Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Princess Princess, vol. 1 - A Gender Non-Conforming/Transgender Manga

Princess Princess by Mikiyo Tsuda

Why is Toru Kono receiving such an overly warm welcome at his new all boys school?  He has yet to discover the secret system called "Hime" (Princess) in effect at the school.  Boys who are chosen have to dress up as a girl at every school event!  Little does Toru know that he will be the chosen one...

There are five volumes in this manga series - here are the covers for the other four.

There's also the Princess Princess Plus stand-alone volume, 

which according to this excellent review is best read after the first five volumes, and focuses more on the personal story between Izumi and Matsuoka, and less on their Princess responsibilities.

Add your review of any of the "Princess Princess" titles in comments!

My thanks again to Robin Fosdick, Reference Librarian, Youth Services at the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library in Oregon, for letting me know about her library's excellent list of GLBTQ Graphic Novels For Teens!



Marfisa said...

This is a fun and reasonably LGBT-friendly series. However, none of the main characters chosen to play Princesses at events at their rather eccentric all-boys school are transgender. And only one of them (the long-haired guy shown on the cover of volume two) appears to enjoy performing as a Princess, or to have agreed to do it without some pretty heavy persuasion. In fact, one of them, the boy on the cover of volume three, objects to being drafted as a Princess so violently that he has to be literally forced to do it, and is constantly neglecting and attempting to get out of his Princess duties.

The senior who's the current student body president, on the other hand, appears to have gotten a big kick out of his previous role as a Princess, proudly showing off photos from the crossdressing school beauty pageant he won. But although it's hinted that he may be gay, now that the president has aged out of the Princess system (which employs only underclassmen to crossdress as school mascots/cheerleaders/officially-designated school idols), he dresses in more or less the "normal" male version of the (fancy) school uniform. So I'm not sure if he really counts as voluntarily non-gender-conforming in the present-day era of the manga, either.

The viewpoint character of the initial five-volume arc (the guy on the cover of volume one), whom I will refer to as Character A, since it's been several years since I read this manga and I don't recall any of their names, isn't particularly enthusiastic about Princessing either. But, when offered various privileges and financial incentives to play along, he eventually agrees to do it. A. then spends the rest of the academic year conscientiously performing in that role, taking the attitude that being a Princess is basically a rather elaborate and occasionally troublesome part-time job.

A. is a transfer student who had no idea the Princess system existed until he arrived at his new boarding school and was immediately offered free fancy meals, a semi-private room, and other luxuries and privileges in exchange for signing up to play the Gothic Lolita-looking school mascot role of Princess. This involves crossdressing on (fairly frequent) special occasions like assemblies, student performances, and morale-boosting visits to cheer on the school athletic teams as various local championships approach.

The Princesses dress in spiffy-looking but fairly standard (for this school) boys' uniforms for regular classes and other "normal" daily activities. However, in order to ward off potentially aggressive admirers who might take the Princesses' role as officially-designated objects of adoration too seriously, the Princesses get their own private table in the cafeteria and their own separate wing of the dormitory, and are frequently protected by an informal corps of student bodyguards. As a result, they wind up being largely socially isolated from everyone but each other and the rather extensive Princess-system support staff, which includes a budding fashion designer and other student stylists who come up with appropriate looks and hairstyles for the Princesses in their feminine personas. However, they do make friends with one rather ordinary-looking boy who appears to be one of their few fellow students who isn't totally dazzled by/obsessed with the Princesses' gorgeous public personas, perhaps because he grew up as the only "average" sibling in an otherwise extremely glamorous and popular family.

Marfisa said...

All three of the Princesses featured in the initial five-volume storyline identify as straight. (One of the new Princesses in "Princess Princess Plus," which takes place a year later, does have a crush on the other. So gay/boys' love themes are a lot more central in the sequel than they are in the first series, which includes a relatively brief and late-developing boy/boy romance subplot featuring two of the supporting characters.) There's actually a story in volume three or four in which Character A and his friend and roommate, the long-haired Character B, head out for the day in casual boys' clothes hoping to pick up girls. However, they wind up having no luck because they keep being being mistaken for girls and hit on by guys instead, based on their "too pretty to be a boy" (even without makeup, wigs, or other feminizing accessories) looks.

As for the "I hate being a Princess" Character C, he's the only one who has a regular girlfriend. However, as readers of Tsuda's earlier series "The Day of Revolution" know, C's girlfriend was actually born intersex and was raised as a boy (apparently with no suspicion that his/her actual gender was more ambiguous) until age fifteen or so, when the truth came out and he/she decided that under the circumstances, it would be best to switch to being a girl instead.

This entire sequence of events is more or less played for laughs in an apparently well-intentioned, but rather irresponsible and--I hope--unrealistic way. Upon having the facts about his/her gender duality explained, the girlfriend-to-be, who had unambiguously identified as a rather rambunctious (albeit short and cute) boy previously, makes a rather reluctant and somewhat ill-informed snap decision to become a girl instead, mostly because he/she appears to feel that continuing as a boy will be physically unworkable or won't be allowed anyway. When he/she belatedly discovers that this was not the case, his/her parents (who are obsessively thrilled at the idea of having a daughter) and doctors inform him/her that it's too late to go back to being a boy now, even though there's been no mention of surgical or even hormonal intervention. (Tsuda admits in the afterword that she did little or no research on intersexuality or gender reassignment before creating the manga--which was apparently inspired by a very brief and undetailed news item about a similar case in real life--and it shows.) Although he/she is dismayed by this at the time, the character appears to be pretty happy with being a girl by the time the "Day of Revolution" series ends, and she seems conspicuously more contented and well-adjusted than her boyfriend C during her brief appearances late in the "Princess Princess" series.

The girlfriend-to-be spends most of the two-volume "Day of Revolution" series going through a lot of comedic trials and tribulations along the road to becoming a girl. These range from adjusting to girl's clothing and learning to use female speech patterns (which are far more distinct from male ones in Japanese than they are in English) to coping with the fact that the three guys who were her closest buddies back when she was thought to be a boy immediately start hitting on her when she reappears as a girl, even--or especially--after they discover that she used to be their adorably small and snuggly male friend. This eventually becomes so stressful for the boy-turned-girl, if only because she likes all three of the guys equally, that at one point she temporarily resolves the dilemma by announcing that she's going to instead go out with her female admirer, the daughter of her doctor, who has been giving her tips on how to adjust to her new gender.

Marfisa said...

However, this option isn't seriously pursued either, and in volume two she eventually winds up pairing off with the other girl's (slightly) younger brother, Character C from "Princess Princess," who, unlike her other male suitors, evidently doesn't know that she used to be a boy. (I don't think he ever finds out about this during their subsequent interactions in the "Princess Princess" series, either, at least not on panel.) So when Tsuda actually does deal with a (sort of) transgender character, it's pretty superficial and, in some ways, potentially offensive--although, as far as I recall, C's girlfriend's complicated gender history is never overtly referred to by anyone during her relatively brief appearances in "Princess Princess."