Monday, March 23, 2020

Missed it Monday - Takane & Hana volume 5 (Manga Review)

Young man in suit holding a rose and pointing at the viewer
"Missed it Monday" is the regular column where I review manga/anime that I didn't get to read/watch when they first came out.

Takane & Hana vol. 5 - 5/10 (*See full scoring rubric below)

I must admit, I was starting to get bored with Takane & Hana as I was reading volume 5 (Shojo Beat/Viz). By now, we're familiar with their shtick. It's fine, but it is very broad comedy in a very light romance. I do like Takane's tsundere-meets-arrogant jack ass personality against her very strong, self-assured, but still very caring personality. However, what I wasn't expecting was a random transgender character from Takane's past who got introduced late in this volume.

So for the sake of brevity with the main review: The art is simple and broad like the comedy. I still have problems with an adult (Takane) being in an arranged marriage arrangement (because they aren't yet married) with a high-schooler (Hana). But nothing romantic is happening, and at least they are doing it with her family's knowledge so it's a bit less icky for that reason. If you like very very broad romantic comedies and the stuff above doesn't bother you, then Takane & Hana is sure to please. Yadda, yadda, yadda, I feel like every review I write of this series says the same thing. So let's talk about Rino, a transgender woman who appears in this volume.

Rino is a year younger than Takane and finishing up her 6th year of medical school. They met in high-school and she is very attached to him, for good reason as we'll learn later, but at first it appears she's just a super aggressive flirt. She definitely doesn't like the idea of Takane being with a high-schooler, and she seems to suggest that Takane made a romantic pledge to her years back.

Whatever, it sorts itself out. I'm really not worried about the plot at all. The series is called Takane & Hana after all, not Takane & Rino or Takane and random girls from his past, so we know the likely ending already. What I want to discuss is the depiction of a transgender character within the context of a very broad (you get the point) comedy series. And while far from perfect, there are some pretty respectful moments which is important given that it was originally published only back in 2016 so it had better be up with the times.

I want to start by talking about the point where we the audience, and Hana, come to understand that Rino is a transgender woman. Takane never says anything about it, and when asked later, he says: "There was no reason to mention it." YES! Bonus points. Unless you are likely to be in a very intimate relationship with a transgender person, you DO NOT NEED (nor have the right) to know that they are transgender. Some want to pass for their own psychological well-being, some want to pass and go stealth for safety. So if you don't know, you shouldn't ask. If you do know, you shouldn't tell. Good job, Takane! Thumbs up!

BUT, how did the audience and Hana find out? Rino is drunk and spills a hot liquid all down her shirt at a Christmas party. Hana leaps into action to keep her from getting burned. Takane tries to take her to the bathroom to change, but Hana wont let him. When Hana gets her into the bathroom, Hana forcefully strips her shirt off and reveals her completely flat chest with a stuffed bra.

First, no one should forcibly strip another person, so bad job Hana. But Rino does yell: "What kind of girl does that?!" So we do get the author's understanding that it isn't okay for one person to strip another even trying to help. Good sensitivity Shiwasu-sensei!

At first, Hana's reaction to the reveal is a bit overblown and her shock is very very visually comedically depicted. And then Rino goes on the defensive and further exposes her bare chest saying: "no boobs, nothing!" while making Hana lie face down. I know, I know, this is a (insert my overused word here) comedy, so some of the physical reaction is in keeping with that. But I didn't like it.

So Hana's reaction was a bad first impression of how this transgender character was going to be treated in this series. My second impression was also less than good. Hana reflects on finally understanding why Takane and Nicola have been nonplussed by Rino all this time. It's because, as Hana says, "this explains why Takane and Nicola's attitudes where like that." So basically, they weren't interested in her because she wasn't a real woman. Awful message to send. And yes, we know that Nicola is actually interested in one of Hana's friends (a problem in and of itself), but he truly didn't acknowledge Rino as a woman like he does every other woman. Bad second impression of how they would handle a transgender character.

But thankfully, the rest of the arc is handled with care and love. Rino tells Hana her story. Hana isn't actually interested, which comes off as a positive that she isn't pursuing the information voyeuristically. Rino makes very clear that she knew in high-school who she really was and that trying to force herself to be manly was just awful. It came across as a genuine experience that many transgender people (myself included) would recognize.

This is when she met Takane, and he saw through her guise and actually confronted her about accepting herself if she ever wanted others to accept her. It was the forceful, blunt, and honest advice that she needed to rethink what she was doing and take the first critical steps with transition. Takane, back then, just as now, wasn't bothered by the fact she's a transgender woman. He's just as blase about it as anything else. And that's a good thing. He is clearly friends with her and kind to her in many subtle ways, and never makes mention of her being transgender. That's a great level of acceptance. Even Hana ultimately recognizes that Takane, unlike Nicola, might see her as a woman, and only is so calm around her because Rino is so open and honest with him that it puts him at ease. Takane comes out of this looking good.

So overall, Rino's story is very recognizable as a legitimate transgender experience and feelings, Takane is a true friend to her, but there were some very unrefined reactions to her (see Hana and Nicola). But overall, I was pleased that Hana accepted her as a woman in the end: "Okay, I was wrong, Rino really is a woman."  It's a good message: learning about the lived trans experience really can help people grasp the reality of it.

