James Bonde of Moriarty the Patriot is a polarising character, as fans are still unsure if the character is transgender or simply Irene Adler committing to his new role.
Queerness and representation of the LGBTQI+ community has undergone various transitions in Japan from times when it was believed to have been more open-minded and liberal in its expression of sexual orientation and expression. It then transitioned to a time when Japan was more conservative, resulting in less representation of the queer and LGBTQI+ community in the years during the economic depression of the country. Currently, there has been a resurgence in television and film that reintroduces narratives that outwardly celebrate and acknowledge queerness and various spectrums of the LGBTQI+ community.
One of the most touted genres which is believed to be at the forefront of this movement is anime. The genre, whether it is the manga or series, is considered one of the subversive and outright formats that has made strides in its attempt to represent and celebrate queerness in its storytelling canon. This has resulted in the creation of a number of anime manga series that are lauded for their representation of complex and compelling characters which portray a mostly overtly, though sometimes covertly LGBTQI+ narrative through the story’s protagonists.
Arguably, in most instances of LGBTQI+ anime manga series, they have been criticised for telling most of these narratives through either the gay or lesbian gaze. This means that most of the stories which have LGBTQI+ undertones and themes are either told from the perspective of a gay, lesbian, or nonbinary character. The matter of trans identities is one that is not overtly represented or even told in anime manga series. However, in recent roll-outs of anime manga and its supporting series, this phenomenon is continually being addressed.
One of the anime manga series that has received attention for the belief that it has tackled the matter of trans-politics in its storyline is 2020’s Moriarty the Patriot. It features the much-debated character of James Bonde, who is first introduced in the Sherlock Holmes canon as Irene Adler. In the anime manga series canon she has to “assume” the role of James Bonde in order to protect her life. But Bonde assumes the role entirely, which has led to the ongoing conversation about whether he is transgender or merely a former prima donna who believes they are just inhabiting a new role.
- A look at anime’s history with queerness representation
- James Bonde: Moriarty the Patriot
A look at anime’s history with queerness representation
Japan has had a tumultuous journey in terms of its stance on queerness and LGBTQI+ representation. Initially, the country was considered more liberal in its representation of queerness. This was evident in its allowance of same-sex relationships and the normalisation of Kabuki actors who were also presented as woman in their everyday lives. One of the most famous of those actors was Yoshizawa Ayame. There was a time that Japan was believed to have been more lenient and accepting in terms of its representation and inclusivity of the LGBTQI+ community.
But it was considered that it was during the 19th century, the Meiji Era, that the country was working on emulating the Western attitudes of the time. This means that the country aspired to promote and propagate more conservative values and politics and as a result, the representation of queerness and the LGBTQI+ community was all but erased as it was considered to be deviant to the more conservative politics and dogma of the era. But one of the most subversive mediums that, during this time, was considered to have continually looked to have queer and LGBTQI+ representation is anime manga and its supporting series.
The push back to the conversative culture of the times in anime dates back to as early as the 1960s, where a subculture emerged through the rise of a women’s group that created manga and anime which catered to a more liberal audience called the Year 24 Group. One of the earliest recorded manga that had a pointedly queer gaze was the 1970s The Song of Wind and Trees, which was subsequently turned into a manga film in 1987. This story was premised on the star-crossed lovers, Serge Battour and Gilbert Cocteau, who met at an all-boys boarding school in France.
The anime used the trope of Boy’s Love anime, which is portrayed using boys with feminised features to drive the point across that they were different from other boys. This practice in the genre is known as the use of “bishomen”, or is directly translated to mean beautiful boy. The term is derived from the inspiration of Japan’s “third gender” known as “wakashu.” The use of gay, lesbian, and nonbinary protagonists challenged dominant political narratives of queerness. This portrayal continued with another anime manga series which was 1997’s Revolutionary Girl Utena. But the trans agenda took longer to be explored in the anime and manga genres, with one of the earlier works coming out in 2011 titled Wandering Son, a story by Takako Shimura about middle-schooler Shuichi Nitori, who identifies as female but was born male.
James Bonde: Moriarty the Patriot
Wandering Son may have been pointed in its trans narrative, but for the most part, anime series have been suggestive in terms of the way that they pushed a trans narrative. One of the most contentious anime characters that continues to have questions asked about whether or not they are a trans character is Moriarty the Patriot’s James Bonde. The anime series, which first premiered in 2021, according to IMDb is premised:
“William James Moriarty lives as a regular noble while also being a consultant for the common folk to solve their problems. However, deep inside him lies a desire to destroy the current structure that dominates British society.”
