Thursday, January 20, 2011

Gender Bending 101

Gender is a set of set of characteristics that is used distinguish between men and women. The norms and the rules of gender are dictated by society. Since the advent of the anime and manga medium, the ideas of gender has been constantly challenged. It is a genre of anime and manga that goes across all demographics. I will explore the two main variations of gender bending used in manga and anime are cross-dressing and gender changing. These main variations bend cultural notions of gender. In some stories it is used as gimmick for more laughs. In other stories, it is used as the main engine of the story to propel character development.

A scene from MM! that showcases crossdressing
Of all the gender bending types, this is the most ubiquitous. Cross-dressing is when a person of one sex wears clothes that is normally worn by people of the other sex. In the realm of anime and manga, examples of this can be seen across all demographics. For the shojo (young girls) crowd there are stories like Hana Kimi, The Gentleman Alliance, and the classic Rose of Versailles. For the shonen (young boys) crowd  there is Mei no Naisho, Maria Holic, and Prunus Girl. For the adults there are franchises like Brocken Blood, Wandering Son, and Fudanshism: Fudanshi Shugi. In each of these series, there is a prominent character who cross-dresses. In anime fandom a male who cross-dresses as a female is known as a "trap." A female who cross-dresses is known as a "reverse-trap." This type of gender bending happens often, it is not unusual for an anime series to have a cross-dressing episode or a manga to have a cross-dressing chapter, even if it is completely unrelated to the main storyline.

One of the funniest manga series ever made, Ranma 1/2
Gender Changing
This type of gender bending is particularly rare, and when it does happen it normally happens to male characters who get transformed into a female character. It also transcends demographics since there are examples that appeal to a variety of demographics. This form of gender bending happens less often in stories, so it is hard to give a list of them that is comparable to the previous one. Prominent examples of this type of gender bending are series like Ranma 1/2, Kasimashi: Girls Meets Girl, Kampfer, and Kedamono Damono. Of these, probably the classic franchise of them all is Ranma 1/2. For those of you who are unaware, Ranma 1/2 is an action-comedy by Rumiko Takahashi that is probably one of the funniest stories out there. The non sequitur sense of humor in Ranma 1/2 is timeless. You could pick up a random volume of the manga and be in stitches in a couple of minutes.

My Criticism of the Genre
Gender bending is an interesting genre for the anime and manga medium. It is represented heavily in anime and manga compared to other mediums like books and films. My issue with gender bending is that the representation in anime and manga medium tends be more on the comedic side. I believe that gender bending in a storyline has the potential to challenge society's rules and norms about gender. In that respect, gender bending is being underutilized compared to what they can do. Instead of exploring the comedic side of gender bending, it would be nice to see a more serious representation of the genre.

Just imagine this, imagine if you were a male who was transformed into a female (or a female transformed into a male if you are a girl). Yes, a story can be a comedic story about your blunders trying to fit into accepted norms of the opposite sex. Reality is actually different. The social bonds you have will be challenged, friends who used to accept you may reject you, others may take advantage of you. Then you consider the affect it will have on your love life, your school life, your professional life, etc. All of these events will have a strong effect on the person who experienced this change. There is a lot of potential for heartfelt drama to develop the character and provide insight into how culture develops and accepts the idea of gender. The closest manga to this point of view is Kasimashi, which does deal with the issue, but intersperses it with humor to break the drama.

Gender bending has the ability to challenge the notion of gender if done right. If I do have a criticism leveled toward gender bending, it is that they do not challenge the status quo enough.

In Conclusion
Gender bending is an interesting genre that allows the author to move the narrative in an unique way. The two types of gender bending are cross-dressing and gender changing anime and manga. The first one is cross-dressing, where a person of one sex wear clothes normally worn by the other sex. Cross-dressing is quite ubiquitous in anime and manga and there are countless examples of this sub-genre of gender bending. The other one is gender changing, which is when a person physically transforms into the other sex. Gender changing happens far more infrequently in anime and manga. While I do think that this genre is interesting, my criticism is that they do not take advantage of the dramatic aspects of gender bending to challenge society's rules and norms of gender.

Let me know what you think about this genre.

Gender Bending 102


Tom said...

Great work Kris, I appreciate the analysis. I was curious if you think that the industry would be willing to take a chance on a dramatic look at the gender bending genre, when the safe bet is the moe dating sim genre.
Anyways, great stuff, and talk with ya later.

KrisZ said...

The manga and anime industry are like any industry, they need to make money. I don't believe that the market as is would demand a more serious look at the genre. Comedy sells, so it has to have some comedic elements to appeal to people.

I was just opining a desire to see the genre take a serious look to change cultural notions of gender.