The tragedy of our predicament, when we are within ideology, is that when we think we escape it into our dreams, at that point we are within ideology.”
– Slavoj Žižek (no, really)
Disenchanted and disappointed long-term fans aside, It is obvious where the attraction of the current Genshiken lies. The mangaka is also playing it coy; otakus and fujoshis are no longer the societal pariahs they once were, but that doesn’t mean that the franchise is now a comfortably boring slice of life sitcom. There is plenty of fun yet to be had, especially with the longstanding puzzle challenge: guess what Hato is!
Let’s try again. If you figure out what Hato “is”, you get the “reason” Kio Shimoku is telling the story!
Hato is (/written as):
A straight male otaku who was inexplicably drawn to BL, who uses female presenting personas to enjoy the fandom surrounding BL and who abstracts the desire portrayed within the genre to his own condition (whatever that may be).
He crossplays a fujoshi to be part of the charmed circle of fans. His conflicts over reading BL and his fear of being rejected and shamed again leads him to panicked fugue states wherein he offers “gifts” to the fujoshi social when he feels that his position is endangered. First he offers the possibility of shipping himself as a male seme to Madarame’s sou-uke. This causes distress and threatens his position in the group. Then he gives the circle the “gift” of his drawing potential, if they help him to unlock it. He cannot draw a full narrative, only clench scenes. The work is an amazing copy of Kaminaga’s, so he needs support to find his own unique style. Finally he must wear women’s clothes, or at least underwear when drawing. Boy-drawn BL might be too jarring to the circle – this blunts the shock, while retaining some shred of female exclusivity in the ritual production of fujoshi fan-made material.
His latest gift, the creation of Nadeshiko no Genshiken again offers a shipping fantasy/ possibility as a candidate in the Mada harem: a demure, passive ultra-feminine character, erroneously conflated with the josou/ otokonoko (trap) genre. The story that he believes that Madarame has an interest in these provides sufficient cover. As the rest of the harem is mostly composed of peripheral Genshiken affiliates, the circle is not threatened. (Sue really doesn’t belong and has denied membership in the harem, but as magical outlander girl she can claim observer status. This begs the peripheral question: how much could Sue blab? Harem dinner reports? The secret stash of Mada x Hato-chan drawings?)
Why BL (and yaoi)? It does something for Hato. I have previously wondered if he (could be written as having) tried Bara/ “real” gay-male-made gay comics, but I missed something obvious. Hato has given no indication of finding these appealing. But neither does he offer any proof of interest in conventional m:f narratives, seinen or josei, yuri or even loli. He seems to like Durarara!! – based dojins and the works of a few hard-to-identify circles. He declines to borrow Madarame’s josou games. Male otaku style pr0n-ish loli ecchi stuff “works” on him (at least when in male persona, at comiket, reading the other guys’ hunt list loot) but it holds little of the fascination of rotten-girl authored smut.
Could it be that none of the other genres are interesting enough? Do conventional boy-plots only offer wish fulfilment along lines of now-disenchanted models? Yuri? (the female-authored/shinso variant) The girls are interesting but how to connect? Loli otaku smut? Creepy! Real gay guy comics – we like this, it is fun, you can do this/ fantasize about this, invoke often!
Hato’s fascination for BL seems to skip over commercial products for fan-produced works. His interest highlights the open-source copy and transform nature of fujoshi dojinshi culture. This is not surprising, given his interest in drawing .The rituals of secondary production, the fan communities and their tastes as well as the exchange and sharing of outre enthusiasms promises to be far more interesting than discussing the weaponry featured in Black Lagoon and Jormungand or arguing over which Gundam is cooler. Don’t even start with the ecchi stuff and the waifus – it is cringe inducing. The fujoshi stuff looks more “adult”, but not disenchanted. On a meta- level, his creator could be using Hato to acknowledge the incredible contribution womens’ fandom has made to Japanese manga culture, at the very least for expending story boundaries and serving as the backbone of comiket for the last 25 years. Hato’s fascination is a curious, but earnest tribute.
