Genkaku Picasso is an odd little manga about a high school boy named Hikari Haruma, called “Picasso” because he’s constantly drawing. He’s killed in a freak accident, only to be brought back to life with the power to see into people’s hearts through his drawings and the requirement that he use this power to help people. Jeanne Hishida — also known as Yosuke, though she’d prefer not to be called that — is one of the people he helps, in the two chapter story titled “Hishida’s Holy War.”
We’re initially introduced to Hishida as Yosuke, a gentle, soft-spoken boy with long hair in the same class as Picasso. Our first hint that Hishida might not be a boy after all comes when “he” hesitates to use the men’s restroom with another classmate, but everything doesn’t come out into the open until Hishida is spotted using the (otherwise empty) women’s restroom during class. Hishida’s bag is forcibly searched by the class, who find makeup, a skirt, fashion magazines, etc. At this point Hishida runs out, because all of this is hugely traumatic.
When Hishida finally explains everything to Picasso — with a little help from his powers — it’s all fairly uncomplicated. She’s trans. She didn’t really understand gender until she hit puberty, at which point she began experiencing dysphoria; when she dressed as a girl, she was found out by her parents, who treated it as a mental illness. This effectively forced Hishida back into the closet for at least a while, but didn’t change the way she felt. The name “Jeanne” comes from Jeanne d’Arc, or Joan of Arc — Hishida had a pop-up book about her as a child, and admired her intensely.
The whole class winds up getting the same account of Hishida’s experiences, and apparently accepts her completely — they agree to call her “Jeanne,” and she begins attending school as a girl. She appears quite a few times as a minor or background character in other stories, and seems to be quite popular with the boys in the class.
I have reservations about how all of this is handled.¹ I always tend to be wary of characters getting forcibly outed, especially in such a dramatic fashion, both because it’s painful to watch and because it sensationalizes transness in a way that’s kind of gross. On top of that, there are some details that strike me as odd — namely, Hishida using the women’s restroom and bringing makeup to school when she’s still clearly closeted. I’d believe that she has to hide things in her bag to keep her parents from finding them, but that raises another question — after she begins presenting as a girl at school, are we supposed to assume her parents have come around as well, or is she still closeted at home? It’s already extremely optimistic to have Hishida’s classmates accept her as suddenly and wholeheartedly as they do — if her parents did the same, that’s just stretching the bounds of believability. The shift from transphobia to understanding is too abrupt, even if they make a token effort to suggest that it’s not all smooth sailing from then on. And most frustrating of all, Hishida is largely defined by her transness — it’s one thing for the darkness in her heart to revolve around that, but I couldn’t tell you a thing about her interests or personality other than “girl,” which makes for a bland character.
Genkaku Picasso is clearly trying. It’s trying very, very hard, to the point that it winds up looking an awful lot like a PSA on transness. And I suppose I can’t argue it’s not good rep — Hishida’s backstory is cliche because there’s truth to it, and it’s nice to see everyone so accepting, even if it feels a bit implausible. It’s all very safe and nice. Personally, I think it’s a bit boring, but that’s just me.
The only thing I can think of to improve it would be to cut the part with her parents finding out — it’s perfectly plausible that she’d be closeted just because coming out as trans is difficult and stressful. Maybe she could see transphobic misinformation online; her parents could even make transphobic comments in a general sense without knowing Hishida is trans. If they didn’t out her, the transition (ha) between Hishida being closeted and being accepted would be less abrupt, and it wouldn’t raise the same questions about whether or not she was out at home. It would also be nice if she had a personality. Overall, though, she’s perfectly fine, albeit hamstrung by how hard Genkaku Picasso is trying.
¹ – Among other things, the official translation on the Shonen Jump app uses he/him pronouns for Hishida through the entirety of “Hishida’s Holy War,” even after everyone has accepted her as a girl, which is somewhat infuriating to witness but no fault of the original.