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  109 - O Sister, Where Art Thou?  
  O Sister, Where Art Thou?  
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08/08/08 All the eights! Subtitle day!
So, today's comic is kind of minimalist! The next one will have nicer backgrounds, probably!

Anyway, today I thought I'd talk in more detail about two things mentioned in passing in my lengthy commentary yesterday. Firstly, the Dragon Half manga. As Clyde points out in the shoutbox, the manga has actually been translated and can be read here. The quality is pretty good, too. For anyone who didn't see the anime, Dragon Half is a comic fantasy about a Mink, a girl who's half-human, half-dragon (her father was a dragon slayer who ended up falling in love with the dragon he was sent to kill). There's plenty about the series to love: my favourite character is Lufa, Mink's irresponsible, incompetent and perverted best friend, although the most popular character overall seems to be Damaramu, an astoundingly stupid knight who is repeatedly killed and then 'rebuilt' in increasingly unlikely ways. For people who have seen the anime, the manga is truly fascinating because a lot of the disparate and bizarre things that were dropped randomly into the anime actually make sense in the original manga. Also, there's this:

Not quite a crossover, but not bad!

...which gave me a self-indulgent smile.

Another thing that I mentioned fleetingly last time was Family Compo, currently my favourite manga series in the great sea of stuff that's not quite mainstream enough to be licensed in the West, but has thankfully been picked up by scanlators. I love this series. Basically, one of my favourite themes in manga is that of gender ambiguity, but especially if it's portrayed in a down-to-earth, believable way (I'm less keen on the 'magical gender swap' sub-genre, although that can occasionally be fun too). One licensed series I enjoyed was W Juilet, the story of a very, very butch girl and her romance with a boy who, for various convoluted reasons, is posing as a girl. The problem I had with that series, though, was that as the story progressed, the two main characters began to gravitate more towards their traditional gender roles, as if such things were necessary for a viable relationship. It felt like a cop out to me, but it was still the best manga of its type that I'd seen.

Until Family Compo.

So, Family Compo is a series that ran from 1996 to 2000, although due to the style, it looks a lot older. It tells the story of Masahiko, a college student who has lost both his parents, and receives an offer to come and live with his long-lost uncle's family. It isn't long after he meets the apparently unremarkable Wakanae family that it emerges that his uncle is actually the wife in the partnership, while her 'husband' is, in fact, a woman. Their daughter, Shion, grew up with a slightly fuzzy understanding of gender roles and thus routinely switched between dressing as a boy or a girl throughout her childhood: in fact, her physical sex is still a mystery to the main character. In addition, Dad is a manga artist whose gaggle of female assistants are all transgender too, and the main character soon finds himself being forced to pose as a woman for the purposes of a student film.

Despite frequent dips into farce, it's a thoughtful and surprisingly sensitive portrayal of transgender life in Japan, a country where up until very recently, sex change operations were illegal. This is perhaps one of the reasons that most of the transgender characters in the series retain their physical sex. Unlike W Juliet (which, granted, never made any claims that its characters were actually transgender), the characters are seen as genuinely happy in their adopted gender roles, and even the slightly shell-shocked main character quickly comes to accept that his adopted parents are as normal a couple as any other.

Don't get me wrong, I have a few criticisms - the early chapters perpetuate the manga myth that transgender people have a slight tendency towards getting naked and flashing their bits (something that also marred the otherwise cute portrayal of the transgender policewoman Aoi Futaba in Kosuke Fujishima's You're Under Arrest), and in addition I'm not quite sure about the recurring theme that the Wakanaes' preferences might be 'catching'. Mind you, this could be seen as simply a depiction of Masahiko's baseless paranoia, or even a statement on the author's part that a more open attitude towards gender is no bad thing. In any case, I'm quite happy to live with these flaws, since they do little to detract from the overall story, which continues to surprise me as to just how heartwarming it can be.

Oh, and my favourite characters? The assistant manga artists, definitely. Especially the monolithic, unintentionally terrifying Kazu. I just want to give her a big hug.
  Don't tell me that girls nowadays can survive three poison darts!  
© George Hutcheon 2007, 2008