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

...Huh?

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

The series takes place in an unusual academy that divides students into classes, A through F, by their grades on one rigorous placement test at the start of the year.  High-achieving A students are placed into a luxurious classroom full of high-quality amenities... while F students get cardboard boxes for desks.

But for those who fail, all hope is not lost!  The academy also offers a system of "test wars," wherein holographic avatars of the students can duke it out in virtual reality, with videogame-esque stats powered up by points earned on various make-up tests.  After a bit of extra studying, lower classes can challenge the geniuses to battle, on the stakes of swapping equipment and moving up in the world.  Baka and Test thus follows the colorful underdog Class F on their road to redemption.


When they're not having test wars, though, the show is a silly, slapstick, slightly perverted school comedy as any other.  Not the main character (but arguably the star) is the Class F student named Hideyoshi Kinoshita, pictured above on the right.  ...Or is it the left?  No, definitely the right.

Left is Hideyoshi's twin sister, Yuuko.  You can easily tell the difference because it's obvious who's the real beauty of the two.  Hideyoshi's feminine charms are widely agreed to outweigh hers.  Hideyoshi is the one whose candid photographs are sold and traded amongst male schoolmates, and who is showered with love confessions from the same.

That's despite the ironic fact, of course, that Hideyoshi is a boy.


Or so he (rather halfheartedly) insists.  Constantly allowing his arm be twisted by the anime's own conceits toward presenting him as anything but a boy, he probably spends more screentime clad in maid uniforms, two-piece swimwear, waitress costumes, and oriental dresses than in any remotely masculine clothing.

It's a trap, right?  But, once you know something's a trap, it loses a little bit of its intrigue.  So even through all the feminine fanservice, this show takes the trap-trope a step further, and chooses to jump through every imaginable hoop to avoid showing definitive proof of any "real" gender.

That's right.  At every possible occasion, the audience is deliberately denied any solid "proof" that Hideyoshi is either male or female.  The trick to keeping fans of both preferences hooked is that, if you can't see certain parts, they don't exist, and you may imagine whatever truth you wish.  You know, one of the most interesting things about androgyny in animation is that, truly, there is no hard "truth" in gender.  In animation, gender is necessarily about presentation alone, because 2-D characters will never have an existing "body" for which to factor in physical sex.

The trick works startlingly well.  For Hideyoshi, who has ranked within the top ten in Japanese polls for "Best Male Character" and "Best Female Character," the joke has even transcended the fourth wall.

He's become something of a tongue-in-cheek revolution in trap culture.  At once each and neither sex, he must be somewhere in between.  We are made to believe that Hideyoshi is in his own unique category: the "Hideyoshi" gender.

By such an abstract stretch, you might compare him to Crona in terms of his canonical gender not being solidified.  Yet unlike Crona, whose character is not defined by his gender, Hideyoshi is more or less defined by this running gag.  Hideyoshi is his gender.  Quite literally, he is his gender.  Hideyoshi.  And it would be a shame to lose that most important part of his identity, so Baka and Test gladly milks the Hideyoshi-gender concept for all it's worth.

...In fact, since having him enter any sort of gendered space would otherwise spoil the illusion, there is even a third bathroom to reflect his third gender.  Yes, there is a preconstructed bathroom with Hideyoshi's name on it, for Hideyoshi's sole personal use.  "So it's acknowledged by society..." protagonist Akihisa Yoshii muses.  As if the entire universe has molded itself around this concern over Hideyoshi's unique gender situation.

That's ridiculous!  But it's pointedly ridiculous.  Baka and Test serves as a parody of a lot of things about its own genre as anime, and the gender part of it is a big one.

Maybe drawing too much attention to gender can work in similar manner to drawing no attention to it at all. Gender, when it's within the familiar realm of male and female, is a facet of life we are often conditioned to ignore.  Along with it, we ignore (and thereby come to accept) a lot of absurdities built into a huge system of arbitrary distinctions.  Once we're made hyper-aware of it through the presence of this kind of androgyne, we can see how absurd those distinctions are.

It's becoming more apparent in modern social discourse that the two gender categories of "male" and "female" cannot account for everyone's individual differences.  Increasingly more people are turning toward a proliferating list of minority labels (transgender, bigender, pangender, fluid...) to define their identity.  That's obviously different from Hideyoshi's situation, in that Hideyoshi's special label is created for others' benefit, not his own.  In real life, people sincerely do depend on labels for a sense of validation.

Did you know?  As of a recent Facebook update, the "Gender" section of the profile has been supplemented with an "Other" option, which now allows users to type in a custom label.  On the Internet's biggest social media platform, gender is now a custom field.  As there are currently fifty-odd recognized phrases that you can input, it's not quite so freely custom that you could enter something like "Hideyoshi."  Still, I have to wonder just what it would be like if real society ever did reach a point where each person needed their own, self-named category.

As inherently unrealistic as the anime world is, unable to directly correlate with real world issues, its gendered mediums and its gendered extremes offer interesting trains of theoretical thought.  Maybe if real society came to the extreme of defining people's unique genders by name, some sort of realization could be had: that labels could cease being necessary at all, and each person could be recognized as an individual without the use of arbitrary categories.

Anyway...  For now, this straight-F student is giving a new meaning to "being in a class all your own."

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