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Today in Awesome

Attack on Titan Creator, Publisher On Character’s Gender

Manga artist and writer Hajime Isayama created Attack on Titan, a manga and anime that is beautiful, dark, and complex…and also extremely popular.  It also features a character named Zoë Hange who, despite their female first name, is consistently not gendered in the course of the manga or anime.  Isayama has clearly done this deliberately, as he’s repeatedly avoided giving Hange (or Hanji as the name is often written) a specific binary gender. Publisher Kodansha has now gotten in on the discussion via their Tumblr account and is attempting to keep the Attack on Titan manga as close to Isayama’s vision as possible.

After offering comments like “I think it’s better if I don’t say either way” regarding Hange’s gender in 2011, Isayama has apparently finally spoken more definitively via Kondansha, with this exchange occurring on the Kodansha tumblr:

Anonymous asked: Hello, I wanted to ask you guys a question about Attack on Titan… Did you confirm the characters’ genders with Isayama? For example, did you confirm with him that Hange is a woman? Or was it assumed? And do you usually confirm this kind of stuff with the authors? (sorry if someone has already asked this)

Isayama has confirmed that… we’re not allowed to confirm Hange’s gender. He has instructed us to avoid gendered pronouns when referring to Hange, or at least to use he AND she with equal frequency.

Kodansha has since decided to go back to previous volumes and adjust the gender references as necessary.  One interesting part of all of this is that it’s simply not a problem with the Japanese versions of the manga because gendered pronouns are so rarely used (names or honorifics being a more standard way of referring to someone). It’s only in the English translation that this became an issue, especially as the US fandom has grown and grown to the point of being the largest anime and manga fandoms on Tumblr. While some of the responses to Kodansha’s statement have been mixed at best (including one fan who has gotten threatening messages for using “she” to refer to Kange still), many have been extremely positive, such as this excited response:

as a non-binary person who has literally NEVER seen a character or popular figure in media who is not gendered as a man or a woman a single time in their entire life, your dedication to using the communicating with isayama and using the right pronouns for hanji/hange means SO much to me! thank you!!!

Major points to both Isayama and Kodansha for sticking to their guns and refusing to define Hange’s gender. At the end of the day, if the series creator doesn’t think that this character needs to be binary or otherwise have their gender defined, what else matters? Especially when it can offer such great representation for people who rarely get to see themselves in popular entertainment.

(via DailyDot)

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  • realinvalidname

    Also, everyone loves Hange! He/she’s the freaking Jane Goodall of Titans. Which doesn’t sound funny until you remember that chimpanzees aren’t 20-to-60-foot-tall monsters that constantly try to eat you.

  • Anonymous

    And I keep seeing people saying that the folks excited for this are overreacting or were grasping at straws, but to me that just underscores how important representation in the media actually is. You have the quote where someone says they’ve literally never encountered anyone like them before Hanji and I think that’s both bittersweet and at the same time a commentary on how far we still have to go.

  • Ashe

    HA. This is awesome. And really makes me think of what I take for granted as a cisgender woman.

    I also wonder just how threatening those messages were. All I can say is that it’s pretty disrespectful to refer to someone who’s not a ‘she’ as a ‘she’ anyway.

  • Anonymous

    I have to wonder how much anime Attack on Titan fans watch if they think that Hange is the first ever character to have no specific gender or not have their gender confirmed. CLAMP have been writing agendered characters for years.
    Hana from Gate 7 is neither a girl or a boy, as are half the cast in Wish, and Yue and Ruby Moon from Card Captor Sakura.

  • Revolution of Eva

    What I like is that Hange is actually trying to *understand* the enemy that has pretty much wiped out most of the planet, trying to rationally figure out weaknesses. Hange’s “experiments” aren’t very complicated, but point out some interesting facts: 1 – Titans don’t attempt to communicate with humans or each other on any level. 2 – Titans don’t feel or react to painful stimuli – they seem to ignore driving nails or spears into them. 3 – Titans require no food nourishment whatsoever – they do “eat” humans but it’s an entirely instinctive behavior – for God’s sake they don’t even have a digestive process, just a body cavity of a “stomach” where chewed body parts just pile up until they’re “full”, at which point they’ll vomit it all back up. 4 – The one energy requirement they do seem to have in sunlight, explaining why they’re less active at night. Bigger ones seem to be able to last without sunlight longer than the smaller ones.

