Wherein I go overboard, summing up the arguments in favour of Hato, and the odd plot contrivances that surround the character. Updated a bit after the anime’s ep 12 retcon. I think it’s finally finished, please enjoy!
Judging from comments on other blogs that cover Genshiken, both as manga series, and the new Nadaime anime, our favourite rotten boy character Hato is becoming a bit of an annoyance to some of the fandom. This is not only regrettable; it misses the point by a country mile. Back when I started this blog, part of the reason I did so was because of the story-telling/ plotting potential of this strange Hato creature set loose amidst the new fujoshi-filled Genshiken.
Insanely long fan-out continues below the cutline, you have been warned…
Those of you who have tagged along as I plodded through Kio Shimoku’s various bits of stagecraft and trickery have already heard most of my arguments already, (and some of the best insights I could lift from other senior bloggers on the series) but perhaps a recap is long overdue.
The Genshiken as emerging female space
The arc of the Genshiken is long, but it curves towards female agency.(1)
The theory-verse surrounding Japanese culture studies is full of room-of-her-own explorations of “womens spaces”, where the girls – who are destined for the marriage pool and the exacting role of Japanese motherhood (or spinster hood as Christmas Cake Office Ladies) get to hang out for a while and enjoy some measure of freedom from societal strictures. What they do in their womens spaces is of little concern to the larger (male normed) community, as long as they eventually “graduate out” and fulfill their duties.
It becomes obvious that Kio Shimoku wants to mess with this, for reasons of his own. He remains a very private individual. Kio Shimoku is a non-de-plume, and he strongly discourages pictures or himself. We have only a sketchy biography; otaku, fine arts graduate, married. His works (and one interview) are the only things available to give us clues.
The all-male otaku-pit that was the original Genshiken was first invaded by a “normal” woman, then a cosplay enthusiast with some fujoshi tastes, then a deeply conflicted rotten girl and finally recreated as a female-majority fujoshi-pit. Given this as the starting point of the second generation of the manga, a “normal” guy, as a mirror invert of the Saki role, cannot hope to move the story along or present the new female social in high contrast. Neither can a comedy relief character like Kuchiki. Neither can a returning Madarame or Sasahara. A fudanshi might just do it, but a crossdressing one is a stroke of genius.
Leaving his backstory, motivation, even his sexuality as something to be unfolded during the tale not only pulls the story along, but creates plenty of opportunity for slight-of-hand to hide the other plot twist and set-ups.
Kio Simoku -likes- elaborate plot set-ups.
That said, there are a number of purely mechanical problems facing a male mangaka who sets out to depict an empowered women’s social. Western PC academics might frame these as the nasty old canard, “the appropriation of voice“, but a grain of real complaint lies behind the neo-maoist excesses that swept through gaijin academia 20 years ago. It is still a damn hard thing to do well. Unless you make them all look underage, set them in an all girls’ school and then.. (Stop that! what part of empowered didn’t register? Genshiken is not going there!)
Without an intruding male, the girls just go do rotten girl stuff and the mangaka has to make it look real, and it won’t be long before in-real-life rotten girls are reading his work and judging it for accuracy and realistic portrayal. A male is needed to throw off the scent.
Why bother? From the start, the Genshiken was not an allegory of otaku redemption, but one of accommodation and the strength of friendship and community. To find support from others you have to take the risk of rubbing up against others, and most of these others are not going to be completely to your taste. The situations that emerge are not all going to be within your comfort zone. In the Genshiken, the most important part of learning how to be open with others has been the breaking down of the walls that separate male and female fandoms as a microcosm of larger problems in Japanese society.
That ol’ debbil desire
The wall between male and female fandoms in Japan, and the isolation of these from each other and the rest of riajuu society lies in no small part in the long tradition of libidinized material that is fanned over. One can examine the “reality is reality and fantasy is fantasy” facet of this, or the shame-as-shame vs shame-as-kink part of it, or the very real barriers that arise from an exploitative treatment of an imaginary other in a hypersexuallzed representational context but these are all parts of the same problem.
Saito Tamaki‘s “Psychoanalysis of Beautiful Fighting Girl” , his later “Otaku Sexuality”, the 2011 English translation “Beautiful Fighting Girl” and his current work on the tribes of Japanese fandom is adamant (and very, very lacanian) about this: you need the secks to “energize” the imaginary, so as to re-enchant the real world. The lacanian/ freudian -speak for this is cathexis (or re-cathexis) and without it, you are just an obsessive collector or “maniac”. You come up short as an otaku or a fujoshi.
When first published in 2000, this view caused such a commotion in Japan, that it spurred a decade of denial, debate and rebuttal. To cut to the chase, real (as defined by Tamaki) otaku and/or fujoshi pleasure themselves with the help of their fave stuff. No active sexual fantasy about characters and/or situations and you have no ‘electric charge’ to bring life to a fantasy world as counterpose to a drab reality. The only thing that Tamaki skirts, in his writings is the mechanism, which is left as an exercise for the student. There are allusions to the pornographic content of the side stories and parodies at Comiket but he really could have driven home the mechanism a bit more:
1) Fan out on a published series, wonder about the characters,
2) Go to Comiket or a dojin reseller and find dojins on that series and…
3) Holy Jumpin’ Jeebus! What did that dojin artist get the main characters to do ? with what? How many? Yikes!
4) Buy them all, take them home, lock the door, enjoy!
5) Congratulations on your otaku-dom!
There are a few choice Genshiken dojins floating around on the net and translated by western enthusiasts. A tiny subset of these are vanilla and almost tasteful (in the sense that 1970’s soft-core porn movies could attempt to be tasteful), but the majority seem to compete with each other in gleefully vile excess. Fantasy is fantasy etc., but seriously, some things you do not want to put into your brain-box. It is also worth noting, that of the Genshiken dojins I have seen, the overwhelming majority are created for straight male consumption and feature Ohno, then Saki and finally Ogiue in maneuvered into sexual extremes. Ogiue mostly bonks with Sas (in one she gets uked in the traditional manner), Saki gets Mada (or vice versa, plus maybe a few others and Ohno get screwed by all and sundry, plus anonymous perverts.
There must be a few yaoi Genshiken dojins out there, if only recreations of the stuff that the Genshiken girls fan over, but I haven’t seen them. Are there no fujoshi scanlation groups with sufficient interest to track them down? Invoking Saito Tamaki’s theory of how the hermetic nature of the Disney verse (plus a horde of lawyers) has kept the number of Disney-themed pr0ney dojins in check, I venture that a similar lesser effect can be detected in the chaste Genshiken-verse. Shimoku-sensei takes great pains to preserve the slice- of- life nature of the Genshiken, and avoid overt fanservice with the characters. When “goggle” situations are presented, they are presented ironically, or even fraught with the danger of fantasy bleeding over and wrecking havoc on “real life”.
The sexualization of otaku praxis is highlighted at the very beginning of the Genshiken and continues through it (2). You can even see traces of academic drag in the first few chapters of the Genshiken, with the hidden presence of the First President and the suggestion that he is studying the members for a doctoral dissertation. Take this effect in a wider context and we can see how the sexualization of otaku studies also helped draw a certain component of gaijin academic community to the study of Japanese visual culture and its artifacts.(3)
While the Genshiken saga remains chaste, one can find all manner of exploratory efforts in Japanese manga, anime, games, light novels and the like. Tamaki asserts that this is in marked opposition to American practice where a long-standing tradition of self-censorship prevented any such behaviour in the west. (whether he skirts the essentialist complaint is a subject for another day),
Otaku fan practice in Japan, both male and female, for whatever reasons is highly libidinized. There is a bit of pr0n connoisseur in all Japanese fans of “visual culture”. This also bleeds over into the general disdain the wider population holds for fans, at least those fans who do not confine their activities to private spaces. The boys are supposed to be most interested in characters, the girls in situations. Some cross-over is expected. The not-so-big surprise is how Western fan culture mirrors these urges, but has traditionally employed its own strategies to keep this away from nosy normal types. As previously noted, a large component of early female trekkie fandom was interested in other things besides the prime directive and starship armament.
Rotten you say?
From the average male point of view, it is no big stretch to acknowledge on a theoretical level that women are also sexual creatures, and have desires as strong as male ones. The trouble is that the average guy will spend a good part of his life trying to figure out exactly how these desires manifest in the real world. The average girl will face parallel annoyances, but the scripts surrounding male desire tend to dumb down our modes of expression to simple want, take, sleep, eat, scratch, see, get excited, get bored, look at female body, want again – this polite fiction explains the utility of sports bars as places that women go to in search of a “normal guy”. Add to this, the huge problem that the vast majority of the stories that surround the “difference” are (as above) little more than crude just-so stories contaminated by societal power dynamics, religion, class and creaky functionalism and you have a mess, or real life as the case may be.
