Problems with Genshiken Nidaime and it’s handling of gender issues

Genshiken-Nidaime-01-245

Of the Summer 2013 season of anime, Genshiken Nidaime was one of my favorite shows to air. It’s sort of a different beast from past seasons of Genshiken since it takes away a lot of the commentary on otaku which made Genshiken great in the first place, and replaces it with something fascinating—having the story largely focus on the shy crossdresser, Hato. However, the way the show deals with its themes on crossdressing is a bit troublesome to say the least. Hato’s crossdressing is often used for situation comedy, and a lot of the characters don’t really react to Hato’s crossdressing in the most ideal way, and I even know of a couple trans people who disliked the series because of this.

I myself am a trans woman, but truth be told I found it hilarious just how terrible the cast treated Hato, especially in the early episodes before they all sort of started to learn better. I could say that it’s okay for me to laugh at Hato’s poor treatment since I’m of the minority which is being used for laughs, but that’s not exactly true. Back when it was early in its broadcast I tried to defend Genshiken Nidaime in twitter conversations and even a First Impression post on it for Population GO. I’ve since realized however that the reason I initially didn’t see much problem with it may be because I’ve actually experienced little if any misfortune for being trans. Back when I was early in transition I was often misgendered and got weird looks (among other forms of the “casual cissexism” that tumblr users love to whine about,) but I count myself very fortunate that that’s all I’ve ever had to put up with. So with that being said I don’t really know what it’s like to be in a situation like Hato’s, which is probably why it’s so easy for me to laugh at it.

The big issue with Genshiken Nidaime and its take on gender issues is that it tries to attempt a realistic and positive portrayal of a crossdresser, without really having any apparent knowledge of gender issues or why many even crossdress in the first place.

To the shows credit, it at least never sends off the message that its wrong for Hato to crossdress. Upon realizing that Hato is an MtF crossdresser, some of the characters react poorly with shock and even some transphobia; others try to make Hato feel comfortable in well-intentioned, but misguided ways like when Ohno decides to play “spot the trap” with Madarame, and then there’s that whole skirt-flipping scene with Yajime and Rika. So most of the characters don’t really treat Hato in the most ideal way, but by the final episode they all learn to accept Hato for the way they are (or are at least be tolerable rather than bigoted,) so it’s clear that Nidaime ultimately has no intention of sending a negative message about trans people.

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Something that’s a bit confusing about the series is that at first it seems as if Hato is transgender and wishes to be female, but by the end it becomes a lot less clear of why exactly Hato crossdresses in the first place. This is nice in a way since it leaves it open to interpretation rather than give a concrete answer, but troublesome at the same time since there’s still several explanations thrown out in an attempt to rationalize and justify Hato’s crossdressing—none of which consider that it could just be a part of Hato’s inherit gender identity, which in reality is why the majority of people crossdress.

The first explanation is that Hato essentially only crossdresses so that they can read BL, due to a bad experience with a previous club who reacted poorly when finding out that Hato as a male was into BL. That’s a bit off-putting since it implies that people crossdress due to trauma, which certainly isn’t true in most cases. Then later it’s implied that Hato may do it because they’re gay, which is bad since sexuality doesn’t really have anything to do with crossdressing. And then the third and probably most sensible (i.e. least problematic since it’s technically a valid reason,)  Madarame rationalizes Hato’s crossdressing as just another otaku hobby and obsession. The way Nidaime tries to explain Hato’s crossdressing isn’t the most ideal, though to its credit it at least tries to do so in a way that doesn’t outright dismiss Hato’s identity.

So overall Genshiken Nidaime had a lot of issues concerning how it dealt with Hato’s story, though I would still argue that it’s certainly not the worst of its kind. I did still find the whole series hilarious regardless though, and none of these objective opinions really have much affect on the rating I would give it on MAL (a 7/10, in fact.) But as they say, it’s perfectly okay to enjoy a problematic story, so long as you understand why it’s problematic.

Shout out to Tobiichi, who in a twitter conversation was the one that made me start to think more critically about why some may find Genshiken Nidaime objectionable. As some related reading, she recently posted a great article writing about the problems with the term “trap” and her personal experience with it as a trans woman, and currently has more articles on transgender characters in anime to come.

