Sensitivity: Surprisingly Generous
Depth & Development: …It’s An 80’s Rom-Com
Accuracy: Honestly? Not Bad
Canon Status: All But Stated Outright
Stop!! Hibari-Kun! is a manga series that was serialized in Weekly Shōnen Jump during the early 80’s, written and illustrated by the infamously deadline-avoiding Hisashi Eguchi. The story centers around Kōsaku Sakamoto, a teenage boy who’s been sent to live with a yakuza boss, Ibari Ōzora, and his four daughters after the sudden death of his mother. True to typical rom-com hijinks, Kōsaku develops a quick, seemingly reciprocated crush on one of the daughters, the titular Hibari, but is shocked to learn she’s actually been assigned male at birth.
If you would have told me that one of my favorite depictions of a trans girl in manga would be a romantic comedy from the 80’s… well, I probably would have expressed as much disbelief as I imagine you are now. Recommended to me by a dear friend of mine, I was extremely apprehensive going into the manga just from the synopsis alone. Within a few chapters, though, I was quick to figure out that no short summary could possibly do this manga justice. Rather than the cliché, humorless fetish fodder I expected, I found a genuinely enjoyable, funny, and totally unconventional story that ended far too soon.
Getting the elephant out of the room here, Hibari will be the 5th consecutive character covered on this blog who has an unrequited crush on the protagonist. At least, it seems that way for a while. Though Eguchi wrote Stop!! Hibari-kun! with seemingly awkward intentions- to write a manga that pokes fun at the rom-com genre by making the love interest a crossdresser- either consciously or not he gave us a story where our male protagonist slowly comes to terms with the fact he’s in love with a trans girl. Kōsaku spends most of the manga’s run denying it, of course, but somewhere along the lines, it turns into a genuine, blossoming romance between the two.
On top of that, Hibari’s actual portrayal within the manga continues to be surprisingly well-done. Though it’s never outright stated that Hibari is transgender and is more often called a crossdresser than anything (this is more a product of the time period than anything, I feel), she presents entirely as a girl outside her home, expresses a desire to physically transition, and in the final chapters of the manga becomes a counterpart to trans male character who is explicitly stated to be on hrt. In all honesty, this manga has outdone the vast majority of later works on that fact alone.
In addition, although the humor is extremely slapstick, juvenile, and at times even absurd (don’t get me wrong though, I loved Eguchi’s sense of humor), rarely does it ever revolve around Hibari’s gender. There are times when other characters insult her or ridiculously overreact towards the subject of her birth assignment, but Hibari is always given a chance to defend herself. She’s rarely ever truly the butt of any joke at all, perhaps other than the manga humorously playing up her advances on Kōsaku- but she’s never cast in a predatory light. It was really refreshing, actually, to see a humor manga find so many other opportunities for humor rather than just resorting to exploiting a trans character.
Hibari herself is also a very unconventional character, not just for a transgender girl, but also for the heroine of a rom-com. Most characters in her place would be gentle, modest, and concerned with performing traditional femininity in a way that surmounts all other female characters (get it? it’s hilarious because’s she’s not really a girl? /barf). However, while Hibari is cute, affectionate, and popular with boys, she’s also distinctly forceful, domineering, independent, and aggressive. Most of this comes from the fact she was raised in the yakuza, but the best part of it all is that none of these behaviors are used to highlight masculinity in her in any way.
Her propensity for resorting to weapons and violence in response to minor inconveniences are definitely for humor (and as stated above, results are usually genuinely hilarious), but never are they used to assert the fact she’s “really” a man or anything similar. All of it is just a genuine facet of Hibari’s personality. For an episodic rom-com manga with no consistent plot, she’s actually very three-dimensional. Proper character development is predictably absent, unless you count Kōsaku coming to terms with his crush, but Hibari has enough personality to make her a really fun and enjoyable character.
As for the plot, most of it revolves around Kōsaku and Hibari fighting off each others’ increasingly bizarre suitors. From Hibari being forced into an engagement to the son of an American mafia boss or being pursued by a lesbian volleyball star raised in Takarazuka, to Kōsaku becoming the target of a relentless girl who composes haiku on a whim… I’m sure you can gauge what kind of antics you can expect from the manga. Even so, Eguchi’s unique brand of humor has aged spectacularly well. Since Hibari does keep her birth assignment a secret, this does mean that more than a few of the subplots revolve around her nearly being outed or taking precautions against it, but even for the era the manga avoids outwardly offensive or transmisognystic jabs. The characters who attempt to out Hibari are just so absurdly and cartoonishly evil (the manga’s rather self-aware of this fact too) that it’s difficult to view them as real, threatening products of bigotry. Their actions are pretty wholly condemned as well, even if through the scope of slapstick humor.
As good as it is, being a product of its time does mean that Stop!! Hibari-kun! has some things that warrant some complaints, but honestly they were personally very minor to me. Maybe it’s just the fact that the manga does the job better than most works that have come decades later, but I couldn’t help but look at Hibari through an extremely optimistic and forgiving lens. But honestly? There’s not much to forgive. I just can’t recall a time where I felt insulted or offended at the content of the story. That’s not to say it’ll be the same for everyone, but in my opinion, Hibari has so much more to offer than a scale of pros and cons.
Hibari Ōzora is an extremely unique character in a very unique manga, probably one of my highest recommended. She has so much life and personality, her depiction truthfully being more sensitive and nuanced than most serious, intentional representations of trans women. That’s right. An 80’s romantic comedy in a shōnen magazine delivered one of my favorite depictions of a trans girl. Sure, it’s not incredibly realistic or any kind of proper portrayal of our struggles or anything like that, but it’s fun. The fact the manga didn’t take itself too seriously worked in its favor in more ways than one. Keeping the focus off more critical issues made for a rather lighthearted adventure that still managed to validate Hibari’s identity in several ways.
All in all, Stop!! Hibari-kun! is an experience. There really is no better way to describe it. Eguchi’s ‘unique’ brand of humor (I thought about how I could possibly describe his sense of humor, but I think I’d rather you just experience it for yourself. The self-deprecating insert panels where he berates his own laziness are honestly the best.) coupled with Hibari’s progressive and amazing character make for a truly worthwhile, if criminally short, read.
Final Score: 4.5 Deprecating Self-Inserts Out of 5