On “then he woke up a girl” genderbending stories..
Why oh why? (mild spoilers ensue)
Of all the varieties of bent gender and desire manga tales out there, the magic vanishing wee-wee is generally considered the lamest. Yet they remain popular. A wizard did it (It’s effing magic!) The guy MC reacts in shock, runs around and has to learn how to be that most curious type of being; a female or rather a shoujo.
Put aside cross dressing stories and clumsy depictions of might-be m2f transfolk. The god/magic/aliens/drugs/radiation/triffids instant sex change cuts to the chase. Buddy boy is now a %100 cis girl and it looks like he will stay that way for a while. A new life waits for you in the outer colonies. No more wake every morning and give praise to your sky-daddy that you were not born a woman. Suddenly half the world’s population is a threat and huge swaths of organised belief systems’ followers consider you as merchandise. It is a wonder that most of these magic m2f tales don’t end in serial carnage. Step one: make friends with Koko Hekmatyar and Murcielago. Step two: PREEMPT!
Hold on a sec! We read silly comics like this so that we can avoid all the really horrible, heartbreaking, depressing, anger-stoking, soul-sucking REAL crap that is going on in the world. Don’t bring grim reality into the discussion, please!
Your average he woke up and now he’s a girl gag manga will not have the main chara on vacation in Turkey (c.f. Orlando – see below) waking up in a seaside resort room to find that he is now a girl and then taking a stroll on the beach where she will find the washed up dead bodies of children who died when a refugee smuggling ship capsized.
The plucky journalist intern now-heroine will not wake up in a hotel in Iowa for some American political primary thing (on a cold winter morning when the nearby river has frozen over c.f. Orlando – again see below) to face the horrible realization that every single candidate running for that party’s nomination in next year’s presidential election is deeply wounded, flawed, dangerously incompetent or wildly out of their sphere of competence, mendacious to the point of schizophrenic delusion and beholden to Bond-villain billionaires (except the Bond-villain billionaire who has cut out the middleman and is running himself – “Expect Mr. Bond? I expect you to MAAAAAKE AMURRIKA GREAT and VOTE for ME!”) and that all are out to win the votes of angry violent scared mostly guys who look at the franchise as an excuse for some nihilistic therapy theatre that, incidentally involves kicking down on women… Except for the one woman candidate who royally screwed up a major corporation, left with a golden parachute and ran a very stupid and amateur tv campaign last time she tried for public office, involving an actor with glowing red eyes crawling around while cosplaying a sheep. And… that one of these crazies might actually win and screw with the life support systems next year!!! Of course there is the other party. The socialist might win. If the ex-Secretary of State Secrecy wins, it will be five years of unrelenting trench warfare backlash from the party of “Everyone we hate and fear must be our slaves! Only then can we feel safe and happy!“, as it was when a black man got elected.
Crawl back into bed, draw covers over head. Stay there.
Or you could be in Japan. Maybe magically gender switched main character wanders into a 200,000 person strong demonstration that no politician will ever listen to, no right-wing newspaper will ever report, and the few centrist news sources left are too scared of a tax audit or pressure on their advertisers to make much of and that half of what they report can be retroactively classified as “secret” to land any reporter or blogger who mentions it in jail and despite that, the next thing you know she is on a viral nico-nico clip and she will be kicked out of University and never get more than a temp job for the rest of her life.(1)
Or maybe she will get lucky and just die in a shootout between yakuza as a bunch of 70-year-old guys fight it out to see who can control all the prostitution, woman-trafficking and loan-sharking in Japan.
Maybe everybody will get lucky, the global economy will melt down and some Chinese generals will go nuts and try to start a war with Japan to distract their citizenry and seize power as everybody’s life savings, food supplies and job prospects turn into dog shit.
Or they’ll just be another earthquake, tsunami, floods, mudslides and a nuclear meltdown.
Escapism, you say? What’s wrong with a little escapism?
So, there is this nice idyllic high-school or university situation, and this guy with friends and someone he is nerving up to start chatting with…
Ahhhhhhhh! Bliss… What could go wrong?
“If the work is a webcomic called The Amazing Girl-Boy’s Adventures in Femininity, expect the First Law to be enforced.”
