Go away for a month or so and everything goes to heck! In Genshiken 71 Hato-kun is tormented by his 801-chan and starts thinking that perhaps Madarame has a thing for “traps”, perhaps for Kousaka(!?!) and – just for a second – thinks about getting all 3-D with Madarame. Yikes! What is going on? This scenario is too damn close to the evil-raping-puppet playset scenario I ventured so many months and episodes ago.
On second thought, 801-chan is too cute a name for her. Since Anima is already reserved, perhaps Nemesis is a better nick. And what is “she”? A ghost of the Hato-chan persona? A third fragment of Hato-ness? Ogiue Maniax (and the translator) call her “Stand” (I don’t catch the reference – later, OK, Jojo, etc.), but notes that she is definitely more hardcore in her urge to pair off males. Even in 3-D land. Hato-chan has always been all 2-D. We can even understand Hato-chan “blocking” Madarame’s one chance at bliss in terms of her 2-D fixation, even though a whiff of sexual competitiveness or jealousy lurks in the shadows. But the Nemesis appears only when Hato is in boy form, and knows how to make him squirm, if not yet dance. Scary!
And yet, if I step back, I get the feeling that something fundamental is being missed by the entire plot setup.
Which leads me to a bit of a tangent on the theme of failure of imagination and the limits of form:
Of course I am a sucker for all kinds of other manga, and anime I can snag that doesn’t push too many buttons marked “cloying” “creeps me out” or “boring!”. Which means I will happily put up with SZS in all its forms, wonder if there will ever be any more FMP OVA’s, trudge through QED, CMB, Sket Dance, the oddball korean “My mother and the gameroom guest” and eagerly await more Melty Blood and Darker than Black. Franken Fran remains funny, Vovnich Hotel surprisingly good, Railgun excellent (Index a bore), Otogi no Machi no Rena lewd and funny, Mysterious Girlfriend X heartwarming (when will she make an honest boy out of him?), Kurogane not bad at all, and I really miss Lucu Lucu. Promising new finds include Houkago Play and Watashi ga Motenai no wa Dou Kangaete mo Omaera ga Warui… (to name a few).
And then there are guilty reads like Negima a.k.a magical girls battling pantsu harem. Gahhhhh! Since I avoid marathoning mangoo while in Japan, I was really, really annoyed to find that the entire Negima mess will soon end. Hear me out! Negima should have ended years ago, but right at the end of the magical world arc, it decided to get AMBITIOUS. Young Negi was going to save 2 worlds by leading a project to terraform a third, and of course the entire harem was signing up for a life of frustration and high church sci-fi adventure! Terraform Mars! Space Elevator! Wheeeeeeeeee!
WTF?? Could it be that this embarrassment was to suddenly offer dreams for a better future? Hard political/ social sci-fi? I have not seen that for a while. . .
PLOP! Guess not, the mangaka chickens out, everyone is dead after 130 years, the project lies half-finished, everything is a lousy mess and the heroine is reduced to a weepy puddle of pity. Epic imagination FAIL. Save the last few chapters for a nice cutsie ending and then sell a few tankobon. Yawn!
Time to stretch the point with another example: I thoroughly enjoyed the “Girl who leapt through time” anime, but a week after watching it I was consumed by the oddest thought: Our plucky heroine knows that time travel is possible and that a earth-wide catastrophe will occur some time in the near future. I think she will go to university and take art history like her aunt, and work on preserving 13th century paintings.. Perhaps marry and become a housewife – as all good Japanese girls eventually give up their dreams and fall into prescribed societal roles. Heh, the story is simple, self-contained and lighthearted – it does not need…
Shift POV, it’s trap time: consider the curious popularity of the boy-girl /trap / transsexual/ crossdresser lite character in non-porn manga. I will have to pass on octopus girl and her friend – I just cannot force myself to read much of it, but what little I read suggests that the spoiled rich boy likes the fashion aspects of the feminine ideal, but has little interest in the grotty details of intimacy. Drop into a tribe of celibate females and stir.
Moving right along, what of the lightweight, occasionally funny Tripeace? (the FMP Mythril parody continues to tickle me) Our hero, before he recovered some of his memories and super powers could “only” cross-dress as a way of fulfilling his vow to “end all war everywhere”. He still admires and pines for the spunky girl, (and is very close to getting her, if only he will stay in drag) but this is secondary to the amazing think-outside-the-box-while-remaimaning-concerned-with-all-living-souls powers of war-stopping-problem-solving that come to him while he is taken over by his Nanoka alter-ego. Of course, it is these same tough, but ultimately caring qualities that our spunky heroine, admires and wishes to have by her side. And she detests the boy’s stupid sacrificial urges toward heroism born out of his lack of strength and skill, which undoubtedly remind her of someone in their younger days. Meanwhile, perhaps his new fake-feminine side will keep him from pulling a young fuhrer again and causing even more war, while he tries to stop war. Oh, and by the way, he’s not gay. This matters. . .
