WARNING: The following contains spoilers for The Gymnastics Samurai Episode 1, "Rock-Bottom Samurai," now streaming on Funimation.
With an angsty single dad, a glamorous grandma, a foreigner ninja and a talking heart-bellied bird, The Gymnastics Samurai (Taiso Samurai) already set up quite the eccentric cast in its premiere. Episode 2 expands the cast further, introducing more characters previously seen in the opening theme. One of them, the rival gymnast Tetsuo, appears to join Jotaro and Leo as the show's third main character, and seems like a welcome addition. Unfortunately, however, one of the other new introductions is a lazy homophobic stereotype.
Let's start with the positive: While Tetsuo's appearances in this episode are brief, he makes quite the impression. He's first seen on TV in the opening scene, as Rei channel-surfs through reports discussing her father's unexpected decision not to retire. The reporter praises him as "The Headband Prince," and the next great hope for Japan's gymnastics, but the Prince himself is completely apathetic. At the end of the episode, he confronts Jotaro himself, accusing the older gymnast of being an "embarassment" to the sport, promising some intense conflict.
Britney, the more problematic new character, is introduced as a customer at Snack Mary, the Ikebukuro bar that Rei's grandma Mari runs. Mari makes it clear her bar accepts all customers, and this rule of tolerance implies at least an attempt at inclusivity by the show itself. However, just because The Gymnastics Samurai accepts gay people does not mean it doesn't present them with horrible stereotypes.
Sadly, Britney is as stereotypical as gay characters in anime come: a hyper-flamboyant muscular-yet-effeminate type who acts like a creep with no understanding of consent. His very first scene involves him grabbing Leo's butt without asking, the latest in a long line of gay characters in anime presented as sexual predators.
Britney's portrayal after his introduction gets slightly better. He's still the butt of gay panic jokes, with an obvious double entendre in him telling Jotaro to get naked so he can stab him (he's an accupuncturist). On the positive side, however, he's shown to be intelligent and genuinely good at his job, helping Jotaro improve his physical condition after his long-time trainer rejected him. With these positive qualities in mind, it feels like the homophobic aspects of his portrayal are less a matter of hatred and more just laziness.
New episodes of The Gymnastics Samurai premiere Saturdays at 1:30 PM ET on Funimation.