A western example: In the 1970’s it was a big shock (whooooooo!) that women would go to a bookstore and buy the latest Playgirl Magazine. But not really. Guys look at idealized nekkid women, women look at idealized nekkid guys. All normal and healthy, just a bit overenthusiastic. Oh look here, the secretarial pool is going to a male stripper show. They are going to enjoy being the watchers, seeing some beefcake and have a fun girls night out. No problemo! Society, mating patterns and family formation for economic and child-rearing purposes are not threatened. You may continue. Marry and reproduce.
Oh, but wait, around the same time, the girls at the Star Trek conventions were enthusing over crudely edited videotapes and fanzines suggesting that male TV heroes would be happier bonking with each other for the amusement and enjoyment of fangirls. And please get a bit rough while bonking, but then display some melodramatic romantic attachment afterwards. In fact, they were actively writing, editing, drawing and trading these stories among themselves. They weren’t even supporting big official publishing ventures! This is even more perverse than Fifty Shades of Grey, which started out as Anne Rice vampire-verse fanfiction. Must suppress this now!
Oh Shit! These females must be defective. Feel free to explain with a just-so-story exactly how they are defective.
You can do the rest of the math yourself.
The Japanese Fen:
Over in Japan, there was no “comic code”: censorship took different paths for visual materials and power cared less about what boys and girls thought in private as long as they behaved in public like good self-reproducing farm equipment turned industrial working class. At the same time, High Western Modernism, (which some Japanese authors considered a good candidate for assimilation) privileged or at least allowed stories that did not exactly follow traditional narrative material in the creation of a “subject”. (How’s that for a euphemistic treatment of Nagaike’s research: we got Genet, they got Mori.) Some of this bled over into vernacular fictional forms. Some Western wags have suggested that all sci-fi aliens are either cats or Japanese or both. Early Japanese fujoshi culture returned the favor by suggesting that all high-school boys who lusted after each other used to be either French or German, or both.
Add explosive advances in the technologies of affordable image and text reproduction/ dissemination(4) and you have a lot more voices out there and a lot of them are female and pervy.
It all came to a head soon enough in Japan when the rotten girls saved Comiket…
Without female involvement Comiket would have never gotten off the ground. It was the wimmins that filled the tables and then filled the halls in the early days, and they still make up more than %60 the attendees and over %70 of the selling circles. The official history of female involvement in Japanese fan culture is so far patchy and contains large gaps, but enough is known to assert that without the girls, there would be no Genshiken. I swear that I will do that big “mimeograph and Poppy Hill” theory post one of these days. Suffice it to say, my sweetie, myself and the folks who put together Ghibli’s Up from Poppy Hill were not the only people who remembered mimeograph machines with mixed feelings of nostalgia and dread. And when you have to cut Kana and Kanji into a stencil, you really have to work for your fanzines. But enough did, and there are suggestions that passing the dog-work of stencil prep to the girls unleashed a fan-publishing monster, one that was waiting for someplace to sell and trade its dreams. And then the boys were having trouble getting enough participants for their Comic Market idea.
Step aside, guys…
Perhaps even the original Genshiken was where the mostly female Manken (Manga Club) sent its annoying surplus males. (or did the first president create it completely from scratch as a research and observation station?). Given that the fave subject material of Japanese fans includes over- the- top libidinized depictions of the other sex, gender separation has to be a normal predisposition of fan socialization.
It was all Zeitgeist, all the time.
All this circles back to Hato, a pigeon among the kitties. (and most of you already know that Hato is the word for pigeon in Japanese, though the spelling of his name in kanji may differ, the point is made) This blog has gone through a bit of trouble to hunt down possible “influences” for the second iteration of the Genshiken – but in truth, the pieces were already almost all lying around in the open. Shimoku was committed to picking them up the minute he brought Ogiue onto the stage. Perhaps a different Genshiken, one without Hato would have focused of more Sasahara and Ogiue, as they tried to work out a romance between two very committed fans who work in the manga industry. Sasahara could go on to be the older version of Fujoshi Rumi‘s guy. Perhaps Kio Shimoku is saving that for later. The only trouble with that manga is that Sas is a bit of a weak reed. As “mr. normal fan”, he was originally a stand-in for the male reader/ viewer, and as such was written a bit bland.
The continuation of the Genshiken required an intruding male presence. The popular-theory-verse surrounding Japanese visual culture in 2004, 2005 and 2006 was full of interesting components that could be easily scavenged to build one. Beautiful Fighting Girl, The Database Animal, the decline of heroic sci-fi narrative for smaller, emotional driven stories and the disappointment of the Otaking. Fujoshi studies, the Yureka/ Eureka issues spotlighting women’s sci-fi and fan culture. The rise of the public fujoshi. The phenomenon of the nominally straight fudanshi, a cloaked male variant, (like the herbivore male) the (obnoxious stereotype of the) trap and then the trap-lite/ josou character (he’s not gay or gender disphoric – he has a “reason” why he crossdresses). You can pretty well put the pieces together yourself.
If the fujoshi is an emergent form of Japanese woman-hood, then there was already plenty of ‘new man’ models floating around post-bubble economy Japan. The popular Japanese press was regularly full of tales of herbivore men – basically the same effect as the western “cougar” phenom, with the emphasis shifted, as well as the Japanese version of the metrosexual and even the a-sexual. The otaku is a classic example as well. I follow Heinlein’s dictum on pacifists here, and call them “cloaked males”. Just because they canot live up to some failing macho stereotype doesn’t mean that they have given up their new-manly desires. Subterfuge and innovation work too! Besides the ideal was all a corporatist setup to mold a perfect salaryman anyway, and the verdamnt corporations are no longer hiring.
“Evolution is not ‘survival of the fittest’, Evolution is is the unfolding of the myriad possibilities surrounding the conditions and effects we describe as ‘survival’ and ‘fitness’.” TM
And Shimoku-sensei seems to agree with me: look how quickly 2D forever Madarame shattered in the presence of Saki. All it took was a bit of cosplay. While I do not think that there are many cross-dressing self-declared heterosexual fudanshi in Japan, the slightly less extreme non-crossdressing version has been reported. The company of pervy girls is a pretty strong incentive, and he may even wish to internalize some of the techniques (hmm, just sub in girlfriend for uke when given the chance) as well as some of the reported less-unequal relationship mechanics. So…. this kind of behaviour is what the gals find hawt in male romanticism, really?
If this sounds too farfetched, remember that Japanese society was regularly lampooned for being a century behind the curve in passing on proper straight male courtship and dating behaviours. There is a reason for all those dating sims, and the girls have similar problems too. BL puppets may ass-rape each other, but they talk and perform the relationship language of their feisty puppeteers. They do not talk the doormat approach to Japanese femininity rolled out in classic Shoujo manga (though they occasionally play the suffering doormat song cranked to 11 as some form of nasty parody). More on this will have to wait for reports from real Japanese fudanshi, and so far the theory verse has only the testimony of exactly one of these. [and i must dig up the citation, think it is in Galbraith/ Slater] Not much is reported, except he liked the female company, was still interested in 3D girls, and got nagged by the girls in his group to turn gay for their amusement. Sound familiar?
Fujoshi behaviour patterns are obviously a response to subtle changes within Japanese society, changes which if have not encouraged a lot of women to read, trade and make odd pr0n, have not suppressed such urges as much as before. Is Kio Shimoku presenting Hato vs the fujoshi tribe as an extreme thought experiment by which to examine the changes in society that have put pressure on existing male (and female) models of behaviour? Salaryman jobs-for-life are almost all gone. An ideal marriage is out of reach for half of the marriageable population, Hyper-competitive university entrance tests are still around, but now there are more guys taking them and more girls too. Cross-dressing and fudanshi-ism aside, Hato doesn’t really stand out as some form of revolutionary shin-otoko until one steps back and realizes that all the members of the Genshiken, male and female are weird “new-types”, with Kousaka and Ogiue being the most exemplary of them. One thing that most of the theorists and commentators that sprung up with responses to Tamaki agreed with, and which he argued was that otaku-ism was a response to the oversaturated media-verse as much as the “flanneur” was a response to 1890’s European urbanization. In the early 1970’s John Brunner read Toffler’s Future Shock and replied with The Shockwave Rider, incidentally inventing cyber-punk. His solutions are now our commonplace, and the shock is still a real complaint. Jumping in to the mad current and becoming a producer within it remains a tried and true coping mechanism.
