As the 2023 Spring Season begins and shows begin to take shape, several of the more unexpected choices have come from new series. While returning anime continues to dominate audiences (Demon Slayer has 388 thousand members on MAL at the time of writing), new ones are gaining traction due to outstanding animation, solid characters, and daring narrative choices.
Among those, Heavenly Delusion and Skip and Loafer made surprising statements bucking gender norms that felt like effective, empowering additions to their respective stories. Coincidentally, both occur in the second episode for both series and affirm a view of a world where gender appears more like a construct -- and a constraint -- than an objective truth.
Mitsumi Unquestioningly Accepts Her ‘Auntie’ in Skip and Loafer
As it happens, Mitsumi and Nao-chan are riding the train and conversing fondly. People look at Mitsumi's auntie and gasp at her feminine looks, despite the fact that it is evident that below those clothing is a guy. Nao-chan begins to squirm uneasily as a result of the unwanted attention, but Mitsumi softly takes her hand and changes the conversation, her gaze sympathetic and trustworthy. It's a brief, seemingly insignificant scene, but it feels significant.
Till now, the show has not even mentioned Mitsumi's relative. She's always been 'Nao-chan,' a person Mitsumi adores and values. Because the majority of Skip and Loafer's story is recounted through Mitsumi's eyes, it's evident that she has nothing to say about her auntie; her decision to dress in female clothing, whether to validate her gender identity or to satisfy her craving for femininity, is totally normal to her. It's a daring statement wrapped in a cocoon of love and affection that feels fresh in anime.
Kiruko's Dysphoria in Heavenly Illusion Might Be a Symbol for Gender
At the end of Heavenly Delusion Episode 2, when Kiruko claims that despite being in a woman’s body, she is a man, it hits the audience like a slap in the face. Is she a transgender character? With such a strong cliffhanger, it feels like there is more to it. Episode 3 unravels Kiruko’s mysterious past, revealing that she is in fact Haruki, Kiruko’s brother who mysteriously found himself in his sister’s body after a mortal fight against a man-eater.
While Kiruko isn’t a transgender character per se,his journey could be read as a metaphor for gender dysphoria -- the feeling of waking up in an alien body every day, the lack of understanding from people around you, even doctors, and the need to affirm your identity in contrast to your outward appearance. Kiruko loves his sister’s body -- loves himself -- but that’s not who he is supposed to be.
As Kiruko confesses his true identity to Maru, the boy finds it difficult to accept. It's difficult for him to see Kiruko as a male because he resembles the lady he has a crush on. The subsequent exchange between the two boys appears to confirm gender and sexual standards, denying the prospect of anything happening between them, yet their unequivocal declarations are the result of their childhood. In actuality, Maru still likes Kiruko; Kiruko is adjusting to his new body and appears to have conflicting feelings for his masculine instructor. Instead of dispelling worries, Maru and Kiruko's dialogue appears to demonstrate that gender is merely an abstract term in human interactions, but affection and desire are far more complex.
While anime still relies on metaphors, allegories and small hidden moments to show progress in terms of gender and sexuality, contemporary series are getting bolder and bolder with their representation. While Heavenly Delusion and Skip and Loafer might not be as outspoken as needed, they are certainly paving the way for braver content that is sure to come.