Nozaki-kun and Bifauxnen In Shoujo

Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-Kun Manga Cover 3I enjoy anime.

I enjoy watching anime and analyzing it in terms of social issues and subtextual narrative content (ie: motifs, metaphors, and so forth). However, I and many other fans of the genre have an issue with the former of the two: we are not the audience. We are an audience, but many of us are not Japanese or East Asian, and thus lack a full understanding of how certain tropes affect the viewers of the intended audience. We can analyze, but only from a perspective that we have been brought up with: in my case, Western perceptions on gender and sexuality. These nurtured perceptions aren’t necessarily the best when coming to analyzing shoujo manga and anime, especially when it’s not really the American audience this genre is affecting at large. So when I decided that I wanted to take a look at Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun‘s Yuu Kashima, I figured it was time to look at things from a different angle. While I’ve thought of Kashima’s character as laudable because she seems unconcerned with typical gender roles and expresses her gender identity through non-sterotypical ways, when looking at her actions from the angle of the cultural trope she fills, her character becomes a little less praise-worthy.

Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-Kun Kashima 1

Kashima, on the left, wooing another “princess”

Nozaki-kun is a light-hearted shoujo anime, based on a 4-koma (four panel comic strip) of the same name which focuses on Chiyo Sakura, a girl who wanted to confess to her crush (the titular Nozaki), but ended up getting his autograph instead, leading to her working alongside him on his manga series along with three other schoolmates. The series itself, while super fun, isn’t anything groundbreaking, and it’s not trying to be. This is a nice break from more intense series, but it’s also part of the underlying problem. By not trying anything particularly new, the series falls into the same old traps and tropes of shoujo. Kashima exemplifies the bifauxnen: a female character that looks androgynous, bordering on masculine, who is also coveted by other female characters—aesthetically only; in most cases the bifauxnen in question does not identify as queer. In Nozaki-kun, Kashima is known as the school’s prince, and can often be found with a gaggle of girls who are fighting for a little bit of her time. While it can be interpreted as progressive that there are girls who can seemingly break out of the gender binary by dressing a bit less femininely and still be seen as desirable, really the bifauxnen character only serves to reinforce the standards of femininity, both in how they deal with love and how they interact with the status quo brought on by said standards.

Girls who gain the attention of the bifauxnen are always, always feminine, sometimes overly so, and why wouldn’t they be? They are attracted to the bifauxnen because that is what the bifauxnen wants to attract. As a less threatening stand-in for a male character, the bifauxnen spends her time showing what type of girl is desirable to a charming prince. Even Haruka/Sailor Uranus from Sailor Moon, one of the queerest subversions of the bifauxnen in the history of ever, spends her time being swamped by cute girls, telling Usagi that she’s cute, and reveling in getting Usagi to act her absolute girl-with-a-crush-iest. And while I love Haruka’s relationship with Michiru, as a bifauxnen it seems almost predictable that she’d be dating one of the most feminine characters in the entire series. Kashima might not have the opportunity for that sort of depth as she’s a minor character, but, as I said, she is constantly being surrounded by her female classmates and is continuously used as a valued opinion on what is cute, girly, an desirable by men (such as telling a girl her new haircut is cute and whatnot). Kashima doesn’t even have to remember the girl’s name and it’s not held against her by anyone outside of the main group. To the girls of the school, and arguably to some of the audience, Kashima is not a person: she’s an idea. She holds the standards that girls must live up to if they want to get themselves a prince of their own someday, and those standards are reinforced by primping, knowing the best cute cafes, and swooning at flirtation, no matter how empty it may be.

Yet, despite their outwardly more masculine presence, the bifauxnen reminds the female audience that bifauxnen themselves are feminine at their core as well, mostly through their love life. In my experience, this can manifest in two main ways: the “why is my heart beating so fast?”/ egregious blushing/etc. typical shoujo standard of dealing with a crush and the re-feminization of the bifauxnen’s persona (by which I mean the bifauxnen starts dressing like a typical girl) to attract the attention of said crush. Kashima fits into these tropes in abnormal ways, I think, but she still falls into them. First, the re-feminization. As opposed to many bifauxnen, Kashima’s standard attire isn’t technically masculine—she wears the female school uniform, skirt and all, and is only presented in more masculine attire through her roles in drama club. So, since there is essentially no attire here that Kashima could wear to have that “ah! Look how actually feminine she is” moment, the series had to get creative. This manifests in a vignette about Kashima thinking she finds out what would please her crush the most—she thinks he wants to be a princess. As such, she leaves him pieces of women’s clothing in his locker for several days. He thinks that she’s bullying him (Kashima was totally wrong in her assumption), but he makes the comment that the clothes and accessories she left him create a perfectly coordinated outfit. Without making Kashima wear a frilly dress, the series has informed the viewer that despite her princeliness, she still knows how to dress like a girl and be fashionable, yet again reinforcing her latent femininity.