-TV TROPES – The First Law Of Gender Bending http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FirstLawOfGenderBending
It is always good to process the received wisdom from TV Tropes early on in an analysis. It gets the generally agreed upon stuff out onto the table. Along with the first law (Buddy Girl is not going to get to change back soon or easily) the second and third laws are worth considering as well: eventually new-she will grow to think “this isn’t too bad” and manifest some degree of acceptance. As well (3rd law) circumstance will manifest so that full gender-appropriate behaviour will be nudged at the MC – otherwise we won’t get any cognitive dissonance, bathing suit pages or even much of a story
I must exclude wish-fulfillment tales of magical medical M2F procedures; making sport of them would trespass on the dreams of people who wish it all could be that easy. Everybody is entitled to their aspirational fiction and dreams are sacred, so I’m declaring a no-go zone and sticking with the rude comedy versions where the MC gets blindsided by the change. Conversely, I will also exclude magical take-backs that involve water splashing, etc., as not fully committed to the cause. Similar problems plague the body-swapping genre; the new body is not really “theirs”. The double-double universe Japan with lawd-knows what pheromone cues (?) that cause some folks to fall into a torpor and emerge from cocoons a year later as an X (usually a girl) gets a conditional pass, even though the “natural-ness” of the occurence takes away almost all of the comedy potential. It misses most of the evil gags. Being girl-ified has to be a cosmic mishap or it ain’t scary-funny.
It should be noted that the magic change saves the author the trouble of making up new and odd ideas sexuality and gender, so the potential for some really clumsy and insulting depictions are reduced. A full gender-swap avoids issues of gender dysphoria. Overtly nasty institutional and individual oppressive male behaviour will similarly be avoided, because males – we guy readers are good people; there is no profit in making the male readership feel like we are all one step away from being evil scum. And it makes writing in a villain easy. As well, any and all guy author misapprehensions of women can be saved for Buddy-Girl to act out, because she used to be a gormless guy and there’s plenty of uncomfortable joke material to be cycled through playing with this. The usual problems of a guy trying to write female heroes and about female socials are turned from a bug into a feature.
God/magic/aliens/drugs/radiation/triffids turning the girl permanently into a boy stories are much rarer. Often the girl is swapped as part of pair and she turns into a jerk.
LATER: Although the “mistaken for a boy” stories generally are more sympathetic: Boku wa Ohime-sama ni Narenai and Ouran Host Club spring to mind.
Why no boy who turns into girl becomes a real be-aytch and causes gossip, drama and comeuppance among the mean girls who deserved it? An ex-guy could never pull it off. Why no stereotype raging drag queen gets turned? Too weird, too insulting, not funny. There is one weird variant where a town full of high school girls are turned into mid-40’s salarymen but I have never been able to wrap my mind around it. A+ for imagination though, even if later I found that there is a small niche of fujoshi who really, really like stories involving steamy romance between mid-40’s rumpled males – but why start with high school girl raw materials? Instead of first menstruation horrors, will the fujoshi readership get to laugh at the terror of prostate biopsies? (Don’t ask.. ) Come to think of it, none of the Buddy Girl manga I have run into have our hero facing the stirrups and the lady-parts exam. That might be just too much for the male readership, though I dimly recall a Girl Saurus arc that had a young scared protagonist getting drafted into accompanying his mom to a ladies health clinic. The woman mangaka who penned Girl Saurus was ruthless when it came to scaring boys.
As for rotten girls: why no enthusiastic Rika-kun boy-for-a-day/ week/ month?
Turning a fujoshi into a guy would be a natural, one would think, right? Many laffs ensue, much bumbling around, importuning males, trying to find a suitable straight guy to put though heck (we assume she is hardcore and pestering a gay male just wouldn’t be enough fun). I suppose that rotten girl dojinkas wont do it and mangakas that want to lob a few stink bombs at fujoshi have easier targets.
Insensitivities aside, the reason we keep getting these stock weenie-vanish tales is because they ARE funny. Easy funny. Plenty of laff material. Lots of uncomfortable-enough that can be mined for whew!
There is even one scan group that seems to specialize only in m2f gender benders. What oh what do their loyal readers get from the stuff? I wonder what the demographic is? They practically have a lock on the back catalogue of m2f mischief stories, which make up a subset of the gender bender opus. How long does the genre goes back?
