Do boys just want to be girls? The surprising popularity of the new series Kashimashi ~Girl Meets Girl~ makes me wonder.
Hazumu, a very unmanly 17-year-old is struck by an alien spaceship. The aliens put him back together but, so sorry, they unavoidably have to remake him as a girl. This all happens in the first episode. The rest of the series tells how he, his parents, and his friends react to the new situation. In general, everyone is pleased -- Hazumu most of all. His timid, effeminate nature always made him more like a girl, anyway. And his love life takes off: the main story is a love triangle involving Hazumu and two of his friends -- both girls.
Certainly, part of the show's appeal is the yuri ("lily" = lesbian) romance. Gender aside, the romance itself is very touching. And there is enough fanservice -- bras, breasts and baths -- for that to be an attraction, too.
But posters to anime forums in Japan and overseas have eagerly volunteered for the same gender transformation as Hazumu. It's just a fantasy, but why is it such an attractive one?
First, of course, the idea of carrying around on your own person the female body you lust after seems pretty convenient. And wouldn't it be nice to share a locker room with girls rather than guys?
For many, there may also be something attractive in abandoning the struggle for masculinity and, as it seems, relaxing into the role of a girl. Not always having to take the lead. Not having to appear fearless. Not having to strive.
But this is all minor. Anime make their strongest effects with mythic characters and situations, characters and situations that resonate deeply with the human psyche: a hero on a quest for sacred objects, witches, wizards and warlocks, giant mecha that look like prehistoric monsters.
The most common mythic characters in anime are cute young girls. These cute anime girls are not just lolicon fantasies, they are also classic examples of the "anima," the feminine personification of a man's soul that shows up in dream, myth and fantasy.
The psychologist Carl Jung, who invented the term, said the anima is a part of the male psyche that enables a man to get in touch with his unconscious. It is a spirit guide, helping men get in touch with their feelings and find a path to wholeness.
Now, the anima has both good and bad aspects. If we become too devoted to her, she can ensorcel us into addiction. She can hold us back from the psychological progress she enables: why go any further if there is this much pleasure close at hand?
But in any case, in addition to lusting after them and/or wanting to protect their moé innocence, we unconsciously identify with them. These cute, uncertain, natural, sacred creatures represent our own inner self. They embody our own wisdom, our own naturalness and vulnerability and pleasure. Perhaps they are more attractive to less masculine animephiles, but they represent things buried in every male psyche. Seeing them in anime stimulates our feeling for and understanding of ourselves.
Here in Kashimashi, the protagonist actually becomes a girl, so our identification with the female anima figure is particularly intimate. Kashimashi takes an effect that is common in anime and raises it to a higher power by transforming the protagonist into his own anima, and ours. This is why it has such an allure.
Do boys want to be girls? Maybe so. But more important, they are moved by seeing the girl that is already part of them.