I think it’s safe to say that my blog is not a very serious blog. That’s a cultivated image in fact. I have never tried to make I Drink and Watch Anime any sort of rigorous academic environment. Just reading that sentence is kind of ridiculous. Still, once in a while, I will broach subjects that are a bit more serious. Either because I want to share something or because I think there’s an important conversation to be had in which I want to take part.
Before we get into this, there are going to be some spoilers for the anime Lovely Complex, more specifically for Kotobuki’s character.
I am currently watching Lovely Complex, it’s late March as I write this and a lovely fluffy snow is falling outside. I’m halfway through the series. A number of episodes ago, we got introduced to the character of Seiko Kotobuki. Kotobuki is a transgender character. Not a cross-dresser, the character specifically states that they were born in the wrong body and that they don’t think of themselves as their birth gender.
Lovely Complex came out in 2007 but it’s based on a manga that was published in 2001. Like 20 years ago. And although there are quite a few things that are handled clumsily and a bit insensitively by today’s standards, I was still very impressed by the earnest and generally thoughtful portrayal of Seiko Kotobuki. Aside from a few off-coloured jokes and the fact that the characters, Seiko included, do keep referring to Kotobuki as a “he”, Seiko is treated more or less the same way as all the other girls in the series are. And after the initial reveal dies down, they are accepted by the main characters and continue to have an active role in the series that is not linked to their gender identity.
Considering when the manga was written, I thought this was some pretty good representation. And I thought I could write a post about it and maybe include some other canonical trans characters for comparison. Maybe add a bit about inclusivity and representation in media. You know the drill. You’ve probably read the post I’m describing at some point in your life.
I was pretty psyched about it and I started writing an outline, looking up some characters, trying to figure out a historical timeline for representation and then, I stopped. I just kind of froze. I started thinking that, I’m not transgender. Not at all. I have friends that are but I have no personal insight into the experience and peculiarities associated with that journey. And so maybe, I shouldn’t be talking about it…
I can name half a dozen bloggers that are much better equipped to discuss this issue than I am. And that’s just from what I know. I bet there are more. And it’s not like there isn’t enough misinformation on this issue without me throwing my uneducated hat in the ring. So I kind of shelved the idea reasoning that this wasn’t for me to talk about.
And for a while that was fine. I have been watching so much anime lately that I am finishing series quicker than I can review them. It’s not like I was desperate for post ideas. But it kept nagging at me. Ok, so I kept watching Lovely Complex and the character is genuinely sweet so it kept the idea fresh in my mind. But there was something else nagging at me.
I remember a while back, I was part of a blogging group and we decided to do some posts for women’s day or something of the sort. It was a pretty open-ended theme and nothing too deep. However, a lot (if not all) of the men in the group decided to not take part, not because they weren’t interested but because they felt it wasn’t their place to do so. Just like I feel today.
And although I completely get it. Obviously, I’m in the exact same spot now that they were in then. I also remember what I thought at the time. And I thought that men absolutely had a place to talk about women’s issues and representation. I’m not saying that they have a responsibility to do so, just that they should feel free to do so if they want to. And it would make the conversation better.
So how does that reconcile with the position I find myself in at the moment. I don’t know. Where did all that goodwill about well-meaning communication always being a good thing even if it’s a little limited, go? Not to mention the benefits of getting an outsider’s perspective. And I do still believe all that but I also feel like I would be intruding. It’s a slippery slope. After all, empowered majorities speaking in the stead of disenfranchised groups is kind of the problem, to begin with. Even if it’s done with the best of intentions.
Yup, yet again I ouroborosed myself. Right back to square one. So this is what I’m going to say.
The character of Seiko Kotobuki made a pretty big impact on me for what is a minor supporting role. They made me think not only about gender identity and how that fits into modern society but also about how we discuss the changing issues in our evolving society. And that’s rather impressive. None of this will be in my Lovely Complex review.