Precisely, the dog did not bark
Trap characters (lets use Josou or Otome-yaku) and Fujoshi all sound pretty transgressive, and it all must be pretty risque stuff because a few real gay guys were pissed off about it, but something is missing. That 2006 Yureka (Eureka) fujoshi issue had Akiko Mizoguchi and her theory that fujoshi communities were virtual lesbian spaces, but surprisingly, we have a distinct lack of women who like other women anywhere near the zeitgeist, or in the Genshiken.(5) Plenty of crude representations of “lesbians” abound, but that is part of the problem. Why wasn’t a lesbian fujoshi dropped in, instead of or alongside Hato? They do exist, besides Mizoguchi, although one will find a lot more ‘out’ ones in western slash circles.
Part of the problem with a female lesbian Hato replacement (let’s call her Shinobu) is that she brings a truckload of yuri tropes into the fujoshi-safe confines of the clubroom. Guess the girls were all just abstracting their latent lesbian urges with all that BL stuff. What they all really wanted to do was… The distinction between the classes of minor perverts (bitter irony mode better get turned off soon) is hard to maintain in the face or outside opprobrium, as the Chinese rotten girl community has discovered. Worse is the poison effect of institutional exploitative sexist objectification in Japanese society. Sex sells, and selling must continue no matter what, so obnoxious cheesecake and far worse saturates the Japanese visual landscape.
One of the vernacular arguments explaining the popularity of BL/yaoi is that the wimmens have been driven to it precisely because all representations of female participation in secks in Japan, be they MF or FF are so loaded with exploitation and despair as to kill any possible female buzz. Ten years ago, western fen who cared about the issue could barely find any female-friendly Shoujo-ai/ Yuri to scanlate. They pretty much wrote it all off as nasty group rape Hentai for porny boys, (except for one or two determined women who kept digging, kept nudging, kept promoting the acceptable and slagging the shyte, and I am not going to digress on this further, because these few can and do speak ably for themselves.) Today things are a tiny bit less dire for genuine Japanese ‘bians who want to read a nice d’awwwww “story A” manga that isn’t too creepy, but old structures die hard. All women have to go about their daily lives pretending not to notice it. And the overwhelming majority of representations of F/F love are still created as fap fodder for the guys. The genre is tainted and so the character would easily be.
Hato the cross-dressing fudanshi/ fujoshi-yaku character is easier to keep from going off the road. If Shinobu-chan had had a previous relationship, the only-paired-off-folks- can- snuggle and the Genshiken as pit of virginal angst rules fail. Takako Shimura can steer a “realistic” and “experienced” lesbian like her creation Fumi Manjome through a relatively chaste high school without letting the story slide into fanservice. Could she do the same through a slapstick university club manga? Could Kio Shimoku?
Back to Shinobu-chan: even if she is just pining, there is the whole class-S mess to deal with, and Shimoku-sensei would really really be in unfamiliar territory. This is not to say that a gay or lesbian couple could in the future drop in on the Genshiken, but they would have to be an easily manageable beta couple trope: their job would just be to demonstrate that snuggling is pretty well the same all over, and that they don’t eat kittens. Besides, my pet hobby horse is that Hato-chan makes an adequate stand-in for a lesbian fujoshi (Shimoku heard of Mizoguchi and made a few adjustments) – at least until he starts zoning out on Mada’s neck. This has a lot more plot mojo than zoning out on Sue of Yajima’s neck, something I will call the “alternatives are less than” rule.
A fudanshi Hato, one prepared to crossdress and “present” as a fujoshi is the easiest male fully insert into the fujoshi social within the club. And he has to be fully accepted in the social before he can disrupt it. He has to become Hato-chan in their eyes. Ogiue has to later see him in male form and think for a second that he is crossdressing. He can ship himself, draw and exchange hardcore yaoi and encourage all manner of extreme fujoshi behaviour just by trying to fit in. He is a classic agent provocateur that will push a radical group towards extremism, and then, at any moment can do a half-turn and become the guy shocked at extreme rotten girl behaviour, Not even Shinobu-chan can do that!
One final constraint keep Shinobu-chan out of the Genshiken and will also make the place a tough slog for any “regular guy”: “the creepy male (or female desiring) gaze”. It could be argued that Hato’s gaze, as a self-identified straight boy, crossdressing to exchange BL fanning with fujoshis is even creepier – and we get allusions to this in Yajima’s and even Keiko’s discomfort. But Hato is as bound as Madarame to abjure 3D relationships, and will never hit on any of the Genshiken females lest he break the charmed circle. Even before Hato, with two active couples in the clubroom, the Genshiken was (and remains) remarkably free of overt fan-service. Starting with the first part of the opus, a rule that the risque stuff was to be relegated to secondary products briefly glimpsed at, or to Ohno’s cosplay costumes, (which always had enough to awkward realism to mute the effect) was imposed. It continues with the yaoi products in the current Genshiken, and even the anime manages to hold the levels down to a flustered looking Hato in a training bra holding up a set of lace pantsu. Some panty shot! Bathos rather than titillation. Even the volume extras, when suggestive. are couched in irony and parody. The only serious breach of this rule was the 2007 first anime’s second season yaoi episode – which probably introduced the whole BL/y thing to audiences across Japan and later the world, Even then, it was a mostly rediculous send-up. Nowhere near the lewd fanservice of Ramen Tenshi Pretty Menma. And I refuse to fall for any Sue x Ogiue trolling!
Dropping Shinobu-chan into the Genshiken would make the task of walking this thin line far harder. Expect a “I don’t chase every skirt I meet” speech every 3 minutes. Every time she leaned up close to another female in the Genshiken, the tables at Comiket would get 20 more yuri dojins. Shy well-behaved male otaku might even be too much for continued fujoshi practice in the Genshiken, Look at the grumbling when Hato de-cloaked. There is the suggestion that the mystery guys who wanted to join just at the end of the first part of Genshiken were later scared off by the rotten girls. While hypothetical Shinobu-chan deserves true love, she does nothing to advance a larger script for successful male otaku and female fujoshi courtship, and If Genshiken isn’t mostly about that (assuming both camps are elite representatives of their tribes; wealthy and intelligent enough to get into university) then what good is it?
This is one weak point in the current Genshiken, and perhaps the root of the current complaint against Genshiken turning into a fujoshi pit/ woman’s space. There really isn’t a whole lot of room for regular, not quite obsessive, no strange personality quirks and/ or kinks guys in the current Genshiken. But even the old Genshiken drove less than hardcore fanboys away. I guess it hurts less when Kousaka denies the riajuu membership, in the earlier incarnation of the Genshiken using video game prowess. Just not hardcore enough! Note how Kuchiki persisted and was finally, grudgingly admitted.
Fear of a gay Hato
If Shinobu-chan would mess up the plotting, would the appearance of a realistic, “out” gay Hato just halt the whole story in its tracks? Kio Shimoku has gained a lot of plot mojo from indeterminate Hato, and indeterminate Hato is of course just another way of saying hetero-normative with plotting embellishments. Given that the “I’m not gay, but…” trope is a beloved fujoshi device – (even if it annoys real gay folks – rotten girls refuse to give it up, because it adds extra mad love to whatever fave pairing it is sprinkled on), why would any mangaka go out of their way to rule it out right from the start? Hato can be “confused”, have odd motivations to do trap-lite cross-dressing, like to read BL and yaoi, aspire to draw it, and enjoy the company of fujoshi while presenting as a female (trans-lite?), but just liking guys is too much? Again Saki is miles out in front of the pack.
Perhaps the readership is being dragged along towards a teachable moment. While I doubt that Shimoku sensei gives a thought to gaijin fans, some of the complaints of western fans must mirror fan reaction in Japan, and plenty of old-school Genshiken fans (assumed to be male and otakuish) probably just don’t like, don’t want and don’t get the whole fujoshi/ BL/ yaoi/ gay/ queer/ trans/ whatever thing. It is one thing to laugh at the discomfort that Sasahara felt when he realized that Ogiue was cute as hell and he wanted her, all while she was shipping him and drawing lewd dojins of a Sas-like character bonking all the other thinly-veiled Genshiken males, even while she was also romantically interested in him, but too embarrassed about her hobby to think it could go anywhere. Such a cute couple! But a Genshiken full of fujoshi and one cross-dressing gay guy is just plain uncomfortable. Or too alien, Or it is just all tsukkomi-boke all the time.