Hato was drawing female Hato being clenched by manly Mada before the harem manifested. Before that he was interested in fantasy m:m erotica. Why can’t he just be a nice well-behaved male-presenting fu-danshi who likes guys? Or has he “the heart of a girl in a boy’s body”? He cannot draw BL in a polished style characteristic of the genre unless he is dressed, not as a fujoshi but as a woman.
Aside: I still think his male persona drawing is interesting – it should have been pushed further to see where it leads. Japan is full of polished manga illustrators, professional and amateur: why add another? – unless to worship his creator.
See http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neue_Wilde (use auto xlate)
Finally, note how Kaminaga’s chiding “You can’t read this stuff without it having some effect“, echoes Dr Mizoguchi, yet Kio Shimoku plays one further trick. The original statement is anti-essentialist and queer (completely straight for the female BL readership doesn’t quite fit), while Kaminaga’s restatement is heteronormative and essentialist (that stuff will make you gay!) Kaminaga situates fujoshi practice firmly within heteronormative female experience, She will soon marry to prove this point. Kaminaga is not (written as being) a nice person.
Hato is (/written as):
A repressed male homosexual. He wants (is written as wanting) Madarame, as a male subject to another male. All his desires are for other males, (any interest in Kaminaga was misplaced admiration, or even a gesture towards that most elusive of Japanese feelings; ittaikan ) BL provides him an alibi; “its only you” is his way of negotiating his emerging sexuality. He dreams of a romantic, intense monogamous relationship, rather than meeting lots of sex-friends, so he avoids any stereotypically imagined gay “scenes” and/or their fiction; the fantasies provided by BL are more than enough for him at present. His crossdressing is a method, a hobby and a kink. Crossplaying a fujoshi first suggested a possible way to remain closeted and later when Hato as seme proved unworkable, a fall-back strategy. Wow; guess he is a bottom. But watch the drama unfold as he gets cold feet in the harem. Back to fanning over BL guys and his solitary fantasies for now. His creator is spinning a tale by staging a battle between “that stuff will make you gay” vs “that stuff might attract repressed young gay guys – what would happen?”
Hato presenting as a male is rare within Genshiken-space. This can be finessed if his crossdressing is his naive interpretation of the josou (trap) genre or an earlier take on stereotypically effeminate gay male identities. To naive (or over-enamoured with tradition) folks in Japan, presenting a “drag” feminine persona is seen as fulfilling a normal, if somewhat out-of-date stereotype of public male homosexuality(1). Drawing BL in pantsu is a symptom of a larger kink: Hato enjoys presenting in drag as adjunct of the libidinous charge he derives from his thrice-forbidden (as smut, as gay-ish smut and as a guy reading female smut) fantasy material. If Hato was gay, then he would do gay desire without prodding and what would be the fun of that? If Hato was an emerging transwoman, then the Stands would not try to ship him, because it would not be BL, it would be kind of straight and therefore boring.
this interpretation verges on extremely contentious IRL controversies, being related to the arguments used by hardline female-essentialists to denounce trans folk and inclusive queer ideas of feminism and female identity.
Hato is (/written as):
A repressed male bisexual.
Contra: Hato doesn’t do sex.
Hato is (/written as):
An emerging, extremely repressed trans-woman. Hato is conflicted and his feelings of being wrong-bodied are just beginning to manifest themselves. Despite saying “I’m a guy”, Hato presents as a female in safe spaces and has idealized female selves; the rebuking Stands. Hato fantasizes about being female and intimate with Madarame (?), is concerned over facial hair when presenting as female, enjoys yaoi because it is a quintessential female libidinized activity and seeks out female socials. Hato naturally prefered to slip into the girls facilities to change (that’s stretching it – Hato feels no existential dread using the male facilities at comiket, except when costumed.) Trans-woman Hato would not be “gay” in her desire for Mada, as she would be female. Any residual male-ness in Hato is being shipped by the emerging female subjectivity via methods suggested by fujoshi enthusiasms, so as to be rid of “the accursed remainder” – how’s that for dragging euro-pop psychology into the Genshiken? Plot mojo comes from the unsuitability of the Genshiken fujoshi social in supporting an emerging transwoman.