And it also made me think that anyone should be free to talk on any subject they want to. However, I also understand that when a subject is important to someone, they will feel pressure to create a post that is as accurate and informative as possible. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to choose one’s words carefully. Or if even you don’t feel equal to an issue, there’s nothing wrong with just talking about how you don’t feel up to it :).
13 thoughts on “How Lovely Complex’s Seiko Kotobuki made me Rethink Everything”
He’s a boy and always will be
Pretty sure it’s a fictional character. Could be mecha next season
I’m actually writing a list of transgender anime characters for a site I professionally write for, and I was surprised to see your post when I searched for “transgender anime characters”. Great SEO, lol.
In any case, fantastic read! I really liked your take on the topic of gender identity, and I hope my article comes out as respectful and thoughtful as this one!
I do believe that anyone should be able to express their thoughts about certain topics, including representation of communities which one may not be part of themselves, because healthy discussion of this kind will only positively lend to the overall discussion surrounding that community. In this particular case, I really think that you shouldn’t think too hard about not being trans yourself, there being bloggers better equipped for this than you, being an outsider commenting on something, or anything of the sort.
On the other hand, if one truly feels uncomfortable writing about this kind of topic because they’re not part of said community themselves, then it’s also perfectly alright to say that if they do end up writing about said topic, though the practical thing to do might be to not write in the first place, though as the purpose of first point made clear, I don’t think that one should be uncomfortable writing about these topics, only respectful.
On the topic of the transgender representation itself, Japan has had a very hit and miss relationship with LGBTQ people, leading to their hit and miss representation in anime. In edo period Japan, certain male kabuki theater performers played the roles of women, wearing female attire and being expected to act like women outside the theater as well. This also played into a societal concept of socializing by the methods of the gender you present as. To elaborate, Japanese has distinct rules in both writing and speaking for men and women, and anyone who physically presented as a woman would use the female terms instead of the male terms. This was again a ‘hit and miss’ practice because many times, this wasn’t looked upon too favorably by the noble class. Homosexuality was actually well accepted in Japanese history, with male sexual relations being somewhat important among the social rituals of Samurai, categorized under wakashudo or shudo, ‘the way of young men’. It is unfortunate that modern Japan has actually become less accepting of LGBTQ people as it became more westernized.
Anyway, sorry for the impromptu history lesson, feel free to write about whatever you want to write about Irina-san.
No that’s great. I did read recently that a Japanese court rules same sex unions unconstitutional and the very act of giving same sex unions any type of recognition also unconstitutional in itself. It’s not big on LGBTQ+ rights in any way.
My knowldge of Japanese history and the acceptance of Homosexuality is that anecdotically reaspected historical figures, such a Nobunaga were known to be openly bisexual but all were married to women. Honosexual relationship were seen as more of a purely physical diversion ment for entertainment and as women were not exactly regarded as equal in any way, it was normal that great men would seek the company of other men in order to have any sort of stimulating or engaging relationship. That’s actually common in a lot of countries with longer spanning histories.
However, homosexuality in women was considered redugnant and wrong. Sexual relationship between women were only really acceptable if they were in the context of entertaining their husbands.
I’ve only read a couple of papers on the subject so I wouldn’t take any of this as fact. There might be studies that contradict any or all of this.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you discussing your thoughts on how a trans-character was handled in a show or on trans representation in anime, in general, especially since you’re open to acknowledging that, as a cis-gendered woman, your perspective is probably going to be somewhat limited or different from that of a trans persons.
I think it’s more of an issue when cis people talk over trans people or try to dominate the conversation instead of listening. That said, I don’t see anything wrong with you getting the conversation started. Maybe you’ll inspire bloggers who are trans to talk about those same topics, and we’ll all get to be enriched from reading what they have to say, as well.
You know, that would be great, it is a subject I find interesting and I would love to hear from them
I like your point about anyone being able to weigh in. I completely buy into that, and I loved reading how you got to that conclusion.