Outright bigotry is probably not much of a factor, but discomfort definitely is. This societally taught discomfort is something I have plenty of myself, and so while I am endlessly curious about the Japanese fujoshi, reading her artifacts is still a big stretch for me. Knowing of its over-the top conventions from theory and testimony does nothing to alleviate this discomfort. Hey, it’s just me, but I understand the effect. A lot of the comedy of the series runs on this discomfort, but measured out in teeny tiny doses and presented as comedy in a safe space. I have no doubt that an outright gay Hato plus a Genshiken full of rotten girls, plus Kuchiki dropping in every so often could possibly function on some level, but would cut completely with a large section of the old-school fan base. Better to give them a smooth transition. “Usotsuki Lily” has managed a better job of dropping sympathetic matter-of-fact gay and lesbian characters into a cross-dressing farce than Genshiken has.
I’m sure Shimoku sensei could manage a matter-of-fact young gay male character, something like Usotsuki Lily’s younger brother, one who even enjoys BL and would cross-dress for all manner of trap-lite plot contrivances, again a la Fakee Yuri. Please note that “new Hato” would, while knowing that he desires guys and enjoys representations of male desire as imagined by females, still be a slightly angsty virgin. The new-Hato could even be a full blown Ed Wood classic style transvestite, getting a sexual thrill, as well as drawing mojo from wearing womens clothing – almost a standard issue “obnoxious trap stereotype”, who might, given a flash of mad love decide to try “trapping“, but most of the time seeks to tone down his in-group presentation so as not to cause too much commotion among the fujoshi and the general student population. At such a point, Genshiken would move to a dangerous place because seduction by deceit is very close to that other nasty BL trope, “rapes of love”. (Later: Or Hato could abjure any deception and play the maiden’s role in an overdone send-up of the Otokonoko game genre, which is what almost took over the Nidaime anime) in either case I have no doubt that plenty of old-boy Genshiken fans would walk away from such a project, and that the mangaka knows this and still wants their patronage and attention.
The female-presenting homosexual / drag queen is an old and tired cliche of Japanese homosexuality. It also would be a lot easier to present to the Japanese reader, The trap is (later: an objectionable stereotype that suggests sex by deception, use Crossdresser, Josou or even Otome-yaku dammit!) when this is done convincingly with a young male, the drag queen is when it is done by in a jarring manner by an older male. Tokyo Godfathers is probably the benchmark for the latter type or character. The arguments of trope overload with Shinobu-chan all apply here as well, with most of the tropes involving a meaner form of comedy than Genshiken is known for. In such a club-room, a smitten Kuchiki would probably get drafted into assuming the older/ wrong/ defective version of that role as he inexorably developed a new-Hato-crush, With his enjoyment of crossplay, it would be an obvious setup. The end result would be “Happy Laugh Time Queer Losers Club” rather than the Genshiken: insulting as all heck.
Watch me pull a rabbit outta my hat!
Then there is the hardest hurdle of all for an artist to surmount: “I do not know how to process this, and I do not have the time or energy to learn, today” AKA, Indifference. I know there are more than a few mahjong manga out there, I know lots of folks enjoy them, but Huh? Really? Sounds as much fun as comic book about euchre. (please don’t try to enlighten me, I am bad at games in general… its just me) To jump to a meta-theory level, Nagaike’s thesis and later work posits that one of her high modernist Japanese literature examples of hardcore voyeuristic/ scopophillic proto-yaoi employed a strategy of story- within- a- story or nested narrative to ease its female readers into the position of omniscient observer of nasty female- written m/m sex fantasies. Training wheels for the perverted female gaze. While I seriously doubt that Shimoku sensei is setting his staid readership up for a hardcore Hato x Mada reversible to Mada x Hato S+M bara-style porn fest, if he is going to end with a gay Hato, he is sneaky enough not to begin with one. The readers will be incrementally adjusted towards acceptance of whatever proper d’awwwwww moment is finally presented for Hato and ???. The trick (and the slight-of-hand “reveal”) will be to shape a whole new, original “good” for the “good ending“.
There is one way Kio Shimoku could really screw up, and it lies in the temptations of the “I dont like guys, I only like you” trope. Used as something that scares Hato and causes him to initiate odd plot complications it works, and it works too as the Genshiken girls go full metal fujoshi on the idea, but if he gave into it and seriously started chasing Madarame- and- only- Madarame, while still insisting that he was straight it would be stupid and cruel. If the rotten girls of the Genshiken followed stereotype and squeeeed for a 3D version of their little fantasy, they would cross the line and become heartless perverts, or Kaminaga. Worse, the audience wouldn’t buy it. To straight guys, the trope sounds like half pregnant; if you are a guy and desire man-secks, you are gay. Besides, we can assume that the Japanese male manga reader is probably familiar with surface-level rotten girl misbehavior and knows that they hardly ever ship gay guys – why bother? The real fun comes from shipping straight guys, so the Genshiken would then be “all fujoshi shit now, and It used to be good.” And what about all that m/m pr0n he has been reading? Then there is the issue of the work ending up on the insensitive side of an old real-world debate. Yajima had it right; whatever he wants, he and his maker better decide fully one way or another, when they finally decide..
Never underestimate Cosplay
Without the conflicted boy in the Genshiken, you have a slightly pervy, older “afterschool tea time“. Every so often Kuchiki-sempai runs in and they shoo him out. He then goes and hangs out with Ohno and Tanaka and perhaps Sue drops by. Eventually the cosplay brigade gives up. But let’s look again at cosplay and the Genshiken’s patron spirit thereof. Ohno was the first female otaku/ closeted rotten girl in the Genshiken. Her blurring of identities through costume sets up the club for a crossdressing trap-lite character. Creating/ assuming an alter ego for fan activities follows logically from a female cosplayer who puts on the role of heroic female characters. Sure there is the embarrassment of the public/ male gaze, but there is also the practice of surmounting it and becoming the female hero -assured in her power and blatant sexuality. [A quick western view – http://paulmullins.wordpress.com/2013/06/02/cosplay-and-carnality-gender-sexuality-and-geek-subculture/ and a ridiculous amount of powder burnt on the subject in the “Cosplay, Lolita and Gender in Japan and Australia issue: http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue32_contents.htm ]
Again, consider the devastating power of Saki as “the chairman” from Unbalance.
What we failed to notice because it was couched in the sad comedy of Kuchiki cross-playing was the wider appeal to guys in general of cosplay as an excuse to act out some crossplay. This effect is far stronger and more widespread than one would imagine.
A digression: years ago I had occasion to help with the presentation of an art-show/ band performance and pointless excuse for a mass piss-up that demonstrated this effect in direct terms. The “gallery” had been filled with random junk-as-art, a machine was built to smash records while a local band played (a local record shop donated a basement full of discards) Pointless “art videos” played, while the food table was loaded with buckets of cheesies and five gallon pails of high-proof duty-free grain alcohol spiked punch. Sorry 12oz plastic beer glasses only – have another.
The centerpiece of the “show” was a 600lb bale of used clothing ($60 from the St.Vincent De Paul charity store – what happens to the stuff that doesn’t sell) plopped in the middle of the gallery.
A fun social experiment. Take 600lbs of clean baled used clothing, add lotsa booze, a loud band, some controlled mayhem and a lot of people and see what happens. Of course the bale got pulled apart. What happened next was more interesting. A large percentage of bale was ancient polyester female undergarments, things that looked like they had belonged to someone’s grandma. Suddenly lots of drunken guys (and more than a few drunken girls, who also helped egg the guys on) were throwing around and putting on each other and themselves grandma knickers and big saggy bras and pogo-ing into the walls. The music got louder and faster and the party got weirder. Did I mention the record smashing machine? Where was I? I don’t recall any “out” crossdressers or queer folk in attendance that night – these were “normal” drunk garage band music enthusiasts and a few art-school types. Yet the lure of the forbidden granny knickers proved irresistible, if only on that limited occasion. The evening degenerated into a spontaneous old lady underwear costume party! Maybe we ruined a few lives that night – who knows? I have trouble remembering what happened after we all went to a local bar for moar punk rock(!), I think there was a half- nekkid Santa Claus on stage later, but uh, never mind… (6)
A wider application of this effect can be found in the “doller” tribes of Japan and Hong Kong/ Taiwan and in cosplay events around the world. Or at halloween parties. One day Dr. Tamaki is going to let lose on the cosplay tribes and declare that (almost) all cosplay is fraught with sexualized, ironic homour – unless 50 undergrads beat him to the punch. In Japanese manga, it is what I call the trap-lite effect. In the theory-verse it is called carnival, and it verges more towards Monty Python’s “housewives sketch” than Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”.
