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?



Of course:  This cute "girl" is a biological boy.

Jun doesn't quite seem to fit the theme of ambiguous gender presentation that you would associate with androgyny.  This is, plainly and simply, a trap.  Jun is a male who dresses intentionally "like a female."

In discussing Haruhi Fujioka, I suggested a key difference between traps who distinctly invert the male-female binary and androgynes who vaguely straddle it.  "Androgyny" – the blending of both the masculine and the feminine – can be framed as a challenge to the gender system only when it truly blends and distorts the categories, rather than letting the character still fall at one end of the binary or the other.  ...Or can it?

Being progressive about gender doesn't and shouldn't mean balancing on a carefully-constructed medium between masculine and feminine.  It's not about forcing people to be neutral; that "neutrality" is defined by arbitrary standards, anyway.  It's about allowing people to be themselves without the pressure of labels.

Wouldn't it be nice if this sort of logic would suffice in our real society?


"Why are you in a skirt?"
"Because it looks cute on me!"
That's all the explanation he needs.

Even if his clothing choices are purely "feminine," a statement like this reflects a rather androgynous mind.  It implies that Jun's concern isn't with being either male or female, but simply with being able to express himself in the way that makes him feel comfortable, without regard for gender rules.

Oh right– He's also openly gay, and not shy about enjoying the attention he garners from male peers.  Amusingly enough, many of the boys who fawn over Jun are fully aware of his "true" sex, and they have decided not to care, as long as he's cute.  Everyone wins!


Now, legitimately "transgender" characters in anime are rare to come by, and throughout most of the series Jun presents no exception.  To be trans* involves a drive to be a gender that doesn't match with one's body. In this idealistic animated box where a character's expression is unrestricted by matters of gender, it almost seems as if that sense of dysphoria would not exist.  Jun's life is just fine with a male body in a skirt.

...But then we get Jun's special spinoff episode, The Brilliant Day of Jun Watarase (2007).  In this brief bonus adventure, a crossfire of magic spells at school temporarily grants Jun a female body...

...and as you can see, beyond a small protrusion of the chest, she honestly doesn't look any different.


Yet, through this technicality, Jun herself feels different.  She is adorably, wholeheartedly delighted – as if this had been her wish all along.

(*Also through this technicality, though, the male students are compulsively attracted to her a hundred times more strongly than before...)

From the classic hot-and-cold transformations in Ranma ½, to the Sexy Jutsu in Naruto, the concept of magical gender-bending is nothing new, and neither is this episode.  It's no more than a well-deserved wish fulfillment for a sweethearted character, albeit a wish I never guessed Jun had.

Per expectation, it doesn't last.  In the end, Jun decides to revert back to his male body, because... well, I quote from the script, "It is a sin to be too beautiful."  The chaos that ensues from the boys' magic-fueled attraction to the newly female Jun is too overwhelming for all parties involved.  As it turns out, Jun's life with a male body in a skirt is the one that delivers the most happiness after all.


Yes, the whole scenario is fantastical and absurd.  While this story comes slightly closer than other gender-benders to actual transgender implications, it's still in no serious light.  Some viewers may justifiably take offense to how it trivializes the real process of transsexuality.  The series itself is ridiculous and fanservice-y and full of silly clichés, and I wouldn't tout it as an example of legitimate transgender representation.  Even so, at least one message stands out:  Regardless of gender's labels and technicalities, the best way to be is simply the way that brings you the most... happiness.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting take. As a transwoman myself I can say that Jun is EXACTLY the way we are in high school. We all know two things. We know we are, mostly*, biologically male. We know that we without really trying look, act/react, are treated like, and feel more like one of the girls.

    Also many of us don't want sexual reassignment surgery or view it as something optional, and nice to have but not a life or death matter. Many opt to never have it and live their whole life as a woman but without a sex change. They are called non-op.

    To get an idea of what a real life transgender woman in high school is like see the TV show "I am Jazz". You may be struck by how much of what happens to Jun is not unlike what happens to Jazz. (Which has happened to many). Specifically everyone knows she's male because they have been told but really, it seems, treats her like a female.

    *There are some subtle differences involving chromosomal and or genetic abnormalities at play.

    TLDR Jun is as much a transgender woman as 90% of Transgender women.

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