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‘To Strip the Flesh’ Trans Manga Champions Living Life for Yourself, Not Your Parents

"The thing I most wanted to convey in this manga is don't succumb to your parents," says writer and artist Oto Toda.

To Strip the Flesh title

Spoilers for To Strip the Flesh

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To Strip the Flesh is one (of the many) queer manga I was interested in reading this month. As I said when I reviewed this lovely manga that stars an asexual protagonist, I’m always on the lookout for LGBTQ+ manga – particularly stories that cover parts of the queer spectrum that don’t get as much attention. What caught my interest with To Strip the Flesh was its transgender protagonist, but also the idea of being the opposite of who you really are in an attempt to satisfy your parents.

Summary

To Strip the Flesh manga cover
(Image: TODA OTO TANPENSHU NIKU WO HAGU © 2020 by Oto Toda/SHUEISHA Inc.)

Chiaki Ogawa has never doubted who he is, although the rest of the world hasn’t been as kind. Bound by his mother’s dying wish, Chiaki tries to be a good daughter to his ailing father. But when the burden becomes too great, Chiaki sets out to remake himself in his own image and discovers more than just personal freedom in his transition — he finds understanding from the people who matter most.

A moving collection of six short stories that explores what must be stripped away to find the truth and celebrates the beauty of embracing who you are.

The meat of the anthology: To Strip the Flesh

To Strip the Flesh hunting pic
(Image: TODA OTO TANPENSHU NIKU WO HAGU © 2020 by Oto Toda/SHUEISHA Inc.)

The primary story of the anthology is also the strongest one in the manga. The relationship between Chiaki and his father makes for an impactful read. Chiaki has always openly stated that he’s a man, ever since childhood, but we see that there are two things holding him back. One of those things is his own body, as Oto Toda illustrates in flashbacks of Chiaki’s childhood. One scene, in particular, depicts Chiaki’s frustration with menstruation as he sadly declares that “even my guts are female” before throwing up in the sink.

The other thing holding Chiaki back, which is the biggest focus of the story, is his father.

What I like about the relationship between Chiaki and his father is that you can tell that he isn’t a bad person. He’s not vicious about how he thinks Chiaki should be living his life, but that doesn’t make it any less hurtful when he continues to treat Chiaki as his “daughter.” He feels like an old-fashioned kind of guy who thinks he’s doing the right thing for the sake of his child, especially after the death of Chiaki’s mother. Before her death, her wish for Chiaki was to be a “beautiful bride,” which adds to why Chiaki’s father is so adamant about Chiaki doing things that “women would do.”

When Chiaki’s father reveals that he has colon cancer, it puts a sort of countdown clock on that “beautiful bride” wish. Now that Chiaki could potentially lose his father, he decides to look into getting married. He’s already been doing things secretly that his father hasn’t noticed (like taking hormones) but when his doctor suggests SRS (sex reassignment surgery) Chiaki refuses even if he meets all the criteria.

Now that his father is dying, Chiaki decides to put his own feelings aside in favor of keeping his father happy. This is something Chiaki’s been doing his entire life. For example, he really wants to hunt with his father, but his father doesn’t want his “daughter” to go out there with a gun (especially after an accident that happened when Chiaki was younger), so Chiaki settles for butchering the animals.

As the story progresses, it’s obvious that Chiaki can’t stop the way he truly feels. In one of the manga’s most powerful scenes, we see Chiaki dreaming of his father butchering his body like the animals that are hunted. His father removes the parts of Chiaki’s body that he hates, and once the process is over, Chiaki smiles and says that he can now go hunting with his father.

CW: Body and gender dysmorphia

To Strip the Flesh body dream
(Image: TODA OTO TANPENSHU NIKU WO HAGU © 2020 by Oto Toda/SHUEISHA Inc.)

