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.
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.