, though I was certain that it was just a fun, one-time thing and that I wouldn’t come across something like it again.
I couldn’t have been more wrong, and I wasn’t the only one who was noticing it either. Not only were people collecting these names—”tired gay,” “yukilisa when,” “doki doki if gay” and so on—they were celebrating them through spamming stickers in reply. While BanG Dream’s communication system is extremely limited, with no voice chat or direct messaging, people were coming together and interacting with one another by using the tools available in creative ways.
Speaking with people from Twitter and Tumblr, I asked if they believed that BanG Dream had a huge queer female following, and if so, why? Most answered in the affirmative, with the user shiningmilkyway speculating that the reasons for this were first, a large following of Japanese idols by queer audiences, and second, the all-female cast of the game. According to another Twitter user who has chosen to remain anonymous, with a large cast of girls it’s “just more likely that people from the queer female community will click with one of the characters.”
A Big Sip of “Loving Women” Juice
What about the game’s content itself? I asked user BeesDotMoe whether they thought any of the characters from BanG Dream in particular stood out as having attracted lesbian and other queer women players.
“I’m pretty sure it’s a combination of really spectacular character writing and that the game is pretty overtly gay,” they told me. “People talk about subtext in things all the time but Arisa’s character song is straight up about her being in love with the protagonist, Kasumi. What’s more, the game is absolutely full of character interactions like this, especially in events. So, for the lesbian fandom, being able to see pretty much ever-present representation in the game is really exciting!”
It wasn’t just Kasumi or Arisa that people seem to connect with, either—players seem to engage with all characters. But one in particular stands out—the girl behind so many crushes in-game, the one who has inspired the spamming of “fleeting” stickers, the one that makes us all swoon and curse her name in the same sentence. Yes, I’m talking about Kaoru Seta.
“Kaoru is the obvious answer,” said Ojoubunsama, another user I interviewed. “I love how she puts on a really confident, flirty facade, but she’s kind of a shy, sweet girl behind all that.”
Kaoru is best described as an avid imbiber of “loving women” juice. There aren’t many girls Kaoru hasn’t flirted with in this game, and thus it makes sense that she’s the first character queer fans find themselves drawn to. It is her “fleeting” sticker that is often spammed, and it is her that the community seems to flock to when it comes to talking about representation within the game.
In a game that’s more about high scores and new costumes than community interaction, it’s amazing to see the queer fandom coming together using the only tools available. Through these gestures, fans are constantly reminded that there are other players out there just like them. And while that may seem like a small thing, to players like the ones I spoke to, it’s anything but.