    But that’s what really frightened me into surreal horror: the Titans aren’t even animals – they don’t NEED to eat humans at all, it’s either instinct or pleasure – probably robotic instinct, given that Titans always try to *eat* humans, never simply kill them by stepping on them, etc.

  • Camille Monae

    I never realized the character wasn’t assigned a gender. I’ve only watch the anime and I just assumed it was a female character due to the name and appearance. Compared to how the defined male characters are draw I would definitely say female. Not that it matters though.

  • Anonymous

    Fixed! Sorry about that – not sure where my brain was when I misspelled it so many times! :(

  • Lapin

    I think this news is exciting just because Attack On Titan is currently really popular, and it’s a shonen sci-fi/ horror series. But yeah, agendered characters and gender fluidity in anime aren’t all that unusual. (I just saw Evangelion 3.0, which has Kaworu Nagisa, who’s male in the physical sense, but displays feminine and masculine traits, and has a crush on the male main character. And it’s a pretty mainstream anime!)

    CLAMP are amazing. I always recommend their series to anyone who likes manga, and especially anyone who wants to get into manga.

  • locuas

    Why do i have the feeling that this is actually a plot point?

  • Anonymous

    if it wouldnt be a bother, would it be possible to tell me what that word, cisgender, means to you? thanks in advance, and no worries if you dont wish to.

  • Anonymous

    Oh yeah, some of the posts going around have just been horrible. The conversations in my part of the internet got really, really TERF-y. It was gross.

  • Chris

    Yeah, Hange/Hanji is one of the few representations of scientists in fiction that are crazy passionate about the quest for knowledge, as use that energy for the betterment of humankind. I don’t like to complain about this often because fighting race/gender/sexuality/other-things-you-were-born-as bias in media is more important, but jeez, the war against knowledge and those who prize it is really prevalent in pop culture, even in (ESPECIALLY in) science fiction. It’s nice to see a positive STEM role model in fiction, and Hange/Hanji having an undefined or non-binary gender is just the icing on the cake.

  • Stewart Zoot Wymer

    Huh, I missed the blurring of Hange’s character – but then again, my girlfriend is more of a fan of the series than I am (she keeps urging me to watch it in its entirety) but my girlfriend has always referred to Hange as “she” so that’s how I’ve seen “her”. I guess it’s something for an author to play up that a character’s gender is not that important; that we must see them as themselves rather than assign them to specific gender stereotypes or roles. I can respect that, as in my own work my protagonists are often genderless (at least in the first and second person) and I’m not wild when people state to me that “women are X and men are Y” when I feel that traits of all kinds can be found irrespective of gender.

  • Anonymous

    This is NOT a agendered character.
    This is a character whose creator is AFRAID of revelealing the gender.

    Would be a good thing if the creator said YES, THIS PERSON IS AGENDER or something.

    This is worst than Poison’s =(

  • Ashe

    Oh, no, it’s not a bother.

    I don’t think it matters what it means to me, but rather, what it means to society as a whole, as it’s a concept that’s reinforced every single day. It’s bigger than any one person, and it’d be kind of arrogant for me to try and push forward my ‘thoughts’ on the matter, you know?

    (I say this just because I see a lot of cisgender people trying to ‘reclaim’ and ‘redefine’ the term cisgender as a way to weasel out of critical thought/responsibility and I reeeeeeeally don’t want to do that)

    Cisgender means my gender identity matches the sex I was assigned at birth. It means I’m not transgender, non-binary, etc.

  • Mark Brown

    There’s also Crona from Soul Eater and Angie from Majestic Prince.

    In fact Angie is specifically called out in-fiction, because even hir team-mates aren’t sure what s/he is (the girls insist Angie’s a girl, and the guys insist Angie’s a guy).