Spotted Flower “proves” this. No-honestly-not-Hato-for-contractual-reasons will go on to become a successful BL mangaka, adopt a public female presence and undergo breast augmentation surgery.
His internal dialogue as “a crossdressing male BL mangaka” does not acknowledge any gender confusion, simply that the sexualities implied by his interests resist conventional categorization. Initial BL smut drawn by Hato was m:m with him as seme. His first crush was the mighty, yet very female Kaminaga. Query: does the smut he draws for his private Mada x Hato posit him as female or as a crossdressing male?
As well, he has never expressed the feeling of being in the wrong body – the female Hato is an expansion of his self that he has created; She is limited to presenting as a fujoshi in fan-space socials. The Nadeshiko character is purposed to succeed as a harem member; if she was to succeed further by seducing Madarame, it would be cruel and disruptive. The heroic sacrifice also gives the retreat a storybook melodramatic tone. Any flirting has been within a chaste, Sue-chaperoned harem script.
The Stands are remarkably stupid or at least extremely purposeful: the original only teased Hato when he was in male-male ship-able situations, mostly with Madarame. It demanded that BL scripts be played out by male Hato. Perhaps this was to drive him more into a feminine persona, but it was sure a roundabout way of doing it. The second version, the flatter-chested Kaminaga-esque one, demands that he pursue Madarame even when he is in girl-character, but an internalized Kaminaga-ur-fujoshi-ish point of view would only do so if it still saw the core of Hato as male and therefore a target for demands he act out BL scripts. Even if Hato-san acknowledges and assimilates them into his conscious, admitted-to-himself desires, they remain focused on very limited concerns surrounding his fannish enthusiasms.
What little self-hatred or self-destructive behaviour Hato engages does not center around the suppression of a unitary female subjectivity, e.g. admitting that “he” “is a woman trapped in a man’s body”. Hato doesn’t engage in risky sexual behaviour, hang around in seedy bars or even engage in online attention-seeking/ shaming rituals. It is probably a good thing that his creator does not drag out all the tired and insulting stereotypes that suggest that anyone who suffers gender dysphoria issues will self-harm. Hato presents as female in a cloistered, extremely safe and supportive community and has used the space provided to develop new skills, make friends and enjoy normally proscribed enthusiasms. Hato! Check your privilege?
Finally, “word of kami” from Kio Shimoku and Spotted Flower are both notoriously hard to pin down. “Flower” may be any number of things. As well, the recent English language translated interview with the mangaka must be taken with a grain or three of salt, even as it adds very little to arguments one way or another. Contractual obligations forbid him from acknowledging ANY correspondence between Genshiken and Spotted Flower, and besides, he likes to play coy and maintain his secret identity; so even if he could, he wouldn’t. More questions are raised than answered by the doppelganger in Spotted Flower having a “boob job” – which is how the mangaka lieks it!
Hato is (/written as):
Originally straight, but inventing his own extreme (big R) Romantic, rebellious queer-ness/ gender-queer-ness. Part of this is a kink that fixates on sempais. All that Mada has to do is give him a pair of slippers and the kid would sit in a corner warming them against his chest (a historical trope beloved by medievalist Japanese fujoshi, as used in Haganai (2)) blubbering for the next hour. Hato holds the view that true romantic love must be powerful enough to break societal rules and bounds; that it is not only the finding of a soul-mate, but an extreme recreation of the self through desire. There are elements of classical masochism in his desires, but these run through fujoshi lore in any case. His cross-play and crossdressing serve to fit him to a fujoshi social, serve to offer the other members exchange and serve to pursue desire itself: gender and sexuality categories be damned – all while transcending, by transgressing not only his male role but the female social as well. The lad likes transgression, as long as it is well-behaved.
There is a strong whiff of narcissism here as well, although narcissism is less of a pathological than a chronic condition of the modern subject, now that the global economy runs on it.