Kashima, stop getting doki over that...

Kashima, maybe that’s not something you should be so excited over…

On the other side of things, Kashima doesn’t question her androgynous looks and more masculine actions when it comes to wondering why her crush doesn’t seem to like her back (which he actually does); however, her way of reacting to said crush still fits into the bifauxnen stereotype. The shoujo heroine always must prove her worth and impress her crush through whatever feats available to her, and Kashima does this by being the best at what she does. She’s an impressive actor; she gets the attention of everyone by being charming—to the point where her crush says he wouldn’t invite her to his wedding because she’d steal his wife—and she’s basically oblivious to everything he wants. He likes her because of how good she is at what she does, but she’s “impressive” due to how good she is at being obnoxious towards him in particular. It’s definitely not the usual route, however, it does clearly define Kashima as a shoujo heroine as she is the one who has to prove herself to her crush, rather than equal efforts being made on both sides.

It’s a lot easier to applaud new shoujo series when they’re breaking the mold in any small way, and it’s a simpler task to accomplish when you’re not viewing the series through the lens that the intended viewers are. I’m not saying my interpretation is perfect by any means—I’m still learning—but when taking into consideration how stringently Japanese media is trying to re-enforce the importance of femininity in its girls from a young age (while at the same time revering masculinity in its boys) against the tide of impending societal change, some of these seemingly more progressive tropes start to gain another level of complexity. There’s nothing wrong with being feminine and liking feminine things, as there’s nothing wrong with being masculine, liking more masculine things, or liking both in varying amounts, but when it’s being presented as the only desirable option, that’s where the problem arises. I like Kashima as a character, and I think the bifauxnen trope as a whole is interesting, but both of them only serve to reinforce gender norms and heteronormativity. If any readers are from Japan or East Asia, or are more familiar with feminist theory from that locale than I, I urge you to leave your comments below with your opinion. How do bifauxnen influence shoujo and, in turn, the female audience?

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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.

7 thoughts on “Nozaki-kun and Bifauxnen In Shoujo

  1. I was wondering if I’d ever find someone writing about Kashima and her nature as a bifauxnen. For a bifauxnen character, Kashima stood out to me for several reasons. Perhaps it’s unfair that I’m bringing in facts that only have shown up in the manga and side materials since it seems you’re writing this only from the point of view of seeing the anime, but Kashima subverted my expectations of virtually every version of the archetype I’ve ever encountered in some way. You have the butch lesbians like Haruka Tenoh, you have the girls who for some reason hide their gender like Haruhi Fujioka, and you have the tomboyish girls who desperately wish they could be more feminine but they’re just not used to it or they think it doesn’t really suit them, like Itsuki Myoudouin. Kashima is none of the above.

    As far as sexual orientation goes, Kashima is heavily implied to be a bisexual with a heavy leaning towards girls, as her official bio states that her preferred “type” is any girl (she thinks all of them are cute), and unknown for guys. She doesn’t make any active attempts to hide that she’s a girl, but she clearly doesn’t care, and isn’t quick to correct anyone, if she’s mistaken for a bo . There was also a chapter in the manga (that I loved, but sadly was not adapted in the anime) deliberately written to crush the idea that Kashima might want to be more like an ordinary girl: It opens with Mikorin reading a manga with a tomboy character who wants to be more feminine. Kashima comes to school the next day with a cold that has caused the pitch of her naturally high voice to drop, and she muses that she’s lost her only distinctly feminine trait. This makes Mikorin wonder if she’s like the girl from the manga he read. Instead we see that Kashima has totally embraced the situation and decided to commemorate it by wearing pants to school instead of her skirt, making her look completely like a guy for the day.

    Speaking of which, your assessment that her attire isn’t that masculine except for her costumes when she’s acting is incorrect. Kashima’s personal choice of dress when not in uniform is made up almost entirely out of men’s clothing (albeit on the classy side; waistcoats, sweaters, collared button-ups, ties, and whatnot). Thus far, the only exception has been swimwear. The mangaka of Nozaki-kun answered in a Q&A that while Kashima doesn’t particularly mind wearing skirts and dresses, she basically never wears them outside of costumes, uniforms, and other prepared outfits. There is a grand total of two official illustrations of Kashima actually in a dress, one of which was a costume. The same Q&A stated that Kashima used to grow her hair out to a bob in middle school, but now perpetually keeps it in that short cut, meaning that in a way, she’s deliberately masculinized herself further.