  • debijl

    I don’t know anything about anime but would like to sample some. Any recommendations? Attack on Titan is streaming on Netflix so I will start with that. I know anime comes in all genre’s, and tho I like scifi/ fantasy I mostly want a good story with well developed characters. I am not offended by adult themes.Thanks in advance.

  • Ann Onnimus

    I agree with Ashe’s definition.

    “Cisgender” is not an insult to me and as a cisgender female I do not feel threatened by the term. I think “cisgender” is to “transgender” or “agender” or “genderfluid”, etc as “heterosexual” is to “homosexual” or “bisexual” or “asexual”, etc. It’s a name given to define the most common or most typical or most widely accepted version of a trait, the one that people take for granted when they ARE that way – the one they think is “normal”. Because of that, when you are that way, it is easy to assume nearly everyone else is the same way and anyone who is not like you is “abnormal”, and therefore there seems to be little need to create a label to distinguish this typical trait from other possible versions of that trait (this trait being gender identity). Because of increasing awareness, there is a new need to label it so it isn’t “normal” vs all the various types that would then be, by definition, “abnormal” and therefore wrong and to be avoided.

    I knew people who got their backs up when the terms “straight” and “heterosexual” became widely used to distinguish from homosexuals… eventually the hostility passed and it became just another adjective. The same will eventually happen to “cisgender”. It will take time for people to get over the idea that there isn’t just one “right” way to be and the gender identity of other individuals is not a threat.

  • Skemono

    From the “Popular Links” sidebar: 10 Anime You Should Watch (And That Are Easy to Find!)

  • Abhinav Jain

    Gundam SEED, Gundam SEED: Destiny, Gundam 00, Samurai Champloo, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Arpeggio of Blue Steel, Rurouni Kenshin, Code Geass, Claymore, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Record of Lodoss War.

    I’m mostly a mecha anime fan, so most of these are recommendations based on that. Arpeggio is almost all naval combat and is a new series that I rather like. Samurai Champloo and Rurouni Kenshin are both samurai shows that Ive really enjoyed. Rurouni Kenshin was my gateway drug for anime. Lodoss War is an anime done with a very traditional American RPG style story and is thus refreshing despite being a few years old. Claymore is horror/sword-fighting and is really good as well.

    I also love Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, which is a bit horror and deals with demons and possessions.

  • Anonymous

    thanks ashe, i appreciate your time and knowledge…i went and looked up gender binary on my own, so i feel doubly educated today.

    tms, changing lives.

  • Anonymous

    i really appreciate that, ann. i’ll admit, when i first started reading ashe’s answer, i was in the “but that’s just normal, why does it need a term?” camp, but clearly as i keep reading, i realized that this was obviously something i had never given any thought to, and that my default position was incredibly narrow and needed some expanding.

  • Anonymous

    In the manga of Sailor Moon, Haruka Tenoh (Sailor Uranus) is presented as fluid gender in her introduction, initially being drawn and referred to as a boy, but later revealed to be a girl, but still behaving in gender fluid ways, even so far as being referred to as “both” man and woman, embodying the strengths of both. Even later on, she is occasionally referred to as Michiru’s “boyfriend” by other characters and Hotaru refers to her as Haruka-Papa.

  • Miss Cephalopod

    Maybe Hanji is a tiny titan and therefore has no genitals! Oh snap! ;-P

  • Anonymous

    If you like SciFi, Cowboy Beebop seems to be a lot of people’s gateway in. For me, it was Ghost in the Shell. I haven’t gotten too deep into anime though, so I don’t know what’s out there.

  • XKCD

    Same. The anime character had a feminine face (not that that means much in anime), feminine name, and feminine-tone voice. Zoe appeared to have breasts, too, so I just assumed female and never questioned that. Interesting plot point, though.

  • locuas

    How many of those were normal human beings that just happened to not have a specific gender?

  • Axe Armor

    Fair point. Ruby Moon and Kaworu at least are both “in human guise” scenarios, in contrast to Hange’s “nobody asked” scenario.

