Tag Archives: gender bender

Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined

Author: Stephenie Meyer

My rating: 2.5 of 5

You’re likely all familiar with the story of Bella and Edward, star-crossed lovers who obsess over each other–one human, the other vampire, a love-story fraught with complications. But what if, perhaps in another universe, things had been just a little different. What if Bella had been a guy–Beau–and Edward a girl–Edythe? Would fate have still drawn them inexorably together? And would their choices lead them to the same conclusion? This is Beau and Edythe’s story.

Having just read (and enjoyed) Meyer’s The Chemist, I decided to (finally) give Life and Death a try. And I have to say that, having read Twilight a few times in the past, the experience of reading this book was immensely strange. I guess I was expecting something along the lines of a retelling–you know, the same concepts, but genderbent and retold. This is more like a genderbent manuscript rewrite with an alternate ending. There are areas where awkward phrasings were corrected, certain concepts were delved into more, obvious changes due to the altered gender of the characters . . . but there are also huge swathes of story that are exactly the same, down to memorable phrases being word for word. None of this is exactly bad, but . . . it also feels kind of cheap to be marketing this as a whole new book, you know? I did enjoy the alternate ending, and I think it was fitting. And yes, the gender swap did make the romance less weird and creepy that it was in Twilight, I guess. But on the whole, I honestly wasn’t super impressed. I probably would have liked Life and Death a lot more if I hadn’t read Twilight first, so there’s that . . . if you haven’t read either and are interested in trying one, this one is probably the better book. Otherwise, not particularly recommended; it was okay, but just generally a strange reading experience.

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Kokoro Connect Hito Random

Kokoro Connect vol 1Author: Sadanatsu Anda

Illustrator: Shiromizakana

Kokoro Connect (light novel), vol. 1

My rating: 4 of 5

The five members of the Cultural Research Club were pretty much thrown together into this nonsensical club through a variety of circumstances, but in spite of that they generally have fun together. But  Taichi, Iori, Inaba, Aoki, and Yui get to know each other in ways they never expected when an unexplained phenomenon strikes their club. In short, they find that their personalities (memories? souls? essences?) will randomly switch between the bodies of other club members. It’s so ridiculous that it’s hard for even them to believe at first. Certainly it’s not something they could even try to explain to parents or teachers–what could they possibly say? Thus, they make the best of the situation, but even with the greatest care they can take any number of deep secrets are inevitably going to be revealed. Will it even be possible to look each other in the eye with all that’s happening?

I really enjoyed the first volume of the Kokoro Connect light novel. I’d heard so many good things about the anime that I really wanted to read the original story, and it was definitely worthwhile. At first it seems like a silly (in a good sense) high-school story–people with overdone characters, lots of jokes, that sort of thing. And even in the serious parts, some of this atmosphere is preserved. But the fact is that there are serious parts. Anda-sensei tries to really delve into how disconcerting this sort of phenomenon would actually be, how it would affect your very sense of self over time if you kept switching between different bodies, different lives. Although far from perfect, I though this aspect of the story was well considered–it certainly sparks greater consideration in the reader. The characters–besides just being great characters–are well suited for this particular story I think; in any case I enjoyed them. If you enjoy light novels that mix high-school antics with serious psychological and philosophical considerations, Kokoro Connect Hito Random might be a fun read for you.

Note: I have to confess, I read the fan translation from Baka-Tsuki for this one. I’m longing for (and actively working towards) the day when I can read the original Japanese novel, but I’m not there yet. Although the translation here is a smidge rough in a few places, overall it’s quite readable, and the translators do a lot to make the “someone in someone else’s body” thing actually readable. I’m still holding out hope that Kokoro Connect will get an official English translation, especially since the manga has been released.

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Gisou Honey Trap

Mangaka: Vanilla Yoshizawa

When his mom rather abruptly goes to join his dad in Paris (that’s just how she is, let’s face it), Keiichirou finds himself staying with his uncle and twin girl cousins in Japan. How nostalgic–he stayed with them like this once before, when they were quite little. Only he can’t remember that time at all. And the twins–Marie and Tomari–are clearly angry at him for not keeping a promise made back then. Which he can’t remember making. And wait, one of the twins is actually a boy?! What on earth is going on?!!!