Returning to the Genshiken, with a club-room full of fujoshi and an active cosplay subgroup, we were going to get M-to-F crossplay (and the invert of it – Hi Risa!) sooner or later. Kuchiki was just not up to carrying the full weight of the mission.
If there was no Hato, it would be necessary to invent him.
If some guy has to infiltrate the female-dominated space that is the Genshiken. and if we do not have Hato as crossdressing faux-fujoshi, what could we have instead?
A non-crossdressing fudanshi then. Why is he there? He is either looking for a pervy girlfriend, likes female company, likes BL/ yaoi as an imaginary stretch (either because he is “exploring” that aspect of his desire in a safe setting, or more complicatedly, per Akiko Mizoguchi the lesbian theorist who enjoys fujoshi M/M pr0n because she reads it allegorically and sees the desires of females behind the male puppets) and/ or is/ is moving towards “becoming” gay or transgendered but cannot yet handle the company of real male gay or trans folks yet. Yadda yadda yadda..
No matter how you structure the continuum of character motivation, you still end up with something that approaches, but is less than Hato.
Widen the comparison context a bit: The continuation of the Genshiken not only ran the risk of endlessly re-playing the Oguie/Sas arc, but risked re-doing Fujoshi Rumi with a “normal” boy, or re-doing Kuragehime with a ‘bent” boy. Both options are a waste of effort for an ambitious mangaka. As an extra bonus, Shimoku-sensei gets to reprise grad student-chan from Paranoia Agents and create a vengeful “other self” for Hato, who appears whenever his faux-fujoshi act plays it safe, and won’t act out rotten girl scripts in 3D life. You get three characters for the price of one, perhaps even four! Five actually, as we are forgetting about Hato as super-drawing cross-dressing BL Mangaka to be!
Hato as a perfect excuse for a follie de deux
Another fun thing you can do with Hato; you can create a convincing reason for the continued involvement of Madarame. Madarame was and remains the central old-school unredeemed otaku figure in Genshiken. This is his role and his fate and goddammit he will be saved even if it kills him! But how do you get him back into the Genshiken and justify his existence when he is well and truly graduated and employed?
The unfolding of “the return of the otaku” via Hato was a masterstroke of storytelling by Kio Shimoku. There is no need to dwell much on the “let Hato use his apartment for changing”, then the rotten girl pairing frisson, the “Stand(s)”, the resolution of the Saki crush and the now-in-progress moteki arc.
What we risk overlooking is how both old school otaku and new-wave fudanshi are completely and concurrently made to dance the dance of being crushed by their idealized crushes. Then they are concurrently made to dance the dance of being the object of real female interest and being completely unable to process it.
Both Hato and Madarame are romantic male fools and they will be made to suffer for it. No Saki for you Mada, No Kaminaga for you Hato. The “will Hato jump Mada?” (or Mada jump Hato?) stuff is all slight of hand, misdirection, smoke and mirrors; even as it is fair ball in a fujoshi arena. (Or denial is not just a big river in Egypt, and Shimoku-sensei is setting up his readers for a real surprise ???)
And look how they both do not want the “real” article, they want a fantasy idealized version of each respective female: Saki as the Unbalance chairman and Kaminaga as fearless, shameless super-drawing power uber-fujoshi. So we get the “perils of the bleed” between fantasy and reality lesson applied for laffs, with a big heavy hammer.
Another parallelism: When Madarame gets flustered in front of women, he preempts their disapproval by over-doing the creepy otaku act, and then swearing 2D only, forever. When Hato gets flustered he-over assumes a fujoshi role and will even ship himself with his brother (!!!) to defuse a tense situation.
And if my poor translation and plot development reconnaissance forays are not completely off the mark, (late night final: they aren’t) Hato is now ready to throw Madarame under an Angela to preserve his safe fantasy fujoshi space (minus the intrusive and disturbing effects of his Stand(s)). Amazingly enough, he gets called on this and really gets to suffer for it. After all, his solution is untenable unless he manages to dispose of every virgin male anywhere near the Genshiken by finding them a girlfriend. Hmmmm Kuchiki set-up time? And what happens if he gets a crush on one of the Genshiken girls?
Hato’s Stand – the big chested one, rather than the vengeful Kaminaga analogue manifests whenever a certain ideal in the back of Hato’s mind as to how a perfect fujoshi space -the charmed circle- would operate if it included a crossdressing fudanshi, is threatened. (the flat-chested Kaminaga wraith is far more single purposed to throwing Hato at Mada, though she could be his Stand’s “true form”.) Mada is 2D forever, but Hato is closer to no-D. Madarame could possibly be charmed by a 3D female but any relationship for Hato risks him being expelled from eden. Even if he was to go 3D gay and seduce Madarame it would still push him out of the charmed circle. The company of fujoshi is what he has wanted above all else; he was looking and preparing himself for it long before he knew of the Genshiken and long before the Genshiken was a fujoshi space. If there is any unnatural passion in Hato, it is for the charmed space at the cost of all romance and pretty much everything else. He must recreate that high-school rotten girl art class that so scarred him, only this time as a supportive, accepting and productive social, and one that allows his drawing talents to flower. He will do all manner of strange things to accomplish this. He is the Ring Cycle’s Alberich who renounces love to pursue absolute power. The only hanging thread is Kaminaga, and the odd coincidence that he is can so easily don a wig and look just like her.
Meanwhile Madarame is still trying to preserve his old 2D only-and-forever outlook from the dangerous hurt-laden reality of real women. Recall that Sas got Ogiue and vice-versa when the fantasy was surmounted and both accepted the other for what they really were, warts and kinks and all. Duh? Are we getting preached to here? This is almost like a Girl Saurus re-do. Be afraid of the women! Except that the women are all leery of 3D men as well. Perhaps they are overcoming that…
It was only a matter of time before Genshiken pulled a L’il Abner style Sadie Hawkins day farce (wow, that dates me!) But Madarame can’t be the only guy in the crosshairs. By my (intuited) rule of parallel slapstick, Hato should have four women that he has not noticed sneaking up on his smoothness. Not him as Hato, but him ‘as smoothness‘. While he has been keeping his head down so as not to be outed as #4 in the Madarame moteki conga line (and note that the rest of the conga line is composed of peripheral females), have Sue Yajima, Risa, and ? (how about shy girl from the high school art club?) been making plans?
On Your Day of Flight.
We know that the (ok, my intuited) internal rules of the Genshiken state that a character can only be sexually active within a formal paired relationship. The happy couple is the good ending of the Genshiken eroge/ otome game. If you are not in a stable relationship, you cannot graduate into “beta couple” status, serve as a model for the young’uns and snuggle.
Genshiken is all about how to “graduate” from or through otaku/ female otaku/ fujoshi-dom and the lifelong ‘ronery celibacy that it risks. You have to deal with another real person as a real person, make room for them in your world at the risk of letting them step on all your security blankets (while you are stepping all over theirs) and then you get to have secks and face the big nasty adult world, but with a lover, friend and ally. You end up as Spotted Flower. If you just screw around, you end up as Princess of Hell. Meanwhile the backup of both of your imagined, magic worlds remains to serve as a hidden reserve of enchantment and refuge from the daily grind. From fandom is a way of life to fandom as a hobby that still can re- enchant (or re-cathect) real life.
There aren’t a whole lot of successful “graduation” scripts out in the “real world” for otaku. For female ones, it is the Kaminaga route, and that is a fail, albeit the kind of fail that Japanese women aspire to in the real world, given the alternatives. Hato-brother does not care to know much about his future wife’s odd hobby. It is sufficient that she will be a good wife and future mother. She has in this way admitted defeat; the uber-fujoshi is much less than Ogiue and we can expect a bitter edge to her in any future appearances.
For male otaku, it is Train Man and love capitalism or Honda’s 2D forever marry your waifu on your game console, or Welcome to the NHK, or the game over route of descent into homicidal madness (the proto-otaku murderer who killed schoolgirls, and/or the Akiba rampage guy).
