It’s been a while since I did one of these, so I thought it was about time I continue this series. This week, I’m going to be talking about gender-bending in manga and anime. A term some may be familiar with but other not so much.
In its purest form, gender bending is exactly what it says. In most cases, there is a character that gets his or her gender switched. However, people masquerading or controlling an avatar of the opposite gender can also fall under gender-bending. A very simple term compared to previous ones. The reason I didn’t cover this term earlier is because gender-bending isn’t unique. It’s something that’s has been thoroughly explored, but I feel the Japanese play around with this concept more often than others, hence why I’m talking about it here.
So, what does gender bending add to a story? So far from what I have seen, there are two flavours of this. The first is that the gender-bend is integral to the plot, meaning the protagonist gets gender swapped more often than not. The second is that the gender-bend is not integral to the plot, meaning a one off or supporting character gets gender swapped. In this blog, I’ll be ignoring the second category. Most of the time, the gender swap is just an aspect of the character and adds to their complexity. Other than that, their gender swap doesn’t really effect the overall story besides when the plot focuses on it. At that point, it’s more like the supporting character temporally assumes the role of the protagonist, because it’s their story arc. My point is, that if an author decides to put gender-bending into their story, it either holds a really significant role or none at all. Gender-bending isn’t something you can just touch upon, instead it’s something the author builds upon. Regardless, in either case the author will end up focusing on the gender bending at some point.
Now, the question becomes if gender-bending is so important to the plot, what’s the plot? In my experience with gender bending, each story adds their own twist. Almost none of the manga I’ve read has what I could consider identical plots with a fresh coat of paint. However, this won’t mean I can’t list some more general trends of how gender-bending is used.
The first trend, is usually getting their original body back. In stories like these, for whatever reason, the protagonist looses their original gender to due to an incident and must find a way to get it back. The inciting incident can be super natural in nature or completely sci-fi. That is reason this trend is so broad, if I narrowed the conditions down any further it could hardly be considered a trend. A good example of this trend is Ranma 1/2.
The second one, is what I call adapting. For these stories, the protagonist can no longer get their body back. Instead, they must now adapt to their new body and live out the rest of their life. Due to the slightly boring nature of this type of gender bending, it is most often seen in romance scenarios. For example, one of my favourite manga uses this kind of scenario. It involves two childhood friends. They are both male and one of them has a fear of girls. During their second year in high school, one of the males get turned into a female due to an irreversible disease. I personally just found the plot really intriguing, it lead to so much character development between the two friends and their eventual romance.
Forth, is a rather short one I call VRMMO. Personally, I consider this more of an extension of the first. Basically, in this plot there is usually a VRMMO involved. In this MMO, the protagonist controls a character of the opposite gender, more often than not for comedic purposes. Notable examples of this are Prince 1/2 and Only Sense Online.
Finally, the last trend is hiding gender. Like trend number two, this one usually involves heavy amounts romance. In stories like these, the male or female lead needs to crossdress for whatever reason. Examples of some of the more popular reasons are to join a gender specific club or to join a certain group. For this reason, the hiding gender trend is usually associated with the sports and drama genres. Regardless of the reason for their joining, the crossdressing lead eventually falls in love for one of the other club members or their coworker, depending on the situation. In the end, the crossdressing lead ends up playing a dangerous game of hiding and pursuing their love, which is fun to read most of the time. Compared to other forms of gender-bending, this trend is much more grounded in reality.
Overall, I hope the explanation I gave was satisfactory to those who didn’t know much about the topic. Although gender-bending is fairly well known topic, I feel there are plenty of ways to explore it. Personally, I find it a shame that there aren’t more good gender-bending stories out there. Next time, I’ll probably cover the terms I mentioned weeks ago, Yaoi and Yuri.