I repeat: the global economy now runs on narcissism. A bit of it is perfectly acceptable for well-adjusted citizens and don’t you really want an Apple watch?
If he was a transwoman caught in a male body, any romance would still be raiju-ish. If he was gay, similarly raiju. If he was “Bi” (that old standby of western slash-fen), he would be raiju (and indiscriminate) If he gave up on BL and just fixated on loli charas he would still be uncomfortably raiju, in the sense that all those other desires match up to what is expected of them, now that they are no longer deep dark secrets to be hidden but acceptable market niches and or “tastes”. In this sense, Hato is also Kio Shimoku’s way of dealing with the new-found acceptance that otaku and fujoshi have gained within Japan. He is a further disruption, in essence the last etranger standing in the Genshiken.
Hato’s desire has to be “you and only you” to break societal rules and thereby prove the power of its truth. This also confirms the authenticity of his self and that of the equally true and free and yet to appear soul-mate. This spell always invokes desire for desire, the lover is a phantasm that has yet to appear.
I take my desires for reality because I believe in the reality of my desires.
Then they take you.
Once more note that his original cross-play as fujoshi was an uncanny replica of his first crush, now soon to be his sister in-law. If she ever cuts her hair short she will look like her husband’s brother! And she has a bad case of rotten too, so she shares the itch! Hato: avoid family reunions!
Cross-dressing adulterous quasi twincest is best!
Otaku-dom is no longer seen as an abject, pariah state, but as an otaku cross-dressing male fujoshi mangaka in training, the transgression is restored, redoubled and redoubled again. All Mada has to do to avoid the drama is to play boring until Risa enrolls.
Whoever most takes their desires for reality, wins.
All this may be Hato’s cover/ rationalization for an underlying gender dysphoria condition, as it piles absurdity upon contradiction, upon further absurdity. Oh, and he is a manga character, so the mangaka is being clumsy, disrespectful, exploitative and insensitive.
Most of the confusion leads back to the logic bomb that is BL and yaoi.
As a spectre of male homosexual desire created and enjoyed by the female gaze, it haunts the Japanese patriarchy, positing an eroticized romantic exchange that both abstracts male behaviour stereotypes, including aggressive/ violent ones and rewrites them as female authored scripts of repressed, forbidden desire and identity to be shared among women.
It is raw, undiluted, powerful female sexuality. It disrupts. it mocks. It rages. It refuses “to take responsibility”. It plays hob with every “official” categorization it can lay its mittens on. It has issues. It is not well behaved. Bakhtin’s Carnival theories cannot touch it. It is far more insidious than “drag”. It will kill the puppy if you do not buy the magazine. But it also screams out for what it finds lacking in the real world.
It is the desire for desire, for a tale of “love” that destroys and remakes the entire world.
“Apres notre amour, le deluge”.
This is not uncommon in romantic fiction and there are plenty of other genres that take a related, but more well-behaved approach.
Hato is moving towards an extreme acting out of individuation within Japanese society, based on fujoshi romantic tropes that privilege transgression against social codes of sexuality and power, not transgendered identity. Hato’s solution seems to start with folk notions of two-souled individuation and play with them. It is a trial by combat of desire, as a possibility for escape or accommodation or salvation; against a society whose rules and structures appear to make any love or desire an impossible, naive longing.
Shut up and get back to work.
It is also a very old story: like Quixote, it dares to remake the world, hurling defiance while demanding that society obliterate it or accommodate it.
The problem for Hato and the furtive kami that creates him lies in the confusion that this presentation offers: within the Genshiken-verse it makes for fine plot mojo. However IRL concerns threaten to make the extreme liminality of the characterization and the situation appear (again) clumsy, disrespectful, exploitative and insensitive. Nerves, in some quarters of the meat-verse are raw especially when you have skin in the game or know someone who does. Whatever “girl’s heart in a boy’s body” notions that have been left to float around should fast be circumscribed, or at least toned down to:
“Hato’s rotten enthusiasms made female, sharing space with him in his body”.
