Non-Cis Character Database: Lily Hoshikawa (Zombie Land Saga)

Here she is, folks, the internet’s own “best trans character ever,” finally gracing the pages of this blog. Give it up for Zombie Land Saga‘s Lily Hoshimiya!

You see, Lily was one of the first characters I thought of when I decided to do this project. I would have written about her sooner, but the second season of Zombie Land Saga, subtitled REVENGE, started airing around the same time as I began posting these, and I figured it made more sense to wait until the end of the season so I wouldn’t have to update anything. However, it seems as though I need not have worried, since Lily’s transness never comes up in REVENGE, outside of a few offhand mentions.

So with that out of the way, Zombie Land Saga is an anime about a group of seven girls brought back from the dead as zombies by a mad producer, for the purpose of forming an idol group that will rise to fame and save the Japanese prefecture of Saga. It’s an idol show, it’s regional promotion¹, and the vast majority of the main cast is dead. It’s kind of dementedly brilliant.

As you may have guessed, Lily Hoshikawa is a member of Franchouchou, the aforementioned zombie idol group — before her death, she was a successful child actress. The fact that she’s trans is first brought up² in episode 8, “Go Go Neverland SAGA,” when her father shows up at one of Franchouchou’s concerts. When explaining her past with him to another member of Franchouchou, Lily’s father addresses her with the masculine name “Masao” in the flashbacks — when asked about this, Lily explains it was her old name.

First of all, I love that Lily came out to everyone by her own choice and on her own terms, rather than being “found out” or outed. Trans reveals for shock value are overplayed and offensive — this way, it’s given about the same weight as the rest of her past. Everyone reacts quite well, too. Their producer, when questioned, basically says “of fucking course I knew, you got a problem with it?” The rest of Franchouchou is surprised at first, but quickly comes to the conclusion that it doesn’t change anything. Lily’s the same person she’s always been.

There are things that hit hard — in the Japanese, Lily refers to “Masao” as “the name [she] threw away,” which is damn real. There’s a lot about the way Lily carries herself when she’s talking about gender stuff that feels real — her flat annoyance when someone asks about her deadname, for instance. You can tell she’s had this conversation before and hates it. There’s a little bit of a “Very Special Episode” vibe to all of this, especially since it really never comes up again outside of this episode, but still, it’s handled quite well.

It’s Lily’s background that winds up being a bit spotty in terms of rep. By all appearances, she was presenting as a girl from a very young age — at least, we never see her presenting any other way. “Lily Hoshikawa” isn’t just her stage name — she refers to herself in the third person as “Lily” both in the show proper and in flashbacks. It’s unclear how supportive her father actually is, though. He’s clearly alright with her wearing dresses at home and acting under the name Lily Hoshimiya, but he still refers to her as “Masao,” even when she calls herself “Lily,” and seems to consider it a phase she’ll eventually grow out of. This is obviously not okay, but the show’s pretty clearly not condoning it either.

No, what really makes me side-eye it is how Lily died. Most of Franchouchou died in various kinds of accidents (and one beheading) — Lily died from a heart attack caused by the shock of realizing she was starting to grow facial hair. Part of the reason she’s happy to be a zombie is because it means she’ll never grow up, and by extension never hit puberty — she gets to be a girl-child forever.

So Lily’s death was caused — albeit indirectly — by her being trans. One could argue that it’s not the fact that she’s trans in and of itself, it’s the fact that neither she nor her father seem to be terribly informed about transness — Lily’s at an age where she could have very easily gone on estrogen and grown into a woman like any other girl. Hell, there are plenty of people who transition later in life and still have full, happy lives. Puberty without HRT when you’re trans fucking sucks, yes, but it’s not worth dying over. There’s nothing that actually supports that interpretation in the episode itself, though. It’s also completely unnecessary — she could have died of anything and still had the same anxieties about growing up. There’s no need for her death to be specifically linked to her transness.

There are ways around these issues, but unfortunately, I don’t know there’s a way that wouldn’t foreground Lily’s transness as an aspect of her character and/or lean into the “Very Special Episode”-ness of it. Any discussion of HRT during “Go Go Neverland SAGA” would feel shoehorned in, especially since none of the rest of Franchouchou seems to know the first thing about transness.³ Introducing an adult trans woman as a side character in REVENGE‘s Lily episode would be a natural continuation — it would both clarify that yes, it’s completely possible to be an adult and trans and happy, and allow for an examination of Lily’s feelings about the fact that not only will she never have to grow into a man, she never gets to grow into a woman, either. That said, it would also solidify her status as “the trans one.”

The Lily episode we do get in REVENGE is still about the fact that she’ll never grow up — she competes in a talent show where her main rival is another child star who sees his current career as nothing but a stepping stone to future adult stardom. Everything touched on in this episode is a natural continuation of “Go Go Neverland SAGA,” and instead establishes Lily’s role as “the eternal child star (who also happens to be trans).”

Ensemble shows can be hard to balance. If we had more time to focus on Lily, it would be easier to include more about her transness without it defining her character — as it is, there are six other members of Franchouchou and only 24 episodes across two seasons. Astra: Lost in Space managed to hit a good balance with Luca, but Luca is the type of character where it’s natural that he’d make jokes about his gender. Lily isn’t. There are a few offhand references to her gender in REVENGE — she goes into the boy’s bathroom to talk to her rival, and a reporter refers to her as “Lily Hoshikawa, aka Masao Go” — and I really can’t think of any ways to add more that wouldn’t seem forced.

I don’t think Lily is the best trans character in anime. I’m not even sure Zombie Land Saga deserves the praise people heaped on it when “Go Go Neverland SAGA” aired. Everything about the way Lily is handled struck me as calculated and questionably sincere at the time, especially her cause of death. In the end, though, calculated or no, I have to admit Zombie Land Saga did a pretty damn good job.

¹ – It’s extremely effective regional promotion — if I was still in Japan when this show aired, I would absolutely have gone location-spotting in Saga. I’d still like to someday.

² – To be precise, it’s very vaguely hinted at in episode 4, “Warming Dead Saga.” When the prospect of hot springs is brought up, everyone else looks excited, and Lily looks…like a trans person suddenly confronted with group bathing. Maybe that’s another reason the producer was so adamant about them not going in the baths?

³ – I personally headcanon the producer as a trans man, because cis men do not dress like that on the regular, nor do they have that specific brand of manic energy. But that’s neither here nor there.

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