Inspiration of James Bonde
James Bonde, as a character, is derived from one of the most iconic female characters in the Sherlock Holmes canon, Irene Adler. In the Sherlock Holmes canon, Adler is one of the best antagonists as she is only one of four characters in the canon who has ever bested Sherlock Holmes. She was a courtesan, who the public believed was an opera singer. But when she managed to get a picture with Wilhelm von Ormstein, which she used to blackmail him with the fear that he could lose his upcoming marriage owing to their affiliation, Sherlock was hired to get the picture back.
Confidently, he thought his disguise and plan would work, but upon his arrival to retrieve the image, he found a letter from Adler which stated that she was aware of the ruse and had already fled, maintaining that she would keep her silence if the von Ormstein did not bother her in her new life after finding love with her husband Godfrey Norton.
Irene Adler translated to Moriarty the Patriot
In the rest of the article, Irene Adler will be addressed by the pronouns he/him, as this is the preferred pronoun that the character asserted they want used since being introduced in Moriarty the Patriot. The character was introduced to the world of the story in seek of help after finding out that his life was in danger after he stole classified documents from Birmingham Palace. In order to maintain Bonde’s safety, the Moriarty brothers developed the plan to have Irene Adler die in a fire. This resulted in them devising that Adler would become James Bonde.
As James Bonde, Adler cut his long blonde hair into a short hairstyle, dressed in formal suits wearing 8cm formal shoes to accentuate his height with a touch of femininity with his pink tie. The name he used was derived from the middle name of the Moriarty brothers, and the surname is one that he came up with all by himself. Bonde remained cunning, smart, and flirtatious despite the change in his physical appearance. Moreover, in the anime manga canon, he asserted that he wanted to be considered a man.
James Bond and the ambiguity of the character
While the sentiments of the anime have asserted that the minor character in the Moriarty the Patriot canon wants to be referred to as a man, there has been contention about whether this signifies a trans character or not. Moreover, the contention is also attributed to the fact that the Japanese language does not rely heavily on gender pronouns in terms of the use of he/she/her/him/they/them. Therefore, even in anime, this occurs in the original creation and scripting.
This is couples with the already contentious history of anime, specifically, the fact that many of the existing manga and anime works are more suggestive in terms of highlighting inclusivity in terms of the queer agenda within the genre. Therefore, unless it is explicitly stated or portrayed that a character is their assumed gender or sexual orientation, the matter is usually hotly debated.
James Bonde is one of those contentious characters that continues to leave people unsure about whether he is transgender or an artist who has method in their practice of the craft. Therefore, assuming his role as a man has resulted in his adamancy that he be referred to as a man in order to stay in character. Seeing as there has not been official word from the creators of the manga and anime subsequently, it is up to the individual to choose on which part of the spectrum they fall. Therefore, rather than share definitives, it is better to share the primary arguments made by either side of the debate.
James Bonde: As a transgender character
On the spectrum of Moriarty the Patriot, viewers who lean more towards James Bonde being a transgender man claim his storyline in the anime and manga as the reason for their stance. Specifically, they use the plot devices that pushed his narrative forward in the world of the story as the reason why they believe that James Bonde is a transgender character. Specifically, the most commonly used example is how he was finally welcomed into the ranks of the Lord of Crimes’ gang.
Upon his arrival, he is made to share a room with marksman, Sebastian Moran and underworld spy, Fred Porlock, shown by Louis. Upon their arrival in the room, Moran is naked and is startled to have a “woman” walking in on him. He states as much by suggesting Bonde does not belong there. But Bonde is cool and collected when he retorts by responding, “Moran, I am a man. I’d like you to treat me as a man.”
But it is the way that the anime manga series provides support from the other characters that goes to affirm the belief that Bonde is transgender, as Louis also adds, “Mr. Bonde is a man now”, Louis reminds him, “so I do not see the problem.” Driving the point across, the scene is emphatic as William also supports Bonde by making an appearance and asking Moran, “Are you saying that you’re taking some issue with a fellow man sharing the same room?”
The stance that Louis and William take is believed to have been a way to highlight the importance of “allies” in the LGBTQI+ community and the purpose that they serve. Cishet men were healthy allies who actively worked at affirming the sexual orientation and gender identity of those who were perceived as “deviant.” It makes acceptance and understanding of queerness, Vis-à-vis – trans politics, all the better.
