The Popularity of ‘Hideyoshi’: the Character that is ‘Neither Male nor Female’

A common term used in anime when classifying genres is ‘gender-bender’, which generally refers to a person whose biological sex is changed in the story. Often, anime also feature characters that are notoriously hard to be classified as purely ‘male’ or ‘female’, such as the Sailor Starlights from Sailor Moon (1992). In recent years, however, there is a trend for anime to purposefully feature male characters whose appearance, personality and behaviors all act against their predetermined gender roles, and very often these male characters will dress up as females as well. This group of characters is called ’男の娘’(otokonoko). There is also another group of characters, often seen in comedy series, who are not cross-dressers, but are often mistaken as girls by other characters (such as that in this video). In this article, I’ll focus on the latter group that is similar to otokonoko – the ‘Hideyoshi’ characters.

Hideyoshi is its own gender, so don't worry if you fall for him
It’s a trap! Oh wait, it’s a Hideyoshi, so it’s okay.

Just to clarify, there are no clear-cut definitions on what a ‘Hideyoshi’ is. I am hoping that through this article, readers can get a better idea of why internet users will say things like ‘Hideyoshi is its own gender’, and why people enjoy seeing such characters in anime. The explanations I provide only apply to the generic cases of such characters. Granted, there are many sub-types of otokonoko, and for the purpose of discussion I will cast aside the debate on whether ‘Hideyoshi’ belongs to the larger group of otokonoko or not.

Origin of the term

The term ‘Hideyoshi’ originates from Hideyoshi Kinoshita, one of the main characters from the romantic comedy light novel series Baka and Test: Summon and Beasts (commonly known as Baka and Test). In the series, Hideyoshi is portrayed as a well-mannered high school student who is kind, soft-spoken, and has a talent for acting and mimicking voices (even female voices). Born with a feminine face, he is often mistaken as a girl and almost everyone in the series genuinely considers him a girl. In a scene where the main characters go to the beach, Hideyoshi is prohibited by the lifeguard from entering the beach because ‘a girl cannot enter the beach topless’ when he is just wearing a pair of swim trunks.

Can. Not. Resist.
Can. Not. Resist.

Baka and Test was adapted into an anime in 2010 (with a second season aired in 2011), and the character Hideyoshi was so well-received that in 2010, he was voted as the most popular male character in light novels, and also ranked seventh in female characters in the annual Kono Light Novel ga Sugoi! (literally, “This Light Novel is Amazing!”, a very popular contest in Japan).

That is not a typo: a male character was voted as one of the most popular female characters of the year.

The difference between ‘Hideyoshi’ and Otokonoko

Otokonoko and ‘Hideyoshi’ share certain similarities. Both groups are male characters who generally have a feminine appearance and a more stereotypically feminine personality (soft-spoken, kind, patient etc.). Note that both groups are different from people of transgender or people with gender dysphoria (formerly known as gender identity disorder), since both otokonoko and Hideyoshi are biologically male who do not show strong discontent (or any discontent) with their biological sex. What is different is that for otokonoko, they act/dress up like a girl only because they need to achieve something. Examples include Hayate Ayasaki from Hayate the Combat Butler (2004) and Keima Katsuragi from The World God Only Knows (2008). In other words, when they are not cross-dressing people still see them as purely male.

The expression one has when being mistaken as a girl.
The expression one has when being mistaken as a girl.

For a ‘Hideyoshi’, however, it is not the same. Even though biologically a ‘Hideyoshi’ is also a guy, people (even girls) genuinely see him as a girl. The perfect example comes in episode 6 of Baka and Test, where the main characters go to a public bathhouse. When Hideyoshi tries to follow the guys into the men’s changing room, the guys ask him why he is following them, and the girls urge for him to go with them to the ladies’ changing room instead.