Within the Genshiken, there is the Ogiue /Sas example (follow your dreams and build a life within them), and the earlier, but less resolved Ohno/ Tanaka example. Ohno gets two chapters to worry about how she will hold up her part of the team effort. Saki and Kousaka are the lucky, perfect, gifted ones, they are nice to see, but offer no real advice. Kugupi is a neutral example, he simply downgrades his interests to club reunions and gets on with his life as a salaryman. I hope he finds a special someone, perhaps at Comiket (Myaake from the secretarial pool! What are you doing here?). Looks like Kuchiki will get to follow this route too.
But Hato and Madarame refuse to even start the adventure. They both want to just play the intro scenes over and over and over. Well, that is not going to be allowed to happen, boys..
And as for the girls, we really need to see a bit more character development on Yajima and Rika. Please report to the guidance office and fill out your future path questionnaires and mission statements. What are their majors? What do they want from life. Beside an interest in Sengoku era battles and between-battle boy on warlord action what do they plan on doing with their lives?
One more thing to note about otaku desire, which Tamaki neglects and Shimoku is apt to hide with smoke and mirrors, is that it is about far more than just secks. If the Genshiken was a shonen-sports grinder, “other” desire would be easy to spot and come with a national championship. As it is about otaku – the product of the productive social – fanzines and individual semi-pro manga production by its members plays a part. So does Cosplay. This is Saito Tamaki’s “secondary production” and whether or not it is a vehicle to libidinize fan practice, or a desire in its own right, is shaded over in his analysis. There must be a few others hiding around too, such as the nebulous “achieving adulthood”.
Nidaime the Anime has too much Hato.
Well, he is the hinge for the manga’s elaborate plotting, so it would be hard to keep him completely at bay. And since they have a crossdressing main character, they might as well flaunt it. And flaunt it they do, though I suspect that some of the choreography in the opening credits references/ parodies iconic anime scenes and other opening credit sequences. Otherwise the lingering Hato’s ass- in- a- dress shot is just plain trolling the poor Japanese (and gaijin) viewer who hasn’t yet been brought up to speed on Hato. Otoko! Otoko! Otoko! The anime is far more shameless in trolling the viewer than the manga… Then it closes in for the kill:
As for pronoun use for Hato-chan, reports from a senior blogger suggest that in the original Japanese, the manga and the anime go out of the way to avoid gendered pronouns, and /or the structure of conversational Japanese allows for a relative lack. Besides boku and watashi, -kun and -chan, you don’t get a lot of he said, she said in Japanese. (and these are gendered by convention, not definition.) It is only when the anime gets subtitled into English does the politically correct/ respectful rule of referring to a crossdressed individual according to how, in Judith Butler terms, they “present” kicks in. (Later: and if it is good enough for all major western news services, Reuters, AP, etc., it should be good enough for us leeching bastards.)
Is the anime “Queering” Hato?
(Does the gender of the person who programmed the vocaloid to sing this matter? What of the presented gender of the voice bank? What of the fan-translated lyrics, which might be odd, poor Japanese, or just plain wrong? )
While there has yet to be some serious retconning in the anime (perhaps me spoke too soon?), there is definitely a lot of ret-shading going on. With the aforementioned time-compression effect, the slow, sequential unfolding of Hato’s “troubles” and raison-d’etre is being glossed over, and he is being presented as more and more of a trap character. Of course the thing about a trap is that it is supposed to trap, and so far Hato continues, albeit with less emphasis than in the manga to go out of his way to avoid any overt moves on unsuspecting males. Except for a certain neck incident, that includes Madarame. The whole Madarame the perfect sou-uke thing is what his conscious mind is trying its damnest to avoid, and there is the strong suggestion that any urge to jump or be jumped in Madarame’s direction is only the his Stand trying to get him to play out of a fujoshi script to be given to the girls as a “gift” that is exchanged like BL smut dojins. Even the motivation behind the Mada x Hato-chan sketches is left indeterminate.
LATER: Well all this obsessive analysis held up, more or less until Shimoku-sensei and the folks at I.G. productions decided that if Hato tranced out on Mada’s neck in the clubroom, that there better be some set-up for it. And lo and behold, at the end of Genshiken Nidaime, the anime, episode 12 (spoiler warning) Hato-chan goes running down the street in the shopping district near Madarame’s apartment and practically falls into Mada’s arms imploring him not to move away or leave the Genshiken. Suffice it to say, Mada is a bit surprised by this.If Genshiken was an open source software project, this would be a “development fork”. Since “we know” that the two mediums must reconcile, what the heck can I call it. This is a pretty severe retcon, obviously done so that the neck-trance gets some lead up and more emphasis, and that Hato gets properly scared out of his chan – at least for a while. Note that there is no Stand or Kaminaga-wraith present; this is pure Hato, and the first time that our troubled lad has ever expressed any kind of overt demonstration of longing at anyone.
Hato has so far never given any indication of shojo-esque pining for Mada beyond cleaning up (and snooping through) his stuff, and considering the tropes available, the fact that he hasn’t shows a lot of self control from the mangaka. No long walks home with Madarame, no flirting. Hato might learn to cook a few meals, but he has never served one up to Mada. No provocative wardrobe changes, no naughty cosplay, no dropping Mada’s fave loli quotes in tense situations (see flirting). No playing eroges together (well, there was the neck trance..) No skinship, no texting, No reading dojins together, No dates. No coffee shop talks. No helping Mada buy clothes. No exchanging drool (couldn’t resist!). No Judo throws! What have I missed?
Hato in conscious mode might be looking for something he has possibly never had; a male friend, but even in unconscious stand-trance mode he has never demonstrated any serious romantic longing for Madarame. It is all “the script says this, the script says that“. The Angela incident can be read as unconscious jealousy, but again, only in “scripted mode” or better: “puppet mode“. The neck trance is pure puppet mode, so was the “If he is interested in traps, I could, Oh Shyte!” reverie. Unless it is all raw libido and Hato wants nothing more than steamy Mada man-secks without any romance, which would be the oddest form of “cruising” ever invented, (post: or he is even more lonely and isolated than his character was presented as?)
Hato’s “stand(s)” are of course a subconscious manifestation of some deep desires supposedly within his character, but so far they are dead simple-minded. They generally do their one thing; overdo fitting perfectly into the charmed circle or ship Hato with Mada. Currently there is no romance or even “scripted” romantic urges and only a tiny bit of friendship. There is a fair bit of kouhai over-concern for “his” sempai, but this must be mostly “scripted” as well, as Hato never really was kouhai to Madarame sempai in a formal sense; Madarame was already an emeritus club member when Hato joined the Genshiken.(Post spoon:) Dammit, the absence of the 801-chan brigade make that street-side plea really effing hard to place. It could be loneliness, friendship, man-crush, or something to do with preserving Hato’s subconscious idea of what a perfect charmed circle must include one shippable uber-uke alumnus. Or is all just kouhai-sempai fantasy on Hato’s part?
If Hato was looking for a sempai-as-male-role-model-to-look-up-to Madarame was the only available option, but aside from getting a couple of reassuring acceptance talks from Mada, there hasn’t been a whole lot of interaction. You would think that they would talk a bit and the whole “so when did you start crossdressing” thing would come up. But Noooooooooo. The Genshiken girls have a patchy understanding of the backstory behind Hato’s creation of Hato-chan. Madarame remains out of the loop, even after the school festival. Perhaps Kuchiki has filled him in? Kuchiki probably has little idea either. Part of the plot mechanics of this new Genshiken is that we get two Hatos for the price of one. But because of the polite reluctance of the Genshiken social to pry too deeply, and its willingness to let Hato “present” without too many questions, we get layers of Hato, depending on convoluted context and a character study in deception and self-deception. Ok, it ain’t LeCarre’s Perfect Spy but we have already arrived at the point where Hato is having difficulty remembering which Hato he is supposed to be at any particular moment.
The result of this is that Hato is painted into a corner: when he gives up cross-dressing and reading BL for fear of his sexuality changing (or because the masquerade is getting far to complicated) it is taken by the girls as a sign that he is reverting to male form so he can succumb to a genre trope and fall for Madarame (7). The BL/yaoi script demands that lust strikes like lightning and causes madness. Such a response is pretty far-fetched for shy, socially withdrawn otaku, fujoshi and fudanshi.
Your fake is fake?