“Why can’t I have both? It’s less ronery this way!”
It would be wrong to go towards any soap-opera notions of split personality/ dissociative disorder. Both versions are aspects of Hato. Gender is what is treated as optional, yet essential to the “role” required. It is as if “male” and female” are relative and situationally based public facets of the self, like “sempai” and kouhai”. Extreme Judith Butler time. The female aspect of Hato declines to “drive the Hato truck” for any other purpose than her fujoshi interests. This begs the question: what role and/or purpose does Hato-as-male answer? Student? Son? The guy who helps carry drunk acquaintances back to their hotel?
Perhaps in a rejoinder to the pop psychology surrounding otaku (and fujoshi) studies, Kio Shimoku is edging towards positing moe otaku and fujoshi desire as emergent variant sexualities in their own right? (3)
Extreme otaku and fujoshi desire as a new form of queer, part of a larger tendency in the meat-verse towards asceticism and virtualism or fantasism? This strategy also holds the promise of understanding cybersex enthusiasts, cosplayers, furries and the Takarazuka Review. (Fantasy is fantasy and reality is ugly, complicated and leaves me cold!!!!) but is closer to the range of paraphilias than a sexuality. And it does nothing to answer messier questions of gender identity – unless gender identity takes a back seat to individuation in construction of subject-hood.
If this sounds too weird, imagine individual practitioners of an outre kink, who are fabulously wealthy, head a commercial empire and are descended from European nobility. Their indulgences are consensual and they do societal good works; no Dr Evil with fluffy white cat stuff.
Suddenly acceptable, neh?
Everybody knows the rich are different from us…
Lookie how thin our modernist-derived ideas of “identity” are. Storybook critters all!
Hato likes BL, likes BL fanning and enjoys BL sexual fantasies (but he won’t say how). BL works for Hato and that’s the way he was created, even if it has been made difficult to precisely situate Hato within the enjoyment.
Bara and the rest of it doesn’t turn his crank. Doing fujoshi stuff as a guy is uncomfortable and has been a real heartbreak. Now that he can do rotten girl, it wouldn’t be as fun: he is comfortable with his fujoshi aspect and she helps him draw too! He only goes a bit weird when his place in his fannish circle (which underpins his identity) is threatened. The most maddening thing about Hato is that he is “just what it says on the label”
He is also plainly uneasy with the idea of having 3D secks with anyone, male or female: at very least he must be in love first. Not mere raiju love either: crazy, hits like lightning, very very frightening, break all the rules love. Special, unique, uncategorizable love. Not raiju. Raiju=death. Gay would be raiju. Bisexual would be raiju. Transwoman to male would be raiju because Japan’s laws say that a transwoman is a woman and Hato’s rebellious subconscious is also very law-abiding and polite. Asexual would be raiju. Aliens, time travelers or espers might do in a pinch but if they were too random they would be raiju (they are alien, one expects them to do alien things) as well and therefore unsuitable.
The ideal lover would probably be someone as equally plagued by fantasies as Hato is. This of course is the older “misfits into the sack” view that posits that the best match for an X is another X – a large part of why we do the whole categorization thing in the first place. The further complication to this, a sardonic jest on the part of the mangaka, remains that so far Hato can barely manage friendship.
A further interesting question pops up. The libidinous spaces of Japanese fandom are filled to the brim with invented others defined by odly imagined sexualities and desires. Genshiken’s Saki lampshaded how tenuous these can get when she casually alludes to having (“real”) gay friends. Buzz-kill! But if the world is full of interesting real folks, why spend so much time creating the fantastic? Why all the straight boys and girls keep making up their versions of others’ sexualities, goes far beyond imagining what those people do and/or boxes of tissues. The latter wouldn’t be needed if these shoddy constructs and the fantasies created with them didn’t scratch some deeper itch. These needs are complex, submerged and multi-faceted, but by no means unique: they are largely conventional and mundane, when taken in toto. As such they appear as tantalizing clues that promise insights into how we fit into the messy world that we have created. They make fine fodder for pop psychology and sociology.
