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).

In Wish, a successful young doctor named Shuichiro Kudo rescues an angel he finds stuck in a tree.  In return, the angel offers to grant him any wish he desires.  As an independent working man, Shuichiro doesn't fancy the idea of having something handed to him, so he refuses the offer... but the angel Kohaku remains by his side, determined to repay him somehow, and feelings begin to develop between them.

In this story's world, angels are said not to possess any gender, a fact that is relatively easy to keep consistent in Japanese but less so in English translation.  English-language releases of the manga are forced to apply "he" or "she" to the characters depending on the closest visual match.  Kohaku becomes a "she."  At face value, then, the summary starts to sounds like a very standard and convenient romantic trope  a magical woman who drops out of the sky into a man's arms  while, on the contrary, CLAMP intends to frame the relationship as anything but convenient and simple.

Wish is in fact largely about the challenges that face nontraditional relationships. The human male protagonist and his genderless companion – who, incidentally, appears in an even less sex-distinct chibi form half the time in order to conserve power – are decidedly not a straightforward heterosexual fantasy.

Neither are the couple above on the right.  Interconnecting with the main story is a second romance, an affair between another angel (Hisui, Kohaku's heavenly superior) and a demon (Kokuyo, the prince of hell).  Both are shunned from their respective realms because their relationship is considered strictly taboo.  Of course, that taboo is literally due to their divine titles.  But there also stands the fact that the angel is androgynous and genderless, visually framing it as a nontraditional relationship in another light.

For many readers, the general idea of 'androgyny' may still evoke nothing more than a quirky trap, the trap in which translators too are caught.  A mystery of gender is thought to be necessarily solvable, pinned down to one label or the other.  But for CLAMP, it's more than a trick, more than an aesthetic, and rather a vivid sense of fluid identity with deeper connotations.  Androgyny often seems to serve as a symbol for a sense of "resisting definition" in extended context.

By the climax of the manga, Kohaku has come to understand the feeling of love, and Shuichiro has likewise realized that what he "wishes" is for Kohaku to stay with him forever.  However, being human, he soon tragically and suddenly passes away.  ...Luckily, even this is not the end.  If no unwritten rule in either the human or the divine world could keep them apart, why should death?  Kohaku waits for a whole hundred years to meet a newly reincarnated Shuichiro, ready to continue their relationship and fulfill their shared wish.

Unbound by age, by origin, or by gender, Kohaku and Shuichiro represent a classic CLAMP romance:  one that can transcend any possible limit.  I knew there must be a reason that CLAMP's relationships tend to strike me more deeply than the average manga romance.  Their stories are often quite fantastic, which is to say, highly fantasy-based:  exploring romances between humans and non-humans, or romances in deliberate defiance of magical curses and universal conspiracies.  Regardless, these forbidden fantasies ring familiar with, to borrow Julie's words, the overarching theme of "different kinds of love."  As is the role of androgyny in animation, it creates a visual platform for a sentiment that can sincerely be applied to fostering acceptance in reality  acceptance of identities and relationships that don't meet traditional (gendered) expectations, yet can be just as beautiful.

No comments:

Post a Comment