  • Lorenzo Linares

    I never knew that this even existed about this character until this article…. i always assumed “she” was a she due to how she looks (feminine in my opinion). From the moment i saw this character the thought that it could be a man never even crossed my mind.

    I don’t see it.

  • Lorenzo Linares

    I never knew that this even existed about this character until this article…. i always assumed “she” was a she due to how she looks (feminine in my opinion). From the moment i saw this character the thought that it could be a man never even crossed my mind.

    I don’t see it.

  • Ann Onnimus

    erm, that last part should read “It will take time for people to get over the idea, *and understand* that there isn’t just one “right” way to be and the gender identity of other individuals is not a threat.”

    But thankfully I think that most everyone knew that’s what I meant.

  • Ann Onnimus

    erm, that last part should read “It will take time for people to get over the idea, *and understand* that there isn’t just one “right” way to be and the gender identity of other individuals is not a threat.”

    But thankfully I think that most everyone knew that’s what I meant.

  • kinoumenthe

    As someone who’s reading the manga in Japanese and has been speaking the language for over 20 years now (and, incidentally, earns my living as a manga translator), I can tell you that Japanese DO use gendered pronouns and other gender markers A LOT, so saying that it’s not a “problem” in the original version because they don’t use those is a mistake.
    The reason it’s not a problem is because it is deliberate.
    I was confused from the start while reading the manga as to Hanji’s gender not because there were no gendered clue in language, but because (I’m going to go ahead and arbitrarily use a feminine pronoun here) the way she talks mixes those gendered clues left and right AND because she is drawn without any clue to her gender.
    I just assumed that, as is often the case in manga, it would be made clear later on in some way. (Because it is almost always made clear one way or another, even when authors pretend to play on the gender fluidity of their character).
    And that never happened.
    In the anime, she is voiced by a woman, but it’s so par for the course to have boys voiced by women (famous exemple : Shinji in Evangelion) that you can’t really base yourself on that, even if Hanji is an adult and not a teen.

    It’s very deliberate there’s literally no doubt about it. Good on Isayama to stick to his metaphorical guns on that, too.

  • Ashe

    No problem. This is a good site for seeing different perspectives and backgrounds: I learn new things all the time!

  • Ann Onnimus

    Yeah, it’s hard for people who think of themselves as “normal” to understand how dangerously pervasive the concept of “normal” can be (because of the implied “abnormal” for everything else), and the damage it can cause to people who don’t fit the pattern. I know, it seems so innocent at first and it’s so, so easy to be ignorant. I myself wasn’t really aware of just how dangerous it was until our daughter was born with unexpected Down Syndrome and I started looking into this history of how people with DS have been treated and closely examined my own reactions and others’ reactions to her. The realization that I don’t want anyone treating my daughter as not deserving of the same freedoms, respect and dignity that I automatically enjoy by virtue of being “normal”, sort of opened up my eyes to the abuses that lots of people undergo when they don’t fit society’s idea of “normal” for some reason.

    It’s a common human failing but I believe most people just don’t think about things like this unless or until it applies directly to them or to someone they care about. We as a society need to be less self-centered and more thoughtful and compassionate about other people.

  • Ann Onnimus

    It’s a common human failing… it’s hard to understand just how dangerous the idea of “normal” can be for people who don’t fit the pattern. That’s why this sort of labeling is important, because it puts us all on the same footing as far as human value goes, instead of calling one type “normal” and implying by extension that others are abnormal and less preferable, whether we’re talking about people of different gender types or different sexualities or different races or even having disabilities (remember, these are things that people have NO CONTROL over). That’s insulting by itself, but it is but a short psychological hop from regularly insinuating that someone is less preferable, to starting to actually TREAT those people like they are less preferable, and even to mocking and abusing them and treating them like they are subhuman… or standing by silently while such abuse occurs instead of speaking out, while thinking “well, I’m not the one doing it so it’s not my problem. It doesn’t affect me or anyone I care about.”

    That needs to stop. We need to become better people than this, and this is one place to start.

