This is totally relevant, I swear.
One of the first things you learn in editorial school is to check your assumptions at the door: we can do without them, thank you very much. They don’t quite tell you how, though, and it turns out they like to pop up where you least expect it. In fact, in my experience, they tend to show up wherever it is you think yourself most well-informed. With that in mind, let me share with you a story about a girl who was reincarnated as a boy.
My initial reaction to Uragiri wa Boku no Namae wo Shitteiru (hereafter Uraboku) was more neutral than anything else. It was another one of those shows: made ostensibly to pander to a female audience with pretty guys and homoerotic subtext. It’s mostly enjoyable, if boring at times. Once I learned about Yuki’s past life as a woman, though, I became conflicted.
On the one hand, the show is pretty decent, and interesting enough I want to continue watching it. On the other hand, I saw this as an attempt to pass of any subtext between Yuki and Luka as “but not too gay,” or something to that effect. And there isn’t a quicker way to make me upset than to pass off sexual orientation as something so trivial as that.
When does it stop being subtext, again?
But, late last week, I realized something: I had assumed what the creators meant without giving it any more thought. It took reading Animanachronism’s (very insightful) “Death of the Animator” for me to see the error of my ways. Rather than trying to (cynically) discern the author’s intentions and trying to worm into his or her head, I should stick to what the show actually says, and work from there. This lands me in completely different territory.
Instead of trivializing sexual orientation, Uraboku actually rereads gender identity in about the most drastic fashion I’ve seen since Ouran High School Host Club. Yuki sees himself as a guy (aside from the odd dream or two), and he visibly and physically is one. But at least one person still thinks of him as the girl he used to be. She doesn’t worry whether Yuki saw her naked because she remembers all those times when Yuki’s past life bathed with her past life.
Compare the standard portrait of a transgendered individual: a person whose sex and gender do not match, but whose attempts to rectify the disparity (generally) meet with resistance from outside parties. The whole reincarnation thing in Uraboku actually makes things much simpler: the difference is who recognizes the difference between soul and body. In real life, the individual will recognize it; in Uraboku, his friends/family do.
Two volumes in and they’ve already gotten further than Yuki and Luka.
I mentioned Ouran above, but I’d rather compare it to something a bit older: Please Save My Earth. It does something similar with reincarnating a female as a male, but in this case the issue of romance is tackled a bit more directly. I actually rather like where it goes with it. It differs from Uraboku in how it approaches the subject, though, with the reincarnation as a male mostly brushed aside, and more of a focus on how Gyokuran and Enju should redefine their relationship.
Now, as I haven’t read the Uraboku manga I can’t really predict how in depth the series will go into this, but it is there if you look for it. And there are hints that it could be important in some way, possibly as a sign of the end. Who knows where they’ll take it, if anywhere. But I never would have noticed it if I had remained blinded by my biases.