Nawww… It all means nothing. Just kick back and enjoy the silly stories…
A radical queer/ genderqueer approach is probably the most productive means of situating the questions posed by the Hato character, (and /or just throwing up one’s arms while exclaiming “fugggettit!”) as long as we qualify it by positing an extreme aversion to any limiting aspects that societies always seek to impose on any categorizations.
Demanding a place in the world that fits the shape of one’s own heart is always a risky and somewhat foolish enterprise but given the state of Japanese society and the Japanese economy, Hato’s passive-aggressive rebellion is not risking much. It isn’t like he is sacrificing a job for life, a loving bride who becomes a shufu and a happy family – these are in short supply lately. With little to lose and the breathing room offered by university little prevents him from doing some product development research.
Stranger things have happened, even IRL:
Sometimes the world finds a place, even a tenured teaching position for nice Jewish cis-grandmothers who are also gay “bear” trans-men. A trick like that however takes a lot of chutzpah as well as relentless, persistent and creative kicking.
Kenjiro Hato should seek out (or be written as seeking out) some new reading materials for pointers.
The alternative is to adopt the radical view championed by grumpy old neo-Hegelian Lacanians that the pursuit of a sexuality that fits one’s heart is fool’s errand because all sexuality is a manifestation of the universal force of human fail. Sexuality=fail and fail=eroticism and no one really fits in to anything or anywhere until we are measured for a pine box…
Suck it up and keep rowing.
(1) As well as the monk/ acolyte, warrior/ page tropes contained within the nanshoku/ wakashūdo/ shudō traditions, Also of note are the Onnagata (female-role) and wakashū-gata (adolescent boy-role) historical traditions of the theatre and floating world, Citing these however draws criticism from those who claim that an essentialist historic view is too often deployed to mask contentious current issues in Japan. For an overview, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_in_Japan and an older work that was often cited in BL/yaoi bibliographies 10 years ago; an historical survey of male homosexuality in Japan, as it applies to the yaoi genre by Mark McHarry, originally printed in the Boston-based gay magazine, The Guide, November, 2003. Had to scrape “The Archive” a few times for this one: http://web.archive.org/web/20050111090154/http://www.guidemag.com/temp/yaoi/a/mcharry_yaoi.html
Note as well the interesting side-note in the wiki regarding the curious absence of the female from the first three generations of the genealogy of the gods, as found in the Nihon Shoki, which begs a whole slew of questions.
(2) The “jump the kouhai” scene from haganai is now even more confusing as Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai’s Yukimura Kusunoki turns out to be a girl who normally presents as a boy but presents as a boy crossdressing as a girly maid to “learn masculinity” from the male main character. Yukimura-san’s gender-fluidity is ascribed to “family circumstances“, the other great explain-all of Japanese comedies of gender identity along with “it’s a hobby!” Now that her secret is out, she has switched to a butler routine, which just goes to show that trying to get any sense out of a comedy manga might be asking too much.
(3) Dr Saito Tamaki has wondered about this, but put it aside preferring to see otaku behaviour as an elegant adaptation to contemporary conditions. Dr Akiko Mizoguchi has suggested that nominally straight fujoshi who internalize the fictional sexualities are not “straight” any more, but is imprecise as to how one would characterise them – either as virtual yaoi males in bed or virtual lesbians in their fan circles: the “you cannot look at all that…” effect once again. Earlier hints of this tendency to “ghost the shell” of the Japanese otaku can be found, such as in the 1999 “I’m alone, but not lonely”, Japanese Otaku-Kids colonize the Realm of Information and Media, A Tale of Sex and Crime from a faraway Place by Volker Grassmuck, as well as his 2000 Man, Nation & Machine: The Otaku Answer to Pressing Problems of the Media Society. Although both are highly conversational and impressionistic, with too much bubble economy and Gibson references they have been widely cited as early materials in what would become “otaku studies”.
Insane Bonus Track: A french film from 1994: Jean-Jacques Beineix’s rather sensationalist ‘Otaku’