Well, I must say that reading Gisou Honey Trap was interesting, although I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. I think to the extent that I was able to see it just as itself–as opposed to in the context of other manga and genres–it was interesting, touching, and funny, if a bit too ecchi for my taste. The trouble is that it tries to be ecchi seinen romantic comedy/harem (like Negima!  or Papa Kiki!) mixed with gender bender and shounen ai–which ends up being just a bit too sketch, if you follow. And a bit confusing. Still, the basic story was solid and internally consistent, the art was nice (typical seinen romcom), and the characters were solid, especially the twins. The tsundere-yandere double-hit was good for the comedy side of things, although the yandere part got a bit scary at times (which is kind-of the point, but still). I would say that for mature audiences who are interested in a short manga with some weirdness but some cute romance too, Gisou Honey Trap might be a fun diversion from the norm.

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Maria†Holic

Shaft Studio

Written by Masahiro Yokotani & Miku Oshima/Directed by Akiyuki Shinbo/Music by Tatsuya Nishikawa/Based on the Manga by Minari Endou

Full of youthful enthusiasm and less-than-pure intentions, Miyamae Kanako enters Ame no Kisaki–an all-girls Catholic mission school–where she hopes to find her one true love. Lucky her, she meets her ideal in the person of lovely underclassman Shidou Mariya before she even reaches the school buildings. Not so lucky, said ideal turns out to actually be a boy (cue Kanako’s hives breakout) who is disguising himself as a girl–and who is more than willing to blackmail Kanako into not revealing his secret. Worse still, Mariya starts rooming with Kanako to better keep her in line–along with the help of his kuudere maid Matsurika who is always ready to lend a helping hand, especially when it comes to keeping Kanako in her place. You might wonder why Kanako puts up with such treatment instead of just packing her bags and leaving . . . that is, until you see her nosebleeding over all the other adorable girls in the school.

Maria†Holic has got to be one of my favorite anime ever–even though I must admit there are a lot of people I’d never share it with, for obvious reasons. The entire story has a fun fairy-tale/comedy sort of feel, even while presuming to be a slice-of-life school story. In other words, the improbable is actually the most likely turn of events in most cases. The characters are excellent–overdone for comedic effect, but excellent in that style. Mariya in particular is fascinating: sadistic, smart, an incredibly good actor, sensitive to others’ feelings, essentially selfish. His Japanese voice actress, Yuu Kobayashi, is one of my favorites, and she does an outstanding job with Mariya’s character (as well as with the opening and ending songs!). Kanako also is outstanding–as being the most forgettable character ever! It’s really quite remarkable that a yuri girl whose nose is gushing and who is constantly plotting some kind of trouble can disappear so utterly from memory; it’s only recently after several re-watchings that I’ve been able to consistently remember her name even. The art is one of the primary reasons that I would recommend the anime (as opposed to just reading the manga, which is very similar in plot/characters/etc.). The anime definitely emulates Endou-sensei’s lovely art style, but it also brings in a huge variety of fun styles such as stained glass, chibis, and parodies of other anime styles. Really, Maria†Holic is a fun anime–one that you can tell the artists had fun making–and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a solid slice-of-life comedy with bits of sadism and ecchiness thrown in (an a completely not outstanding yuri lead).

Note: This series comprises two seasons of 12 episodes each, the first titled simply Maria†Holic and the second, Maria†Holic: Alive!.

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Bloody Jack

Author: L. A. Meyer

Tired of begging, stealing, and scrounging for enough food to survive on the streets of early nineteenth-century London, Mary Faber decides she’s had enough. So she signs on to the crew of the good ship HMS Dolphin–as a ship’s boy! Her good nature and good luck stand her in good stead–along with a few skills like reading and sewing that she learned before her family died and she was cast onto the streets. Rather, she excels a bit too much, particularly with her own natural fondness for being in the center of things. Such attention is not beneficial when you’re trying to deceive everyone into believing you’re a boy. Still, Mary–who goes by the name of Jacky now–succeeds in keeping her gender a secret, a true challenge in cramped quarters while undergoing puberty. Even harder when also falling in love with someone in those cramped quarters!

Bloody Jack is just what a historical novel ought to be. It provides a good feel for the time period and location, but doesn’t harp on details unnecessarily. Rather, it lets the characters (who are beautiful creations) get on with it and show the setting in the way they live. I love the first-person storytelling, which portrays Jacky’s character strongly; the accent and vocabulary are definitely present but not distracting–and the author even goes to the extent of pointing out that the accent’s stronger when Jacky’s upset and then showing that, but very subtly. Very artfully done. The plot is fairly basic–what would logically happen if a girl disguised herself as a ship’s boy in this time period–but the characters are so beautifully written that they carry this plot far beyond its humble beginnings. Jacky in particular is intriguing in her normalcy: she is cowardly, street-smart but common, lucky but unnecessarily fond of attention, always seeking the smoothest road, yet somehow charming in spite of her faults. I would definitely recommend Bloody Jack to anyone who likes a good historical story, although I would warn that it’s somewhat PG13 in places.

