Trapped in Canon

Laura Rola
It’s a mixed-up muddled-up shook-up world.

Prompted by the intricacies of the Haruhi genderswap, the vicissitudes of Minami-ke‘s Mako-cakes and Baka-Raptor’s recent defiant (and probably tongue-in-cheek) statement that ‘Kyon is not a girl‘. [Regarding the above image: yes, there’s version without cropping and with panties. No, I’m not posting it.] ‘Once you’ve fap’d to a trap, can you never go back?’ Granted, this subject is hardly new (here‘s one example of many others’ entries on it, and here‘s another) but I’m not averse to picking over the bones at someone else’s banquet. I’m a student: food really is scarce.

‘Trap’ implies a relationship. Someone (the viewer) is at risk of falling into the trap. To be an effective trap, the character obviously has to look convincingly female, otherwise what you’ve got is more like a minefield with a big ‘WARNING: MINES’ sign in front of it: a deterrent. Quite what the negative consequences of being ‘caught’ are is somewhat unclear, but a hint can probably be found in the phrase ‘One is GAR for men and gay for traps’. Being caught supposedly induces some kind of anxiety about one’s sexual orientation. This being the ‘net, such anxiety is in most cases more a humourous than a serious matter.

What’s particularly interesting is the influence of what you might call ‘canon fact’ on fan reaction. I say canon fact because we’re handling fiction, but fans still think it matters whether or not a character is physically female. Take my initial picture as an example. Laura Rola is the female alter ego of Loran, the hero of ∀ Gundam; the picture depicts (as far as canon is concerned) a man dressed up as a woman. It’s a trap!

Battle of Cannae

But for those who (poor souls) have never watched ∀ Gundam and are unfamiliar with its canon, it’s just a picture of a pretty girl in white stockings and a comely state of disarray. To riff on my Laertes, there’s no penis objectively inherent in that image. In fact, if the penis resides anywhere, it resides in the canon, all the authorised information about ∀ Gundam‘s characters, which itself is something the viewer brings to the table. (You dirty viewer you, wondering around with a canon full of penises.) A good trap is visually indistinguishable from a woman, and in the world of the *boorus, the visual is all that there is.

Consider the case of Mako-cakes for a moment (and I’m sure others have realised this before me): within the Minami-ke canon (s)he’s treated by those characters who don’t know (s)he’s a trap exactly as though (s)he’s a girl. This is the pivot of a lot of the jokes surrounding Makoto, which have an extra coating of irony because it was his heterosexual lust for Haruka which Kana used to persuade him into crossdressing in the first place.

Practical Trap

The situation becomes more complicated when we just have one image which appears to be a genderswap – as with the picture of a younger, female CHAR which I have used before. This image feeds off the Mobile Suit Gundam canon for its effect, but isn’t part of that canon. Are we to consider this a trap? Well, ‘if it looks like a duck,’ &c. Then we have situations where a character undergoes a within-canon change of physical sex, as in Ranma ½ – currently receiving Den Beste coverage [yes, a pun] beginning here – and, for a more permanent change, Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl. (Apparently physical changes of gender function rather differently in hentai.) Is this still a male mind in a female body? In Ranma’s case, perhaps. In Hazumu’s case, I really have no idea. Is it fair to talk about ‘a male mind’ in the first place? You tell me.

Finally we have the development of a separate canon (Fate/stay night did this to the Arthurian corpus)¹ as is the case with Suzumiya Haruki no Seitenkan. This, I suppose, tests the viewer’s ability to switch between canons; if you haven’t invested too much in the Haruhi canon, you can separate out the fact that Kyon is not a girl from the fact that Kyonko is not a boy. To continue in the same vein, recently DS created a kind of separate canon split off from real life – well, real internet life, which isn’t very real at all – which swapped the gender of a real person’s ‘net persona (or, as Kaiserpingvin likes to call it, nexistence). At this point, however, one either has to start talking about how there’s no division between fiction and fact anymore, or stop talking, and since I don’t want to do the former, I’ll shut up. Anyway, the canon-coherent implications of Ranma ½ are rather more worrisome.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and attend a free lunch, the bribe for being a research subject. University really is just one big culinary adventure.

UPDATE: Author comments. I think I was aiming at the humiliation people outwardly express on imageboards (‘Does this make me gay?’), which is presumably mostly pose. Doubtless the ‘indignity of being deceived’ is what is inwardly felt.


1. This too is, I suppose, a pun: said series genderswapped Arthur, splitting off from the corpus of Arthurian literature, and altering Arthur’s corpus. You cannot imagine how smugly self-satisfied I am at thinking of that.


19 responses to “Trapped in Canon

  1. Anime, literature, etc characters don’t have a physical counterpart.
    This means said character’s sexuality is a matter of assessment by the individual or the community. An assessment that is inherently conventional (to the extend that it isn’t hardwired in the brain), leaving only a choice over the degree of arbitrariness, not truth.