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16 Responses to Problems with Genshiken Nidaime and it’s handling of gender issues

  1. tobiichi says:

    Reblogged this on A Certain Blogging Tobiichi and commented:
    A very well-written and thoughtful post about how Genshiken treat transgender/crossdressing issues. Please read it, it links very much up with some of the stuff I’m currently writing.

  2. Was pondering whether to comment on this or not, well, why not give it a go anyway. I wrote something similar about genshinken and sexuality except I ain’t no transgender (plus my writing sucks so it’s like a bunch of unstructured thoughts) I’m just a guy that loves to know more about this stuff in a social scope. I don’t know if Genshiken is trying to make a case here with Hato. I know a season ago it was dealing with self-hatred with Oguie. Whether it’s executed correctly… well, I can’t say.

    Warning to the comment readers I’ll be adding spoilers of the manga here.

    The character, Hato, and the problem that is around him all relates to acceptance. True, Yajima reflects a lot of her dislike about Hato’s appearance. Her character is pretty weak/unstable in terms of showing real transphobia since nowhere in the manga is shown to actually treat Hato like total crap.

    Hato’s past is open for interpretation in a way… him falling for Madarame wasn’t because of his looks or whatever, more because he just accepted him for what he was, he never disrespected him like the others. That is, he also never thought he was homosexual, even in the anime you could see the awkward moment when Hato mentions he isn’t homosexual, Madarame is dumbfounded by the remark like he never thought about it thus Hato was too self-conscious.

    Now, have we ever wondered (and questioned) why Hato has a two floating girls? They are him alright. Except, he denies them with everything he can so to never stray from the path of manliness (?!). In the past he was curious, he took a BL doujinshi to the bathroom as to not get caught, but when he came back he was seen by one of the club members which handed poorly the situation thus falling into everyone’s gossip. I don’t know if Hato was already questioning his sexuality in high school, I’m betting it would be a yes. Also, in a interpretation, apparently Hato had a thing for his brother(not sure, there isn’t much, it’s just what her senpai says).

    So going back to the two floating girls, I think I could interpret it that he hasn’t accepted them–or more like he hasn’t accepted who he is. Later in the manga, the whole harem plot starts to gain momentum where he retires after finding complex feelings on wanting to be with Madarame, in Comitek event he comes back as a guy. He says he’s slowly becoming a girl by crossdressing–I want to make a note here that I don’t think the author wants to say crossdressing equals girl, but that hato is just using that as an scapegoat.

    As for why he crossdresses is unclear. In a way he does it so that he’s accepted, it was the perfect mask until Kuchiki took off his wig. If we throw in reality, then we could assume that Hato is one hardcore mothertrucker to go into those lengths just to read/talk BL with everyone.

    Well, I’ll stop now. I’m sorry if I’m being pretentious or annoying, that isn’t my intention :[. I won’t pretend that I know what it is to live as a transgender. I can but to read and try to understand the best I can.

    • Yeah I agree with your points about Nidaime’s central theme being about acceptance, since as I said in the post it did ultimately have a fairly positive message. The issue about the characters acting transphobic around Hato though is that we’re also supposed to like these characters—which although that wasn’t really a problem for me, I can see why it would perturb others.

      The reasons given for why Hato might crossdress are technically valid, since there are a lot of reasons for why someone might crossdress, but these reasons are far from why most people crossdress in reality. It came off like the author was trying to rationalize or justify Hato’s crossdressing, which although well-intentioned, is bad since someone crossdressing merely so people will accept them as a BL fan just seems awfully silly (especially if Hato is supposed to be cisgender.)

      Can’t really comment on your points about the manga since I haven’t read it. I plan on reading it at some point, so it’ll be interesting to see how differently it concludes it.

  3. Joel says:

    So it sounds like this plot point was a step in the right direction by well-meaning people who still don’t have a clue what they’re talking about.

