While the idea of a girl cross dressing as boy is not a new one in manga or anime, it is often a plot that can bring a lot of depth to a story by opening conversation to ideas of gender stereotypes. Stories such as Ouran Host Club, Revolutionary Girl Utena, and Hana Kimi are some of the most well known variations of this troupe and both offer different and unique looks at love and gender. Unfortunately, if you are looking for a similar experience in Aoharu x Machinegun you’ll be sorely disappointed.
The first couple episodes of Aoharu x Machinegun are out and this anime is shaping up to be a strange little creature. It has a hosts of problems from characters who try to be enduring and fail, from overplayed concepts, to blatant knock-off plots. The plot of the show seems intriguing at first, high school student Hotaru Tachibana, a girl
disguised who dresses like a boy and finds herself drawn into the world of survival games airsoft gun battles. The strike-through-ed words were apart of crunchyroll’s description for the show, which make it seem a lot more interesting then the reality (my corrections.)
Already there is a problem implied by the description above. Hotaru isn’t a girl “disguised” as a boy. She’s a girl who wears a boy’s uniform and has a boyish haircut, but she isn’t hiding anything and seems genuinely confused when others mistake her gender. When she’s mistaken as a boy by Masamune Matsuoka and recruited to join his survival team, only then does Hotaru decide she must disguise herself because, “No girls allowed.” This falls in line with other animes that share this concept. The girl has a goal, in this case Hotaru is in debt for breaking Matsuoka’s valuables (sound familiar?) and she must make the money back by helping Matsuoka win survival games.
At first Hotaru is given a basic reason to keep her identity a mystery. She doesn’t know Matsuoka very well as a person and is concerned about paying off her debt. However, by episode three the debt is paid off and without it Hotaru continues keep her identity a secret in order to play the survival games. Writing it out makes it seem like a more cognitive idea then it really was. In reality Hotaru doesn’t spend anytime deliberating if she should keep her identity a secret or not. Instead she focuses on the dilemma of her new found enjoyment of the survival games.
Like everything else, Hotaru’s decision to dress like a boy feels like lazy writing rather then an attempt to explore different types of women. Once it was established that Hotaru was mistaken for a boy the show decided this was the best way to add an obstacle between her and any potential love interest. Thus treating her cross-dressing nature as an obstacle rather then an actual personality trait. Hotaru’s gender feels like a secondary subplot that is often in danger of being forgotten about if not for the squeaky reminder once any episode of “I’m a girl!” Yes, dear readers, even I have forgotten that Hotaru is a girl while watching the show.
While I would like to think this is the anime commenting on how Hotaru’s gender shouldn’t matter to the plot I know this isn’t the case. Already the anime has set up the boys on her team as future love interests and is probably still hoping for tension when the (eventual) discovery of her real gender is made.
It even goes against Hotaru’s character that she would decide to keep her identity a secret for so long, since she is played up to have a strong sense of justice. I can’t believe she would go on lying to her team mates for so long under the weak impression that they’d kick her off the team. She has seen a few other women play the survival games as well, and as an audience we haven’t seen Matsuoka act like a misogynist to any of those women. The motivation for Hotaru to keep her gender a secret is imaginary. In fact it would be more realistic now, with the threat of paying off a debt no longer hanging over her head, that she would prove her team mates wrong in their assumption of “Boy’s Only Team = Best Team.”
Aoharu is missing the factors of cross-dressing women that made stories in Ouran Host Club and Hana Kimi so intriguing. In Ouran, the boy’s discover within the first episode Haruhi’s real identity, resulting in the male characters of the show struggling over her gender identity more then she does. While in Hana Kimi, the main female protagonist Mizuki, struggles to keep her identity a secret throughout the entire series, which worked well when the secret was finally revealed. .
Both titles tackled topics like the line between femininity and cross dressing, and women “exploring” a man’s world. So far for Hotaru none of this has been explored. She’s a girl who appears to have no struggles with her disguise as a male and no opinions what-so-ever on why she acts and dresses the way she does. If the show could explore these two concepts more in depth in future episodes- there might be hope.
It should also be mentioned that both Ouran and Kimi are Shoujo, manga that focuses on a girl’s journey into identity and their place in the world. With this in mind, it’s easier to see where Aoharu lacks. The anime doesn’t really know what it wants to be. It has some action (kind of) and hints of romance (kind of.) While the show might be trying to portray itself as a dark-action packed-shoujo (which I really really want more of) it is bogged down by too many troupes and cliches to find its footing.
Granted we are only four episodes in by the time of this post, but it will be a pleasant surprise indeed if Aoharu can manage to make Hotaru the cross-dressing heroine the show needs her to be.
For some great reads on Cross dressing Women in Anime (and Asian Dramas) check out these articles: