Cross-Dressing in Manga and Anime, A Japanese take on gender and sexuality.

For a while now I have noticed that there is a startling amount of cross-dressing of gender-bender manga around, while trawling through several online manga sites it appeared that about 1 in 4 manga had something to do with either cross-dressing, gender bender or both.

What I find fascinating about these genres is that they appear to exist in a country that seems to largely reject any notion of homosexuality or deviance from the strict set of moral codes that has existed for centuries.

But what is also fascinating about these two genres is that the ways in which they appear. Men who dress as woman and look and act so much like women that they are in fact more of a ‘woman’ than others around, similarly there are women who dress as men and are so handsome that they are more of a ‘man’ than others.

This bluring of the gender boundaries is often used for comic amusement, however there are often very specific reasons for this cross-dressing. More often than not it is to do with chasing after a loved one who has moved away, or more classically moved to an all boys or all girl school. The obsession shown by the other party will lead them to cross-dress and pose as a member of the opposite sex in order to enter said school and continue to be together with their lover.

There is one anime and its accompanying manga that I was watching in particular called Otome wa Boku ni Koishiteru whereby a boy in order to gain his inheritance has to enter a very strict all girls school that appears to be very traditional in order to train ‘proper ladies’. He therefore has to dress as a girl with the help of some very extreme make-up including full stick on breasts in order to pass himself off as a girl. What is so curious about this particular work is that even when he is not cross-dressing the main character has all the characteristics of a girl anyway, a very feminine face, long elegant hair and a very un-boyish manner. What is also particulary fascinating is that when he enters the academy his beauty is so stunning that he immediately attracts the attention of everyone around, so much so that he becomes this elected head of the academy as a symbol of how elegant and proper a woman can become.

Within this particular manga and anime, while there are many comic elements, including the obligatory bath scene, the majority of it takes place within the school buildings and subsequent academic and extra curricular activities. Within this setting it is easy to forget that the main protagonist is in fact a boy, rather you as a reader or viewer forget about this little detail very quickly and the series quickly becomes one of Shoujo Ai (girls love, but not quite lesbian) following the romantic elements of the plot. Here we have a perfect example of a boy being so convincing as a woman or girl that he becomes that gender, as a mentioned the viewer quicly forgets about the fact that he is cross-dressing and instead starts to view him as a girl, this is in turn further emphasized by how he is perfect is almost every way and is seen as some sort of ‘queen’ or perhaps more accurately a ojou-sama by most of the student population.

This startling aspect of having those who cross-dress appear as so convincing that they effectively become the other gender is in stark contrast to how cross-dressing and other such activities appear to be viewed within Japanese society. There are regular elements of cross-dressing manga whereby the cross-dresser is ridiculed and socieally alientated after being found out. But perhaps this obsession with cross-dressing, gender changes and other genres belies a need to find an outlet for emotions and characteristics that are by and large rejected by the strict social conditions within Japanese society.