Switching Gender Roles in Manga: Men as Women and Women as Men

The reversal of the traditional female and male role in a story is interesting to me because it exposes the conventions of a story. In terms of character archetypes, story genres, and the hero's journey, there are reasons why these conventions exists; they work.

They work on a level that is universal in that most people around the world despite cultural and traditional differences can recognize and identify with a story imported from another culture (as with the case with anime and manga).

However, with the understanding of a convention, it's interesting what happens when the writer makes a slight change. For example what happens when women play what is typically the male 'prince/hero/rescuer' lead in an story? and men play what is typically the female 'princess/heroine/damsel in distress' lead in a story?

Note: I'm not talking about these characters trying to be the opposite sex...just that they are playing roles traditionally reserved for the opposite different gender -- if that makes sense.

Utena (Utena) and Bakuretsu Tenshi (Jo) 

1. Have personalities that are bold, brave, unconquerable
2. Strides boldly into adventure
3. They are stronger and more skilled than everyone else
4. They have a princess they are trying to save

To the right is an image of the hero Utena with her princess, Anthy. As you can see, even the cover image shows immediately that Utena is the protector. She's standing in front of Anthy, aggressively looking into the camera, her stature is strong and upright, and she seems to be saying, I'll take you on.

 Gankutsuo (Viscount Albert de Morcerf)

1. Has a softer, empathic personality
2. Attracted to the man that whisks him away on an adventure
3. No physical battle prowess
4. Saves the hero with a kiss

Gankutsuo is a trippy anime that pushes the boundaries of animation and turns the convention of the heroine role on its head. In contrast to Utena's stance above, Albert, in the heroine role is in a pose traditionally reserved for a woman, which is caught, helpless and submissive. The story of Gankutsuo reminded me of Beauty and the Beast, with Albert playing the role of Belle.

Conventions work because they are tried and tested through the ages, however it's trippy to see what happens when there's a slight change, as in the role reversals above.


Caddy C said...

I adore anime & manga that throw gender conventions out the window, because they make things so much more interesting! Most gender conventions make the female role passive and helpless, which promotes the stereotype of women as passive players in a man's world.

I'd recommend Ooku: The Inner Chambers to anyone that is interested in switching up the gender roles. It's a rather sobering look at an alternate version of the Edo Period and is well worth the read.

The other male/female role switch that I find fascinating is that of Alucard & Integra of Hellsing. The master/servant trope is neatly reversed, and the super-powerful male bows to the also super-powerful-but-in-a-different-way female.

Akemi said...

cool. thanks. I've been meaning to read Ooku. I love Fumi Yoshinaga's work. Rose of Versailles, Bakurestu Tenshi, and Shadow skill also have a woman playing the role traditionally reserved for men.

You might be interested in this article Why Strong Female Characters Are Bad for Women which is an amusing look on the difference between Strong Female Characters vs Strong Characters that are Female.