Thursday, April 10, 2014

Husky (+Anima) and the Mismatched Facade

In the manga +Anima (2001-2005), what is meant by the titular term is a human who possesses the secondary traits of a particular animal, like the wings of a bird or the strength of a bear.  That sounds like a great premise for a superhero fantasy, but this series chooses to spin it a bit differently.  Unfortunately for the +Anima, being so "different" isn't necessarily a blessing within a prejudiced society.

The series's four main characters are all +Anima with different animal bases.  For example, Husky is a fish +Anima.  Part-human, part-fish.  So basically, a mermaid.  ...Except, in this case, not a "maid."

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Romeo × Juliet and the Androgynous "Act"

Of all the characters in history to be rendered androgynous, the last you might expect is the theater's most famous leading lady, the very icon of romantic femininity: Juliet Capulet.

...Yet, there she is.

Romeo × Juliet (2007) is a fantasy-infused anime adaptation of the classic Shakespearean tragedy, and it involves Juliet cross-dressing as a vigilante hero, basically forced into witness protection after the rest of her family is murdered by the rivaling Montagues.  Granted, the anime is certainly taking some liberties with the original story.  But it's not entirely inappropriate, considering that classic Shakespeare is already some of the gender-bendingest stuff in the literary canon.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Robin Newman (Ace Attorney) and the Bipolar Gender

Well-known for its eccentric characters who spice up a normally mundane environment, Ace Attorney is a series of visual novel games about lawyers finding contradictions.  The most recent series installment, Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies (2013) features a character who presents one big contradiction.

Robin Newman jumps wildly between two gendered extremes, caricaturizing them both  and, by what can be called the ideal relationship between fiction and reality, renders gender appropriately hilarious.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Kohaku (Wish) and the Limitless Romance

CLAMP is a widely-respected all-female team of manga creators, whose artistic style is iconically androgynous and whose themes also work to blur gender lines.

Over at Quickand2thePointless: Adventures in Animeland, a fellow Blogger has already addressed their work in a post that's rich, insightful, and anything but pointless:  The review Lost in Translation: Androgyny in Clamp's RG Veda and Wish discusses the powerful messages implicit in CLAMP's use of gender ambiguity, and how the inability to maintain genderless address in English translation may hinder those messages.

Drawing on author Julie's line of thought, I'd like to particularly acknowledge the character of Kohaku, from the four-volume CLAMP manga Wish (1997).

Monday, March 10, 2014

Pokémon and the Art of Gender Differences

"Are you a boy? Or a girl?"  Despite the professor's notoriously binary inquiry at the start of every game, the Pokémon series (1996-current) is very good at handling gender fairly  not only through the human characters, but also through the Pokémon themselves.

The friendly sort of franchise which uses its popularity to promote positive things, it also understatedly presents a positive atmosphere with regard to gender.  It captures gender diversity with an open attitude, from having fun with fluidity, to featuring gender differences that make a difference by not making a difference.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Naoto Shirogane and the Androgynous "Escape"

> The concept of androgyny can inspire progressive thinking about gender equality.
> The aesthetic of androgyny, in reality, doesn't always represent progressive purposes.

Both of the above are true.  When looking toward Japanese pop culture for ideals, it's important to note that Japanese culture itself does not necessarily reflect these ideals.

Persona 4 (2012) is a game that addresses many issues of gender and sexuality in Japanese society, in the rare direct terms of characters' personal psychological consciousness.  Rooted in motifs of Jungian psychology, the mystery-fantasy RPG features an interesting spread of characters who have each their own "shadows," parts of themselves they don't want to face.  One among the cast is the androgynous young detective, Naoto Shirogane.

The ideal of androgyny has to do with transcending cultural expectations in a way that fosters individual identity over categorical norms.  The reasons for Naoto's cross-dressing, however, couldn't be any more to the contrary.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Hetalia and the Symbolic Unity of Stereotype

On the flipside of an all-female world, the web-comic turned web-anime Hetalia: Axis Powers (2009-current) presents a "world" of its own with, instead, an overwhelmingly male main cast... although it's anything but testosterone-fueled.

Following a premise of "anthropomorphize every country on the planet into a lovable bishonen to act out farcical renditions of historical events," the series thrives on the eye-candy of unusually pretty men.

Rather than having one token gender-bender to highlight, nearly every character has an air of androgyny to them, embedded into the artistic style.  Maybe it would be a stretch to say that the androgynous style can reflect some deeper level of unifying ambiguity, that it's somehow related to the overarching themes of world peace.  ...But sure, why not?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Touhou Project and the Single-Gender World

I believe that a society without gender distinctions is a powerful ideal.

Theoretically, the ideal of universal "androgyny" entails no gender.  Simply, if no one is assigned to either the male or the female category, individual expression becomes unlimited and undefined.  Anyone could express any mix of traits formerly delineated under those two categories, without being arranged into any sort of hierarchy.

...But technically, in a world of one gender  for example, a world identifying female only  you could similarly say that there are "no gender distinctions."

(fanart from

The provocative premise of a single-gender society comes up quite a bit in feminist science fiction.  It also comes up in... a Japanese shoot-'em-up PC game?  Sort of!  Albeit in a completely different context, the ongoing Touhou Project series (1996-current) comes pretty darn close to being an ideal, single-gender world.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Jamie (Harvest Moon) and the Marriage of Opposites

Expanding the focus from strictly anime to animesque videogames may serve well for a wider perspective on androgyny.  In such an equally-"animated" medium, characterization occurs not only through visual design, action, and voice, but also through one last critical dimension of interactivity.  In this medium, the player's position necessarily affects the story's reality.

There are plenty of games with amazing androgynes to offer in this light of player-guided mutability, which inherently opens doors to exploring themes of ambiguous identity.  One example that doesn't get nearly enough attention is a particular console installment of a niche farming RPG, Harvest Moon: Magical Melody (2006).

Wait!  Don't tune out at the childish title and chibi style!  While admittedly targeting a young demographic, the game offers some genuinely valuable morals and genuinely unique implications about gender.

See that ambiguous figure... on the fence there?  That's Jamie.  Jamie is the aptly-unisex name of the single most important androgynous character in the history of androgynous characters, so listen up.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Hideyoshi Kinoshita and the Custom Gender Field

There's an intellectual battle going on!  Let's see those warriors' profiles.

Name:  Hideyoshi
Gender:  Hideyoshi


From Baka and Test (2010) comes one of the teasingest traps to ever be set on the anime stage.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Crona (Soul Eater) and Dealing with Gender in Fiction

"...I don't know how to deal with this!!"

From the supernatural adventure Soul Eater (2008), this is Crona's compulsive catchphrase.

Well, when it comes to gender, I guess one way to deal with it is... don't.

Amidst all of anime's androgynes, here's one of very few who can be called truly, thoroughly ambiguous. Not only in looks, or in attitude, Crona really is effectively genderless: never revealed as either male or female.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Jun Watarase and the Magical Transgender Dream

Jun Watarase is a supporting character in the anime Happiness! (2006).  Have you heard of it?  If not, maybe that's because it was overshadowed by another series released within the same time frame and with a coincidentally similar summary.

Happiness! can be described as a school comedy, featuring a girl named Haruhi and her friends in a prestigious but eccentric academy... (didn't we cover this already?) ...which includes a special division for gifted young mages to be taught the arts of magic (nope, this is new!).

Meet one of Haruhi's friends, Jun.  Jun is very popular among the male students at this half-magic school.  One look at that cute face and you'll surely see why!  ...But you can guess where this is going, can't you?

Friday, February 7, 2014

Kino's Journey and the Imprinted Identity

An understated gem among slice-of-life anime, Kino's Journey (2003) follows the travels of the titular protagonist through various bizarre and unique lands.  If you haven't seen it, you should see it.  Even if you aren't concerned with androgyny, you should see it.  But while we're here, let's talk about androgyny.

Aboard a sentient motorcycle named Hermes, Kino rides with no particular destination. The fearless, gun-toting traveler has only one rule:  Stay in each country for exactly three days and two nights, just long enough to experience its customs but not long enough to get too attached.  From a traditional country that imposes cruel coming-of-age rituals on its children, to a mechanical country that found a way for people to read each other's thoughts, the themes explored are outlandishly exaggerated yet hauntingly familiar, and they often raise strikingly philosophical questions about real human nature.

One more such philosophical question might be implicitly raised through the main character's own identity.  Until the fourth episode, there is no indication whatsoever – not through clothing, not through mannerisms, nor through discussion – of Kino's gender as either male or female.  That's because there's no need for it.  Kino doesn't particularly identify with either label.  Kino's singularly well-affirmed identity is that as a traveler, as nothing more than an (allegedly) impartial observer of the surrounding world....

Friday, January 31, 2014

Haruhi Fujioka and the Gender "Trap"

It would be a travesty not to kick things off here with perhaps the most celebrated androgyne in recent anime history, Haruhi Fujioka of Ouran High School Host Club (2006).  Anime fans are likely to be familiar with the premise of this popular series, but have a summary just in case:

A frumpily-dressed new student named Haruhi stumbles into a clubroom full of handsome upperclassmen, and breaks an expensive vase.  Unable to pay for the damage, Haruhi is forced to earn money by joining their club, which is essentially a PG-rated escort service.  He must spruce up his appearance and entertain the school's female population on dates until he has cleared his heavy debt.

SPOILER:  The twist is, he isn't a "he."

Males and females alike proceed to fall in love with her.  I mean, can you blame them?

As per the jargon of the gender-bending genre, a "trap" usually refers to a male character who appears so feminine as to trick others into believing that he is female.  Haruhi, then, might be considered a "reverse trap": a female superficially mistaken for a male.

Yet Haruhi stands out for being, not only superficially androgynous, but also androgynous of mind.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Androgyny in Animation: "Are you a boy? Or a girl?"

Let's ask a better question, and it's hardly rhetorical:  "Why does it matter?"

Standards of gender presentation differ between cultures and between mediums.  The androgynous style, blending both masculine (andro-) and feminine (-gyn) elements, is all but too common throughout Japanese animated media.

The anime world abounds with cross-dressers and bishonen ("pretty boys").  As a fan, you probably either revel in that ambiguity or drown in the frustration of desperately seeking answers to that titular question.

If you ask me, androgyny is a gorgeous aesthetic.  However, it isn't just an aesthetic.  Some characters build an entire plot around their mysterious gender identity.  Even more intriguingly, some characters never reveal an "answer" to the mystery at all.

Hideyoshi Kinoshita (Baka and Test) Kino (Kino's Journey) Crona (Soul Eater)

Androgynous characters show us just how strange and fluid is that abstract thing called gender which so many of us take for black-and-white.  As you begin to look more carefully at all sorts of animated androgynes, you can see that there are more than simply "boys and girls," and even more than "pretty boys and tomboy girls."  Once you realize that gender is so impossibly elusive, you might need to rethink the way you look at gender altogether.  Stay tuned for a closer look at some of the characters who can challenge you to ask different, deeper questions!

Please feel free to ask those questions, or to share your answers, in the comments below.  You can also contact the blogger with opinions or ideas for future character features at