Given the difficulty to draw a clear-cut definition for a ‘Hideyoshi’, it is notoriously hard to classify characters into this category. Here, I will list out three major, generic criteria for differentiating a ‘Hideyoshi’ from the general term otokonoko:

(1): A ‘Hideyoshi’ denies being a girl, even when most characters consider him so under normal circumstance;
(2): A ‘Hideyoshi’ is popular among girls, and equally, if not more, popular among boys (especially to the male protagonist)
(3): A ‘Hideyoshi’ contributes mainly to the comedic content of the show

Criteria 1 thus excludes examples that I have mentioned, like Keima (The World God only Knows) and Hayate (Hayate the Combat Butlet), who are known to be a male but only cross-dress when they have a mission to accomplish. It also denies real otokonoko like this one. Criteria 2 and 3 often go together, since it is necessary for the male protagonist to show (romantic) interest in a ‘Hideyoshi’ in order to make the audience laugh. To the producers, it is also much easier to place a ‘Hideyoshi’ for comic relief rather than engage him in serious plot development.

Seriously, he's a guy.
Seriously, he’s a guy.

Following these three criteria, we could identify the following characters as real ‘Hideyoshi’: Hideyoshi Kinoshita (Baka and Test), Saika Totsuka (My Teenage Romance Comedy SNAFU), Megumu Tozokuyama (If Her Flag Breaks), Hastur (Nyaruko: Another Crawling Chaos). To some extent, characters like Nagisa Shiota (Assassination Classroom) and Ruka Urushibara (Steins;Gate) can be considered as ‘Hideyoshi’ as well, even though they don’t specifically meet all three stated criteria. Fans of Attack on Titan have often joked that Armin Arlert is also a ‘Hideyoshi’, though given the serious tone of the manga and his darker personality as seen in the manga it will be safer not to classify him as one.

The popularity of such non-male, non-female character

‘Hideyoshi’ is immensely popular among anime fans. One reason is that such characters provide a refreshing element to the cliché boy-meets-a-bunch-of-girls scenario so often portrayed in anime. A typical (harem) anime will have the male protagonist meeting different beautiful girls as the story progresses, and the introduction of a ‘Hideyoshi’ hence provides an alternative to the ‘choices’ that the male protagonist can make. Usually he will have to choose among one of the girls, but now the alternative is that he could choose a guy who is cuter than a girl and who is more feminine than the rest of the female characters. It also provides some male-female balance as the male protagonist is surrounded by numerous beautiful girls, even though the ‘Hideyoshi’ isn’t truly ‘male’ in the anime sense.

Ruka is a tricky case since, spoiler alert, at some point he's not a guy.
Ruka is a tricky case since, spoiler alert, at some point he’s not a guy.

To elaborate from there, then, the second reason a ‘Hideyoshi’ is so popular is that it expands the dimension of the doujin (fanart/fancomic) market. The general perception is that anime fans tend to root for heterosexual couples, but they can still support a pairing of the protagonist involving a ‘Hideyoshi’ because a ‘Hideyoshi’ is not really a ‘guy’ in the traditional sense. ‘Hideyoshi is its own gender!’, as many proclaim. Accepting this premise means there is no problem in rooting for such pairing as well. At the same time, fanarts and fancomics also thrive because fans really support such character and related pairings. By circulating such artworks in the internet or in doujin market, this allows others to gain exposure to this type of character as well, and hence more people know of ‘Hideyoshi’ and then the market further expands as a result.

Ultimately, as stressed throughout the article, a ‘Hideyoshi’ provides much humor element to the story. The joke of a guy being more feminine than a girl is very well-received by fans, and they like to see more of how such misunderstanding could turn into. In My Teenage Romance Comedy SNAFU, Hachiman, the male protagonist, said that he wanted to protect Saika’s smile when he never said anything similar to other female characters. In If Her Flag Breaks, Megumu was over the moon when the male protagonist called him a boy because he had been mistaken as a girl for far too many times. In Steins;Gate, Kurisu was initially furious that the main characters said Ruka was a boy, arguing that ‘it is rude to call a girl a boy,’ until Ruka timidly admits that he was indeed a guy, to which Kurisu looked totally shocked. In Baka and Test, Hideyoshi was revealed to have been confessed by boys from other schools at least three times a month. All scenes like these aim at inducing a big laugh from the audience. They do not contribute much to the general plot of the story, but they sure are well-constructed, light-hearted comic-relief entertain anime fans very much.

I wonder if this could really happen in anime some day?
I wonder if this could really happen in anime some day?

