Putting the “En(d)” in Otomen: Queerbaiting and the Loss of LGBTQ+ Stories

By now, dear audience, you’re probably a little Otomen-ed out and are wondering when I’m going to stop talking about this series. Fear not; this is the last one (unless something ridiculous happens in the last volume, which I highly doubt)! You made it! Give yourself a pat on the back.

Otomen Asuka JutaHaving tackled the issues of Aya Kanno’s dichotomy concerning gender roles and the confused tone of the series, it’s about time to look at one of the more obvious points of contention: LGBTQ+ representation. It saddens me to say this, too, because starting out I really thought this series was going to be progressive in that sense. However, much like most media here in the States, a lot of the queer plot points are left to subtext and essentially ignored in favor of giving everyone heterosexual relationships. The most offensive example of this blatant refusal to address this issue shows up in discussions of Asuka’s dad, Hiromi.

Otomen Hiromi FlashbackOtomen starts with the flashback in which Hiromi left Asuka and his mother because he wanted to live his life as a woman. This is, in theory, promising: I would love, love to see more trans representation in comics, especially in the typically female safe space of shoujo comics. Yet, by the end of the seventeenth volume, there is no representation of the sort to be seen. When Asuka finally meets his father—although unbeknownst to Asuka at the time—he is still living as a man and seems completely comfortable doing so. In fact, every instance where Asuka tries to ask his father, and the people close to his father, about that whole “wanting to be a woman” lifestyle choice he decided was important enough to leave their family for, something happens to interrupt the conversation. Now, I can remain hopeful that Hiromi still holds that desire to live as a woman and is simply trying to get enough money for hormones or is still trying to become comfortable with the idea of presenting as female in Japan’s more conservative society. However, I can’t help but feel this faith is misplaced. At no point have we, the audience, been given any clue that Hiromi actually wants to live his life as a woman.

In fact, the way things are going, it almost feels as though he made that statement because it would be easier to be judged for being trans than to be judged for being an otomen. Not only is this an outlandish claim, but also an insulting one that ignores the struggles and dangers real trans people go through every day. Especially since Hiromi didn’t exactly have a reason to feel that way. Despite all of Kiyomi’s hatred towards otomen and the otomen lifestyle, before Hiromi left her it didn’t really… seem like she minded all that much. In fact, his otomen-ness comes off as one of the reasons she married him in the first place: she liked his baking, she liked how gentle he was. So if this is what he was getting at, it doesn’t mesh with the background information we’ve already been given.

What’s worse about Hiromi’s situation in terms of the audience is that a few volumes before to his first appearance.we’re introduced to a mysterious, androgynous person who seems to be following Asuka. For a couple chapters we’re left wondering if that person is Asuka’s prodigal father, finally living his life as a woman like he always wanted. In the end, though, it ends up being Hiromi’s sister. I don’t know if I can exactly label that as queerbaiting, but it was baiting of some kind.

Probably to the surprise of no one, this series has its own fair share of actual queerbaiting. One of the more blatant examples of this is with the character Juta. Outside of the main couple of Ryo and Asuka, Juta acts as a sort of third wheel and is actually responsible for hooking the two up. However, Juta also considers Asuka very special in a way in a way that no one else is. For the longest time Juta—under the penname Jewel Sachihana—has been using Asuka as a model for the protagonist in his shoujo manga “Love Chic”. As such, Juta hangs around Asuka an awful lot, gathering material for future plots, but as the story goes on it can be argued that there are other reasons.

As a character archetype, Juta tries to show himself off as a playboy and surrounds himself with as many cute girls as he can. Yet time and time again he makes the comment that Asuka is the cutest of all the girls and quickly abandons his actual harem to hang out with the otomen. Although Juta selfishly helps Asuka out with his romance troubles for the sake of his manga, over the course of Otomen the two form a very close relationship. Additionally, while Juta states that he loves women, he never actually makes any moves toward dating one. While this can easily be written off as him not having gotten over his first love (who moved away), he seems unable to forge any close relations with anyone else besides Asuka. The two even go on a pseudo-date without any pretense attached to it.

I don't know how else you want me to interpret this...