  • Raccoon Graveyard

    freaking hell man @ people shit flinging others over gender semantics for some fictional character that isn’t even real. how invested do you have to be to get this ass mad that you stoop to harassment? WHAT

  • Anonymoose
    Just confirms what the rest of us knew all along.

  • Brittany K

    Then there are the Sailor Stars who appear to be male but then transform into female, or at least femininely dressed, sailor scouts.

  • kinoumenthe

    Well, I’m sorry too, but to anybody actually speaking Japanese, Hanji is NOT assigned a gender (any language clue to one gender is systematically contradicted by another pointing to the contrary). It’s as simple as that.
    And it’s pretty telling that the question arised only when the manga/anime were translated in other languages.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah. it’s interesting how the idea was changed between the anime and the manga. The manga Starlights are more like manga Haruka, but there’s an actual gender transformation happening in the manga.

  • Silverwisp

    Huh, never noticed that, then again I read some ghetto-ass fan translation. I guess the not-all-that-great artstyle didn’t help either.
    Coming to think of it, she (I’ll be going with “she” for now) was at some point referred to as a freak. I took that as a reference to her being bonkers for Titans, but I guess it could have been hint.
    Anyway, love the character. Gender identity and/or biologic hardware won’t change that.

  • Anonymous

    Characters displaying feminine and masculine traits relates to gender roles though, not actual experience of gender itself. Kaworu is a male that identifies as a man, so there’s no gender fluidity there in canon. He’s a gay or bi guy.
    Also, Japan has a different concept of masculinity to the west. The kind of brawny, muscular guy you see presented as the epitome of maleness is a western thing, not so much an East Asian thing, where other traits are valued more.
    But yes, Japan is much more open in it’s media in depicting characters that don’t fall into binary gender, as well as same sex relationships since back in the 90s (Sailor Moon and CCS as examples). Which is funny, because their actual society in general is pretty strict with their gender roles.

  • Anonymous

    Most of them. Well, Hana is a normal human that has magical powers and is neither boy nor girl. The characters in Wish are angels that take on human forms that have no gender.
    But great deal of characters in manga, gender conforming or no, have magical powers or something that makes them not normal human beings. That doesn’t discredit who they are as people or their identities.

  • Lapin

    I was kind of under the impression that Kaworu, as an angel in a human’s body, would actually be genderless in a way (or care less about human gender binaries?), but I guess you could probably be right that he would identify himself as strictly male since he’s got a male body? I don’t remember if that was ever addressed in canon; it’s been a while since I’ve seen the original series.

    I didn’t mean to imply the gender roles= gender thing, that was again just me thinking about Kaworu specifically (I think I might have made too many assumptions based on Kaworu not being human). I got talking about two separate topics, sorry!

    You make a really good point about the cultural differences.

  • locuas

    But the angels weren’t normal humans that jus thappen to have no specific gender and later that obtained powers, they are angels that took human form and that human form has no gender, which i don’t feel is the same thing.

  • Skye

    Did you watch the bonus episode recently where Hanji had a different voice actor? She suddenly sounded like Naruto. I was a little confused by the switch, but that makes more sense now that I learned Hanji was written as agendered.

  • Anonymous

    Why is it so important that they be regular humans without any powers? A vast swath of anime and manga characters aren’t regular humans and that doesn’t stop us identifying with them as people. If an angel takes on a genderless or genderfluid human identity, why does that make them any less in terms of representation? If anything, it just adds another interesting dimension to their character, doesn’t it?

  • Anonymous

    I had forgotten that he was an angel! (stupid, considering his name!) *forehead slap*
    Angels do seem to appear as genderless or not concerned with gender a lot in anime and manga, other times they seem to have definite genders, like in the old tenshi tales. I guess it depends on the story.
    But either way, you’re totally right, CLAMP are great and there’s lots of good examples of characters that don’t fit into the binary in anime and manga. :)

  • locuas

    because i believe there is a difference between showing someone without gender who is this…completely alien individual with a completely different set of values that make them someone who is completely different than you and thus, something strange, and someone who acts like a normal person like you or me. The former i feel does not make a good representation.