LGBTQ Manga: Torikaebaya, (とりかえ・ばや) Volume 2

May 20th, 2014

In my review of Volume 1 of this gorgeous manga version of the classic Heian story, Torikaebaya (とりかえ・ばや), I discussed the story’s history. Today, we’ll talk about the protagonists of the story.

Two children born on the same day to the same father, but different mothers – a girl, Sarasojuu, who is now living as a young man in the Heian Imperial court and her brother, Suiren who is living as a woman in the women’s quarters. They look so similar, they could be twins, and they are both beautiful. They are also, however, unsuited to the sex into which they were born, and as Volume 2 begins, both of them are passing with their father’s and his older brother’s knowledge and consent…and I want to take a moment to say, Dad’s kind of awesome, really. He’s gotta know the chances of this going well are slim. But he’s owning it. As we shall see.

Sarasoju befriends another young courtier, Tsuwabuki and they, like guys do, have contests of arms and talking smack. Tsuwabuki loves his dear friend, but Sarasoju is never able to truly relax around him. How could she? The moment she’s discovered, it’s all over. (Note: If this were a story in a modern context, I would be referring to Sarasoju and Suiren by the sex that they present as, but for the moment, since the idea that they are passing in world in which trans* people do not exist is the conflict at the heart of the story, I will continue to use their birth sex pronouns. My sincere apologies to anyone who disagrees with my choice.) To complicate matters,  Sarasoju receives a marriage offer from the Fourth Princess, Shinohime. At a very fraught discussion with her uncle and father, Sarasoju goes all in and agrees to accept the offer.

Tsuwabuki is livid at the news – how dare Sarasoju get married without telling him! They have a fight, which they heal up in the time-honored way of beating the crap out of each other and Tsuwabuki confesses that he wants to get married, too…to Suiren. Erk! Erm, Sarasoju tries to put him off, but it’s not happening.

Sarasoju takes up the position of husband to Shinohime, but their relationship is, for the moment, platonic. However, Ume-tsubo, one of the ladies of the court is convinced that Sarasoju is female and has several times tried to catch her out. She corners Shinohime and asks about the sex with her new husband…. Shinohime chalks up their lack of sex life to Sarasoju’s age, since they are 7 years apart. But seeds of discontent are sown.

In the meantime, Suiren has taken up a position with Toguu-sama, the Crown Princess and has been requested to write stories for her entertainment. He is up late one night writing when Tsuwabuki barges in and forces his attentions upon Suiren. Suiren counters with a hysterical reaction about hating men, and beans him with an inkstone. Tsuwabuki retreats, feeling like a heel. Sarasoju tries to console him by explaining that Suiren has a deep aversion to men, but Tsuwabuki has a different problem now.

Having seen Suiren, he’s decided that Sarasoju is better looking…a thought that freaks him out. Homosexuality is not unknown, but it is considered the purview of Buddhist priests and creepy dudes. He encounters Shikibukyo no Miya, a metrosexual sodomite wearing a wisteria flower in his cap, swallows his pride, and asks about homosexuality. Shikubukyo is pretty much as creepy as possible, leaving Tsuwabuki even more uncomfortable with his desire for Sarasoju than before. Unable to sleep, tormented by his own desires, Tsuwabuki sees Shinohime in her garden and again, does the unthinkable by barging in on her in her quarters as the volume comes to an end.

This description makes Tsuwabuki seem like the bad guy in the story, but he’s really not. If there is indeed a bad guy, it’s Ume-tsubo.

The question I had when I began reading this series was “Will this be a comedy or a tragedy?”. As I finish Volume 2 I am no closer to an answer, really. But now I’m annoyed as heck I didn’t just pick up Volume 3 when I had the chance!

Art – 9
Story – 8
Characters – 9
Service – 2

Overall – 9

Saitou Chiho’s art is gorgeous, of course, and the story remains elusive as of yet. Volume 3 will have to be where we address at least one of the multiple impending crises. Yikes, but you know I’m going to read it. ^_^

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8 Responses

  1. JRB says:

    Huh. I read the original quite a while ago, so my memory is fuzzy, but it sounds like this adaptation is pretty different in plot detail even though it follows the overall story. It does look pretty, though, and I’d like to read it, although it is one of those things we’ll probably never see in English. It’s not even available in French…

    • There are two versions of the Torikaebaya extent. One is mostly meant to be read as erotic comedy, the other had a mostly-happy ending. The western translation was done in the early 20th century and not surprisingly cleaned up most of the erotic and the happy for a suitably tragic morality play. We don’t really know what the original was intended as. I’m perfectly comfortable with Saitou-sense’s re-telling this tale as a story of trans* life and willing to see where it goes. ^_^

      • JRB says:

        The Willig translation was published in 1983, which I would hardly call “the early 20th century”, although it seems to be based on an early 70’s Japanese edition that may have been bowderized. Personally I wouldn’t describe the ending of that edition “tragic”, or at least not intentionally so; the most-tragic part is that Sarasojuu gets sidelined about halfway through the story so it can focus on her husband’s accumulation of additional wives, and spends most of the rest of the book stuck in various women’s quarters doing nothing much. The story does occasionally stop to sympathize with how stifling her new conditions must be to her, but it never rises to the level of tragedy.

  2. Let me fix a slight flaw; The title Tōgū (lit. East Palace) refers to the CROWN prince/princess. The east is considered as the primal direction in Chinese cosmology (Gogyō), so a crown prince/princess’ residence is called East Palace.

  3. OK! So, “Tōgū” in the beginning of the story refers to the long-haired guy married with Umetsubo, but after he was enthroned, his niece (her late father was the former Empelor) became Tōgū. A little bit complicated (;´Д`). Sometimes she is called “Onna Tōgū” (女東宮, female crown princess) for it is rather rare in Japanese imperial succeeding system to appoint a girl to the position.

    (Some part of the manga have “Nyo Tōgū” as phonetic for 女東宮, but these are typos. Onna Tōgū is correct.)☆-(₍>͞o ∂͈))D)ノシ

    • Thank you – that’s very helpful. I was a little confused as to why she was being referred to as Toguu, when the (now) Emperor had previously held that title.

      My dictionaries are pretty good, but can’t explain these details properly. Thank you very much for clarifying.

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