Princess Jellyfish’s positive portrayal of crossdressing is a rarity in the anime
There are few roles in anime as belittled as that of the transvestite. While there are exceptions – usually girls in male costumes – who escape mockery, most crossdressers in cartoons experience constant harassment and sometimes outright transphobia.
Princess Jellyfish, released in 2010, is an oft-forgotten anime and a love letter to quirks and rejections. One of its main characters, Kuranosuke, is a totally inexcusable socialite transvestite who stumbles upon Tsukimi, the social recluse main character. As Tsukimi puts it, Kuranosuke is “a strong, beautiful and manly princess” who uses her self-confidence to prove that cross-dressing is not a joke, but rather is part of her personality that can be used to create more stories. convincing.
To understand why Kuranosuke is such a refreshing version of the cross-dressing trope, it’s important to look at how this trope is typically used in the anime. Cross-dressing here tends to fall into one of three categories: for humor, for intrigue, or because of the character’s actual preference. The first category is very familiar. A boy dresses as a girl either by choice or by force, which is described as funny either because he is degraded or because other male characters are attracted to him.
This sometimes happens with girls who accidentally attract unwanted romantic intentions, but is largely reserved for boys, as it is considered more humiliating for a boy to dress as a girl than the other way around. For example, Secret princess features a male character who is forced to dress like a girl and is then sexualized through panties and completely humiliated throughout the series.
The second category is when a character dresses for the plot. For example, Haruhi must dress like a boy throughout Ouran High School Host Club in order to pay off his debt, while Strawberry Eggs requires a man to dress as a woman in order to obtain a teaching position in a girls’ school.
Finally, a character can choose to disguise by purely personal choice. Mayumi from Pretty Boys Detective Club chooses to dress as a boy to join a school club. Some of these characters have a sincere desire to come across as a different genre – Rui de Gatchaman crowds maintains a firm cross-dressing character in public – while some are perfectly open about their gender, like Astolfo de Fate or Felix from Re: Zero. It is important to note that some characters in this category are outright or strongly implied as transgender, such as Ruka from Steins; Gate, who uses time travel to become a woman at birth. Unfortunately, even cross-dressers by choice or transgender characters are not immune to being harassed or treated as a joke, like Ruka having her skirt lifted.
However, Princess Jellyfish disguises himself properly, treating the characters with respect and not belittling their personal choices. Kuranosuke falls into the third category of cross-dressing choices, but he’s also comfortable identifying as a man. Where he differs from Astolfo or Felix is his main role in the series and how his cross-dressing adds to his character rather than being used as just a fun trait.
Princess Jellyfish itself concerns a group of socially maladjusted women called “Amars” who all live together, leagued against men in general and all that threatens their reclusive way of life. Tsukimi is one of the Amars and has a special fascination with jellyfish. One night, after an unsuccessful attempt to go to an aquarium, Tsukimi passes by his favorite pet store, only to discover that the life of his favorite jellyfish has been put in danger. She doesn’t explain the problem to the shopkeeper, which is when she meets Kuranosuke, an extremely stylish man Tsukimi mistakes for a woman.
Due to this chance encounter, Tsukimi ends up returning to the apartment with Kuranosuke and a new jellyfish. She allows Kuranosuke to spend the night and only finds out that he was dressing up when she sees him without a wig. So begins the story of Kuranosuke attempting to befriend and help the Amars as they fight to save their building from destruction.
Kuranosuke chooses to disguise himself out of a desire to distance himself from his wealthy and strongly political family, as well as to feel closer to his estranged mother. He is known to be very popular and manages to charm any group of people, even the Amars, who are initially wary of his elegant appearance. The only one of the Amars that Kuranosuke chooses to reveal her gender to is Tsukimi, and she respects his desire not to be exposed. Kuranosuke isn’t mocked for his choices, nor is he portrayed as a pervert or used as an object of humiliation. The misunderstandings between him and the Amar increase only because of their social differences.
Most of the turmoil over Kuranosuke’s way of life comes from his own family. His brother Shū is embarrassed by Kuranosuke’s habits and his father is an openly intolerant person, not even wanting to see his son. However, Kuranosuke is never made a joke, degraded or forced to disguise for conspiracy purposes. In fact, Kuranosuke hardly dressed at all. The manga artist for Princess Jellyfish originally wrote Kuranosuke as a pretty girl, only changing the character when the publisher suggested it as a new idea. As a transvestite man, Kuranosuke is fortunate to be even more sure of himself; cross-dressing was seen as an opportunity to make a character even better – a positive influence on the story instead of just a trope.
Romance is often denied to anime crossdressers, either because they’re secondary characters or because they’re too busy being the butt of the joke. There are obvious counterexamples – Haruhi and other predominantly female characters – but Kuranosuke and Tsukimi’s relationship is a slow development between two people who would normally never have met. Kuranosuke is immediately comfortable with Tsukimi, as evidenced by the fact that he takes off his wig and dress right in front of her, and their relationship over the course of the series becomes that of Kuranosuke realizing that he can use his trust to help. Tsukimi to see how beautiful she really is. Although it starts out as purely cosmetic, Kuranosuke soon realizes how talented Tsukimi is when it comes to tailoring and ultimately helps her sweep a local fashion show and start her own brand.
Tsukimi’s relationship with Kuranosuke helps her break free from the misfit social label she has imposed on herself as her self-confidence begins to rub off. In turn, Kuranosuke is able to escape a superficial society and be part of a group of people where fashion and social status don’t matter.
At the end of the show, Kuranosuke has feelings for Tsukimi, and while the two never explicitly enter into a romantic relationship, all signs point in that direction, especially with the sense of accomplishment and affection that Tsukimi and Kuranosuke share during their successful fashion show. Kuranosuke’s feelings of devotion, protection, and even jealousy earn him the title of love interest with a degree of complexity rarely shown to transvestite characters, fleshing him out more as a person than as a stereotype.
While Princess Jellyfish isn’t without its problems, when it comes to Kuranosuke and the portrayal of cross-dressing, this 2010 anime is unfortunately still leagues ahead of many anime produced today. Cross-dressing is not presented as something to be laughed at but rather as something to be accepted as natural for people who want it. Kuranosuke says it best: “I’m a boy. I just like to dress in women’s clothes. I’m perfectly normal.” It might take a while for the world to catch up with him.
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