There’s a certain genre/subgenre of light novel that follows a certain specific pattern. Magic exists in the world of these stories, and there are high schools that focus on teaching this magic. The protagonist possesses some kind of incredible magical ability that is nonetheless unrecognized by the evaluation systems of these schools, leading him to exist as something of an outcast. He has no personality whatsoever, and yet, almost every single girl he interacts with falls for him. His own sister is probably included in this. I’m describing The Irregular at Magic High School, of course; I’m also describing Chivalry of a Failed Knight, which is all of these things, and also somehow has a trans character.
Allow me to be a bit more detailed. The personality-free unrecognized talent of Failed Knight is the titular failed knight, a boy by the name of Ikki Kurogane; the aforementioned trans character, Nagi Arisuin (though she’d prefer you call her Alice) is the best friend and roommate¹ of Ikki’s sister Shizuku, making her a fairly important member of the supporting cast.
Mind you, I’m not sure Failed Knight knows Alice is trans. The light novels most certainly do not, since they seemingly take every opportunity to misgender her.
Alice says, in no uncertain terms and any number of times, that she is a girl. She is, by all appearances, non-transitioning — she’s never seen in traditionally feminine clothing, and has an outwardly masculine appearance — but everything about the way she speaks and carries herself, not to mention her interests, is feminine as can be. In a vacuum, she’s a lovely character — it’s rare to see non-transitioning trans characters who are as out and proud as she is, and she’s a wonderful source of support to Shizuku, not to mention a fascinating and complex figure when her backstory is addressed.² My one real complaint is that she has a tendency to tease people — especially Ikki — that clearly stems from the “queer predator” stereotype. In the anime, it never goes any further than teasing, but in the light novels, there’s at least one point where it crosses the line into genuinely uncomfortable territory. Still, it’s rare enough that it’s fairly easy to overlook.
In context, though… Well, it really depends on whether we’re talking about the anime or the light novels.³ Shizuku, to her credit, accepts Alice completely in every version of the story — as far as she’s concerned, Alice is her “big sister,” and that’s all there is to it. In the light novels, though, this is severely hamstrung by the fact that both Ikki and the author Riku Misora are huge transphobes who are incapable of gendering Alice correctly if their lives depended on it, meaning she’s misgendered constantly in narration. Misora clearly thinks that gay men and trans women are the same thing, and Alice is “a boy who thinks he’s a girl” or something along those lines. It’s galling.
For what it’s worth, the anime does seem to be making a conscientious effort to work against this. A lot of this can be chalked up to the fact that there is no narration, either from Ikki or anyone else — he might still be thinking transphobic things, but he comes across as much more accepting, at least outwardly. There’s more to it than just that, though.
Alice’s introduction is probably the best example of this. In the light novels, there’s a brief scene of Shizuku and Alice together, presented in a way that would make the reader assume she’s a cis girl. However, when Alice and Shizuku later meet up with Ikki and his roommate Stella… Surprise! She’s a boy! A big deal is made of this, with Ikki and Stella having no idea how to react, before Ikki asks her if she’s an okama, to which she says no, she just has a maiden’s heart. Shizuku thankfully comes to the rescue, explaining that Alice is a girl and it’s really not that big of a deal. Later, Ikki needs to be reassured that Alice isn’t attracted to him. She’s misgendered throughout. It’s bad.
The anime presents this completely differently. The first scene we get with Alice and Shizuku aligns us entirely with Shizuku’s perspective — she meets her new roommate, who initially appears masculine, but says she wants to be thought of as her big sister. We’re clued in to the fact that Alice is trans at the same time as Shizuku, which in turn leads us to accept that fact in the same way Shizuku does. Ikki and Stella’s introduction to Alice is much less transphobic as well — Stella is nonplussed, and Ikki mostly just seems confused. He asks if Alice is a man, and seems to accept her answer that no, she’s a maiden at heart, though he does misgender her one more time in the same vaguely confused way. After that, though, it’s smooth sailing. Overall, it’s clear they were trying to make Alice’s portrayal less transphobic.
There are a few added scenes as well, mostly to reinforce this reading. Alice is seen in the girl’s bathroom and shower room, both times without anyone batting an eye, which is absolutely great to see. It also recontextualizes the fact that she uses the boy’s bathroom while at the mall in both the light novels and the anime — without those scenes, it reinforces the idea that she’s “really a man,” but with them, it just seems like she’s trying to avoid trouble while in a space where people aren’t aware of her circumstances, which makes perfect sense. People at school know she’s a girl, so she can use the girl’s room; people at the mall don’t, so she plays it safe.
That said, there is also one added scene that ticks me off — there’s a bit where everyone goes to the pool, and the series of shots of all the girls in swimsuits ends with a shock gag of Alice in a wetsuit and sarong. Personally, I think it’s a great look, but we’re clearly meant to be laughing at her. It’s completely pointless — in the light novels, Alice isn’t at the pool in the first place — and I really wish they hadn’t done it.
If it wasn’t obvious, I don’t think Failed Knight is worth reading, especially because it’s so transphobic. I don’t think it’s worth watching either, but Alice was very much a bright spot in the show — she’s not exactly good rep, but I like her anyways, and she’s so much better than she could have been.
¹ – It’s established early on that boy-girl roommate pairs aren’t uncommon, so the fact that Alice is Shizuku’s roommate does nothing to clarify either how Alice identifies or how she’s registered at school.
² – Unfortunately, this isn’t covered in the anime — the bulk of it is in Vol. 4 of the light novels.
³ – There’s also a manga, but I really did not care enough to read it, if I’m being honest.
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