But, after all this mostly good will, it gets ruined in a side panel comedy strip where Okamon's younger brother points to Rino's driver's license (forgotten at the party) and says: "That belongs to the guy with the long hair, right?" Basically, the brother just assumed she was a man the whole time, and he probably didn't have a concept of transgender to align Rino to, so he just assumed Rino was a man. It's a tough call, is it a clearly transphobic moment of misgendering put in there by the mangaka for comedy or is it an assertion that if we don't provide youth with the words and experiences to understand LGBTQ+ people that they will map them onto cis-hetero-normative roles? I think it's a bit of both, to be honest.

Getting back to the main volume quickly, there were some other things to mention. I'm not liking this whole Nicola liking one of Hana's friends. He's an adult, she's a high-schooler, and there is no arranged marriage structure to (maybe) provide some safety. On the plus side, we see Takane apologize to Hana (from an incident in the prior volume) showing some growth in him. Hana also recognizes that despite Takane's wealth, he's not interested in women who would be excited by displays of wealth. It's another plus for Takane.

Takane also makes clear to Hana that this whole arrangement marriage arrangement (again, they aren't married yet, or even really dating) isn't just a practice run. It's the closest to a true confession of his commitment as we've yet had - almost a proposal! Further, Hana also admits to Rino that she truly likes Takane (although she somewhat struggles with just what that means). It's her first admission (although to Rino, not to Takane) of her feelings towards him. I love when Hana is questioning herself but then stops herself and says: "These feelings are mine, and they're real." What a great, validating message!

The only other random thing to mention occurs in the Takane & Hana & Takane Jr. 4 panel extra comic. In this series (going back to others volumes), the two are married and have kids who all look like baby Takane (in an ugly, grown-up way). In this one, Takane mixes up one of his girl and boy babies and the boy baby sprouts a rose on his head. Takane doesn't like this, thinking that because he mixes up his kids, it has "made" the boy think he's a girl. In response, the baby sprouts an iridescent rose, going even more over the top. It's a confusing gender statement. Does Takane have a problem with his male child wearing a flower on his head? What does it mean that the boy then sprouts another flower with an even more extravagant color? What does the mangaka want us to understand about this, about the characters, and about her own gender politics? I just don't know. But I'm overall thinking that at least the mangaka is showing some gender-fluid positivity by having the child essentially say: "f-you, I'm gonna have a flower if I want" to Takane in response to Takane's discomfort with the boy's femininity.

Well, for what started as quite a boring volume, just more of the same from the prior four, we ended up getting a hell of a lot of gender commentary, experiences, and representation. Not all good, but not all bad either. Despite some characters not doing well with it, overall, I took away a message of support for the transgender community and found some actual true representation in Rino's character. I could relate to her and her experiences. That's a huge plus in my mind, any problems not withstanding. So while the overall comic is more of the same, it was an interestingly unexpected bit of LGBTQ+ rep, imperfect as it definitely was. Takane & Hana volume 5 gets a complex and mixed 5/10.

  • Story interesting (0-10): 5 - it is what it is, getting kinda boring overall
  • Characters interesting (0-10): - 8 - Takane and Hana are more fully realized characters than the comedy genre typically allows. Rino was an added bonus this volume.
  • Quality prose/writing (0-10): 6 - it is what it is for a comedy, however, the characters are better written than most and there are some great lines
  • Emotionally plausible (0-10): 6 - overall the series is a mixed bag, but Rino added some validity to this volume.
BASIC SCORE (avg.): 6/10

  • Emotional insight/depth (0-5): 1 - a little with Rino, and Hana has a great line about validating her own feelings.
  • True LGBTQ+ representation (0-5): 2 - Rino's story resonated and was fairly accurately depicted
  • Female agency (0-5): 1 - as always, Hana is driving her own life and her relationship, she doesn't take shit from Takane
  • Character growth/change (0-5): 1 - Takane apologizes, Hana sees a transgender woman as a woman as she gets to know her. Hana admits she likes Takane. Takane more or less proposes to Hana.
  • Quality art (0-5): 0 - fine for the genre, but really loose
BONUS POINTS (sum/8): +.5

  • Homophobic/transphobic (0-5): 2 - despite the good representation of Rino, there are problems: Nicola's reaction to her, Okamon's brother's misgendering of her, Hana's initial reaction, etc...
  • Misogynistic (0-5): 0
  • Fan service (0-5): 0
  • Child/adult relationship (0-5): 1 - I have to take some points off. Not so much because of Takane and Hana who have a completely non-intimate relationship and one where she is very much in control, so there doesn't seem to be so much power imbalance. But really, it was the growing relationship between Nicola and one of Hana's friends that has me concerned.
  • Exploitative (0-5): 0
PENALTY POINTS (-sum/2): -1.5



Please legitimately purchase or borrow manga and anime. Never read scanlations or watch fansubs. Those rob the creators of the income they need to survive and reduce the chance of manga and anime being legitimately released in English.

All comments are moderated by a real person who only checks them once a day. Therefore, comments may take a while before they show up. Thanks for understanding. It's how we keep this a community of lovingkindness.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Remember: please talk about the work, and offer counter points to others' analyses but DO NOT ATTACK THE PERSON whose analysis you are countering. (no ad hominem comments) Thanks! <3