Growing up, Goku was my biggest inspiration as a human being. When I felt alone, when I felt weak, when I got picked on, I always looked to Akira Toriyama’s riff on Superman to help guide me. It’s because of Goku that I started working out, that I tried to believe in myself more, that I learned to foster a fierce loyalty to my friends. I understand that it’s a fun meme joke that Goku’s a bad dad or bad husband or selfish or whatever, but as a kid, there was something about him that resonated with me in a way Monkey D. Luffy or Naruto didn’t. He was strong, practically unstoppable, but he never stopped being a generally empathetic, fun, kind person. He was everything I wanted to be, and who I needed at the time.
As I got older, that basically stayed the same until the day I discovered that I’d screwed up my gender for the previous twenty-four years. After that flip got switched in my brain, I started look to more female heroes. Of course, there was Lara Croft – my childhood idol, who embodied a grizzled toughness that I admired, but could probably never emulate. Me? Grizzled? Pff, please. Then there was Galko-Chan, a female character that really resonated with me in a strong way. She’s cute, girly, candid, loves eating, and is loyal to her friends and protective of women in general – basically like Goku, except with anime balloon tiddies instead of anime balloon arms.
I love her.
I’d die for her.
But Galko, bless her heart, probably couldn’t throw a punch to save her life. That’s by design, because her creator is a craven pervert who loves feet to a really alarming degree. I mean, the latest volume’s got an intense close-up of some lady’s Athlete’s Foot, for crying out loud. Not to kinkshame or anything, but that’s a level of foot fetishization that I’d previously thought impossible. Like, when’s this dude gonna introduce a chapter about ingrown toenails? Anyway, Galko’s a great character, and the series she inhabits is mostly great, but she’s just one hair shy of the woman I want to be. She’s kind of just a fetish with accidentally great characterization, or as I like to call them, a Quentin Tarantino character!
What woman do I want to be, then? I mean, ultimately, my own woman. Right? Isn’t that the ideal? That you’re strong in your own right and confident in yourself? Yet, as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, depictions of certain ideals in media has always been how I’ve shaped myself. There’s slippage in that, yes, but at this point it’s so hardwired into my DNA that I don’t see it changing anytime soon. So I continued this passive, unconscious search for peak femininity, or at least my own personal brand of it.
During this, I felt weak. Full disclosure – I’ve been in a pretty deep depression for the past two months or so. It’s a little better now, but still weighing down on me like a pair of anime tiddies. All my attempts to break out of it, through old comforts like Kingdom Hearts or Resident Evil, through writing and blogging, through anime and manga, have all basically been in vain. Everything lately’s basically sucked, and really, I haven’t seen much point in living. Like, who the fuck would even care if I was gone, really? I’ve barely made a mark on the world at this point, and at twenty-five, I already feel past my prime. Plus, my anxiety makes this ten times worse, because in the midst of feeling bad, I hyperanalyze and scruntinize every aspect of my life. “Maybe my relationship’s fucked.” “Maybe I’m a friendless loser bitch.” “Maybe my writing’s all trash.” “Maybe I’ll never pass as a girl.” “Maybe my MAGA enthusiast neighbor next door is secretly a transphobic serial killer and is going to abduct and torture-murder-rape me.” Yeah. Oh, and my childhood dog’s basically dying, on top of all this. Good times. Whee.
But I am doing better, I swear. I’m not suicidal or anything. Just depressed and scared and generally hopeless about my future. Or at least, I was until this past week, when I finally stumbled upon something that made me feel a little more optimistic about my prospects. That thing is a 1983 anime series called Stop! Hibari-kun.
The basic premise of the show is pretty simple. After the death of his mother, teenage boy Kosaku goes to live in a house with a domineering patriarch and his four daughters. One of the daughters, Hibari, immediately begins to flirt with Kosaku – much to his chagrin. But there’s a problem – Hibari’s family is a feared and respected yakuza family. Cue a pretty straightforward romantic comedy cut from the same cloth of a Kimagure Orange Road or Ranma 1/2, complete with absurd visual gags, love triangles, and literally no resolution ever.
As far as anime goes, it’s a well-above average show on all fronts. The animation is surprisingly good for the time, especially considering it’s a romantic comedy from Toei, which sounds like a total recipe for disaster. The comedy is also genuinely funny as hell at times, which is a rarity for the medium, considering most anime comedy (especially nowadays) is pretty bland to me. It’s rounded out by a great soundtrack and some truly excellent VA performances, plus the boon that it’s only 35 episodes long, meaning that you don’t have to watch 200-plus episodes of “will they, won’t they.”
You might be wondering right about now why this show, of all things, is the one that helped snap me out of my funk. Well, aside from being a genuinely fun, goodhearted and funny show, there’s a twist here. See, Hibari’s a trans girl, which is revealed about five-ish minutes into the first episode. I’ll let that sink in a moment. A romantic comedy anime. From 1980’s Japan. With a transgender lead. Wild, right?
At first glance, the show seems like it might be completely insensitive by today’s standards. Hibari is routinely misgendered, and two of the biggest running gags can be boiled down to, “please, be more like a man!” and “please, stop making me think I’m gay!” However, those two aspects play into something that shocked me as I continued to watch, and that’s the fact that, at the end of the day, Stop! Hibari-Kun is one of the kindest, most empathetic and fulfilling depictions of trans gals in any piece of media. Not just anime – in any fucking medium.
This is primarily because of three major factors.
