Broken Gem: A review of Bokura no Hentai

[Hachimitsu_Scans]_Bokura_no_Hentai_v01_c01_02-03Introduction

From the good to the mediocre and memorably bad, most titles contain at least some minor flaws. Yes, that’s true even for your favorites. It’s very rare for these weaknesses to ruin an overall satisfying story. Rare but not impossible, as Bokura no Hentai (BnH) by Fumiko Fumi, one of the few manga that tries to deal with queer/transgender issues on a realistic, level-headed basis, unfortunately reminds us.

*The following review will contain some very important spoilers. For those of you who have come across our blog for the first time, I should mention that I am a transgender woman and social justice and identity will be a major part of my critique.

The Good…

When I first heard about BnH I found myself intrigued. A manga that deals respectfully with transgender and crossdressing characters, without mixing up the two groups? A story that doesn’t focus on fanservice but on the actual, real-life problems queer youth faces? Count me in! Foxy Lady shared my feelings and this is one of the reasons why the series was included in her Transgender Manga Megapost.

Our initial response after reading the first volumes was overwhelmingly positive. BnH, for the most part, delivers amazingly well on its premise. The trio of protagonists, Marika, a transgender girl who wishes to be a pure princess, Tamura who is crossdressing for his lover and Ryousuke who does the same thing to help his mother forget about his sister’s death, is the story’s main focus. The personalities mix of these three kids contradict each other just enough so that the story doesn’t get monotonous, but at the same time they seem to fit each other nicely. Tamura’s teasing skills are a good example of that. At certains points of the story his nasty attitude brings complete chaos, yet it also helps progress the story and bring new issues on the surface.

Thankfully, BnH doesn’t forget to address its secondary characters. Akane, Tomochi and the rest of the cast gets more than enough time in the spotlight without overshadowing the protagonists. Each character has their own issues to deal with and they do so in absolutely humane, if often problematic, ways. Thankfully, the plot is structured in such a way that there’s plenty of room for character development. Honestly, one of the most enjoyable parts of BnH was watching these kids I had come to adore grow and learn from their experiences. It made me feel as if I matured along with them. You could say that, the more the story progressed, the more I genuinely cared about their well-being. That’s a rare achievement in modern manga and BnH deserves credit for it.

[Hachimitsu_Scans]_Bokura_no_Hentai_v08_c30_02-03Fumiko Fumi’s art is another great treasure BnH has to offer. It’s minimalistic for the most part but it never slips into over-simplicity. The colored introductions to each new volume are simply works of art -saying I am in love with them would undermine their beauty. In all honesty they give a much warmer feeling to the story and further humanize the characters.

…And the Bad.

If you’ve reached this far in the review you may be thinking “I don’t get it. This looks like a title meant to be a classic”. I wish I could stop here and confirm this. I wish I could just give BnH a huge shining 10/10 and tell you it has earned its place among the masterpieces of our time.

But, unfortunately, there’s chapter 40. The chapter where Marika is having second thoughts about her gender identity. The chapter where she misgenders herself so that a group of irrelevant, anonymous cosplaying male students won’t feel bad for not being as cute as she is. The chapter where essentially none of her friends tries to confront her about this attitude, in a way telling the readers that they too thought of her as a cute guy who crosses or, as the series tells us, a boy with a perversion. The chapter where she enters a crossdressing contest, even though from chapter one she has clearly, unapologetically stated that she is not a crossdresser but a woman. The chapter where the Fumiko Fumi managed, in just a few panels, to completely ruin every good thing had been done since the beginning of the story.

There are plenty of somewhat reasonable approaches one could take to justify this chapter. One could say Marika is still a teen who has been repeatedly bullied in the past and forced in the closet. Perhaps the mangaka wanted to show us another issue transgender people face in our everyday lives (and doubt is undeniably one of them). Perhaps her friends felt it was not their place to confront her doubts.

You know what? None of these excuses stands to scrutiny. First of all, the doubt/misgendering part came out of nowhere and felt completely out of character. Speaking strictly on technical writing grounds, it was the dumbest thing one could put at this point of the story. It’d be like having Tom Hanks in Philadelphia say something along the lines of “hey, am I really gay after all?” just a minute or two before the credits fall. Yeah, it’s that mind blowingly dumb.

Secondly, we never see Marika get over her self-doubt. Instead, we just get a “who cares?” attitude from the rest of the crowd, which I find outrageous for a story that did its best to convince us that this is an accepting, loving environment for Marika. What am I to make of this? That the ultra-supporting people who surrounded her simply thought of her as delusional? That for them cosplaying and being trans belong in the perversion category? Again, this is not what “Bokura no Hentai” showed us up until chapter 40. It’s like the Fumiko Fumi forgot all the previous volumes of BnH and decided to do a nightmare version of this story.

