At a first glance, Uchouten Kazoku and Gatchaman Crowds share hardly anything in common, except for a flashy art style and smooth music. Kazoku focuses on the day to day lives of the tanuki family and its friends, while Gatchaman takes a look at the heroes of Tokyo City as they try to stop alien attacks on the home front. Yet both shows share a similarity that’s far deeper and more interesting than just the technical: the two have distinctive ways of twisting with social constructivism when it comes to gender. Social constructionism considers how social phenomena or objects of consciousness – such as sex and gender – develop in social contexts. Social constructs, then, are concepts that have meaning and shared understandings based on a given people’s ways of seeing, interpreting, interrelating and interacting. In Gatchaman and Uchouten however, this social phenomena is absent because the characters live in a different world completely. There is no interaction through the way that we, the audience (who live in a normal society) perceives it.
Let’s first take a look at Uchouten Kazoku, which often displays this power of invisibility. Tanuki and tengu function in a world of their own, but they can assume human-like appearances to interact with human society. The main character, a male tanuki by the name of Shimogamo Yasuboro, has the ability to change his appearance into whatever he prefers. While his default image is that of a boy with short brown hair, Shimogamo also has an interest in crossdressing, often transforming into a girl into a frilly dress or a regular schoolgirl. Whereas this kind of ability would often be the center of laughs, Kazoku actually neither condemns nor praises Shimogamo’s dabbling; on the contrary, Shimogamo’s crossdressing is portrayed as something a little odd, but nothing more than that. No one throws him out; no one points a finger at him and tells him what he’s doing is wrong, or that he should be dressing only as a male. In fact, his mother doesn’t seem to particularly mind what form Shimogamo takes.
Shimogamo’s mom is also unique in that she doesn’t dress up in traditional attire; she chooses to dress like a prince, wearing royal clothing and even donning a prince-like attitude in front of others. Despite this, she still shares a maternal concern for her children, giving advice and caring for them despite their eccentric attitudes. Shimogamo’s mother may be brave, but she also harbors a fear for thunderstorms, transforming into a tanuki when frightened, so it’s not like she actually fulfills a macho role. In this sense, both characters play with the idea of gender and gender roles but have no shame in doing it. The reason for this is that Shimogamo and his family were brought up according to tanuki customs in a tanuki world – often blaming their childishness and humanity on ‘tanuki idiot blood’ but using their abilities to blend in whenever they can. There’s no doubt that if Shimogamo and his mother actually functioned within the human world completely that they wouldn’t dare to dress up the way that they do – participating in crossdressing and wearing clothing outside typical gender roles – but they only interact with it from an outside level which is why they can bend these constructions.
Gatchaman Crowds takes a different spin on things. While it doesn’t focus on reversing gender roles as much, it puts heavy emphasis on the idea that gender isn’t something that should confine us as human beings. Rui Ninomiya is an 18 year old genius who developed the popular GALAX system. He also dabbles in crossdressing, often looking like a pop idol or maid girl cafe to perhaps interact with society incognito. Rei spends most of his life inside his apartment, interacting solely with his AI and improving the GALAX interface. Whenever he goes outside, he transforms into his idol counterpart, but does it as way of disguise to the point where people fail to notice his actual gender. As such, he interacts with the human ‘space’ limitedly. O.D is anything but your stereotypical male hero; he has no problems putting on makeup, playing the housewife role when needed, and enjoys fashion. O.D rarely goes outside, so he isn’t affected by the public and their perception of his behavior and personality, and can freely dress up as the way he is. The rest of the Gatchamans do have social roles with the public, but show off a different side of themselves (with the exception of Hajime Ichinose) because of social constructs. Utsu-tsu for instance, often wears a bikini when inside her apartment with O.D or in the Gatchaman headquarters because she’s more comfortable expressing herself that way, but in school and in general public, she is forced to wear traditional clothing. The main villain of Gatchaman Crowds is an androgynous character who isn’t unique because he isn’t exclusively one gender or the other, but because he has a very erratic personality and seeks to wreck chaos upon Tokyo.
The key to what makes Gatchaman and Uchouten‘s treatment of gender work is that these characters live in their own space. They fail to physically interact with the public as we know it. They inhabit their personal dimension, a world that tangentially crosses with the human, but is not human itself. In other words, the characters of these two shows aren’t affected by normal gender socialization and social constructionism. They are not manipulated by social constructs or phenomena. In the real world, transsexuality/transgender/intersexuality is a topic that is often met with bitterness and oppression. Crossdressing is looked down upon. Transgender couples barely have any proper representation, let alone the right to marry. In the worlds of Gatchaman and Uchouten however, crossdressing is normal. Intersexuality is a thing that exists and isn’t downplayed. Cissexual characters are allowed to step out of their stereotypical roles with ease. In allowing themselves to function in a void where behavior is not completely constructed by society, the people of Uchouten and Gatchaman can become completely their own while still having human-like constraints because they still interact with regular society.
It is important to realize however, that this does not accurately portray a future where identity can be freely expressed; rather, Gatchaman and Uchouten, the walls and rules of society must be rendered void – there is no acceptance here, because there is no one looking. These are people who construct their own spaces, and while they have the liberty of transforming into their true selves, they also contribute to the idea that intersexuality and crossdressing are just ‘fantasies’. Absence of evidence may not necessarily be evidence of absence, and when you’re breaking a construct that only exists through the eyes and actions of society, this sort of progress is rendered void. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to see these shows examine gender through absence of space, and I look forward to seeing more of it as the shows progress.