If you’re interested in checking out Stop!! Hibari-kun! then I recommend Hazel’s excellent video that serves as a primer to the series.
Sometimes I just stop and think about how weird it is that Stop!! Hibari-kun! even exists. A romantic comedy where one of the leads is a trans girl would be notable even today, but this show aired in 1983, and the manga it was based on began in 1981. Stop!! Hibari-kun! is almost forty years old, and yet I’d argue that in certain ways it still hasn’t been surpassed. There have been shows that handled their trans characters better, and there have been other shows with trans protagonists (although, frankly, not very many). But Hibari herself is an utterly unique creation, and I honestly can’t think of any trans protagonist in the intervening years who could match her in brilliance and sheer badassery.
It makes for some bizarre juxtapositions because in every other sense the show is a product of the 80s, whether stylistically, in its pop culture references, or the occasional jarring racial stereotypes. There’s a fair amount of transphobia and homophobia too, which might seem at odds with what I’ve described so far, but part of Hibari’s strength is that thrives in spite of the adversity she faces.
Hibari is the daughter of a yakuza boss and is – on paper, at least – his only son and heir. The story is told mostly from the perspective of Kousaku, a boy sent to live with the family after his mother dies, and who immediately falls for Hibari but then feels conflicted upon learning that she’s trans. Make no mistake, though: Hibari is the star of the show here. She’s strong, smart and beautiful, and at school (where she’s presumed by everyone to be a cis girl), she’s a popular grade-A student with throngs of lovestruck boys – and at least one girl – falling at her feet. In another show this might come across as insincere; a low-key transphobic joke along the lines of “the most popular girl is actually a boy!” But with Hibari it doesn’t feel like that. The show’s presentation of her victories feels genuine and celebratory.
The grace with which Hibari navigates her life extends to her encounters with transphobia, too. Most of her family disapproves of her, and Kousaku’s ongoing inability to deal with Hibari’s transness often comes off as pretty hurtful. But Hibari seems unfazed by her father’s ranting and enjoys teasing Kousaku over his plainly obvious attraction to her. That’s not to say there aren’t brief moments where Hibari expresses frustration over her situation, but the narrative never lets her stay sad for long.
And I think it’s Hibari’s nigh-invulnerability – both physically and psychologically – that makes her work as a character, especially from the perspective of the trans women in the audience. In the hands of a lesser creator, Hibari could have been a figure of ridicule, but remarkably she is never a punchline, while those who mock her or try to hurt her inevitably end up as the butt of the joke. Crystal Frasier, who knows a thing or two about compelling trans protagonists, describes the show as a “transgender power fantasy”, and I think the recent resurgence of interest in Hibari has come at a time when trans women are seeking out stories where we get to be victorious.
This does return us to the question of exactly how this transgender power fantasy came to be, back in the early 80s, and at the hands of a cis creator, no less. And that’s… well, that’s a little complicated. I’ll simply say that Hibari’s creator, Hisashi Eguchi, has stated in interviews that “It is really the frustration of not being born as a girl which fuels my drawings” and leave it at that. Regardless, Eguchi has given trans audiences an icon. In a world of trans stories that focus on pain and misery, here is a protagonist who approaches her transness with joy, optimism and strength. As Hibari herself would say: “Just think of it as God’s prank.”