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October 12, 2011 5:42 PM   Subscribe

Can you explain the stock "lantern-jawed transvestite" character in mainstream Japanese animation?

Anime is built out of off-the-shelf characters, and I'd like to understand the social factors behind this one. I've seen it often enough to start getting curious about where it comes from and why it's the go-to stock character in several anime genres.

Some representative samples: Ms. Aki from Gainax's Abenobashi Mahou Shoutengai, Hana from Satoshi Kon's Tokyo Godfathers, Fire Emblem from the recently popular Tiger & Bunny.
  1. Are transvestism and transsexuality common comedy tropes in Japanese popular entertainment? How long has this stock character been around?
  2. How widespread is cross-dressing and transsexuality in Japan, today and historically (not including onnagata)? How visible, to the average Japanese, are members of Japan's transvestite and transsexual communities?
  3. How is the target audience expected to react to these characters? Are they ridiculing non-standard gender expression and enforcing strict gender roles? Are they satirical? Just derpy humor for Japanese schoolboys? Or are Japanese neighborhoods really filled with burlesque caricatures?
If you've got a book recommendation handy, that'd be awesome too.
posted by Nomyte to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Questions like this are why TV Tropes exist. They've recently been cleaning up Japanese trope names though
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:59 PM on October 12, 2011

Response by poster: TVT sadly doesn't help me at all. Looking at the entry for Tokyo Godfathers, I see links to "Camp Gay," "Transvestite," and "Transsexual," which lead to pages of disorganized notes on examples of each in anime, manga, cinema, etc. The notes aren't sorted in any way, there's no cultural analysis, and I'd have to google each characrter to find out if it's the stereotype I'm after. If I wanted to know about anime trivia and "fan analysis," it'd be perfect, but I'm not.
posted by Nomyte at 6:16 PM on October 12, 2011

Maybe check the forums? If there's anyone who knows about sexuality in anime its TVT
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:17 PM on October 12, 2011

I've just scoured my bookmarks because I was certain I had kept the article but dang can't find it.... Gotta go back to my homework but I'll quickly share what I can remember and maybe it'd help you find more information:

If I remember it right, the article explained the Japanese view of homosexuality (almost think it was a wikipedia article...), and as you might know, the country's long and rich history is rife with homosexual relationships. It was normal for young men training to become samurai to be the lover of their older mentor. Parallel with ancient Greece, it was considered a healthy part of growing up as a man and learning sex, and it helped create a bond of love to reinforce fighters caring for their fellow man. Once a proper adult man, the promiscuity between the pupil and mentor would fade and the former would eventually look for a wife, etc.

In a sense, homosexual relationships, or maybe better said, bisexuality was a normal part of life. Blah blah. But, then the Westerners came and brought their values and views of homosexuality with them.
This in turn affected the Japanese view of the matter.
Whereas the Japanese way was more of a bisexuality evolving with life stages, westerners came with this concept of "men only attracted to other men", and also that these people were worthy of scorn. And while there is the stereotype of the effeminate gay men- the one that the westerners might think of first- there is also the one of the beefcakes gays, and of course the Drag Queens.

The Japanese already had the pretty, "effeminate" young men that take men lovers (and then maybe grow up out of it) concept normalized. But the Gay Beefcake Dude was a new stereotype. And those Lantern-Jawed Westerners dressing like women without having the androgynous quality of the young Japanese teen of their existing concept.
Therefore, because hilarious stereotypes are fun, came the view that homosexuals are Big Beefy Guys and the trope you mention about the Lantern-Jawed Drag Queen.

Wow, that took way longer to type than I thought. Maybe looking for the articles would have been wiser. Oh well, I might have remembered stuff all sorts of wrong so if someone wants to do the research better, feel free! Good luck!
posted by CelebrenIthil at 6:45 PM on October 12, 2011 [5 favorites]

Having watched quite a bit of anime, and living in an area where there are quite a few trannies (just off Belmont in Chicago), I'm wondering if it has something to do with visually communicating a stereotype in a way that is easiest to grok?

I mean, lets say you have an effeminate looking person in women's clothing. There may be some difficulty telling whether it is a man or woman, particularly given that the line can be quite blurred in some anime. By having a big hulking person with an unmistakably masculine jaw shape (ie. the lantern jaw), it is instantly obvious that this is not a woman, but a loud and proud tranny.
posted by Elminster24 at 7:25 PM on October 12, 2011

Regarding transvestism:

One of the laws put into place by the Shogunate made it illegal for women to perform on stage. So in Noh plays after that point, all the female parts were performed by men. Specific male actors came to specialize in those parts.

Maybe 30 years ago there was a National Geographic special about the "Living Treasures of Japan", certain people in Japan who are given a stipend by the government because they are experts in certain bodies of knowledge. One of the ones shown was a sword maker. Another was an old woman who hand-wove cloth out of hemp, which she dyed herself with a natural dye. And one of them was a rather famous Noh actor, a man, who did female parts.

It was amazing to watch him when in costume and in character. He had spend his life studying how women move and act, and had learned to capture the essence of it in his performance.

Out of character, in his own person, he didn't act effeminate as best I could determine. It was his profession, and he was really good at it. And those like him are famous and respected.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:42 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is that Dukes of Stratosphear reference I see?

I haven't started it yet, so I can't vouch for it as a work of scholarship and not a collection of personal essays, but maybe check out William T. Vollman's Kissing the Mask for some historical/cultural context?
posted by Merzbau at 8:35 PM on October 12, 2011

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