In an interview with Motigi, a former gay sex worker who is known for his essays about issues that affect the LGBTQ+ community, Toda reveals that this story stems from their own personal feelings back in junior high. The interview is featured at the end of the manga. “I had this vague feeling of I don’t need this (swollen, female) chest and often daydreamed of cutting it off with a knife. I sometimes held a knife up to it through my clothes.” While Toda does go on to say that they “settled down and felt that I was glad to be the way I was” in their 20s, they talk about having moments in elementary school where they wondered why they weren’t a boy.

These feelings are mirrored in Chiaki’s story, which Toda notes isn’t the only transgender story out there. “There’s so much information out there being updated all the time, so I’m going to keep reading, too,” says Toda. “In ‘To Strip the Flesh,’ I portrayed a transgender person, but not all FTM (female to male) people think the way Chiaki does. Some don’t want surgery, some like men. I believe everyone has their own sexuality and gender identity. I hope we can all keep learning together without jumping to conclusions about people.”

I always want more people to read stories like this. I’m not trans, but it’s easy to see how hard it is for Chiaki to live his life the way he’s been living it. It’s also easy to see why Chiaki is struggling to take that last step—even if he wants to AND has a doctor telling him that he should. Wanting to keep your parents happy is something that’s relatable, and a lot of kids (especially queer kids) decide that it’d be best to prolong their own happiness if it’ll keep their parents happy. Motigi points this out in the interview. “The scene that hit me the hardest was the one where Chiaki gets hit by that stray shot and his dad is crying, ‘I put a wound on a little girl’s body,’ and Chiaki is thinking, I quit saying I was a boy,” says Motigi. “His dad’s apology is heartfelt, but it’s because it’s heartfelt that it’s so weighty – it’s the kind of comment that can shake you to your core. Only someone who has been hurt by heartfelt love could write this scene.”

Toda agrees before delving into the core message of the story.

“The thing I most wanted to convey in this manga is ‘Don’t succumb to your parents!’ Even if parents are considerate when they say things to their children, their words can also be a curse that binds their children for their entire lives. So kids shouldn’t succumb to their parents – they should aim for their own happiness, and then their parents might come around… yeah.”

To Strip the Flesh
(Image: TODA OTO TANPENSHU NIKU WO HAGU © 2020 by Oto Toda/SHUEISHA Inc.)

What I truly appreciate about To Strip the Flesh is that not only do we see a resolution between Chiaki and his father, but with that comes an entire chapter where Chiaki gets to live the way he’s always wanted with his father realizing just how reserved his son had been this entire time. It’s a good way to show how important it is to let trans people live the way they choose and how it will strengthen the relationships they have with themselves and with others around them.

The rest of the anthology

The rest of the manga is full of short stories by Toda that range from being creatively touching to straight-up horror. Some still have that message of familial bonds and accepting yourself, but the delivery is a bit quirky—but not in a bad way. A few standouts, in my opinion, include a son who is fed up with his mother, only for him to learn the hard way why she keeps plastering a smile on her face to cover the pain she feels about her life. There’s another that’s only two pages, but it shows how hurtful our words can be by using fish, of all things. There’s also one about a grandma cheering on her pop idol grandson that took me by surprise.

It’s impressive how with these shorter stories, you can still get the message that Toda’s trying to convey. It’s especially impressive with the two-page shorts. Not every story has some deep meaning to it, some are just there to have a neat little twist that makes you go, “oh, lol.” All and all, the book is definitely worth it for the main story, but these shorter pieces are also a good, quick read.

You can check out a free preview of To Strip the Flesh over at Viz.

(Featured image: TODA OTO TANPENSHU NIKU WO HAGU © 2020 by Oto Toda/SHUEISHA Inc.)

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Author

Briana Lawrence
Briana (she/her - bisexual) is trying her best to cosplay as a responsible adult. Her writing tends to focus on the importance of representation, whether it’s through her multiple book series or the pieces she writes. After de-transforming from her magical girl state, she indulges in an ever-growing pile of manga, marathons too much anime, and dedicates an embarrassing amount of time to her Animal Crossing pumpkin patch (it's Halloween forever, deal with it Nook)

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