Mishima tried it in his Sea of Fertility with re-incarnation. Heinlein did a medico-supernatural m2f tale how many decades ago(?) complete with a spanking fetish (one of RAH’s minor embarrassing faves, whatever…) John Varley went overboard with his exiled-from-earth by alien dolphins humans getting sex changes whenever they felt like it in a number of his short stories and in his Popular Mechanics Guide to Suicidal Depression; Steel Beach. His characters remain essentially male, even when they suffer miscarriages. Virginia Wolf’s Orlando [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orlando:_A_Biography] seems to find few modern analogues in CJVC, or they aren’t filtering down through the grey reaches of the world-wide intertubes;
Aren’t we inventive? We guys have been making up our own ideas of the feminine for eons.I have always considered Wolf’s detached treatment far superior to the way us guys go about it. No spanking kinks needed.
Why oh Why?
Magical castration is funny.
Mild ecchi/ service/ auto-sekuhara. Wow, I finally get to fondle boobs and what’s-all-this-now down here? Wheeeeeeeeeee! As the goddess said to Tireseus: STFU!
Curiosity/ tourism/ girl’s locker room. Ex-guy finally learns how to make friends.
Rom-com to 11 ending in reassurance.
A few pokes at what constitutes identity formation in the modernist subject.
“It immediately raises the question of what is expected, or anticipated, of a man.
It immediately raises the question of what is expected, or anticipated, of a woman.”
Well, duh… Cut to the manga.
Hana Wa Nisemono by Hiroko Sengoku (love that pen-name)
At first glance, this little manga looks a bit too thin to build an essay on. Its quirks redeem it. God-swapping the sex of one of the guys in a tentative young gay male couple at first seems cruel, but it is all handled tastefully enough. The young University-going couple is just getting over their shyness enough to think about… Then Blam! Kami is an iron (Doddering Kami-sama is just trying to help) This one is a pure shoujo variant, which makes it very big on thinking about the relationship that just got messed with. And it doesn’t shy away from physical considerations. New girl gets cramps, her period and blood leakage on her new white skirt. Oh Heck! More to the shoujo is the obsessive over thinking about relationship etiquette; what would the beloved want/ need as best for him, blah blah blah. Finally they nerve up enough to “try it” just as kami- sama intervenes again and switches both of their sexes. BLAM! Virtual Yaoi-us interruptus. Boyfriend is even more shocked than MC was, even though he gets a ZOMG girl body. Next day kami-sama throws up its (his) hands and restores all. Do the lads finally make the rotten girl readership happy with tubs of lotion (if you try to find sex-lube for sale in Japan you will come up rather dry until you look for “lotion”) and pages of weird positions? Not that kind of manga! The now-restored to guy-ness couple spends a few more days talking it out. They consider things a lot, they are very consider-ate. (The Jane Austin effect) One would think they will eventually retire to a hotel to discuss environmental policy ethics and play euchre. S-class BL.
A look at the discussion forums for the scans shows a lot of folks wondering why the MC doesn’t go with Y or dump X or whether the relationship can continue because of the self, vs the societally dictated and hormone driven preference: in short, relationshippy discussion ensues, as it should for a relationshippy story. I will not try to guess the genders and sexualities of the correspondents, but the whole discussion gives off a very shojo-ish vibe. It is interesting how the tiny questions that pop up with the vanilla grade transformation story get a more considered airing when the couple are young gay males rather than the shocked straight boy and his crush. We really need rule 3 above, plus eventually rule 2 to keep a straight boy transformation on track, otherwise kami-sama is just creating a whole bunch of bifauxnen lesbians and/or soon to be trans-men (no, I really am a guy trapped …)
At this point, one can also point out that rule 3 needs to be expanded or even given a subsection. Rule 3.1 should mention that god/magic/aliens/drugs/radiation/triffids do not create ugly or even plain girls. The unfortunate MC may be a bit androgynous, may not get a D-cup, but she won’t be fugly, overweight, gonk-ish or deformed in any manner. She will not be a female body builder or even a plain girl who has to load on the make-up, like Genshiken’s Keiko, in order to properly present as a good-looking female. A rule 4 would be useful too, as previous, that nasty realistic catastrophes do not intrude into the story.
