Non-Cis Character Database: Kaoru Hanase (Tamako Market)

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Kaoru Hanase is kind of an interesting case. She’s a fairly minor character from Tamako Market, an anime about a girl named Tamako and her life as the daughter of a mochi shop owner in a shopping arcade — Kaoru, who own the flower shop Florist Princess, is part of the ensemble cast of other shopkeepers in the arcade. She is very probably trans.

I say “very probably” because not only is it never confirmed in the text, no attention is ever brought to it. She’s treated exactly the same as any other shopkeeper. But she’s extremely trans-coded. Kaoru is a gender-neutral name¹, she’s voiced by a cis male VA, Daisuke Ono, in a noticeably masculine fashion, and her body lacks female secondary sexual characteristics (aka she doesn’t have visible breasts). As far as I can tell, she uses the feminine/gender-neutral first-person pronoun “watashi” once, and she’s never gendered by anyone else.²

There is exactly one instance of anything resembling mention of her gender — Mochizou, another high schooler who lives in the shopping arcade, is being questioned about who he’s in love with, and Kaoru is mentioned as a possibility, with the questioner saying that she’s “too beautiful for [him].” Mochizou denies it in exactly the same way as he denies being in love with one of his (female) classmates. Basically, to the people of the arcade, Kaoru is fully accepted as a woman.

There are other ways to explain this, of course — maybe Kaoru is intersex, or maybe she’s just a cis woman with an unusually masculine voice and figure. The most straightforward explanation, though, is that she’s a trans woman, especially considering how similar her coding is to okama characters.

The most basic definition I can provide for okama-coding is that it describes characters that have very deliberately feminine mannerisms, speech patterns, and ways of presentation, while being visibly male-bodied. Kaoru absolutely fits this definition. While her body and voice read as masculine, her mannerisms and speech are feminine as can be, even exaggeratedly so — the difference between her and more traditionally okama-coded characters (such as O.D. and Berg-Katze from Gatchaman Crowds) is that there’s nothing comedic or strange about the way Kaoru is presented. She’s genteel, elegant, and, well…beautiful. And she’s quite visibly trans.

There’s really not a whole lot else to say about Kaoru, both because she’s such a minor character and because no attention is ever drawn to her gender. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing — characters like her and Kanamori/Venus from Heaven’s Design Bureau, who possess trans-coded traits without attention being drawn to them, normalize those traits without othering them. There are women who have deeper voices and no breasts. Sometimes they’re trans, sometimes they’re not, but they’re still women either way.

I can’t think of many ways Kaoru could be improved as trans rep, to be honest. Explicitly confirming her as trans, maybe, but it would be difficult to do that in a way that’s tasteful and doesn’t draw too much attention to itself. Part of what makes Kaoru such good rep is that her transness is presented so nonchalantly. That said, there is one thing I was personally hoping for the whole time I was watching Tamako Market — there’s a public bathhouse in the shopping arcade that gets a fair amount of screentime, and it would have been nice to see Kaoru in the women’s bath, or even exiting or entering it. Based on how accepting the rest of the cast seems to be towards her, I can’t imagine they’d mind, and it would reinforce the implicit “trans women are women.” She’s pretty great rep as is, though.

¹ – The name Kaoru is also extremely genderqueer/trans-coded — there are three characters named Kaoru in the database at time of my writing this, the most of any name.

² – To be clear, I suspect most of the arcade shopkeepers are never specifically gendered by anyone — Japanese is a language in which it’s easier not to use gendered third-person pronouns than to use them, and none of them have a ton of screentime. It’s just that Kaoru is the only one I was paying attention to.

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