Gacha Gacha: The Next Revolution Vol. 8 (Del Rey)

gacha-gacha-8-header.jpgIn which your reviewer attempts to get to the bottom of the abundance of gender-bending characters in Japanese pop culture.

 

 

192 pgs., B&W; $12.95

(W / A: Hiroyuki Tamakoshi)

There must be some explanation in the structure of Japanese society, or perhaps in the history of Japanese literature, for why gender-bending characters are so common in Japanese popular culture. The most famous example may be Rumiko Takahashi’s Ranma ½: in that manga and anime series, 16-year-old martial artist Ranma Saotome turns into a girl when splashed with cold water, and back into a boy when splashed with hot water.  A similar involuntary transformation provides much of the interest in Gacha Gacha: The Next Revolution. A mishap with the virtual reality game Gacha Gacha leaves Akira Hatsushiba with an interesting predicament: his gender changes every time he sneezes. So one minute he’s Akira-chan (female), and the next Akira-kun (male). You can imagine the difficulties this could cause during hay fever season.

Akira can see some benefit in his gender-switching ability, because it allows him to get friendly as a girl with Yurika, a female classmate whom he desires as a boy. I’m sure many American men have wished they could do likewise: insinuate themselves into the circle of girlfriends of their desired target to find out what she likes and dislikes, then have their male persona use that information to score a date, or better. The usefulness of this device rests in part on the assumption that even in coeducational high schools, Japanese boys and girls inhabit very different worlds, and communication and negotiation between members of those different worlds is carried out as formally, and with as much trepidation, as between European heads of state in the Middle Ages. That’s how it’s presented in high school romance manga, anyway.

Gacha Gacha vol. 8 consists of five stories of varying quality, all of which are loaded with fanservice illustrations. If seeing cartoon girls’ underpants or ogling their fully-clothed breasts are your thing, this is certainly the series for you. The illustrations are actually pretty good for their type: it’s the stories themselves which tend to the formulaic, and most of their creativity is displayed in the number of reasons which can be provided to cause a girl’s skirt fly up, fall into the water so her clothes become translucent, or appear in the skimpiest possible sleepwear.

The cover to Gacha Gacha: The Next Revolution vol. 8 by Hiroyuki Tamakoshi. Click for a larger image.If you like a little story along with your very soft porn, the best bet in this volume is "Miniature," a sort of Incredible Shrinking Man tale (listed as a "bonus" in the table of contents) in which Mikio is transformed into a tiny being the size of a toy animal: there’s even a reference to the menacing cat scene from the movie.  Mariko, who previously wouldn’t give Mikio the time of day, thinks his miniaturized self is cute: she lets him wear the clothes from one of her dolls (a cute little bunny suit) and even lets him ride around in her breast (duh!) pocket and sleep in her bed. The erotic possibilities of the latter situation are clearly suggested by body positions although not expressed directly: there’s nothing more offensive in the art that you could see in any Victoria’s Secret catalog.  It’s not all titillation, however: the bizarreness of the whole situation lets Mikio and Mariko step outside their customary behavior patterns and realize that they do care for each other.

"The Big Guy" and "Country Nights are Dark" also both have their moments. The former involves a date Akira-chan has with a menacing classmate, Shinobu Fujiwara: she does everything possible to put him off, from showing up dressed for magic girl cosplay to eating like a pig, but is won over by his tolerance and loyalty. The latter invokes the custom of yobai, once common in rural Japan as a prelude to marriage, in which a young man would sneak into a young woman’s bed at night and, if she consented, have sex with her. "Of Temptation and Servitude" involves a bowling match in which the loser has to be the winner’s slave: who knew bowling presented so many opportunities for panty shots? In "Of Seashells and Feelings," Akira-chan does a little research to aid the prospects of Akira-Kun on his date with Yurika.

Maybe I’ve answered my own question by now: gender-bending characters allow manga artists to satirize the rigid sex roles of their society, while also creating opportunities to develop characters outside the narrow paths they would otherwise be expected to follow. In particular, it allows them to have the characters take the point of view of the opposite sex by actually walking in their shoes, so to speak, and to resolve conflicts with the benefit of their increased understanding. I’m confident that it is entirely coincidental that this plot device also allows the creation of lots of titillating situations (male character in his female persona in the girls locker room, or sharing an unsuspecting girl’s bed), with corresponding fanservice illustrations.

Extras include the standard Del Rey explanation of Japanese honorifics, one page of early rough sketches, and three pages of translation notes.  Gacha Gacha: The Next Revolution is rated M for Mature, intended for ages 18+. A preview (you must be at least 16 years old to view it) is available from the Del Rey site http://www.randomhouse.com/delrey/manga/gachagacha/  | Sarah Boslaugh

 

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