What one could miss if one zipped through the manga is how our hero misses his male homosocial. Sure he’s gay but his male social isn’t sexualized, his buds just want to hang out and do guy things. The girls hang out and do girl things, but that’s part of the usual welcome to the world of girls thing. The focus on the guy’s social is good storytelling. Losing that hurts the MC almost as much as the cramps. Also, given the oddity of the gender swap, the attraction between the two young guys calls out for a sympathetic and respectful treatment (even if a bit of Jane Austin effect creeps in). As the baseline that needs to be returned to, it is what is normal and what needs to be put right. Well and tastefully played by the mangaka!
So yeah; not getting this kind of odd in western comics, or maybe you do now, at least in webcomics.. Ok, yup, some activist comics by folks who are making some point or doing the make visible thing might be doing something like it, but vanilla grade straight boy and girl mangakas doing a well-worn trope up for gags and a reassuring happy ending???
I don’t see it and have not heard of it.
Maybe they stuck it in GLEE. I have been scolded into thinking that they put everything queer-lite in GLEE and that I should be off to the re-education camps, yet I have somehow refrained from downloading and marathoning GLEE from grey sites. I avoided it too while it was on tv, not out of phobosity, but out of Fox-loathing. The last thing I tolerated on the local Fox affiliate was the Stargate franchise and even then I felt dirty. Even if our local Fox station is considered the one damn commie outpost of the Fox Empire and they keep it local and only sneak a teeny bit of wingnut bullshit into the feed… Fox has much to answer for.
But I digress. Back to OMG where’s my phallic signifier.
Compare Nisemomo to Boku Girl, by Akiro Sugito, https://www.mangaupdates.com/series.html?id=105986 see also http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Manga/BokuGirl
…where our hero wakes up to find that his guyhood has literally fallen off (or did it bounce out of the bed sheets and across the room?). No menses gags yet. A brief, early bit of idiocy on how to piss like a girl using a western style toilet. A maliciously juvenile rather than a stodgy confused deity. The new transfer student is named Loki Asgard, really? Well I hope she behaves better than last years The Joker Murderous Psychopath-chan. Having to deal with the family and then friends rather than a magic “nobody remembers me as a boy except my crush” situation presents its own plot mojo.
Where Nisemomo trades on pseudo BL for a shoujo vibe, Boku Girl presents the dilemma as a shonen-ish challenge to be overcome, like a video game. Both are somewhat oblivious to any notions of inadvertent hurt/ annoy they might cause to folks who are out collecting micro-grudges and position themselves as light comedy; Boku Girl goes for a bigger side helping of titillation. Readers get to see the better-than-an-otokonoko character in gravure magazine poses and watch everyone squirm as best bud becomes more and more “aware” of the sweet young thing that used to be his ‘bro. Meanwhile our hero sees his crush slip from his-now-her sights to become their new BFF, while they wonder what the proper frame of mind is for navigating the girl’s side of the onsen.
Nisemomo at least has “love”. The characters did long for each other a bit, or were cautiously, tentatively trying to work through the beginnings of love.
A digression on romance:
Boku, like the majority of younger character stories has everyone ticking off the gotta do this to grow up list while dealing with hormones. Desire is a biological effect/ curse that suddenly makes one notice someone like that when they had never before. The crush on the girl is because she is superficially pretty and personable, she might as well be a car. The girl’s crush on the cool boy is similarly superficial.
Like Genshiken with Mada getting bent out of shape because he worked up enough booze fueled courage to try a man-smooch after falling on Hato, he jumps around a lot but he doesn’t get sick to his heart over wanting his one true love. It’s all about me self-consciousness rather than “fuck! why does this hurt so much? This is making me sick in the head and the guts and I can’t stop because I really, really want (her, him, ze)!”
Nobody stops coming to school because they are lovesick. Sometimes shoujo girls stop when embarrassment as a side effect of a crush kicks in but otherwise it is all zoo animal maintenance and husbandry. You need to get into Shinso old-school Yuri to get pining. Or BL. Heart of Thomas starts with a school-boy suicide born out of unrequited pining. Come to think of it, the only time really heavy melodramatic romance-hurt manifested in Genshiken was in the anime’s BL parody sequence. Ogiue and Sas come close, with Ogiue tearfully running off into the woods, but no collapsed on the street in the rain sobbing “I’ve lost you, I’m tainted” shows up in the “real” Genshiken-verse. Window jumping does not count, that was also self-conscious shame, like the run in the woods, rather than pining.
