Currently Reading: Love Me for Who I Am

Thoughts so far:

Full disclosure: I’m reading this in Japanese, so I can’t comment on the quality of the localization. From what I’ve heard, it’s pretty damn good, which is hard to do considering that gender is conceptualized very differently in Japanese compared to English. Also, I am very much a cishet woman, so as much as I can attempt to learn about and listen to LGBT voices, I acknowledge that I don’t have much of a shared perspective about these issues.

I’ve also been working on this post for a while, since I needed some time to really let my thoughts on this series settle and really think about what I was reading. While I was in the process of doing this, JKR really went into full TERF mode and made a hot mess of everything (again), prompting a lot of discussion about trans and nonbinary identity. Although progress certainly has been made in recent years, it’s clear that there’s still a long way to go.

With that background in mind, let’s get back to Fukaboku (as the series is commonly referred to).

This manga is pretty freaking good. It’s not because I want to be woke. It’s not because I’m trying to be an ally no matter what work is set in front of me. I genuinely love this manga, I’m going to keep purchasing it since I NEED this series to continue, and I heavily advise everyone reading this to go and pick up Fukaboku NOW!

I think there needs to be a place for manga like this in the space of manga that prominently feature LGBT+ characters. Manga like IS (about intersex issues) and What Did You Eat Yesterday? (featuring a gay couple in a long-term relationship) are important works, opening the eyes of many readers to issues in Japan that don’t normally see a lot of genuine representation. However, what I think we have to realize is that a good number of people who engage in anime culture in terms of tsundere, moe and other tropes are NOT going to engage with those manga that handle these issues in a more serious light.

This is where FukaBoku comes in.

FukaBoku uses a lot of tropes commonly found in moe-heavy anime, and plays into them (or even subverts them!) to get its message across. Mogumo is shy, but not because it’s a character flaw – it’s a response to a world that has been unaccepting of their gender identity. Kotone, Mogumo’s childhood friend who professes to be in love with Mogumo, isn’t in it because of the whole childhood friend romance trope, there’s a far deeper reason why she’s acting the way she is. What I love about these characters is that the initial tropes makes it easy for casual fans with experience in moe tropes to appreciate this series, until the plot turns every situation on its head, causing the reader to think more deeply about each character’s motivations and issues. Overall, I think the author does a good job of weaving together concepts that all readers can relate to: lack of acceptance, social anxiety, love and uncertainty about relationships, while also integrating related issues facing the LGBT community in such a way that the reader gains a greater ability to understand and sympathize with these struggles.

Another thing that I really appreciate about this manga is how accessible it is to people who have never encountered LGBT issues before. The author does a great job of introducing the concept of nonbinary gender (or X-gender) at the start, establishing it as something that is deeply integral to Mogumo’s identity, rather than a cheap plot device. Further, as the plot progresses, the reader is slowly introduced to a variety of facets of the gay community (the presence of members of the LGBT community in people’s lives, the concept of pride events) as well as the issues they face (lack of acceptance by family and friends, lack of representation of LGBT people in media) in a way that can produce great emotional impact (I dare ANYONE to go through Kotone’s character arc without at least crying a little!). Humanizing LGBT characters like this is what’s needed to advance conversations in society about LGBT issues!

The author’s whole thought process behind the conceptualization of this manga is just so fascinating to me as well! From what I gathered, the author tried to write this series with a cisgendered Mogumo, until it became apparent that the story was lacking something. The author then did some research and found out about the concept of nonbinary gender, bringing us all here today! I think this just goes to show that we don’t NEED tokenism to have representation for minority groups. It IS possible to incorporate the unique issues faced by minority groups into an engaging story, while offering something completely unique, and I applaud the author for it.

The art of the manga and character designs in and of themselves are pretty competently done – everything is visually pleasing, the composition and varied usage of the panels serve to convey emotion, especially with some clever use of tones. Sure, there’s a bit to be desired with the backgrounds (we aren’t looking at Kaoru Mori levels of craftsmanship here), but overall the manga is technically executed well and will appeal to most people.

The characters all have interesting designs. I appreciate the fact that the cafe staff, when drawn as girls, DO look cute and girly (to appeal to that moe-seeking crowd), but when they take off the girls’ clothes and are in their boy clothes it’s not entirely unbelievable and they don’t look drastically different. One could argue that Tetsu suffers a bit from generic anime protagonist syndrome (which is fair), but I think that really helps the reader focus on the other characters and their journey through the manga more, which is also important.

Before we finish up here, let me give some important context as to WHY I think this manga is so important.

Awareness about LGBT issues is appallingly low in Japan. Gay marriage is not legal nationwide here. Yes, certain jurisdictions are allowing civil unions, and yes, you can get married at hotels and at Disneyland. However, the law is nowhere close to being caught up, and many politicians display either indifferent or outright hostility towards the LGBT community. LDP member Mio Sugita is infamous for once describing gay people as ‘unproductive’ in a statement I despise. Gay marriage does not exist in Japan, and a recent court case denied a man in a same-sex couple from getting victims’ compensation after the murder of his partner. On an anecdotal level, many of my Japanese friends acknowledge that they don’t know anyone (not one!) person in their life that is out.

I’m not saying that Fukaboku is the one manga that will cause a drastic paradigm shift. What I AM saying is that it’s pretty damn good, and that it could well be part of a larger wave of manga tackling LGBT issues in an insightful and gripping way. And I’m here for it!

Score so far: 9.5/10