  4. mudakun says:

    Hi, stumbled upon this, and will probably excerpt in my blog as it answer part of a question.. What do real life trans folk think of the Hato character. The other part, what do real life fudanshi’s (male BL enthusiasts) think of his character has yet to be answered, though I have pestered a fudanshi blogger for a nidiame anime review/ opinion.

    Hato, of course is a construction that fuses a trans character with a fudanshi character and leaves all the aspects in suspension for plot-juice. My own personal theory/ hobby horse was that as a nominally straight-ish male who enjoys 2d BL -which is how he was written in the manga, he was a stand-in for a prominent Japanese lesbian fujoshi theorist who wrote a lot of stuff about fujoshi and yaoi circa 2002-2007, but the mangaka feared yuri trope takeover and went with a crossdressing male instead. The Nidiame anime loses much of this, and the mangaka has moved both in the anime and the manga towards using the “only this guy BL mad love trope” to justify (or for Hato to justify to himself) Hato’s growing feelings for Madarame. This last is part of my hobby horsing too, because the RL theorist in question made a name for herself attacking the “I’m not gay, Its only you” trope as her personal mission. So, the portrayal of Hato as a crossdressing male is more prone to clumsiness because his crossdressing – for whatever reason, started as a plot convenience and grew in the telling. There is also the weirdness that his 1st choice ensemble for female presentation is a dead ringer for the uber-fujoshi who he looked up to/ crushed on, and who is marrying his brother. (But wait- if she cropped her hair, she’d look like….) – so again if Hato is a clumsily rendered trans character, the blame must fall on what he was created to do, which is a bit too odd and too much.
    But I go on too long – my bad… I thank you for the insightful post, as well as the links to tobiichi blog, where I see I really should be more careful using the term trap, and reserve “trap-character” as a term for a poorly written character that panders to negative stereotypes. Will have to find better terms, including one for the ubiquitous “dresses female for a thin plot reason taht denies sexuality” (eg Tripeace, Usotsuki Lily). Thanks again…
    – Muda

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  9. angemusicien says:

    I’m necro-ing this blog post.

    Just to say (I’m transitionning myself), it didn’t shock me, and it won’t shock me either way. To me it’s quite the same problem as the one we encounter with feminism. Anything can “trigger” someone who’s easily triggerable. It’s not a reason to change something that shouldn’t be changed and actually does no harm. Hato is a wonderful character and it’s a positive thing to have her in Genshiken. She’s in no way a subject of laugh and discrimination. It would be a problem if transgenders were depicted as animals only subject of laughing, but Hato is the exact opposite : it’s a cute character, very human… The trans community really gains from her being in genshiken !

    By the way, Hato IS transgender. I’m sorry to shock/spoil everyone but Madarame ends up with Saki (she gets pregnant with his baby), and Hato does transition later on. You can find her as a side character in the manga about Saki pregnancy, “Spotted Flower’ (and this manga is awesome by the way)

    • Sorry for the terribly slow reply.

      Yeah, I definitely agree that Genshiken Nidaime, or anything for that matter, should not be changed just because it might trigger someone. I never implied such a thing in my post though; all I did was try to approach its themes on gender issues from a more critical and “objective” perspective than I did upon an initial viewing. I still loved the show for what it was, even if I didn’t think it’s attempt at portraying gender issues was perfect. And even then those issues never really bothered me, even if I criticized them in this blog post. Again, it was an attempt at being more critical of the work.

      Thanks for the comment. Now I should really read Genshiken and Spotted Flower…

    • Jewelfox says:

      For what it’s worth, trigger warnings in media usually serve as a “yellow light” to readers, in that they say “proceed with caution if this might upset you.” It’s sort of like movie ratings, except with an eye towards being safe for vulnerable people instead of being marketable.

      I don’t think anyone’s calling for the censorship of all media that might merit one.

      Personally, I’m very “easily triggerable,” and that’s why I looked up reviews like this. I wanted to know what I’d be getting into if I watched this anime. I wanted to see how they portrayed her.

  10. ryanstevendodd says:

    I think the intent was as much to show how people react to this in an Otaku culture in Japan as oppose to exploring the personal motivations of the character. I agree that it wasn’t particularly well handled though.

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