Rom-com teens are considered too shallow to really get severely bent out of shape by love. That makes the mangaka’s job easier too.
Again, I want to emphasise that I am not working through the permutations to amass a collection of meaningless complaints either. I am just winnowing out the obvious non-essentials. The thing about the genre is that it remains dependably funny and new variations still seem to find un-mined veins of hah-hah while reprocessing the tailings for even more yuks. The formula works and it works well. Even if we groan when we see the same gag one more time, we will still let slip a smile. Reassurance is reassuring.
Jeebus and his saggy eared flatmate! Buddy Girl can’t figure out how to sit on a pot and piss? Duh!
At this point, I want to add Tomo-chan wa OnnanoKo! by Yanagida Fumita,
https://www.mangaupdates.com/series.html?id=120945 into the mix, for purposes of triangulation. It is very simple and funny and no has need to tipy-toe around potentially insulting misrepresentations of anyone. No one has to have their gender changed for laughs. Tomo-chan is just a run-of-the-mill strong tomboy girl who gives a rats ass about girly stuff, relationship stuff and couldn’t read a tense high-school girl’s clique-battle-vibe to save her life. Why bother. “Buddy boy is my childhood friend, who else can I scrap with if he ain’t around?”
It is refreshing. Tomo, the ultimate tomboy friend (that name) is too dense to notice the mean girls who want to snag her ‘bud, (and strong enough to scare them off any ideas of bullying her) or the sweet dumb blonde who isn’t really all that sweet or dumb and wants to snag… Or that her one female frienemy confidant has mixed feelings about giving her advice but thinks that watching Tomo-chan try to figure out her teeny tiny developing feelings for her friend (as well as his growing, hard-to-suppress feelings for her) is great entertainment…
I really want to see her work up her concern and resolve and declare to her buddy that “when the time comes, and he starts to get uncomfortable feelings for girls, that she will volunteer to be his girlfriend to protect him, because he is too pure and as a girl, she understands these things and she could not stand to see him getting his heart-broken.” Meanwhile, much blood will slowly drip out of his mouth from his bitten tongue. Aesop for guys: More dudes have found happiness by keeping quiet at the right moment than by opening their yaps. I’m just playset-ing, but if I nail it, I expect to win an internets for my Cpt Obvious insights.
Back to curiosity/ gender tourism/ girl’s locker room/ make friends the hard way
“In all three stories, the only way that the male protagonist is able to get near the girl he likes is to become a girl himself. All three boys have difficulty with dealing with the opposite sex. They, like most men, simply fear rejection. Hazumo confessed his feelings to his love, and was crushed when she couldn’t love him back. Akira and Rando are too timid to even try, so they just sit on the sidelines and dream about the relationship they can be having. This is a fear that many teenage otaku know all too well.
This feminine kinship gives the hero, as well as the reader, a voyeuristic opportunity to catch girls off guard doing things they wouldn’t do with men around. Most of the time, this just involves nudity. As the girls change their clothes in the locker room, or bath[e] together, the men get a front row view without ever getting in trouble or punish[ed] for it.
Sophomoric? Maybe. Pathetic? Highly likely. However, it does provide some nice fan service. When you’re going for a romantic story aimed at young men, sex is a necessity because it is a very dominate [oh fer spellcheck puh-lease!] urge for the audience. And by making the other girls completely comfortable with (though still ignorant of) being naked around the male protagonist, this somewhat lessens the shame of voyeurism.”
As well the new-girl cheesecake gives the readers an extra perv-lite thrill. Somewhat like cross-dressing or gender-dysphoria stories, the readership gets the “but she’s really a boy” frisson from otherwise gratuitous service scenes. Suddenly they are not just plotless displays of female flesh. Admittedly, the readership we are talking about here is presumed male, which is why the POV catered to in Nisemomo is interesting – theorists have long gone on that BL males, nominally gay or not, very easily slip into being “upgraded males” in the sense that while they lust like guys, they consider and do romance in a way more enjoyable for the female fans. If this gets confusing, just think of it as if one kami already got to Nisemomo’s couple before the kami in the story messed about.
Oh heck, brain beginning to hurt!