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Hana-Kimi

Mangaka: Hisaya Nakajo

Ever since she first saw him high jump, Mizuki Ashiya has been inspired by Izumi Sano. So, being the stubborn, independent, airhead that she is, she decides to travel from her home in the US to not only meet him but attend school with him–at an all-boys high school. Surprisingly, her natural boldness gets her where most would never manage, and she ends up enrolling at Ohsaka High, and unexpectedly ends up even rooming with Sano! Mizuki, being Mizuki, is thrilled simply to be sharing an everyday school life with Sano and other classmates such as the goofy Osakan soccer player Nakatsu, the piningly girly Nakao, and the mysterious Kayashima (to name just a few). As she becomes comfortable with her friends at Ohsaka, Mizuki must struggle to keep her true identity a secret . . . even from Sano whom she is growing to not only admire but also love. (Of course, he actually discovered her secret in the first few days she was there, but he’s not about to admit that!)

This is my second time reading Hana-Kimi, and I must say that my opinions this time are quite a bit different, which is weird. The first time I read it, I had just read Koma Toki, and I think there were just enough random elements that overlapped that I was getting an odd mixture of the two going in my head. This time around, I really loved Hana-Kimi. The characters are a lot of fun–absolutely ridiculous, but fun. I think they’re off the stereotypical path, especially for a technically shoujo manga, enough to be particularly interesting. The plot is the same; it is a shoujo manga–a proper romantic comedy even–and it does read like one, but at the same time it totally doesn’t! I mean, most of the time, Mizuki’s the only girl around, and even she is trying hard to act like a guy. (By the way, a girl disguising herself as a guy and sneaking into an all-guys school in a foreign country is a really stupid idea–but it’s totally in fitting with her character.) As for the art, I have mixed feelings–Hisaya-sensei is a talented artist and she creates some really beautiful drawings (personally, I have a weakness for bishi Sano’s sideways glances), but then she’ll use panels with random square-jawed, cartoonish characters that are frankly ugly, although they do get the point across. But whatever. Also, do be warned that there are a few pieces that are a bit more ecchi/shounen ai–it’s all the fault of the crazy gay school doctor (but I still love him as a character)! I would really recommend Hana-Kimi for anyone looking for a fun shoujo story that’s just a bit off the beaten track.

Note: Also check out the wonderful TV drama spinoff of this manga, Hanazakari no Kimitachi e: Ikemen♂Paradise. The story is different, but the characters’ essences are the same, and it’s a lot of fun!

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Alanna: The First Adventure

Author: Tamora Pierce

When twins Alanna and Thom are sent off for training–Thom to court to learn to be a knight, and Alanna to the convent to train as a lady sorceress–neither is at all pleased. So Alanna, in her usual take-charge manner, decides they will switch places; Thom will receive training in the sorcery he loves, and Alanna will disguise herself as a boy and learn to be a knight. What follows is several years of excruciating work, delicate courtly interactions, and careful hiding of her true identity on Alanna’s part. However, as she presses on, she does gain impressive skills, becoming not only one of the best pages in the court but also gaining the close friendship of the prince Jonathan and his companions. Indeed, with her determination and impertinence, Alanna seems destined to go far in her life.

Alanna: The First Adventure is a wonderful beginning to Pierce’s quartet featuring Alanna. The story is solid, immersive, and suspenseful, featuring a wonderful group of characters. I appreciate that it includes a broad variety of personalities and walks of life, all of which are richly developed and full of individuality. Alanna is, naturally, the most fully developed, and I find it interesting that you see her most fully through the comments her friends make about her even though the story is written from her perspective. It’s like she doesn’t really see herself at all, and others have a totally different perspective on her than she herself does. It makes for an interesting feel to the story. The plot is also quite good–mostly a court-based school/training story showing a lot of Alanna’s growing up and developing friendships at court. I’m really looking forward to where the future volumes of this story take her–she has huge potential! I would definitely recommend Alanna: The First Adventure to anyone who likes “knights and court” sorts of stories, fantasies, or just good stories with well-developed characters.

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