Content Warning: This article discusses topics related to transphobia
Spoiler Warning: This article discusses, in-depth, events that occur in Zombie Land Saga episode eight.
Part two of two in our “Fall 2018 Trans Anime” Article series.
Ask any anime fan what they think about the Fall 2018 anime season, and you’re likely to get a universally positive response. Ask their favorite shows, though, and you’ll likely get as many responses as there are stars in the sky. Some will point to the big tentpole titles, like Sword Art Online or A Certain Magical Index. Others will talk up shows like Skull-Face Bookseller Honda-san and Run with the Wind, whose relatable characters and down-to-earth stories have grabbed an ardent fanbase.
Personally, I found myself drawn to Zombie Land Saga: a quirky series that offers a twist on the idol genre by bringing the walking dead to the live stage. The series revolves around a group of idols new and old, who are given new life by some unspecified force. Together, with their shouty human manager and handler, the girls must find a way to become showbiz mega-stars, while keeping their identities as the shambling undead under wraps.
It’s a series that loves to highlight just how absurd its premise is, and continually plays with expectations. An outing to a ryokan isn’t just a cheap gig, it’s a chance to inadvertently scare the living Hell out of a major corporation’s CEO with zombie antics. An appearance in the Kashima Gatalympics sees one member lose their head (and other limbs) quite literally.
And so on.
Underneath the playful facade and quirky humor, though, this is still a show about seven idols who are starting off at the very bottom of the fame stairway to fame. It pulls few punches in highlighting the lows of show business. Random popup shows where nobody attends, low-rent TV commercial shoots, and a seemingly endless array of asinine public events seem to serve as a counterpoint to Franchouchou’s big successes at Saga Rock and other gigs later in the show.
With this in mind, the Zombie Land Saga takes great care in not only highlighting, but outright elevating each of the members of the group. From ex-biker gang leader Saki,to Showa singing sensation Junko and fangirl-turned-star Sakura, viewers get to really know the characters as they bumble about their afterlives. They get into mischief, goof off at times, and squabble more than a bit, going as far as to break into an impromptu rap battle when tensions really begin to boil over.
It’s through this lens that the series endears its cast to the viewer, and provides a basis for real growth. This becomes particularly apparent in the show’s eighth episode, Go Go Neverland SAGA, which focuses Lily Hoshikawa: Franchouchou’s perkiest, most petit member.
After their latest performance, the members of everybody’s favorite zombie idol group are hosting a meet and greet with their fans. An ordinary gathering quickly turns grim, though, as Saki rushes into the scene. She points out a hulking figure who’s skulking through the crowds, claiming that he could be a shakedown artist for the yakuza.
The massive man steps into Lily’s line, waiting his turn. As he gets to the front, he is overcome with emotion as he reaches down to embrace the idol. One thing leads to another, and the guy takes a jump-kick to the side of the head, while Lily is taken to safety.
That evening, Lily is nowhere to be found, as the rest of the group discusses the incident. Sakura finds her alone outside, seated at the bottom of a playground slide.
Lily explains that the hulking man, known as “Go-san,” was her father.
She begins to tell her tale of a life with her dad. Lily’s mother passed away at a young age, so it was just the two of them. Go-san loved his TV shows, and being able to watch with someone he cared about. Inspiration gripped the girl, as she aspired to not only share moments with her dad in front of the TV, but from within, as well.
Lily signed up for a children’s talent agency, and her father was more than eager to be her manager so they’d always be together. Things went swimmingly… for a while, until one day, when Lily’s legs began to grow hair.
That say, Go-san pounded on the door, begging someone named “Masao” to open the door, and offering reassurances that it wouldn’t show on TV.
Lily, meanwhile, protested her father’s pleas, claiming that her father didn’t worry about the real her.
Go-san tried begging once more, explaining that leg hair is a part of growing up, before flatly stating “you can’t look like that forever.”
It was at that moment that Lily stood before her mirror, claiming that she was never going to grow up. She spied something that looked like a stray piece of dried nori.
It wasn’t nori. It was a whisker.
Overcome by shock and exhaustion, Lily let out one last scream of anguish, before passing away.
Go-san burst in, finding his daughter’s lifeless frame in the room. Lily explains that this was the last time she saw her dad.
Sakura, meanwhile, is a bit confused. She asks who “Masao” is, exactly.
Lily responds flatly that “Masao” is her deadname. In her explanation, she uses the term “Suteta Namae,” which literally translates to “abandoned name” or “name I threw away.”