Firstly, there’s the core relationship between Kosaku and Hibari. While, like all good anime romances, it goes all but entirely unrequited, there’s a very palpable love that develops between the two characters. Initially resistant to it, Kosaku finds himself falling for the charms of Hibari and beginning to rethink his, “but she’s a boy!” stance. He blushes when he sees her undressing, dreams about being with her, and seems to find an enjoyment in small things like holding hands or sharing an umbrella. It’s a real, tender, sweet romance that shows the male protagonist beginning to not only ease up on his regressive views, but falling for the very thing he was so against. It’s basically like My Brother’s Husband, only there’s an actual relationship that grows between the two primary characters.
Secondly, the abuse Hibari is subjected to and how people try to protect her from it. There’s an explicitly spoken plot point where Hibari’s sister not only worries about shame being brought on the family, but horrific bodily harm befalling Hbari herself. Because of this, the family never misgenders her outside the confines of their household, meaning that the whole world sees Hibari as a woman. Her family goes to great lengths to keep her secret, protecting her from potential assault and shielding her from mean girls who are basically TERFs. There’s something genuinely heartwarming about seeing this family going out of their way to take care of their sister, even if they slip up in validating and respecting her gender at home.
Lastly, there’s Hibari herself. She’s a deeply sexual and girly girl, yet very much a force to be reckoned with in a way that characters of her archetype never are. It’s implied that she’s always carrying around some kind of gun. She’s a martial arts expert. She’s freakishly strong, able to easily best opponents in combat without even trying. When the going gets tough and everybody else has fallen through, Hibari pulls herself up by her bra straps and kicks ass with no hesitation. As weird as this is to say, the closest comparison I can think of is somebody like Saitama.
These three things dovetail perfectly and culminate in episodes that, either deliberately or by accident, detail fairly common methods of transgender abuse and show them getting stamped out. In the second episode, Hibari’s father hires a feared yakuza trainer to try and literally beat manliness into her, which results in the trainer getting completely wrecked by Hibari and thrown into a passing garbage truck – only to be later reborn as a trans woman. In the next episode, a group of jealous girls at Hibari’s school become convinced that she’s secretly a boy. They try to humiliate and strip her during a school health day, and are shocked to discover that she’s “biologically female.” Only she isn’t – her sister dressed up as Hibari and stripped herself so people would leave her sister alone. Even small things in later episodes, like Kosaku growing angry when somebody refers to Hibari as a “tranny,” go a long way to show that the creator and anime staff have a very clear opinion of transphobes.
Then there are the episodes that aren’t focused on Hibari at all, in which her gender is never brought into question and both the cast and the narrative just treat her like a normal girl. For a series in 1983, especially in an ultra-conservative country like Japan, to have a transgender cast member and have entire episodes where there’s a casual acceptance of her is nothing short of astonishing.
But how does this affect me, aside from the obvious? At first, to be honest, it didn’t. I was enjoying it simply on the merits of being a damn good romantic comedy from the era of anime where those weren’t total trash. Sure, the trans rep, though clumsy, was a nice surprise and helped me find a novelty in the show that I didn’t in its contemporaries. For the most part, however, I was taking it in as familiar comfort food the same way I would an episode of Slayers.
With each passing episode, though, I began to notice a change within myself. I started feeling more optimistic and hopeful about my existence. There was something inside of me that I could only describe as hope and confidence – hope that everything might not be completely fucked in my life, and confidence that I could fully commit to being who I wanted to be. I couldn’t quite put my finger on where this was coming from, at first, but after ruminating on it a little, something major dawned on me.
Hibari was exactly the kind of girl I wanted to be.
She’s coy and girlish without being an airhead. She’s smart without being a complete bookworm. She’s strong without being burly. She stands up for herself with the simple but defiant act of believing in her own gender identity, wholeheartedly and without hesitation, regardless of who everyone tells her she ought to be. Hibari is an anime character that is to me now what Goku was to me back in my youth – a paragon for all the virtues I want to instill in myself, and an example of how I want to present myself to the world.
This came at the tail end of months of wallowing in my own depression. Not being physically active, not making any steps on where I want to live that isn’t my town, being petrified with fear every waking moment of my life… it’s been rough. But Stop! Hibari-Kun has helped me to realize that if I waste my life away, letting my body atrophy and letting my ambitions slip away, I’m never going to be happy. All the estrogen, spironolactone, breast augmentations, facial feminization surgeries and (shudder) vocal cord surgeries… those aren’t going to mean literally anything if I don’t work on what lies beneath all of that. If I don’t, I’ll end up like that lady who writes sad-ass ammo for transphobes for the New York Times, and frankly, I’d rather die than be that miserable.
So this past week, I’ve been really trying to take care of myself. Waste less time laying in bed. Start working out 5-6 times a week, and get back into martial arts practice. Getting my girlfriend to give me a cool-ass haircut. Wearing more make-up, buying girlier clothes, taking a buncha selfies that I keep to myself so I can feel more confident every time I see my own face, et cetera. And, in general, really just throwing myself at things I love to do, like cooking and cleaning and writing and watching movies and gaming. And it’s helped. I feel better. Yeah, I’m scared of transphobes still. When an alarming number of trans people are murdered each year, how can I not be? Yet if I let that fear prevent me from at least trying to be happy, in my own way, I might as well roll over and die right now. I’m surrounded by people who love and support me, and I’m well on my way to being able to actually defend myself again.
That’s going to have to be enough for right now, because it’s enough for Hibari, and she’s fucking rad as hell.