In some ways the (male-gaze) readership also gets a funny-light version of all the horrible fear-mongering levelled at transfolk and to a lesser degree at those who have same-sex desire; bathrooms, change rooms, peeking, voyeurism, improper glances, the potential for assault and the disturbance of the division and enforcement of gender and desire norms within the social order. Recall that some variants of world religions consider male locker rooms full of nominally straight males immodest.
Wanna really stretch out this line of inquiry? Perhaps the comedy of such situations lies even deeper than gender separation in Japan’s sacred nekkid spaces and derives from the breaking of unspoken norms of societal cohesiveness, japanese-ness and same-ness. A skinny middle-aged gaijin guy with a stooped back and no tattoos is tolerated in the men’s side at a resort onsen, but shunned at the neighborhood sento. He gets into the pool, all else leave. He goes into the steam room, all else leave. Didn’t he make a show of scrubbing himself 3 times clean all over? It is not like he is hung like a horse or anything. How uncomfortable. I wonder if he should complain bitterly about the experience over on some outlander blog? Better to warn those who would follow that Japanese sentos do not believe in chlorine. Keep your head above water unless you want a nasty ear infection. I am sure that the neighbourhood old dudes would get used to him eventually. The MC’s new body sets up a same-ok/ not-same uncomfortable oscillation in the readership that could go deeper than gender or sexuality. We outlanders might be missing something during the Genshiken sento scenes; a correspondent who taught in Korea notes that her breasts were often a subject of curiosity in the women’s bath, which now must be looked at not as envy or curiosity but a ritual excuse to welcome her into the social.
Too much speculative pop sociology!
Note as well that all of these gender-swap stories also assume that women are for all practical purposes, by guy standards, mostly asexual. Even freaky pushy harem girls who want to catch a boy are not really sexual per se, as their desires are really for societal scripts of marriage, fulfilment, love capitalism or at best romantic love as a precondition to bedroom antics. The idea that a female character would want to just DO the guy because say, his fingers are sexy and he elicits physical desire in her makes Genshiken’s Angela a bit rarer than first glance suggests. Usually such forward sexuality is the realm of the scary older woman or plain plotless smut. Fortunately the busty blonde outlander girls are incomprehensible trick can cover the lapse in Genshiken. The guys, even the guy who got zapped is assumed to still harbor a jack-rabbit libido, held only in check by crushing shyness.
Worse, if the shoujo ever evinces desire, it is towards the aloof or asshole alpha and not the loser guy (now girl) pining in the background. More disappointment. No wonder guys like Yuri; the girls at least show desire that we can somewhat understand, while we cheer on any directness – although the better variants handle it in a far more classy way than we would try. In the case of the gender-swapped MC he-now-she ends up dealing not only with his leftover male want-now sexuality, but with the new normal of how girls are supposed to desire, plus the it feels gay effect if his new body’s hormones find his attention wandering towards his best buddy. It would all be easier if he-now-she just became a lesbian, but that never works either and the girl of his ex-dreams is not about to encourage it. She will never suddenly up and declare that the change is wonderful, because she always thought he was girly-cute, but never cute enough for her to bother with, due to her own quietly bubbling away preferences, but now…
In a cheesy and ridiculous way, the nominally straight, nominally male readership gets a chance to vicariously explore gender confusion from a subjective, but safe point of view and perhaps even empathize with real folks caught up in their own non-conforming desires and identities. Because “god”/ unforeseen external random circumstance imposed the change, arguments about tribal ideas of morality fall aside. Buddy Girl didn’t just decide to go queer to act depraved against all scriptural laws. But Buddy Girl is definitely queer in a working sense. She has girl-parts and girl hormones rushing through her brain and body, so it is natural that she would start thinking about that guy. But the “I” is male and to the guy mind that feels “gay”. The “I” also remembers desire for that special girl, and in the locker room it is still embarrassing because It is checking out the other girl’s bodies. Damn, It checks out its new body all the time too. Or the more ambitious obverse is going on, as in Hana Wa Nisemono.
Then there is ex-special girl/ new BFF. The new female-ish special friendship is so intense, almost intimate – is this normal? Does Buddy-Girl’s residual guy mind betray it? and where is all this wimpy proper consideration mull it over, try to figure out all the options stuff coming from? Hormones? A newfound sense of morality? Chickenshit narcissism? A realistic fear of physical and social sanction if she acts too direct and aggressive?