“In the second installment of the manga, Genshiken Nidaime, we meet Hato-san, a girl who is later discovered to “really be” a boy. As the series is ongoing, it is still unclear what Hato’s “true” gender identity is (transsexual, transvestite, other, ) but this is a plus, because in truth, Hato hirself isn’t sure what hir true identity is. Hato is learning and exploring hir gender otherness as we watch, and the struggle is particularly interesting because hir sexual identity is mixed in with hir social identity of “fujoshi/fudanshi” (a “rotten” person, referring to someone engrossed in slash literature,) and hir sexuality (gay, straight, or other?) Hato is so many “others,” it’s distressing. So far, Hato’s story has been treated with interesting realism and tact, though there are characters, as always, that repeatedly try to “convince him” to just live as his assigned birth sex.”
To be fair, the post quoted above was written early on in the Hato saga, and while I applaud the spirited call for respect and understanding in the post, the author is going too easy on Hato-as-character. My typology of the “trap-light“; the straight male who convincingly crossdresses for an internal plot-contrivance reason that is removed from issues of sexuality and/ or gender identity (Usotsuki Lily, Tripeace) can be most charitably read as an update of the traditional female-role kabuki actor (see also Kunisaki Izumo no Jijō ) and less charitably as fanservice and something like late-onset chuunibyou. Hato-chan is Hato-kun’s secret identity, complete with small super powers, and he deploys her only in extremely limited plot-contrivance (recreating the magic fujoshi circle) circumstances. At least he (and his maker) have the honesty to admit he enjoys it.
The blogger above remarks:
“The Okama, New Half, or “Trap”
Another widespread theme, and by far the most troublesome, is this: “A man pretending to be a woman.” This is the best umbrella I could come up with for all of these discouraging depictions– the okama (a man dressing up as a woman for entertainment or hobby, often a comedic character), the new half (or futanari, a person with male genetalia, with or without breasts who dresses like a female, and exists almost always a sexual object) and the “Trap” (just typing the term fills me with rage, this is a man who passes as a woman, and will either [a.] be depicted as sneaky and trying to “fool” men into bedding them or [b.] legitimately trying to be female but being met with scorn and derision when “caught.”)
The curious thing about this theme is, however, that these are actual Japanese identities, and that they are illegitimized as badly in real life as they are in manga. While there are Okama and New Half bars, which employ those people as hosts, they are not respected– they are relegated to entertainment or sexual service, and, many times, both. (A significantly more legitimate discourse on these identities, and the identity of gay men in Japan, can and should be read in Male Homosexuality in Modern Japan by Mark J McLelland.) Okama are visible in many anime, including Ouran High School Host Club and One Piece. New Half are sprinkled intermittently too ( Kizuna, any “futanari porn”) as well as the *shudder* Traps (Gankutsuo, Princess Princess, Fushigi Yuugi, the list is endless.) But since these characters are understood as “faking” it (whether their desire to pass as female is genuine or not) they are not granted a transsexual identity, and exist instead as entertainers, stereotypes, and threats.
To be clear, I don’t mean to sound like I’m saying the okama, etc, are not legitimate transsexual identities (they are, in real life!), but they are not depicted as legitimate transsexual identites in manga (with the exception of the listings below! [see above for the Genshiken – moi] )” – ibid.
Another view on whether such examples are conservative, exploitative or subversive can be found in the short essay: The Queering of Haruhi Fujioka: Cross-Dressing, Camp and Commoner Culture in Ouran High School Host Club by Tania Darlington
Japanese society is still grounded in a wide variety of hierarchical social structures, and with these come quasi-caste-like categories that ascribe status and “degrees of harmlessnees” to the individual stuck within these categories. Old family, salaryman, labourer, freeter, NEET, gaijin, returnee, half-japenese, korean ancestry, ainu, Burakumin, otaku, fujoshi, lolita, gyaru, ganguro, kogal, bōsōzoku, decora, shironuri, visual-kei… (tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief, doctor, baker, fine shoe-maker wise man, madman, taxman, chief..)
Against the myth of Japanese uniqueness and homogeneity (which hides some really big exclusion fears that often manifest as hysteric symptoms), these kei, kokai, zoku and the like seem to intersect at oblique angles with simple western-style concepts of pluralism – functioning at the same time more and less than similar western groups/ affiliations. Only in western concepts of politicized sexual identity groupings do we find levels of social ascription that approach the Japanese practice, even as the default Japanese approach to gay and lesbian sexuality is closer to don’t ask, don’t tell, mind your own business. The stigma/ otherness comes only from the act of public presentation.
To the mainstream Japanese viewer, the whole gaijin “queer” thing; the politicized LGBTQIA community is just a small subset of the larger “doesn’t fit in” group of societal misfits and unfortunates. (here is a good take on it and Train Man vs Database Animals) The whole of the Genshiken membership are outsiders of a kind as well, even as they are a subset of privileged university attendees – at least when Genshiken started as a group of otaku. Saito Tamaki’s work on otaku didn’t help too much in redeeming them: they might be at the vanguard of the creative economy, practice secondary source creativity and reappropriation, and lead the way in strategies for coping with mass culture overload, but they are still socially clumsy amateur pr0n enthusiasts!
Such outsiders are tolerated, as long as they pose no direct new threat to social peace and know their place, but it is better if they can be scheduled into a comedy show, or perhaps be counted on to stage a good matsuri or two every year in downtown Tokyo (which now boasts two related, sometimes competing gay pride parades held weeks apart, if you can trust Metropolis Magazine). Almost as good for the economy as Comiket! At least they are not North Korean sympathizers! (the bitter sarcasm mode is beginning to wear thin here). Kuchiki’s musings to Hato at Comiket echo this vestigial worry: A crossdressing fudanshi might be ill-considered from a larger PR perspective, but a “plain” fudanshi should be “harmless”.
Of course any treatment of Hato, as in any way representing a real life fudanshi (straight, gay, transgendered or otherwise) will have to wait for more correspondents with “skin in the game” to do up some critical analysis on his character as a sign/ symptom of ??? Myself I am sticking to lesser concerns, because it is not my place to go on about such matters – though I would welcome a guest column from someone who would “fact-check” and/or contrast the Hato character against real world experience. I am also guessing that such a guest column would draw the entire “usual suspects” in the gaijins- who- do- academic- theory- on- gender- issues- in- modern- Japanese- visual- culture community to fall on this blog like … (Uhm, better not use any metaphor involving rice and its refractive qualities.) Fame and footnotes to follow! If you know of one or plan to write one yourself, drop a line and I’ll link to it.
Later: A trans* correspondent finds the Nidaime series full of messy crossdressing stereotypes. Someone who shouldn’t lurk-post tries to explain the whole virtual lesbian silly idea about why how Hato was “made” and gets the the reply:
“That’s an interesting theory about Hato originally being intended to be a cis lesbian fujoshi, although not sure why the author would think that having such a character would cause too many yuri tropes; seems like all they accomplished was making it crossdresser trope overload instead.”
See also the later post, which links to a resource on Otonoko/ Josou character games, including one very close to the one featured in Genshiken. It becomes apparent that the folks at I.G.Studios at all dropped in as many otokonoko game genre references as they could to make up for the lack of slow character development in Hato.
Now back to our regularly scheduled fan-out:
The aforementioned community always lacks real-world Japanese correspondents and interviewees. The whole field of studies desperately lacks fieldwork and testimony.
As a character, Hato doesn’t need to reflect real experience, he just needs to sound convincing enough to spin out contradictions. At least the anime is finally dealing with, and expanding on some of the contradictions that his plot-problems and plot-solutions are pulling him into. These were covered in a slower, more gradual and more nuanced manner in the manga and can slip by in the anime. Kio Shimoku gets away with most of this because his treatment of Hato, and Hato’s treatment within the Genshiken social is, for the most part extremely sympathetic and accepting, at least on the surface. I await the point when the rotten girls have to choose between helping 3D Hato at the cost of putting aside their 2D fantasies. Sue had to face this after she jumped him. It hurt, but Sue is an American fan and can be assumed to have at least some superficial experience with political correctness landmines. The anime is a bit thin on the “me-not-gay” declarations and the “he’s straight” vibes picked up by the girls that kept the liminality level up in the manga. We are going to need him to zone out on some female cleavage soon. “Hato-chan, please stop talking to my boobs” would get a lot of sympathy laffs from male viewers (and would draw the ire of those who demand a monolithic view of human sexuality for whatever reason). Besides after the school festival/ Kaminaga arc and before Comiket we need a setup for the iconic “I don’t like guys, I like you” line (handled as trope, it skirts the objections that fueled the Yaoi ronso debates) and the stark fear it triggers in Hato.