Hence, the redemptive arc of this storyline was how Moran eventually came to respect Bonde and also to respect his decision to be recognised and acknowledged as a man. This is as William decided to team up Bonde, Moran, and Fred Louis on their first Jack the Ripper Mission together. This mission allows Moran to develop respect for Bonde due to his ability to be masterful in the art of misdirection and ninja-combat. By the end of the mission, Moran is able to admit that he was wrong and that he now respects and accepts Bonde.
Additionally, Bonde went on to have flirtatious relationships with women, specifically Moneypenny, a relationship that many believed supported the belief that Bonde is trans.
James Bonde: As a character in disguise
On the other hand, there are fans of the show that believe that James Bonde is a character who is still Irene Adler, just in a costume. Most of those that believe this narrative do not base most of their arguments on Bonde’s story in the world of the Moriarty the Patriot character arc that Bonde goes through. But instead, this stance is based on the inspiration and history of the character as shaped by the Sherlock Holmes canon.
As one of the four, and the only female character to have bested Sherlock Holmes, it is believed that Bonde is not really transgender. But instead, he is simply committed to his role. This is based on the fact that as a former prima donna, Adler realised that it was not talent that guaranteed that an artist would receive the recognition they deserved. Instead, it was the connections to high-powered and influential people that guaranteed the type of success he had also envisioned for himself as Adler.
Therefore, Adler worked through acquiring the secrets of the rich and powerful to help those other creatives and the disenfranchised to get what they deserved as it pertains to acclaim, fortunes, or fame. In light of this, it is believed that as a consummate professional with a history in acting, for Adler, James Bonde is just another character he has assumed for safety purposes as Adler is presumed dead.
Tied to this is the fact that in the scene where Bonde has to die as Adler during the fire of the Murder Ball, it is believed that Adler could not simply assume a different female persona as the authorities would already be on the lookout for a beautiful blonde woman. But the fact that he changed into a tuxedo and cut his hair made it easier to make the death of Irene Adler all the more convincing as they would not expect him to be a man. This was suggested by one Reddit user who highlighted that in Chapter 60, he dresses as a woman again suggesting that:
“I think she seemed pretty overjoyed to be in her old clothes again. The fact that she made the choice to dress as a woman entirely on a personal whim when nobody expected her to, and it honestly would have been easier for the mission if she just kept up the “Bonde” persona, also makes it very clear to me that she is still very comfortable as a woman. She still wants others to be able to see her as a woman, Sherlock especially it would seem.”
Problematising James Bonde if he is a transgender character
With both spectrums discussed, one point which was recently highlighted was about the problems with James Bonde being a trans character, if that is the definitive answer confirmed by the creators. The problem is that James Bonde does not seem to have the same agency or autonomy that Irene Adler seemed to have had in the Sherlock Holmes canon.
Irene Adler managed to be one of the few characters that bested Sherlock Holmes. Moreover, she was independent and was believed to have created a network of aristocrats and rich and influential people that she blackmailed in order to ensure that she was able to help others realise their dreams or to help them get the funding they deserved. Since Adler did not appear in other interactions of Sherlock and was only mentioned as a legend of the one who got away, not much else is known about her.
But in the Moriarty the Patriot canon, Bonde does not seem to have the same autonomy. This is as he maintains being flirtatious, cunning, and smart, but he does not seem to be able to do anything by himself. Upon getting the death threat, it was discovered that Bonde stole a secret document from the palace. Instead of using his contacts from the past, he opted to reach out to Sherlock Holmes and the Moriarty brothers, as his solution. Moreover, his extensive contact list was never mentioned in the anime manga canon.
Moreover, for someone who once managed to outsmart Sherlock Holmes, Bonde does not seem to have the same belief as most of his decisions were dependent on choices that Holmes or the Moriarty brothers made, even more so as Bonde has committed his life to the brothers. It is hard to believe that Adler would have done this considering her arc in Sherlock Holmes.
This fact is one that has been highlighted as problematic if Bonde is a trans character, as it would suggest that firstly, trans characters do not have autonomy, which means that they are dependent on external validation, men in this instance, for their agency. Therefore, it would suggest that they cannot own their gender identity and pronouns, but they need it to be affirmed or validated by those around them in order for it to be “true.” Activists believe that this needs to be interrogated, similarly to what gay, lesbian, and nonbinary narratives are currently doing.