Through luck or agency, I happen to have a plate full of manga and books that deal with gender identity – or, more accurately, use gender identity and gender roles as a springboard for their plots. I thought it might be interesting to review all of these in a row in no particular order whatsoever. I’m not sure if there’s a point to any of this, but it might be a good way to foster conversation on the relative merit of each – or not. Let’s see. :-)
So, we’re going to start off with Kedamono Damono, a silly shoujo manga with little or no merit. ^_^
Konatsu is the manager of her school’s boy’s basketball team and in love with one of the upperclassmen on the team. When she tracks down troublemaker Haruki to drag him to basketball camp, she learns that Haruki’s reluctance was due to his secret – at night he becomes a girl, and is overcome with “perverse” desires. Pretty quickly, female Haruki devlops a relationship with Konatsu, who is happy enough to be doing such “perverse” things with her. In his male form Haruki is awkward and pathetic – he and Natsuo are always on one side or the other of a misunderstanding, but it’s fairly apparent that he loves her and vice versa. For her part, she wants him to say he loves her in his day form, since she’s already gotten that from his night form. He wants to do something super special and just keeps effing up for many and various complications which masquerade as the plot.
If one takes one’s brain away, this story is cute. There’s no doubt that Konatsu is happy with Haruki’s female form – she says as much, that she enjoys her relationship with Haruki as a girl, a lot. She just wants both sides of Haruki, which wouldn’t be asking too much if there was any sense to this story at all. ^_^
Haruki’s painful awkwardness sort of ruins what could be a sweet manga, because as a boy he’s a total spaz. He keeps finding himself in dumb situations because of his inability to communicate, something I term the “Jondalar syndrome, after the lead male of a Jean Auel book in which the *entire* plot was predicated upon the fact that Ayla and Jondalar simply never spoke to one another. And thus it is here. We know that Konatsu and Haruki are, indeed, spending nights together. In all that time apparently they cannot simply have a conversation. It mars what is otherwise a fairly enjoyable manga. Of course, should they actually *discuss* their feelings, the manga would have to end and all of shoujo manga would be reduced to “I like you” “I like you too, let’s go out.” “Okay.” And we simply cannot have that, can we?
The gender issue is handled as a gag. Haruki clearly perceives it as a curse and a secret to hide. This is not Hazumu of Kashimashi, where, as Serge puts it, the aliens fixed what nature broke. Haruki does not want to be, nor is he reconciled to being, a woman. I found it got tired pretty shortly after Konatsu made it clear that she didn’t care in the least. His continued mortification exhausted me. That he tried to hide his family from Konatsu because they too switch gender at night, was just stupid. Obviously, she was okay with it, doofus. Use your words and explain things. She’ll understand.
If I were smarter, I’d insert a clever comment here about how Haruki’s gender switching could represent his unconscious desire to connect with women which he does by becoming one. Or that, more probably, it represents his still immature sexual desire which, since it is not given as outlet as a male, is given leave to be expressed as a female – since we all know that sex between women isn’t “real” sex. But I’m not feeling that smart today. I encourage you all to theorize in the comments section. Why do *you* think Haruki turns into a girl? (Saying something obvious like, “It’s a plot complication to drive a mediocre shoujo romance manga” is forbidden. I will not accept a paucity of imagination in this. Be creative. Be more creative than the mangaka. “That shouldn’t be too hard,” says the wife.)
In any case, Haruki as a girl is significantly less dorky than Haruki as a boy (she is even drawn less dorky, with an emphasis on graceful and sexy curves, where boy Haruki is awkward angles and jerky motions) and gets more kisses too. There is a lesson in that, I have no doubt. ^_^ One of my justifications for calling this a Yuri manga is that what physical relationship we see is largely between the two girls. Another is that calling it a “sexual minority/gender identity manga” is clunky and calling it a transgender manga isn’t accurate – certainly no more than the Yuri label.
Whether this manga remains readable will have a lot to do with how the mangaka portrays Haruki dealing with his gender switching. If he just learns to deal, that would be nice. Konatsu and Haruki like each other, that’s not really in question. But will Haruki have to resolve the gender issue, or can he simply be who he is and still get the girl? My guess is that the next complication (since Konatsu already has another guy after her) will be that girl Haruki is pursued by a guy, with ensuing complications. I’m willing to wait it all out, if I could just be sure that the end wouldn’t suck. ^_^;
For a story of transgenderism, I’d score it pretty low. Not something I’d give to someone who was trying to find themselves in our irritatingly rigid two-gender system. But Haruki makes a pretty good bisexual character, so maybe there is a silver lining in this particular cloud.
Art – 7
Characters – 5, with flashes of 7
Story – 6
Yuri – a bent sort of 7
Service – 5
Overall – 7
As withAkane from Ranma 1/2, I find myself hoping that Konatsu will be left alone to enjoy the best of both worlds. ^_^