All of this adds depth but does not “solve” the fundamental problem of Hato as trap-lite. He remains too limited, too lite, for too long. He is too safe, stand(s)/ 801+802 chans notwith-standing. He is arguing for a superficial female identity only within a specific, limited female-oriented fannish social practice. He is not crossdressing as a girl, but only as a celibate rotten girl, and only to enjoy the society and exchange rituals of rotten girls. It is like finding a crossdresser at a knitting circle: “don’t mind him, he only crossdresses when he comes here to knit.” And of course he knits really really well when he is crossdressing, and this has nothing to do with his sexuality…
It is possible, but it remains a big stretch. Only the libidinised nature of fujoshi practice, and the safe fan-space gives the exercise a potential wider, “real-er” feeling. Even then, I can only wrap my feeble brain around it because I read all of Akiko Mizoguchi’s 2008 doctoral thesis. Worse, only the trauma of Kaminaga is given as to why he presents as such a stereotypical “cute girl” (or course, as a character, this presentation is important, but it one of the weakest links in the consistency chain). Hato is written as not into guys, he’s only into 2D m/m pr0n, but it isn’t even “normal” Japanese gay male pr0n, but an odd fantasy of male gayness created by women, for women, mixed in with straight female aspirations, revenge and nasty humour. Mizoguchi’s “the female hand behind the male characters” solution could offer an explanation, but we aren’t going to get anything as clear-cut from Shimoku-sensei. No plot mojo in such a move. Also, If he desires (rather than being compelled to follow a script of desiring) Madarame, he better soon be written as driven to consciously addressing it and stop hiding behind puppet-mode – puppet mode is also an excellent way of avoiding issues!
Either that or play the crossdressing Bl mangaka card, tone down the too cute to be a girl stuff, towards androgyny, while retaining whatever pantsu he needs to draw. Someone will quip that he looks butch and the whole mess will go into faux-yuri mode. There are too many levels of abstraction in play, and all of them are only half in play in any case. This leaves the Genshiken members as either saints of tolerance, self-interested shipping fools or politely indifferent to whatever or however Hato presents his/ her/ hir -self as. Well, there is a nascent Japanese furry-dom and I hear that MLP just got a Japanese manga treatment, so Hato/ Shimoku could up the ante even further!
Yes! I for one welcome our new crossdressing fudanshi furry Brony Hato!
(Aside on upping the ante: Angela was cheating, no way did she expect anything more than the panicked flight of the Mada. Per suggestions by senior bloggers, she is playing a long game.)
I tell you it was all a frame! He only did it ’cause of…
Hato remains the logical successor to Ogiue as the next Genshiken president – if he gets his character contradictions resolved. I don’t think that the manga running on the anime’s schedule can do this in time, but it can at least set it up. And any resolution will have to involve a big nasty battle with his Stand, or both of them. Maybe the two Stands can fight each other; as Ogiue Maniax’s proprietor pointed out, there is an odd variation in boob size between the two imaginary tormentors. It must be there for a reason. [Addenda: After ch 91 it becomes obvious that there is a big reason; Kaminaga-wraith is now popping up when Hato is in drag, and anywhere close to Madarame. No peace for you, Hato!] Perhaps “where should I go” guy will also make an appearance! [A second addenda: Holy Shit! It’s around Christmas time, and there are 3 spirits!!! Do I smell Dickens? ] As a wannabe creation of an accomplished mangaka, the power of the need to draw is all that’s left to save the day. Shifting all the gender trouble onto a need to unleash super drawing ability sweeps a lot of questions, like all the powder burnt above, under the rug.
Ogiue can help save the day by helping him draw manga better than Kaminaga, who also suffers from an inability to draw a full-fledged story. Sue wouldn’t be out of place by his side, as a damn fine assistant with powerful drawing chops of her own and a ruthless side that would be kick in if deadlines threaten.
Oooops, gotta put away the playset for now. But it brings up one final reason for Hato. He needs help.
Whither the Sempais?
Another of the main concerns that the ‘Hato must go‘ crowd have is that they would have like to see more of the old guy crew as their lives progressed. And to be fair, the new Comiket arc is lovingly bringing them all back into play and giving them plenty to do, equally split between ribbing Madarame about his moteki and keeping an eye on Hato so that he doesn’t have a nervous breakdown and jump in front of a train. While Hato might be the plot hinge, Kuchiki and Kousaka are playing lead roles in advancing the action. Some of the angrier fans have bitterly denounced these last few chapters for setting Madarame up as the fall guy in an elaborate slapstick routine, but I feel the situation is far more complicated and Madarame is more complicit then he lets on. Kuchiki has even accused him of as much.
The pretending to be oblivious act is wearing thin. Madarame has empathy and acceptance power levels exceeding 9000 and that makes him a saint, but he is also a coward when it comes to small things. There is more than a whiff of narcissism intermingled with the smell of chickenshit. This is a rather sophisticated approach to writing the flawed hero, and it is dead on for an otaku type. Watamote‘s nastier traits are the female variant of this passive-aggressive routine. It doesn’t really matter if you fail in the real world, as long as you can keep your comfortable self-delusions intact. Madarame knew there would be an Angela moment, he could have mustered a polite, if not gallant response even if only to put off any resolution. Jeesh, he couldn’t even confess to Saki! Nose hair! How safe, how annoying. Still the group went out of its way to bind up his wounds.
Whither the sisterhood?
A group, in Kio Shimoku’s eyes is judged by a few basic standards: fun, sympathy, acceptance, codes of conduct that discourage hurtful behaviour (no bullying!) and productive common effort. This we can infer not only from the Genshiken, but from the numerous negative examples he has included in his tale. Drop one troubled male into the all-girl group, see what happens. Can Genshiken pass the test?
If the parallellism motif holds, Hato is going to need some support as well, and that will have to come from the current fujoshi group as his peers, and that means that the “goggles” are going to have to be stowed away. . And he is a lot bigger problem than Ogiue was. Are they up to it? Will they even try – after all he is only a faux-fujoshi, perhaps not really eligible for help when the chips are down. This is a test! It is one thing to show a bit of sympathy for a backstory that involves bullying, it is another to try to untangle the mess that is Hato/ help him untangle his own deal. The previously mentioned Ogiue help him to draw idea is a natural, but what else can be done to keep him from going –pop(!)– and hurting himself? And he’s got his own case of chickenshititis too.
How can he be saved?
Or in the end, is he peripheral and of little consequence, like Kuchiki? No Way! The Genshiken will not wash its hands of nervous- breakdown- Hato, which brings up a final teeny tiny complaint I do have with the series: It may be more female-empowered, but the girls still have to do almost all the relationship-y grunt-work!
Such perhaps is the price of “the goggles”, (8)
(1) Now I really am really pinching stuff from my betters.
(2) Whoo! Haa! I dropped praxis into a sentence and it didn’t seem too clunky; FTW! FTW! FTW!
(3) And if that makes for discomfort, it must be put aside, because many of them got there before you or I, and there is good analysis hidden under their hobby horses – only trouble is, it is like the faux cosmology myth about turtles: all gender theory and queer studies, all the way down.
(4) A slap on the wrist to theory types that level criticism at what they call a simplistic explanation of expanding fan activity due to ever advancing technological breakthroughs – Moore’s law cannot be ignored; you are soaking in it.
(5) [footnote on Mech 6 study of all the wimmens in the comment sections in early BL magazines -dig up citation] OK found it: James Weler: “Flower Tribes and Female Desire: Complicating Early Female Consumption of Male Homosexuality in Shojo Manga” in Mechademia 6, pps 211- 228
(6) I shot video of the night on a horrible cheap toy video camera – folks were less concerned about such things in a pre-facebook era – and later presented it as part of my “portfolio” to get into a fine arts program. My soon-to- become fave professor admonished me: “This is not ART! This is some kind of … orgy!” No such luck, but it was an epic hangover.
(7) Recall that the “reading this stuff has got to have some effect” is not only Kaminaga’s accusation, it is the central mechanism offered by Akiko Mizoguchi for her “virtual lesbian spaces” thesis regarding fujoshi practice, and the argument predates the Genshiken fujoshi. I declare canon influence!
(8) Ok, I reeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaally fanned out on this one. Got obsessive! Congrats on making it through the whole messy thing. Hope it was useful, even if you disagree with some, most or all of it. Whew! How did this happen? It’s been two years of this, and it started with the “I have always wanted to draw my fantasies” quote/pic from the manga and my question, “So Who and What is Hato?” That will learn me. I wonder what the next two years will bring? Thanks to all! -Mudakun