So; no real difference between octopus girl’s
trap crossdresser-lite and Tripeace: the cross-dressing guy ends up teaching the wounded female some archetypical feminine behaviour. . . Uhhuh! Yep, pull the other one. . .
Nowhere near Priscilla Queen of the Desert territory at all.
Other cross-dresser lite manga: Fake Lily/ Fakeee Yuri/ Usotsuki Lily.
Our hero finds men, including his own reflection in mirrors so annoying that he cross-dresses, and his smitten shoujo-romance girlfriend will put up with it because the few times she can get him to dress like a guy makes it all worthwhile. This one is pure fluff; breaking the 4th wall regularly to plead for indulgence with the schoolgirl romance conventions that it is gender-bending, but mainly it remains steadfastly chaste and accepting. No one gets the shit beaten out of them for acting weird. No one ends up jumping off a roof. No one contemplates queer secks -damn its an uphill battle to even get them to smooch! It is all so . . . Nice! We can sit back and watch the cross-dressing virus spread insidiously throughout the entire circle of friends, popping up here and there whenever the plot needs a bit of a kick. Oh, right, not gay. . . Not even the need for a CLAMP-style true love obliviates societal categories bit of soulful pining.
Should I go on? None of these manga are meant to be smut, so the deployment of the boy-has-to-or-even-likes-to-dress-like-a-girl is used at most, as a way of telegraphing a dissatisfaction and/ or rupture of conventional gender and age roles. No serious dysphoria is presented. Nothing close to a believable person who needs to fix their gender presentation. What with a lousy economy, paralysed political system, crappy job market, strong disincentives towards mating and family formation and all the other plague-of-the-month sturm und drang going on in Japan, why not make fun of the structures that let everyone down?
The trap lite is like a superhero with stupid powers – given a small chance to force society into a truce, for a few moments, in a small place. And Madarame has a job after graduation, and can contemplate leaving his youthful Otaku interests behind.
The deeper problem lies precisely with this approach. It is the kind of plot / story mechanics that an old fart like me can appreciate, understand, and even consider creating.
Shift point of view again: Makoto Kousaka is probably the “newest” or “youngest” character in the entire Genshiken opus. And because he is, he is incomprehensible. Even if he was created a decade ago, he continues to be upgraded in his alien-ness. Cross-dress for work? why not? No BIg Deal. Lose your temper? Why bother? Oh sure, I like my hentai games, and my hot girlfriend – I’ll make time for both. Programming? Sure I took a few weeks and read some books. . . The man comes off as some kind of idiot-savant or an alien machine -nothing fazes him, nothing touches him, and as such he is uncomfortably close to the tribes of well-adjusted high achieving solid/ real-life young’uns who are on their way to taking over the world – hopefully before the rest of us old farts reduce it to a puddle of goo.
But do not for a moment presume to try to understand the what they have lost in place of what has been gained, and do not think they are oblivious to the loss – we cannot begin to understand them.
Oh Brave New World That Hath Such Creatures In It!
So of course Kousaka remains a cypher in Genshiken. No matter how many odd kinks the new members of Genshiken, or any of my other examples coyly trot out, none of them would shock or “throw” Ken Kesey, Ginsburg, Burroughs, Warhol, Lou Reed, or Patti Smith (or any number of other historic tame Western freaks). As a University club, the Genshiken remains frozen in the late 70’s or early 80’s, and is comfortably recognizable as such by those us us who were there.
As for our gender-identity challenged heroes, the girly-boy in its asexual, light mode is a well-developed trope in manga, and the strength of a well-developed trope is that it can be deployed be anyone who wants to quickly build something within that formal structure; in other words, we get a whole lot of workman (and workwoman) grade efforts at low capital cost for our reading pleasure. And of course, fans can jump in and play too, subverting the tropes for their own fun and fantasy use. But evolution in the form remains gradual, incremental and captive to the outlook, concerns and foibles of earlier generations.
And something that wants to leap ahead, and break out of the stalemated limits of our troubled times slowly suffocates.