While ‘Hideyoshi’ remains popular, it does not seem likely that such kind of characters will play a major role in anime other than providing comic-relief. All the mentioned ‘Hideyoshi’ characters so far serve as side characters or part of the main cast, but none of them are protagonists of their respective series. (Nagisa is, supposedly, the main protagonist of Assassination Classroom, but so far his role is not any more important than the rest of the main cast.) It will be enticing to see if anime producers will be brave enough to feature the ‘Hideyoshi’ characters in a more significant role, one that weights heavily on the show without just providing gender-ambiguous jokes. Until that happens, we can just sit back and enjoy the romantic tension between the male protagonist and the ‘Hideyoshi’ character, despite knowing that a ‘Hideyoshi’ route will likely never happen for the moment.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. Ever since I heard about Hideyoshi, I found the character a neat (although odd) juxtaposition.

    It would be kind of tough for me to pick up on the language cues without Japanese knowledge, so going on visual cues alone is a disadvantage of asymmetric information. I consistently remind myself that this is a male character we a watching (kinda like what I did with Kampfer).

    Baka and Test looks like a good show, if only I had the time to catch a few episodes.

    • Biologically a Hideyoshi is indeed a male…though for humour purpose it’s more fun to say it’s a third gender. Baka and Test is very fun. Watch it when you can!

  2. Ever since i’d seen baka and test I’d refer to characters that I wasn’t sure of being male or female or that was often debated on the matter “Hideyoshi Gender” (ex. Crona, China, Poland, etc.)

  3. BaconMan

    Great analyses.

    Theroretically hes a boy. But he looks like a girl and a lot of people mistakes him as a girl. And in the anime he’s treated as an own gender. So he’s a Hideyoshi.

    Oh and the anime Yhari has reached the top of my personal list and I would recommend everyone to watch it.

  4. Let me share something… I used to look like a female. Literally until I was in tenth grade (at which point I grew a moustache) people continuously thought I was a girl. I believed that it was just because I had long hair and everyone was an idiot, but now when I look at old pictures of myself, I am totally amazed. It is not only the hair – I completely looked like a little girl. I had that smoothness and fragility to me that no boy would have had. And I never had any boyish tendencies either, so I know that it really was not those peoples’ fault that they were confused. It has been the same for both of my little brothers. My 12yo little bro still hasn’t hit puberty yet, and his hair goes past his ass. He looks like a girl, but even if his hair was only shoulder-length he would look like a girl. The only reason he wouldn’t look like a girl if he had a crew-cut would be because we don’t expect a little girl to have a crew-cut.

    I always wonder if Hideyoshi would end up like I did. People very often criticise me for not shaving, because my facial hair is horrendous. It grows in the most awkward arrangement and is totally scraggly, and yet I do not want to shave it, with all of my might. I think it’s because this beard, to me, is what symbolises that I am, in fact, a man and not a woman. You could say the same for the way that I’ve gained weight, and the way that the weight is proportioned. I am in no way mistakable for a girl anymore, even from behind when you see my Chinese braid that hits my thighs.

    I recall when I was in kindergarten, I got into an argument with a girl who literally refused to believe me when I told her that I was a boy. I got picked on a lot up until high school when long hair became ‘cool’ for a lot of students. I think it is no surprise that I probably have a complex about it. That is probably why I have so many gender identity issues as well.

    While Baka Test is a comedy, the truth behind Hideyoshi is probably rather dark. This dude is going to need therapy. 🙂

    • I hesitate to relate Hideyoshi to real-life gender identity issue so as not to complicate the matter, since the case of Hideyoshi is purely for entertainment purpose whereas we know that in real life it’s a lot more than that. I’m sorry about your experience due to the appearance issue. There are manga out there that deals directly with gender identity issue, but as I haven’t read much about it I wonder if those manga may take a darker/more serious approach for the kind of character we’re talking about.

      • Nilson Thomas Carroll

        As much as I’d love to glean something about gender theory from the hideyoshi character, I agree with you, Justin, it’s more of a gag than anything.

  5. Hideyoshi is my favorite character in the show! I actually feel his pain about being mistaken for the opposite gender. :P

  6. the character is biologically a MALE

    • Well im not too sure in the japanese version i know they reveal more in the manga but as far as i know, hideyoshi is a guy, but he’s a beautiful girly guy, so since the guys love his beauty and girls are jealous, they made hideyoshi his own gender..sort of lol

    • Jernigan

      actually we all start originally as females(thats one reason guys have nipples) but then our cell diverge and specify and then we we start tuning into males

  7. Crancheck

    It is very nice when you like how cute the characters are to each other, the way they act, or just how cute Saika is. It’s a good anime when you don’t like how cute Saika, a boy, can be.

