In my initial post (and in my thought process that lead towards creating this project) I made an assumption of tropes based on my limited viewing of anime. My experience of anime is limited due to the few animes I’ve watched being quite blatantly sexist or very male-centric. Considering there are actually more than 10 000 animes in existence, it’s fair to say that my observations were more generalised assumptions. But do my assumptions hold up?
Well, according to Western analyses of anime, they actually (mostly) do. In a 2014 article, Aja Romano wrote an article for The Daily Dot, where they stated the following:
“The more typical and “traditional” attempt to portray both crossdressing and genderqueer identity in Japanese storytelling narratives has usually been to make it a joke. This includes the old standby of using flamboyantly gay people who crossdress, or drag itself, as humor. Even though drag can often be a transformative process as part of a transgender coming-out, you’re more likely to see it portrayed for laughs, or even as a weird fetish.”
Aja Romano, The Daily Dot, 2014
As I researched further into non-normative gender representations in anime, I saw that this sentiment resinated with other anime fans too. From there I decided to dig deep into anime tropes around non-normative characters – and that digging delivered.
I had to sift through some pretty vile conversations (filled with queerphobia and transphobia), until I came across a great and informative post on tumblr by Rian Sygh. I learnt that a ‘trap’ is “is an individual whose perceived gender identity does not reflect their biological sex”. As Sygh aptly puts it, “the problem with referring to this situation as a ‘trap’ and not as, ‘a Transgender or gender non-conforming person’, is that it connotates that by identifying the way they do an individual is intentionally deceiving the audience” (Sygh 2015).
Following research into that I discovered another term, ‘Hideyoshi’. Now this is where things started getting confusing. Like trap characters, there isn’t much research into Hideyoshi, which is the term given to describe a character who is gnc. It is also referred to as the ‘third gender’…and they can also be classified as a trap.
The term actually originated from an anime character named Hideyoshi Kinoshita, who was a gnc character on the 2010 anime series Baka and Test. While it seems there is no concrete definition for Hideyoshi characters, they’re characteristics are outside binary and cisnormative performances of gender. It also seems like the purpose of these characters is to provide comic relief, while still fitting within a heteronormative narrative (Wu 2014).
The final term I came across is ‘Otokonoko’. They are characters who “act/dress up like a girl only because they need to achieve something” (Wu 2014). They fall into the trope of “gender-switching” characters in anime, who ‘switch’ genders to seduce another to get what they want and still fit within a heteronormative narrative (Romano 2014).
So with these anime terms in mind, it’s time to look at cultural context that shapes them: Japan. As in Western culture, gender (jendā) is understood as a social construct in Japan. However, genders outside of the binary/cisnormative constructs have only recently been recognised in the last decade. X-jendā refers to “a gender that is neither male nor female, or, depending on the definition, both” (Dale 2012). X-jenda is also often regarded as a “sub-group” of transgender identities. The term ‘transgender’ is rarely used in mainstream discourses the term seidōitsuseishōgai is instead used, which translates to Gender Identity Disorder (Dale 2012). This categorisation of gnc and trans people is clearly problematic as it medicalises valid identities and connotes them with disorders, suffering and disabilities (Shu Min 2011).
Another thing to consider is that cultural differences extend to language. In the Japanese language, while there are no gendered pronouns as there are in English, they do use a gendered language. Gendered language refers to “how males and females speak differently from one another within a language…it [also] refers to gender roles and is not ‘grammatically gendered'” (Ko 2009). As I do not speak Japanese, I will be unable to observe how my selected characters use gendered language. That said, I’m interested to see if I can research that as it would help to understand the construction of my characters genders.
To fit with my context, I’ve looked for feminist analyses of the characters I will be observing, which I will consider in line with the Japanese context when making my evaluation of how they represent non-normative genders.
In the original manga, Zoe Hange’s gender was left purposefully unclear by the creator, however they* were voiced by female actresses in the anime versions. Romano (The Daily Dot) argued this was problematic and saw it as a form of trans erasure. Whereas an article from The Mary Sue argued that Hange’s gender is non-binary, which is great representation for gender non-conforming (gnc) people.
In regards to Haruhi Fujioka, Romano praised them as “one of the rare instances in which an anime character embraces, if not a genderqueer identity, then at least a gender-ambivalent one.” Bitch Flicks also argued that the show and Haruhi’s character seek to defy binary ideas of gender and challenge heteronormativity by making a satire of anime’s that conform to these normatives.
It was harder to find feminist analyses of Ruka Urushibara, so I looked more to general fan analyses. I found arguments that Ruka Urushibara falls into the ‘trap’ category – their character is even placed under ‘Anime traps‘ on the anime wikia page. I’ve also read that Ruka is in line with ‘traditional’ (aka problematic) depictions of non-normative genders. While many fans have argued that Ruka is a transgender woman (such as here and here), the show seems to treat this possibility as a means for comic relief.
Through the information I’ve gathered on anime tropes, Japanese culture and feminist analyses of the characters I will be observing, the next step is to do just that: observe!
Next post will include my first podcast on Zoe Hange from Attack on Titan.
*I will be referring to each character as they, unless a specific pronoun has been nominated.
Adler J. 2015. ‘Ouran High School Host Club’: Haruhi, Heteronormativity, and the Gender Binary, Bitch Flicks, available at http://www.btchflcks.com/2015/03/ouran-high-school-host-club-haruhi-heteronormativity-and-the-gender-binary.html#.V-4UXiN94b2
Asselin J. 2014. Attack on Titan Creator, Publisher On Character’s Gender, The Mary Sue, available at: http://www.themarysue.com/attack-on-titan-gender/
Dale, S.P.F., 2012. An Introduction to X-Jendā: Examining a New Gender Identity in Japan. Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific, available at http://www.academia.edu/download/39309733/DALE_-_An_Introduction_to_X-jenda.pdf
Ko K. 2009. Be careful not to bend your gender in Japanese, The Japan Times, available at http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2009/10/28/language/be-careful-not-to-bend-your-gender-in-japanese-2/#.V-4LLiN94b1
North A. 2014. Anime: Gender Roles and Representations, Hubpages, available at http://hubpages.com/entertainment/Anime-Gender-Roles-and-Representations
Romano A. 2014. When it comes to transgender representation, anime has room to grow, The Daily Dot, available at http://www.dailydot.com/parsec/transgender-characters-anime-boston/
Shu Min Y. 2011. Last friends, beyond friends – articulating non-normative gender and sexuality on mainstream Japanese television, in Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, vol. 12, no. 3 (2011):383–400, available at www.transgenderasia.org/paper_ysm_japan.doc
Sygh R. 2015. The problem with “traps”, Rian Sygh, Tumblr, available at http://riansygh.tumblr.com/post/111775134028/the-problem-with-traps
Wu J. 2015. The Popularity of ‘Hideyoshi’: the Character that is ‘Neither Male nor Female’, The Artifice, available at http://the-artifice.com/hideyoshi-gender-male-female/