There are some topics I won’t discuss. I just don’t know enough about them. I don’t understand the vocabulary, especially terms that might be derogatory. I don’t want to misspeak and hurt someone. It’s not because I’m scared, but because I just don’t want to hurt anyone.
There’s enough pain in the world. I don’t want to add to it by bumbling through a topic I don’t understand!
That said, my understanding isn’t static. I try to listen and learn and increase what I understand. But if I don’t talk about a topic, that’s probably why.
Seriously: Loved reading your thought process on this.
Thanks, I ended up with nothing to actually say but I did want to share that. Thinking about something is valuable as well, even if we don’t reach conclusions
I am with you that I think everyone should be able to write on what they feel.. and share their thoughts! There is a big however though… I think it should ALWAYS be in the “I think” form. That goes for everyone though! Even a Transgender should not write how Seiko SHOULD be written or how her friends HAVE to react.
Journeys like this are very personal I think, and what goes for one Non-Cis-Woman doesn’t persé apply for the other. Some Non-Cis-Females might be okay with being referred to as Transgender, while others really just wished to be called a woman. I feel like no journey would be the same.. for some the transition happens for very much other reasons than others. I know non-cis-women whose transformation was very much grounded in sexuality, while for others it might be much more founded in mentality, while for others it really is based on physicality.
One of my personal biggest gripes with all the movements springing up, and a lot of the general social justice warriors advocating trans rights, are creating a gravity towards the term Transgender. For example Kotobuki is a Transgender.. it isn’t wrong but by defining her as a Transgender in a way we deny her being a woman as well. People might use the pronounces correct.. but there will be people that will define her as Transgender rather than her desired Gender. If Kotobuki would want to be seen as female so I would personally love to see her defined as a woman. Transgender to me is more of a term for why… opposed an answer on what. Kotobuki is a female..and she is why is because she did not identify with what her genetics dictated and took steps to identify more with herself (transitioning)
I do not think I should impose that definition or feeling though, as others might feel something completely differently..some may like that newer label as it makes them feel special and accomplished for fighting. It’s a badge of honour that they made a brave choice to make a change, and that is fine as well. Those ideas can co-exist. One might prove to be more commonly accepted than the other over time,but no idea is wrong! As long as we never invalidate other feelings. So even if you are a Cisgender-woman yourself and can not experience that journey or place transgender (non-cisgender) woman , one should be free to share their feelings. It opens dialogue, and trough dialogue both sides can learn… “Why does Irina think like that? Why does Pinkie add a gender after the term transgender isn’t that enough?” Dialogue is needed to understand each other, and even IF one would have a totally wrong opinion (which I don’t believe exists) showing where you come from allows people to understand you and provide you alternative perspectives or tools for growth.
The only thing that is detrimental.. is close mindedness. “There are only two genders” .. “The only way to treat a trangender-person is this way” If we spread false facts, we spread misinformation and that will harm those involved. While as long as we write things as our opinion and are open for dialogue it will always help peoplem read and make up their own mind!
You do have an excellent point. Every experience is personal. I cannot speak for all women, all cis-gendered people, all refugees or all bisexuals. Even though I am all these things and identify as them, it’s not like my experience is paramount or universal. I feel like I’m generally an outlier.
And yet, now I do feel a bit bad for describing the character as transgender in order to better define them against the slew of otokonoko characters in anime. Would I have known better if I wasn’t cis, probably not. In fact I’m almost sure I wouldn’t have. But I can’t help but wonder, you know?
I dont think its bad that you describe them as transgender, I think Trans-woman might be safer as it doesnt deny the character her wish. Just Transgender might imply they are not? But again that is in the eyes of the beholder.
I think the fact that you feel sad, that you might have chosen your words wrong, proofs that you should be able to write about stuff like this, that you do have an open mind to other opinions and definitions etc! But yeah I also wonder if I would define the word differently than I do now if my life was different, I am pretty sure, I would. That is fine as well! I would still have met wonderful people that make me rethink, and reflect, and I think that this proof shows you reflect as well, and that should be all anyone could ask before writing about a topic