  8. The thing about Steins;Gate is that, as an engineering undergraduate, at no point was the suspension of disbelief at the science in its science fiction, or the logic of its plot (or the soundness of its explanations) effortless. It’s a decent anime, but not as science fiction.

  9. Patrick Nuetzman

    While these androgynous characters do not play a major role in anime, video games are pushing further for more characters that can be universally identified with. A good example of this is Leo of the Tekken series. When introduced in Tekken 6, Leo claimed only gender-neutral pronouns; could utilize both male and female moves, costumes, and items; and never wore costumes that revealed the chest. The Tekken designers claimed that they wanted everyone to ignore Leo’s “true gender” in order to have this character as a bridge between all gender identities.

    • Not a big video gamer myself, I’m glad you brought this up. I wonder if this will become a trend for the industry?

  10. craddock

    hideyoshi is more girlish than yuuko.

  11. Aurore Pinto

    I am really stunned at how well the gimmick with Hideyoshi has worked on viewers. I found the show boring and pointless, and only got to episode 5 on a bet.

    It all reminds me of how I felt when K-On was airing; it’s popularity was completely baffling. I can write it off though, as me simply not liking traps. It’s not like anyone watches it for any other reason.

    • As a comedy show I very much adore Baka and Test. First few episodes might be rather dry, compared to the rest of the episodes, but the humour part gets better as it goes on. K-On is a different case. The first season of K-On is pretty decent overall, but people focus more on the moe-element that the whole second season surrounds about that without doing anything else.

  12. I was never fully aware that there was a type of character like this. Granted, I haven’t seen much anime outside of what’s currently popular, but I’m really impressed with how informative your article is. While I can think of examples where characters have ambiguous genders (the whole time I was picturing Crona from Soul Eater), I haven’t watched a show where a boy’s gender is often mistaken.

  13. Mary Awad

    The whole idea of a hideyoshi character, to me, is very strange. I know they are used for comic relief and entertainment, I just don’t know why people find it entertaining. Anyway, I didn’t know they had a specific name until I read this article. Very informative. Thanks for the write up~

  14. Hideyoshi: confusing a males sexual preference.

    • Comstock

      I am not sure whether attraction to Hideyoshi is homosexual. Strictly speaking it is, because he is of the male. However, the attraction to him is because of his feminine looks and actions. One is attracted not because Hideyoshi is male, but because of his femininity.

      It is in this more abstract sense that I consider if attraction means being gay or not. I mean if Hideyoshi was all buff and masculine, I doubt this type of conflict would arise because there would be less allure to heterosexuals.

      Yes, if Hideyoshi was a girl, attraction is not homosexual. Yet it’s biology that is skewing this position, as he is acting girly as a male. So the draw could be considered heterosexual (the girlyness and female promiscuity), but it’s the biology that turns it homosexual.

      Well it is an interesting conundrum, as long as you are thinking about it in the abstract…

  15. I mainly find this interesting because you simply don’t see this outside of Anime. While there is the occasional gender plot on an western cartoon, there are rarely if ever characters of this nature outside of Japan. It is a bit of a shame that these characters are mainly comic relief, as they could delve into some interesting issues but it’s certainly unique.

  16. There was definitely a lot of buzz around Hideyoshi. It seems like that’s the only thing worth talking about in that show.

    Personally, I don’t really have much thoughts… Hideyoshi’s subject is a bit overexposed. It was quite refreshing at first though.

  17. Shizuko

    I recently read something somewhere where a Western man said that all Japanese men look like women, and Japanese women look like boys. Under that standard, Hideyoshi would be par for the course. =D

    • On the other hand though, I read somewhere else that some lady in Japan are reacting to the apparently femininity of Japanese men by embracing, of all things, historical dramas and samurai.

      And under that standard, too, Hideyoshi sort of fits in. It’s funny that way.

  18. Sunni Rashad

    Interesting analysis of gender fluid characters.

    • UsingYourNoodle

      He’s… not gender fluid. He is a male who accepts that he is a male. It’s the other people who say he is a girl. Just because he is feminine doesn’t mean he isn’t male.

