Non-Cis Character Database: Hibari Oozora (Stop! Hibari-kun)

It can be hard to assess whether or not media of a certain vintage is “good rep,” since the context it was created in is so different than that in which it’s being assessed. Nevertheless, I have a job to do here, and so: Hibari Oozora.

Stop! Hibari-kun is a gag/ecchi manga from 1981-1983 about a boy named Kousaku who finds himself living with the Oozora yakuza family — and more specifically, with Hibari, who is described as “a perverted boy who dresses like a girl” and who immediately takes a romantic interest in Kousaku, who is simultaneously attracted and alarmed. Despite all that, and the fact that Hibari is almost exclusively misgendered by her family and Kousaku, it is nowhere near as bad as it sounds. 

translations courtesy of Hachimitsu Scans

First of all: while Hibari is generally referred to with he/him pronouns by those aware of her sex (including the mangaka, Hisashi Eguchi), I’m using she/her because based on the text, Hibari is obviously a trans girl. She never says “I’m a girl” in as many words, but she presents as one at school, refers to herself as a “daughter,” and vehemently denies being a pervert. There’s even a brief comic aside involving men wearing makeup, after which she says she’s “a little different” from them. Despite what her family and the mangaka might believe, Hibari isn’t a crossdressing boy — she’s a trans girl, and not a bad depiction of one, either. Dated, but not bad.

Hibari is the heroine. We’re meant to like her, find her attractive, cheer for her — in the mind of the mangaka, this is colored by the tension of her “being a boy,” but the fact remains. Much of the drama of the series revolves around Hibari being allowed to continue to live as a girl, whether it’s jealous classmates attempting to out her as trans or people enlisted by her unsupportive father to make her more “masculine,” and as readers, we are always oriented on her side. We don’t want to see Hibari outed, nor do we want her to present masculine. She might be a “pervert,” but as far as perverts go, she’s harmless, even charming, and manages to neatly sidestep harmful stereotypes about trans women.

The first stereotype in question is obviously present based on the synopsis — “traps” who disguise themselves as women to trick men into being attracted to/sleeping with them. There’s a lot of overlap between this and fetish territory, especially in Japanese pop media, and it’s impossible to deny there’s some of that going on in Stop! Hibari-kun, especially regarding her interest in Kousaku.

That said, Hibari is never depicted as predatory, perverse, or intentionally trying to trick anyone. Kousaku is fully aware of her biological sex from the jump, and while her come-ons are definitely pushy, it’s easy to imagine a cis girl in her position acting the same if the boy she liked was sleeping next door to her. She might slip into his bed or steal a kiss, but she’d never grope him or force herself on him. Not to mention that Kousaku clearly is attracted to her, and the only thing keeping them from getting together is his hang-ups regarding gender. And while there are quite a few boys who are interested in her without being aware of her biological sex, she’s clearly not presenting as a girl to attract male attention or anything of the sort, and she’s quick to reject them outright, since she’s only interested in Kousaku.

The other main stereotype about trans women is the one TERFs tend to go on about — that letting “men” into women’s spaces is endangering women. On this front, Stop! Hibari-kun actually passes with flying colors. Since she presents as a girl at school, Hibari often finds herself in exactly the sort of spaces TERFs are so worried about — locker rooms, shared bathrooms, swimming pools — often with Kousaku or others panicking about whether or not it’s okay for a “boy” to be there. However, it’s obvious that Hibari isn’t a danger to any of the girls around her — in fact, she’s the one in a vulnerable position, since she’s concerned with making sure she doesn’t get outed. She bathes with another girl (who has very poor eyesight) and sleeps in a futon next to hers, and acts like any other girl at a sleepover would. The closest we get to predatory behavior is the interest Hibari takes in other girls’ breasts, but it’s very clear that it stems from envy rather than desire. As a trans girl, she’s an ally to her fellow girls. 

The way to bring Stop! Hibari-kun’s representation from “surprisingly not awful” to “actually good” is fairly simple — Eguchi needs to stop misgendering her. Everything else can stay — her father can still be disapproving, and Kousaku can still be hesitant. Changing the backdrop from “Hibari is a perverted crossdressing boy” to “Hibari is a trans girl trying to live her life” would make it clear that her father’s behavior is out of line, and would make Kousaku the odd one for getting hung up on something as unimportant as biological sex. 

There’s even an example of this — the youngest Oozora daughter, Suzume, clearly loves her big sister and sees her as a girl. At one point, she invites several friends over, including a boy she likes — when he expresses attraction to Hibari, Suzume is upset, but she doesn’t out Hibari or think the boy is perverted or gay. She gives him a slap for being inconsiderate to her feelings by saying her sister is pretty in front of her, and she moves on. If only everyone else was as much of an ally as Suzume. 

There are things I haven’t even touched on — like the tomboyish girl who gets a crush on Hibari, or the trans boy who shows up in the last chapter, or the joking(?) references to the normalization of homosexuality, especially abroad. There is also a fair bit of inconsistent characterization, which I’m willing to write off as a result of Stop! Hibari-kun being a gag manga that clearly had some production issues. (The second-to-last chapter is all about how Eguchi has fifteen hours until the deadline and hasn’t even started the storyboards yet. No one from the manga proper ever appears. I’m not kidding.) I might write more about these topics later, but for the time being, Stop! Hibari-kun is a relatively well-known and well-discussed series, so I’ll leave it to other critics. 

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