I don’t know how else you want me to interpret this…

Ryo also gained a fan during the course of the manga. At the end of the perfect woman contest I spoke of in my first article, one of the other contestants—the shoe-in for victor—ends up crushing on Ryo. At first this girl believes that Asuka is the perfect man, and as the perfect woman she deserved to be with him more than Ryo did. However, Ryo proves herself as manly in her own way, thus grabbing her “rival’s” affections. We don’t hear much more from her but in a Valentine’s chapter it’s shown that she made a substantial chocolate heart for the tomboy. Despite this, the crush is played off as more of a respect thing and something to add comedic value.

Lastly, we return to Hiromi once more. When we run into Hiromi later in the series, we discover that he’s been running a bakery by himself, but he doesn’t live alone. One of Asuka’s teachers, Mr. Amakashi, is rooming with him. Amakashi is Hiromi’s sister’s ex. However, he is still close with Hiromi, so much so that Asuka questions his relationship with his father. Again, their conversation is interrupted, but Amakashi makes a comment that he can’t say anything because they “aren’t even going out”. The wording here is particularly strange. “Even” implies that there could be some sort of relationship, but although the tone of Otomen is already confused at that point, something like Hiromi and Amakashi being friends with benefits doesn’t seem likely. This is probably the closest the series will get to having an actual queer relationship, but even if they do end up dating, I don’t think counts as proper representation.

Care to elaborate a bit? No? Fantastic...

Care to elaborate a bit? No? Fantastic!

Although Otomen set out to dismantle our concept of gender roles and not to provide LGBTQ+ representation per sé, by making one of the driving forces of the plot Hiromi’s supposed desire to break free of his heteronormativity, it causes the reader to begin looking at events from that angle. I’m disappointed with how the LGBTQ+ issues have been handled so far, and I’m not holding out for anything amazing in the final volume, but I can’t say I’m surprised. If anything, Otomen has shown itself to be a tale of victory for straight dudes while taking the light away from other groups. I still like this series, but if I wanted a story about how great straight dudes are, I’d go play almost any video game or read any other comic genre.

This entry was posted in LGBTQ+ Issues, Manga, opinion, sexism and tagged , , , , , , by Tsunderin. Bookmark the permalink.

About Tsunderin

Greetings and salutations! Feel free to just call me Rin—we’re all friends here, or nemeses who just haven’t gotten to know each other well enough. I’m a video game lover from the womb to the tomb, and Bioware enthusiast until the day they stop making games with amazing characters that I cry over. And while I don’t partake as often as I used to, don’t be surprised to find me poking around an anime or manga every once in a while either. A personal interest for me is characterization in media and how women in particular have been portrayed, are being portrayed, and will be portrayed in the future. I’m not going to mince words about my opinion either.

5 thoughts on “Putting the “En(d)” in Otomen: Queerbaiting and the Loss of LGBTQ+ Stories

  1. Hiromi does become a woman at the end of volume 18 though. It’s explained that she never transitioned before this because she felt guilty about leaving her wife and child behind.

    • Ah, really? I’m glad that’s the case, then. I haven’t seen any translations of the final volume on the sites/stores I’ve been to, so thanks for filling that in!

  2. Pingback: Japan Gender Reader: July 2014 | The Lobster Dance

  3. You should totally read the last volume if you haven’t already. 🙂 The Viz edition came out some time ago, and it should be readily available online if your local bookstores don’t have it.

    In general I liked this essay series, but I did want to point out a couple of things. First of all, in relation to your second essay, horror is a very popular genre within shoujo (in Japan) and in fact horror is more associated with shoujo than any other demographic. (Westerners tend to be very surprised by this, since shoujo horror is almost unknown over here.) Secondly, I don’t think the Ryo-fangirl character is queer-baiting; in manga (and I gather also in RL to an extent), girl-crushes are considered a normal result of adolescent girl-girl admiration and totally unrelated to lesbianism or any kind of sexuality. And thirdly, yes, Otomen is about the guys first and foremost, but quite a lot of shoujo is; just because it’s *for* girls doesn’t mean it has to be *about* girls. Shoujo is deeply concerned with femininity, including male femininity, and Otomen really is fundamentally a story about how straight guys can be feminine and still be admirable and attractive. Which I think is a valuable message, considering that both Western and mainstream Japanese culture position male heterosexual desirability as a function of masculinity, and male femininity as a function of homosexuality.

  4. Pingback: Putting the “Otome” In Otomen: Final Thoughts (For Real, This Time) | Lady Geek Girl and Friends

Comments are closed.