Confusion is accentuated to make a point, but confusion, even if it is the natural state of human existence is BAD. Recall the Book of Leviticus. Don’t mix stuff! This is good, that is bad! Don’t mix them! This behaves this way, that behaves that way or the tribe should kill you! Even wonderfully polytheistic Japan has its elaborate rules of Shinto purity and defilement to keep dangerous categories apart.
A final digression: 25 years ago Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist Hothead Paisan [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hothead_Paisan] was walking down a grotty sidewalk with her new girlfriend when a big drunk guy starts hassling them. Before Hothead can shoot him and cut his nuts off, lanky-thin girlfriend straight-arm punches the fool and leaves him in a pile of bleedy-crushed face. Girlfriend then reveals that she is a post-op transwoman (who has a mean snapping jab of a punch) and apologizes for not yet having the time to mention it. Hothead looks her up and down, shrugs and then takes her hand and they walk off into the sunset (and later to a truly horrific meet her family scene, which would probably be impolitic today, but hey, you got problems, take it up with the author). Proof that you can find some real classy treatments of the same old same old when the author isn’t completely pulling minority sexualities out of their ass and writes from the heart.
Aside cont: The collected HP works are not really for squeamish guys; the plucky heroine does not like any males at all. It seems we are all prone to unforgivable lapses of rudeness. She doesn’t even tolerate gay males but usually refrains from maiming them. Daphne however is the girl who Hothead likes and everything else is just bullshit. Hooray for romance! It was an interesting read for me, way back when. Straight women friends of university going age seemed to find her adventures hilarious and somewhat cathartic. See also: http://dangerousminds.net/comments/bring_back_hothead_paisan_homicidal_lesbian_terrorist
A romantic comedy with extra low comedy on top.
You can’t avoid the appeal of the comedy bits. The Shazzaam you’re a girl is a step up from plain vanilla rom-coms or teen sex comedies. It is hard enough to figure out who the hell you are during those years. Hard to figure out attraction, dating and romance. Add gender identity confusion (no, not the serious kind) and by inference sexuality and you get a slow motion train wreck. Boku Girl at least has the sense to drop a malicious godling into the stew so as to lampshade the elaborate slapstick setups. Her job is to keep you from groaning over the mangaka’s sleight of hand. Given that the MC will now be a girl-ex-man of constant sorrow, it’s a miracle that any of these magical gender-swap victims ever venture out of their rooms once the whoops takes place. If these stories were more ambitious, each would start with someone being sent to deliver notes to the class hikikomori. All manga and anime hikis should be magical gender-swap victims. (or they think they are.. hmmmm.. story potential! The everyone remembers variant vs the no one remembers variant…)
“I’m now a girl! You always were, No I wasn’t! Well you’re one now. But I still like girls! Everyone in class knew that you were THAT WAY Keiko, please come to class, no one will bully you… My name is Takeshi! Sure, Takeshi. Keiko, whatever…“
Adding gender-role norm screw-ups to a teen romcom is like stuffing extra scoops of ice cream into a too-small cone. If there was a way to then cram all of this fun into a harem grinder as well the otaku population of Japan and then that of the rest of the world would go into a state of catatonic bliss, except for the folks at studio SHAFT who would have to pull all-nighters to make an even weirder and more annoying version than the manga. (Hmmmm.. there was a new Nyarko OVA out recently, missed opportunity, diff studio, dratt!)
How about a further variant on the appeal of the new-girl character as lazy otokonoko/josou genre story:
“So setting aside preoccupation with gender, josou shounen anime characters are typically even more feminine and approachable than actual girl characters are. The argument may be made, in this case, that cute is cute, regardless of gender. But if that’s the case, why would heterosexual otaku supplement or even supplant attraction to female characters with josou shounen characters? Some otaku may be partially shifting their interest in cute anime girls onto cute anime boys that look like girls because the later provide the same opportunity for moé obsession without the need to respect conventional masculine and feminine gender roles.”
Well, that might play a bit to the popularity of the genre, even if all the surface action is the MC’s “new confusing plight”. It also serves as a good intro to one final take on the popularity of the genre: it is admittedly a bit of a stretch, but whothteheck!
