For all the adult nature of much of the anime business, and the easy availability of manga and anime with homosexual themes, if a show is going to have anything but clique success, same-sex love has to be hidden behind at least a veneer of orthodox heterosexuality. Thus, most anime with boys who act in a gay manner are comedies, as in Princess Princess, where the prettiest boys in a boarding school dress up as girls because the totally non-gay student population want to imagine them as females, or Ouran, where acting gay is a way to excite girls. Otherwise they’re pushed into a corner with Gravitation and Loveless and watched only by a very small subset of anime fans – more dominant in the West because of the high proportion of teenaged girls who love anime here, but certainly minor in Japan.
It’s fine, however, for mainstream shounen like Naruto and Hikaru no Go to have lots of hints at homosexuality, as long as it isn’t explicit. Strange roundabout way of thinking.
From this mindset comes the utterly stupid premise of Kashimashi: a shy, girlish boy is rejected by the girl he loves. He goes up a mountain to reflect, only to be taken by aliens and turned into a girl. Since he’s a boy REALLY, it’s fine to have him explore lesbian relationships. It’s a very bad premise.
But despite this, and despite some of the worst comedic characters I’ve ever seen (including a father who only wants to take dirty pictures of his son now that he’s become his daughter, an over-exaggeratedly dippy teacher and an alien duo consisting of one serious man in a silly yellow suit and a hyper girl who affixes ‘-puu!’ to every sentence), Kashimashi turned out to be a good anime – and a popular one, too.
You see, the story didn’t really concern itself much with the gender-switching, other than for some light humour. What the anime was really about was a love triangle. Hazumu, our newly-double-Xed protagonist, had his advances rejected by Yasuna, but also has feelings for Tonari, his tomboyish childhood friend and next-door neighbour. When it becomes clear that Yasuna rejected him not because she doesn’t like him but for reasons that will only slowly be unveiled, and Tonari begins to be more assertive in showing Hazumu she cares, tensions run high. It’s nothing that hasn’t been done before, but it’s done very well, and I really began to care which of the girls Hazumu would finally choose. And while the final decision wasn’t the one I would have liked to have seen, and there was a suggestion that a large part of what informed his choice was pity, there WAS more to it than that - and from the beginning he seemed to have a stronger inclination to sway in that direction, even if less rational reason. And whoever said love had to be rational? With that in mind, I was satisfied with the ending, and enjoyed the sadness of the rejection that was then inevitable for the bittersweet tragedy and display of braveness it was. Soap-opera melodrama, which probably would have been insufferably cheesy performed by live-action actresses, but very sweet.
Plus at 12 episodes, hardly a huge distraction.
Seems there’ll be an extra episode with the DVD releases. I’ll look forward to it.
(originally written 18.8.06)