    Yes, it is true that anime tends to portray “tomboys with girly streaks”, which seems to send the message that a girl shouldn’t ever be TOO masculine, and I recognize that Kashima isn’t completely exempt from it, but the ways she is are pretty subtle, which I think makes her more interesting actually. Her speech pattern is mostly feminine (her personal pronoun “watashi” is used significantly more by women than men – I also find this interesting in of itself since most bifauxnen characters use the boyish pronoun ‘boku”), and as you pointed out, she’s got an eye for fashion, but that’s about the extent of it.

    I think its interesting that you think of Kashima as filling in a heroine role, because her personality is a near carbon-copy of Tamaki Suoh of Ouran High School Host Club fame, and in general she has a number of traits you’d typically associate with male idiot heroes, including being a ditzy genius and a victim of slapstick comedic abuse. There’s also an illustration where she got placed with the other boys of GSNK that was labelled “heroes” (while Mikorin was placed with the girls in the counterpart “heroine” illustration.).

    This just became a ramble-y wall of text that probably doesn’t seem very cohesive and I might have misinterpreted your post to some degree, but my point in responding has been to point out some things I think you might not have known about and that I would like you to consider when evaluating Kashima. I know sometimes it can be dubious assuming that the details in a manga will still apply to its anime, but aside from minor changes and some differences in chronologic order, Nozaki-kun was extremely faithful in its adaptation of the manga storylines, so I think in this case it does. If you did happen to know the things I wrote down here, however, then I apologize for my assumptions.

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to reply to my post! While I did read a little bit of the manga, I admit that I stopped before it got too far along, so I am approaching the topic from what I assessed in the anime. All the extra information you’ve provided is really interesting, and I do think I will end up revising my opinion on Kashima because of it. I really do wish the anime would have included that storyline of Kashima coming into school with a cold; it adds such an interesting angle to her character and really underlines the subversion of the bifauxnen trope much more clearly than I think the anime cares to in general. Also the mention of her preferred pronoun (watashi versus boku) was something that I had forgotten to consider completely, and I’m glad you brought it up. Thank you so much, once again, for bringing these aspects to my attention; I will definitely make sure to continue through the manga! 🙂

      • Haha, I look back on my reply there and I’m still regretful that you had to wade through all that text! But I’m glad you did find the info interesting. That definitely was one of the chapters I’m most disappointed got passed over since it was the aversion of a very common trope that has become a pet peeve of mine. Granted, because a lot of the chapter involved Kashima writing notes to avoid abusing her throat I can see why it might’ve gotten skipped in favor of other stories (let’s just say there isn’t really a moment that DID get animated I can think of that I’d rather have gotten swapped out for it). If you haven’t taken a look yet, here’s a url to the chapter directly.

        Still, I think it’s fair to speculate over whether or not the anime might’ve tried to tone down Kashima’s gender neutrality. While the anime never did anything to actually alter Kashima’s characterization (in fact, it added a line of dialogue of Kashima showing clear amusement out of being mistaken for a guy), Kashima’s design appears to have been subtly feminized more in the anime compared to the manga. Her eyelashes are more prominent, her bangs are wavier, her physical frame is slightly more delicate, and in some scenes her eyes get drawn larger and rounder than they ever do in the manga – it’s a little less easy to mistake her for a guy in the anime than it is in the manga.

        I probably pay way too much attention to Kashima and the information that’s been given about her, but I truly find her interesting because of the way she ended up subverting most of my expectations for the bifauxnen archetype, especially since when I first saw her character description I dismissed her as a Haruka Tenoh clone.

          • I lied. Because apparently I’m way too eager to discuss Kashima.

            Here’s the only illustration of Kashima in a dress that isn’t her uniform or a costume.

            Here’s the Heroes and Heroines illustration (with both Mikorin and Kashima complaining about being left out of the foreground of their actual gender’s pics, heh)

            Here’s her official profile


            And for fun, a couple months back I compiled a anime vs. manga design comparison for all of the GSNK characters when I realized their character sheets for the anime ripped expressions straight from the manga. This is Kashima’s specifically

            Okay, that’s it, I’m out of your hair.

  2. Hi! So I just read your article, and it’s really interesting. The only thing is, I was wondering if you’ve ever heard of/watched the anime Revolutionary Girl Utena? It’s known for subverting or deconstructing a lot of shoujo tropes, and I noticed that you mentioned a lot of bifauxen tropes that the titular character (Utena) emphasized. Utena is from the ’90s(? or at least some time ago) and a lot of the tropes that you talked about Kashima going through are things that Utena did mention. I could have missed you mentioning it, but if you haven’t seen it, it might be interesting for you to watch. It’s not at all actually like Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun, but for Kashima specifically, some of her subversions parallel what Utena did before, so that might have part of what you were saying about Japanese media.

  3. Eh, just because a queer/bisexual character is genderfluid or nonbinary doesn’t make it stereotypical. There’s a wide spectrum, it doesn’t have to be completely masculine or feminine for the character.

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