The pop-lacanian trauma re-visited. Note the assumed gender of the readership:
“Even though these characters are still male inside, their outward female appearance allows the reader to fully accept them as girls at times. This presents a very unique experience for the reader that is very rarely felt with other types of comics. When the reader focuses on the hero’s motives and personality, he identifies the character as purely male. The reader relates with the hero’s desire for love and sex when being around so many beautiful women, and this creates an empathic admiration from the reader to the hero. But when the reader focuses on the character’s physical appearance, he can’t help but to identify the character as female. Not only female, but a very cute and attractive female. When this happens, the male reader actually becomes sexually attracted to the protagonist.
This switch between platonic admiration towards the boy-side and sexual attraction towards the girl-side happens very quickly when reading these stories. It could even take place while the reader’s eye goes from reading dialog in word bubble to looking at the drawing inside of that panel. This constant toggle between the two feelings eventually merges together until the reader no longer distinguishes the gender of the hero. The reader loses himself into the fantasy of manga and forms a unique feeling towards the hero for being both male and female.
Is this the same kind of unique feeling that girl get when reading yaoi? I’m not sure. But as we can see, androgyny and gender bending in anime and manga is a pretty interesting experience for both male and female otaku.
Just another example of why I love this medium so much.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 20th, 2008 at 8:04 pm by Scott .”
Which, despite the naive presentation is a damn fine bit of testimony that tries to tease out a very subjective take on reading the stuff. It is also a good approach, with suitable tweaking, to toss on the “why do the rotten girls?” pile as well.
Of course it leaves out the next step, the Dr. Tamaki post-lacanian ‘wound”; the “Holy shit! What did I just do to my desiring wiring?” feeling as well as the “Why do I feel like this about a cartoon character?” hysterical (hah! nice word choice) trauma that must then be mastered, reproduced and shared.
It might well be that a taste for this kind of jolt is what fuels the essential pervy-ness of Japanese visual culture fandom. The flip side of “iki” is the wide range of virtual walk(s) on the wild side(s) available to the readership. Even without the cult of Lacan messing things up, one can at least say that the gender-swap genre is a fine trick for feeding boy readers some warmed over shoujo leftovers.
Of course the things can be read as modern fables and just for laughs as well. Ambitious storytellers will spin out profitable tales.
As alluded to above, the main engine of continuing fun is our newly minted heroine’s quest to get back his manhood. Of course he also wants the girl he was crushing on before the change, and then there is the problem of his friend looking at him that way, but if he were to give up and accept shoujo-dom the game ends (rule 2 is kept around if you need a quick wrap-up). The story needs the treadmill to keep buddy-girl running. Unlike stock rom-coms that trade on insecurity and shared recognition of the absurdity of desire/ dating fail, but then give us a happy ending to confirm that it is all worth it, the gender swap tale can go on for an absurdly long run. Few rom-coms alone can work on such a stoic note.. All fail, all the time but the journey is worth it for the absurd yuks. The MC will end up ronery no matter what, so forward, make like an idiot and enjoy! MC must somehow not give up and throw self off the school roof.
Quit not thine day job!
What else can be said about the fantasy nature of the genre? All of the charas are destined for penury if they don’t get their priorities straight. Capital knows very little compassion. Any lifestyle is a commodity you will pay for it, one way or another. If however, they get their priorities in line with contemporary economic trends, the story ends. I would venture that even the most conservative Japanese parents would put aside concerns over their child’s sexuality and gender expression if the child was a super swot and looked like they could snag a full scholarship at Tokai.
“Heh Keiko, you back at school?”
“Yeah, and cram school after until 10pm, every night and all day Saturday. English lessons Sunday all day. Fine! I’m a girl, whatever… Boy or girl, what I am not going to be is dirt poor. What about you Takeshi, how’s the top surgery?”
“Doesn’t hurt so much now. Shit, I wish I could have gotten some of your magical swap stuff, but I still will be a man, even if I have to do it the hard way. See you at cram school.”
“Yeah, getting settled with your gender and sexuality is great, but unless you learn how to be a software engineer with a side interest in start-up financing or a math wizard into international currency markets and A.I. modelling how’s a girl or boy to eat? Japan economy ichiban clusterfuck! I figure whatever I want will be a lot easier after I make my first billion.”
“Yup! Money first! Money is sexuality! Money is gender! Money is freedom!”
LATER: Random intrusions from nasty reality
(1) Blacklisted for life? It’s happened before in Japan, Some SEALDs consider the possibilities today: