Non-Cis Character Database: Hunter x Hunter

[NOTE: Two of the characters I’ll be discussing appear fairly late in Hunter x Hunter and are almost impossible to discuss without major spoilers. If that’s something you’re concerned about, I’d advise giving this one a miss until you’re caught up to where the anime ends. I also think HxH is an absolute masterpiece, and I highly recommend experiencing it in some fashion. The TL;DR is that Alluka is an immensely likeable (albeit rather superficially written) character whose transness is depicted in a manner that seems a bit confused, but not ill-intended or harmful; Kite is an interesting fringe case who avoids the worst pitfalls that could have been present; I’m not sure what to make of Neferpitou and I’m not sure anyone else is either.]

Alluka Zoldyck

If you’re talking about gender in HxH, you obviously have to start with Alluka, who is…complicated. The younger sister of protagonist Killua, she possesses a separate something inside her that has the power to grant almost any wish, though the cost is usually great. This entity is referred to by Killua as Nanika, simply meaning “something.” Because of this power, she is feared by the Zoldyck family and kept locked up deep beneath the mansion in a giant playroom. Killua breaks her out to use Nanika’s power to heal Gon, who is in impossibly bad shape after their fight with the Chimaera Ants, and their eldest brother Illumi follows, hoping to kill Alluka before she can endanger the family.

While Alluka’s gender is never spelled out — in fact, it’s depicted in a very oblique and contradictory fashion, with different people gendering her differently — the most logical explanation is that she’s trans.

Killua — who loves her deeply and respects her feelings and wishes — almost always refers to and treats her as a girl. I say “almost always” because there’s one notable instance where he (presumably) doesn’t. While on the run from Illumi, Killua explains the situation to Morel — while we don’t see what Killua said, Morel’s reaction is “Your older brother wants to kill your younger brother?” This is an accurate translation of the Japanese,¹ and it means Killua must have referred to Alluka as his younger brother rather than his younger sister. Which is just weird. This is the only time Killua ever misgenders her — he’s otherwise as supportive as he could possibly be. He calls her his sister any number of times. I have no idea why this line exists in the form it does, and all I can really recommend is to ignore it.

In contrast to Killua, the rest of the family — who see her as a monsterrefer to and treat her as a boy, at least as far as we can see. It’s worth mentioning that Japanese is a very context-based language, and it’s easier/more common not to use any kind of pronouns (gendered or otherwise) when talking about someone. The English translation has instances of Killua and his parents talking about Alluka with him using she/her pronouns and his parents using he/him — in the Japanese, this never happens. Killua never refers to Alluka as a girl around his family, and they never refer to her as a boy around him.

What we do see is that both Illumi and Milluki refer to Alluka as their brother (Illumi to Hisoka, Milluki to a tourist), and at least some of the Zoldyck butlers refer to Alluka as the masculine “young master.” Neither Silva nor Kikyo ever refer to Alluka with gendered language that we see, and some of the butlers address her with the gender-neutral “-sama.” It also seems likely that the skirt she wears was provided for her by the family — considering that the youngest Zoldyck, Kalluto, also presents feminine (more on them below), they might just not care about gender presentation. Most likely, the Zoldycks other than Killua consider Alluka to be a boy.

As for how Alluka herself talks about her gender — well, that’s the thing. She doesn’t. There is one instance of her referring to herself with the feminine first-person pronoun “atashi” when talking to Killua, but other than that, she lets him do the talking for her. There’s something called the Sexy Lamp Test, intended to determine if a female character in a piece of media actually does anything — Alluka is (thankfully) not the least bit sexualized, so let’s call it the Magic Lamp Test. Alluka could absolutely be replaced by a magic lamp that grants wishes without almost any change to the plot.

She also doesn’t seem to have much of an inner life, at least not that the audience is privy to. There are a few exceptions to this — she’s furious at Killua for upsetting Nanika, and at one point she asks him if he thinks the family would be better off without her. The latter especially frustrates me because that feeling is so real for someone from a dysfunctional family to experience — but it’s quickly brushed off as soon as Killua says he loves her. She also doesn’t hold the fact that Killua essentially abandoned her against him even a little. And yes, there are reasons for why he did it, but she’s a child — you’d expect her to be at least a bit upset. All in all, she seems more like a cipher or a plot device than an actual person.

All of this sucks. There are plenty of reasons that could be given for why she has so little autonomy, or why her reactions to things are so superficial — Alluka is still ten years old and traumatized, and some of the time Nanika is the one in control — but it doesn’t change the fact that she’s kind of a nothing character, which is all the more frustrating when you consider how real most of HxH‘s characters feel.

So, what does any of this have to do with the fact that Alluka is trans? Not necessarily anything, I suppose. If you squint you could probably read Nanika as some kind of trans metaphor — Alluka is feared and hated by her family because of an innate aspect of her that they don’t understand. Personally though, I don’t buy it. Nanika’s narrative is about the ways in which power is abused — there’s nothing inherently bad or dangerous about them or their abilities, and problems only arise when people choose to take advantage of them for personal gain. Her transness is largely incidental. It’s unfortunate, because she has so much potential for complexity and nuance that just isn’t explored at all, and also because I can’t help but love her in spite of everything.

As for how Alluka’s representation could be improved — well, get rid of the line implying Killua misgenders her, for one. Kudos to VIZ for taking it out of the manga. Other than that, it would go a long way to have her talk about her own gender in literally any capacity, rather than just having her family talk over her about it, even if it’s well-meaning in Killua’s case. Being misgendered is awful, especially when it’s your own family that’s doing it — I’d love to get some sense of Alluka’s feelings on the matter, maybe even an outburst where she vents some of the anger and resentment I can only imagine she’d feel towards the way they’ve treated her.

Unfortunately, the focus of HxH has shifted away from Killua and by extension Alluka — we don’t know when they’ll make another appearance, if they make one at all. It’s a shame. I would love to see more of her — ideally in a way that allowed her more autonomy and internality — but I’m not going to hold out hope.

Kite

Like I said at the top of the post, it’s hard to know what to make of Kite. Originally introduced as an (apparently) cis man, he is killed by the Chimaera Ant Neferpitou (more on them later) and eventually reborn in a female body with his memories intact. Let’s call them original!Kite and reborn!Kite for the sake of clarity, since he goes by the same name even after his rebirth. I’m going to be using he/him for original!Kite and they/them for reborn!Kite — we see very little of reborn!Kite, and what we do see does very little to clarify how they identify. Their choice of pronouns is inconsistent — most of the time, they use “atachi,” which is a childish version of the feminine “atashi;” however, when they speak to Gon, they use the masculine “ore,” same as original!Kite used to. This is really all we have to go on.

The “reborn as a different gender” trope is one that can either subvert or reinforce the concept of biological fundamentalism, depending on how it’s presented. To help illustrate my point, I’m going to discuss the most clear-cut case I’m aware of — Tanya Degurechaff from Saga of Tanya the Evil. Tanya the Evil is an isekai show that begins with the protagonist — an unnamed businessman — being pushed in front of a train by a man he fired earlier that day. A godlike being intercedes, punishing the protagonist and attempting to teach him faith and humility by causing him to be reborn in another world, memories intact, as a female baby who is named Tanya. Tanya, despite retaining memories of her previous life as a man, doesn’t seem to experience anything resembling gender dysphoria — the fact that she changed genders is never so much as mentioned, at least in the anime.

So, what to make of this. There are two interpretations — the first is that the protagonist/Tanya is agender or nonbinary, and presents as whatever sex they happen to be born as because they simply don’t care. Considering how ruthlessly pragmatic Tanya is, this would not be out of the question. The second — and more likely — interpretation is that the author didn’t think about it. Tanya is born in a female body; therefore, she is female. This is biological determinism, pure and simple, and it’s exactly the sort of thing bigots use to argue against the validity of transness.

Kite, however, is not such a clear-cut example, especially considering the presence of an actual trans character in the form of Alluka. Reborn!Kite’s gender as we see it is very ambiguous, to the point where I’d be inclined to say they’re not sure yet themself — it wasn’t so very long ago that they were reborn, and they’re still trying to sort things out. They use female pronouns sometimes because they were, at least to a certain extent, raised female; they use male pronouns with Gon because that’s what they used when they knew him, as original!Kite. Was any of this intended by Togashi? I have no idea. But it’s interesting, and a good deal more complex than Tanya’s case.

The one thing I’d recommend to improve Kite’s representation would be to have reborn!Kite comment on it, probably during their conversation with Gon, either to the end of “I’m in this body now, but I’m still a man” or “I was a man before, but I’m in this body now, so I’m not sure anymore.” This would keep it from falling into the same pitfall as Tanya, where gender is assumed to go along with biology.

Neferpitou

I’m going to defer to the HxH wiki when it comes to explaining Neferpitou’s gender, because it’s complicated, contradictory, and not especially relevant to the story. Basically, they have an androgynously feminine appearance, are usually referred to with male terminology, and their gender is never officially stated. I don’t have a whole lot to say about them — if not for Neferpitou being female in the mobile game (which I assume had to put either “male” or “female”) I’d be inclined to read them as male with a feminine appearance/body. It’s so vague I’m hesitant to call them representation at all — if they are nonbinary, or transmasculine, it would be nice to have that confirmed. As it stands, it just looks like everyone is a bit confused.

There’s nothing inherently bad about them as a genderqueer character, though. Their appearance is svelte and stylish. They’re an antagonist and the target of Gon’s hatred for killing Kite, but that’s completely unrelated to their gender, and they’re a complex figure with deep loyalty to their king. I like them a lot and I wish I could call them nonbinary with more confidence.

Kalluto Zoldyck

I suppose I would be remiss not to at least mention Kalluto. Like most viewers/readers, I initially assumed he was a girl due to his feminine appearance and the fact that his kimono, a furisode, is one typically worn by women; however, the official statement is that he’s a boy. I see no reason not to take this at face value, since his gender is never touched on in HxH. He just happens to be a very pretty femme boy. Good for him.


¹ – The official manga translation changes this to “Your brother!?” which I fully approve of, personally. I’ve talked about my feelings on liberal translation when it comes to tricky subjects like gender representation.

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