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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.