  19. Burke

    I just want to say, great article! I never knew about Hideyoshi’s because I don’t keep up with anime, but you have a really great introduction to it. I wonder where feminist theory could take this, but I’m not well read enough in either this subject or feminist theory to have an educated opinion.

  20. One of the most telling aspects of Hideyoshi’s androgyny is how he has an serious appearance in both the male and female versions of the ending. Granted Akihisa does as well but his appearance is purposely made to appear as a joke. Hideyoshi is dead serious about strutting his stuff with the other ladies of BakaTest.

  21. Hinojosa

    What that makes HYoshi appealing to myself is that he is comfortable with himself and is able to assert himself if he needs to be. And that he is comfortable enough with his manliness that he is able to wear girl’s clothing without any issues (except wondering why people want him to), as well as being able to take those types of things into stride makes him a cool guy to me. He just goes with the rest of Class F’s flow, though I’m not sure how good that will be for him in the long run.

  22. Wisniewski

    the power of a boy with too much girly charachters…

  23. This is probably the most in depth anyone has ever examined a character like Hideyoshi. I had no idea his character was so prevalent in anime. Then again, he is a comedy character and I tend to stay away from that genre. Except Baka and Test, which I just adored.

  24. Dennis Fulton

    Hideyoshi is the kind of character I would normally hate in anime, a comedy character solely made for cheap laughs, but I adored the Hideyoshi character, Hideyoshi in Baka and Test. Sigh…if only every anime comedy was like that.

  25. AnimeShoujo

    I think Crona from Soul Eater is “hideyoshi”

  26. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was when Nagisa of Assassination Classroom went swimming, topless, and was identified as a male.

  27. The funny thing here is that whenever they see Hideyoshi going to the bathroom, it’s like all of a sudden they will go out and yell “THERE’S A GIRL IN THE BATHROOM OMFG!”

  28. I really enjoyed this article, and I have to agree that I quite like hideyoshi characters. Especially Nagisa from Assassination Classroom ( the first time I saw him I was sure he was a girl.) But on one side I really wish they were actual girls because you really want them with one of the characters but at the same time it doesn’t seem to really matter except when meeting with the bitter disappointment that the MC will never be with that character. Sigh it really is complicated. Characters like Hideyoshi really are there own gender. (Quite frankly I find it confusing though) Thanks again and great analysis!

  29. I love the article!
    Actually I like Hideyoshi as well he made
    the whole story more comical.
    It’s true that that most Japanese women like girly guys with cute features.
    Everyone’s tired of the typical men right? It’s refreshing to see a new specie men!! Hahaha….

  30. Men with girly features are popular nowadays….
    Even men can look cuter than they should…

  31. Sorry for the typographical errors.
    It’s hard to use small typing board..

  32. i watched baka to test and it was really fun..THANK YOU!!!!
    the character that I fell in love (loe at first sight) was HIDEYOSHI KINOSHITA !!!
    Thank god for letting him to be exist !!!!

  33. i watched baka to test and it was really fun..THANK YOU!!!!
    the character that I fell in love (love at first sight) was HIDEYOSHI KINOSHITA !!!
    Thank god for letting him to be exist !!!!

  34. AlexanderG.

    Personally, I think hideyoshi is biologically male but identifies as neither. He could be agender (identifying as neither male nor female) but prefers male pronouns.

    • UsingYourNoodle

      No. He frequently says “I’m a guy.” or “I’m a boy.”

      Clearly he is a male that identifies as a male. (Also what agender person uses male pronouns? If they use male pronouns they are identifying as a guy.) Just because he is feminine and doesn’t follow many male stereotypes doesn’t mean he isn’t a guy.

  35. i am just beginning to learn about anime and a hedeyoshi sounds interesting and if you are reading this and you know a lot about this or anime please give me some information. thanks!!!!!!

  36. as a side character being gender-ambiguous can be used for a few perfectly timed jokes.
    But a hole show made around 1 personality trait would be a really difficult undertaking as one slip up will leave everyone upset.
    only the bravest of soldiers would walk between these landmines to find the creative gold mine.
    without pity shaming people into watching there show.

  37. I realllly wish akihisa and hideyoshi in Baka to test will be together.

  38. Hideyoshi could also be an oblique reference to the historic figure.

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