So far I’ve only covered manga that I consider to be great works. Obviously, I can never be objective, but the works I’ve covered so far were ones that I think would appeal strongly to anyone interested in reading yuri. But not all worthwhile yuri will appeal to everyone, and not all worthwhile yuri is fantastic. There’s some stuff out there which is interesting in certain ways but not amazing overall. Manga which I personally love due to some specific element that doesn’t matter to most. We’re going to be looking at one of those manga this time, in the form of 2006’s Kashimashi.
Now don’t get me wrong here, Kashimashi isn’t a bad work. But it doesn’t stand out much either. For the most part, it’s a pretty generic yuri love triangle, hardly excelling in the realm of yuri romance. Its major characters are pretty good and they all have solid motivations and development, but the side cast is a bit lacking. The art is fine but doesn’t go beyond that, the humor is the most quintessentially mid-2000s manga humor I’ve ever seen, and the actual story is ridiculous and contrived. But it stands out in one element: its approach to gender.
Kashimashi is a “transformation/gender bender” manga. At first glance, it seems generic in this realm too, but it certainly isn’t. Kashimashi is one of the few transformation manga I’ve seen that really engages with gender in ways that I personally enjoy, making it a very important yuri manga to me.
Ordinarily, in transformation manga, the protagonist will, after being changed, immediately attempt to change back. This is understandable of course. Being put in a different body would be incredibly jarring and the mismatch would only be increased with a difference in sex characteristics, which would in all likelihood trigger dysphoria. Unfortunately, the implications of this are almost never addressed. Usually, these manga end up either with the protagonist changing back or eventually deciding that their new body is fine. Sometimes it even seems like their gender identity shifts due to their body’s change, and while I suppose that’s possible it doesn’t come across as particularly likely to me.
Kashimashi avoids all of this. The main character, Hazumu, never expresses any desire to go back after her body is changed. On the contrary, she seems quite happy with the change, expressing herself more than she did in her previous body. This alone would be a welcome shift, but the manga goes even further with this.
There are significant hints throughout the story that Hazumu has always been a trans girl who just didn’t realize it. Her immediate acceptance of the change is worth noting, but there’s much more in here. The manga includes the classic “childhood marriage promise”, but Hazumu very specifically said she wanted to be the other girl’s bride. At the same time, a character who can somehow only see women is able to see Hazumu, even before she had her body changed. Suffice it to say that I can’t read her as anything but trans, and this reading has a major impact on my enjoyment of the manga.
There are moments in this manga that only work emotionally when you see Hazumu as a trans girl. Her girlhood is reaffirmed throughout the manga multiple times, and she’s almost always treated as a girl by everyone else. At one point she gets a dress as a gift after having worried that she’ll never fit in with her love interests since she’s not a “real girl”. This affirmation of her gender is incredibly moving to me for what should be fairly obvious reasons and it only works because I read her as trans.
This approach to gender allows the manga to do some other good stuff as well, specifically in countering heteronormativity. Hazumu is initially worried that she can’t date either of her love interests anymore since she’s now a girl, but it’s made clear very quickly that she’s still very much attracted to her past crush. A lot of these stories see a shift in sexual orientation with the shift in bodies, which probably wouldn’t happen if personalities stayed the same, so it’s nice to see that get avoided as well.
Basically, Kashimashi is the closest thing I’ve found to a yuri story focused on a trans girl, and that’s incredibly valuable in itself. It sucks that there’s no prominent yuri manga which is actually focused on a trans person, but I’ll take what I can get in terms of representation. I just really, really love this manga. If you stripped out the gender stuff it would be boring and run-of-the-mill, but I was able to connect to Hazumu because of her gender, and that made it easier to connect to the work as a whole. I was honestly surprised by how much I enjoyed re-reading it, likely as a result of many personal revelations since my first reading of it.
A lot of what Kashimashi does right is probably an accident. As good as the manga is on this stuff, it doesn’t really feel like the mangaka knew what they were doing with it. Occasionally you’ll find lines which are vaguely transphobic and I definitely feel like the mangaka had no serious conception of Hazumu as trans. But I can’t read her any other way, especially since this reading matters so much to me. In a landscape where trans manga just doesn’t exist, I’m willing to accept this kind of work.