[Hachimitsu_Scans]_Boku_Tabun_Hentai_00Last, but not least, and this a completely subjective thought, it was not a necessity for BnH to deal with the issue of doubt. I am not the sort of reader that demands social justice to be the centerpiece of a given story. I can deal with very triggering and disturbing material. Trust me, I don’t overstate that. I read guro and horror hentai stories for fun. If this were such a title I probably wouldn’t care that much if Marika turned out to be just a pervert or if she enjoyed the bullying she received or any other twisted idea that may come to mind.

BnH however, presents itself as a story that cares about the pains of real life human beings. It’d be dishonest on my part to ignore how much it failed to deliver here. Transgender people face doubt on every front of our daily lives. When the world constantly calls you delusional it’s difficult not to project these thoughts onto yourself. There’s plenty of room to talk about that. But Marika’s life was a best case scenario, quite possibly the most articulated and positively structured of its kind I’ve come across in any form of storytelling. It was one of the few times we got to see an optimistic view of a transgender life, where acceptance by one’s self and the world rule the day. It’s exactly because BnH gave me hope and joy that I cannot forgive this giant slip. Perhaps I’d be more indifferent to this part if I were not transgender myself, but I doubt it. I’d be very surprised if anyone could support this indefensible waste of ink.

Conclusion

Despite the miserable failure that chapter 40 is, BnH remains, for the most part, an amazing manga, one of the most interesting queer titles out there. If I could erare this chapter from memory I would simply call it a masterpiece and reccomend it to every manga fun otu there. It’s just sad to look at it knowing it was just one step away from perfection. Do I still recommend reading Bokura no Hentai? Yes, I do. Just try not to get overexcited until you complete it.

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5 thoughts on “Broken Gem: A review of Bokura no Hentai

  1. Does Marika give up on transitioning then or is chapter 40 a momentary lapse? I’ve read up to 9 (am a trans woman myself) and loved it so far but not sure if I should continue now.

    Like

    • First of all, sorry for the late reply.

      No, she does not give up but there is this “I will never be as pure as cis women, I am really a guy no matter what I do, but I will live to my best of abilities and still live as a woman because that is my dream” sort of mentality. Which, if you ask me, is completely fucked up and filled with such condescending bullshitI just cannot hold myself from pissing on the series. Sorry if I sound so hyper negative, it is just that with all the terfy, transphobic comments going on right now that reinforce that narrative my tolerance level is below zero.

      Thank you for commenting ❤

      Like

  2. Yeah, I finished up the manga the other day and had mixed feelings. I read up until volume 8 last summer after seeing it in Foxy’s megapost. (Thanks for the blog btw) I can see why the scene is so problematic now, even though it didn’t directly sink in until reading this because of how long it had been since I’d read the other volumes.

    I think its inclusion really speaks mountains about how society at large (Japanese but American too) ultimately misunderstands/represents these topics, despite all the “progress” made related to them. I’m sure Fumiko didn’t even realize that she was undermining her sympathetic and I would say genuine (if a bit too idealic) portrayal of Mariko’s transgenderism by including this scene. She probably just thought, “oh school festival. I’ll get all the characters to participate in a crossdressing contest for a chapter of content” and the line wrote itself so that she could include Mariko, without thinking of the ramifications of including her in a cross dressing contest.

    Shame though. She originally did a wonderful job showcasing how someone who likes crossdressing is different from someone going through dysphoria. And this is something that is especially relevant in Japan, with old words like okama grouping these two things together along with male homosexuality and newer words like new-half and (sigh) otoko no ko basically denying many of those with dysphoria the actual female identity they’re seeking. “男でもない女でもない、ヌーハーフよ。” Heard this line on tv a few times over here..
    Some people are gender queer, but the newhalf label seems more about cis-society grouping trans people as/refusing to accept them as anything but other than it does about trans people choosing how to identify themselves.

    Like

    • Hello Ibis,

      I agree with you on Fumiko’s intentions. I don’t think she would have written a story like “Bokura no Hentai” if she didn’t care about gender issues. An accident or not, still the way the story ended saddens me.

      I thought new-half was a hentai exclusive term (like a newer version of futa). Is this something used widely in Japan?

      p.s. Thank you for taking the time to comment ^_^

      Like

      • It’s widely used by the adult entertainment industry in general, like ladyboy or dickgirl in the west, but I’ve seen it used in the general media too and actually heard it spoken by regular Japanese people in person when they were talking about trans-gender people. Some 50+ year old student I had used it when showing me pictures of his trip to Malasia. He started with “this is really a guy” in Japanese, and then said newhalf, followed by “shocking, isn’t it”. He wasn’t being judgement or anything, that was just his cislanguage and perspective and he expected me to share it since I’m still closeted. I didn’t and just kinda moved onto the next picture without saying much but yeah ><

        I think how the Japanese wikipedia seems to suggest the English equivalent of newhalf is transgender kinda speaks for itself
        https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E3%83%8B%E3%83%A5%E3%83%BC%E3%83%8F%E3%83%BC%E3%83%95

        Of course, since it's Japanese English the actual meaning and association of the words for an English speaker and Japanese speaker are different but I still really don't like it. Not to make Japan out to be terrible or anything. In someways, Japan's a really cool place for transgender people.

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