After a moment of confusion, Sakura takes it upon herself to discuss Lily’s story with the rest of the group. They ask what will happen to the girl, and whether their manager, Kotaro Tatsumi, knew that she was transgender.
“Hell yeah, I know” Tatsumi responds proudly, before delivering a healthy dose of truth and common sense to the rest of Franchouchou. Lily is Lily, and she is as precious as she always was before they learned her story.
In his typical shouty fashion, Kotaru throws the girls out of his room, refusing to even entertain their outmoded nonsense for another moment. And, ultimately, the girls agreed: Lily is Lily, no matter what gender she was assigned at birth.
While over the top in its delivery, Lily’s coming-out was never presented from a place of malice. The staff was able to capture the heartbreak, the frustration, and the sadness that many transgender individuals endure as they grow up.
They were able to convey the fear, and the genuine distress that accompanies many milestones that we’re told that we should celebrate and embrace. Her growing leg hair is a blight, a wretched milestone in a path that would slowly pull her away from her true identity as the girl she knows herself to be.
Her death, while exaggerated, surely had folks within the audience cringing along. The appearance of facial hair, the dropping of the voice, the growth into a form that’s unmistakably “male” in appearance… it’s enough to make any transwoman die a little on the inside.
Regardless of whether you were assigned male or female at birth, this is a pain that never truly goes away. Dysphoria becomes a constant undercurrent of our lives, as we quietly try to ignore the creeping ache that slowly consumes us.
It doesn’t always manifest the same way in people, I should note. Some trans individuals are able to “soldier on”, so to speak. Others grow resentful toward the world around them. Others, still, grow angry, and lash out at cisgender individuals as they struggle to cope and fit into a world where they know they don’t belong. There is no “universal symptom” that one can point to. Still, depression is common, and more than 41% of all trans individuals attempt suicide at least once over the course of their lives.
Within an hour of the episode’s airing, Lily had resonated with the greater trans (and ally) fandom. She quickly became full-blown icon for the community on social media, as an excitement excitement that could be felt from the get-go buzzed across Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. Some folks posted cheerful reactions, others declared that they would love and support the character, and some even published quick bits of fan art in the heat of the moment.
Twitter User takamakii
Twitter User mahiruhanayo
Twitter User elfowlgirl
Twitter User RenRuska
Tumblr User toma-rts
Tumblr User RenRuska
Tumblr User cerealiag
Meanwhile, the show’s official social media accounts continued to use the character’s preferred name and pronouns when talking about her.
💖 LOVE HER 💖
✨ RESPECT HER ✨ pic.twitter.com/Mu7wneLqhW
— Zombie Land Saga (@SagaZombieLand) November 23, 2018
Most recently, Lily was nominated for the “Best Girl” ‘in 2019’s Crunchyroll Anime Awards, standing toe-to-toe with other fan favorites like Nadeshiko Kagamihara (Laid-Back Camp), Asirpa (Golden Kamuy), and Mai Sakurajima (Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai).
Content Warning: Transphobia
I can’t even…
That said, by the turn of the new year, much of this sentiment had been driven into the dirt. Outside of isolated pockets, Lily was Lily, and she was here to stay.
And, really, Lily Hoshikawa is a character who is desperately needed in anime fandom, and media as a whole today.
Anime is a delightful, queer medium that’s constantly challenging the norms of gender and sexuality. Whether it’s Kei and Yuri from Dirty Pair going to bat for trans rights in 1985 or trans officer Aoi Futaba’s safeguarding of the streets in You’re Under Arrest!, trans anime fans have always found someone to speak for them, in some form or another in the medium.
That said, overt, positively portrayed transgender leads are nearly nonexistent in the medium. I should note that there are rare exceptions to the rule in lower-key works, such as Shuichi and Yoshino in Wandering Son, Isabella Yamamoto in Paradise Kiss, and the titular Hibari-kun in Stop!! Hibari-kun. But, special cases aside, the rule has typically been to cast trans characters as background dwellers, like You’re Under Arrest!’s Aoi, or tragic figures. as was seen with Max’s friend in Double Decker!.
MAPPA may not have set out to change the world, but they were able to create a charming, delightful character that all trans individuals could be proud to call an icon of their very own. While Zombie Land Saga may be over for now, we can only hope that the impact it’s made will be felt beyond the Fall broadcast season, as a brilliant year of anime awaits.
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