  2. Tongue-in-cheek? Me? Nah…

  3. Pingback: i’m bad at sports metaphors « two if by sea

  4. *watch the map of the battle of Cannae* Where did you find this?

    Muahhahahahahaha, awesome post anyway.It was hilarious, don’t hesitate to do more of those.

  5. What you’ve done is make me want to watch some Turn-A now. :P

    Canon is important to understand the situation that the character comes from. Yet even then, there are instances where canon doesn’t seem to matter for people, as with the whole “BRIDGET IS A TRAP” meme where the joy came in letting people know that said character was one, without any backstory necessary.

  6. @ BigBossSNK: Yes. That’s pretty much where I was going.

    @ baka-raptor: I find it hard to believe myself.

    @ ZeusIrae: I think Cannae was the first thing that came to mind when I thought of the phrase ‘legendary trap’, and then I just did a Google image search. In any case, thankyou very much for the encouragement.

    @ TheBigN: is one of, if not the best, Gundam series. You’re right, I suppose: I hadn’t considered that there’s a motivation or incentive for the person revealing the image’s trap status as well.

  7. You know, it’s internet culture. Moreso with the anime community than others. For whatever reason.
    While your post ran loops around my head, I tried to discern your moral… or were you just trying to play the whistleblower on the spread of the ‘trap’ canon?

  8. The concept of traps both intrigues, horrifies, and confuses me. I am a very heterosexual person. I find women sexually attractive, and for the most part, I only look at pornography which involves women, however many, and no men. I prefer to exclude men altogether because I find them repulsive. However, for whatever reason, I can look at a trap, knowing it’s a trap, and find it more attractive than anything else on earth. I suppose, though, it’s because of the visual thing you mentioned where if it looks like a girl, it might as well be a girl because the only thing making it a boy is the canon. And since I tend to shy away from the traps once the penis enters the equasion, I guess I’m still as straight as ever XD.

    Thank you for reaffirming my heterosexuality I guess.

  9. I don’t really get this trend. All it really serves to do is remind me of the penis showing game in the cult restaurant them moving Waiting, where the male employees try to get each other to look at their you know what so they can call them gay and give them kicks to the rump.

    It really just seems like an excuse to fool people so you can call them a homo, but in order for it to really work there needs to be reasonable doubt or at least clue in the characters appearance that the person initially fails to take notice of. For example a character like V.V at first glance looks like a girl, but then when you look closer you see that he could also be a young boy who just has really long hair (and mercifully his feminine appearance isn’t the sole reason for his existence) while a character like Bridget from Guilty Gear really doesn’t, because as you say, if canon didn’t establish him as a guy, everyone could safely assume by way of his girly voice and frame (long slender legs and arms, a somewhat hourglass figure, a face that is commonly associated with anime females, the way he dresses) that he’s a girl since there is no way to check or know otherwise. There’s no way to know and reasonable doubt really doesn’t kick in because by all accounts that is the body of a female unless you go by the info that establishes Bridget as a boy. I assume that’s what you mean by the canon factor. If it’s somebody like V.V I think it’s fair to make fun of somebody for failing to do a double take, but if it’s someone like Bridget from Guilty Gear it isn’t really because they honestly have no way of knowing unless they well….do.

  10. I’m with Nagato. I read and reread the post and came out unchanged, unlike other entries of yours that I’ve gone through. Just kind of reaffirmed the conclusions that I already came to, like digiboy.

    Nice B-T linkage btw. Plugs are always helpful. =D

  11. In the documentary Pumping Iron, Arnold received many compliments for having a “beautiful body” from men. wut? Whether something is or isnt beautiful is subjective, and it does not necessarily determine sexuality.

  12. @ Nagato: Hmm. As I suggested at the beginning, I certainly wasn’t breaking new ground. I suppose one point is that if you’ve fap’d to a trap, you can go back – or rather, you never went anywhere in the first place. (Though I have reservations about the act of fapping per se, but that’s not the issue.)

    @ 21stcenturydigitalboy: Don’t mention it. It’s fascinating how important canonical facts – which don’t have any obvious connection to any given image – are on arousal.

    @ Kaioshin Sama: I think you’ve nailed it fairly well with the contrast between V.V. and Bridget. V.V. is a long-haired, effeminate boy (his voice sounds a little masculine too), or at the least merely androgynous, while Bridget is – at least as far as appearance and behaviour goes – basically a woman. Who happens to be, canonically, physically a man.

    @ RmX: As I said, I suppose I wasn’t aiming to say anything really new in this entry (beyond, perhaps, introducing the idea of canon as a useful concept when dealing with traps). It’s certainly not like the Death of the Animator, which is what underpins my analytical technique – not that I’ve actually got round to doing much real analysis lately – or Studiotolatry, which will hopefully underpin my reviewing technique – not that I actually ever write reviews (I’m bad at reviewing).

    @ Ryan A: Pretty much. As with moe, I wouldn’t be suprised to find that you could completely rejig society’s preferences with a little social engineering and thought control. And the Arnie thing certainly suggests that context is very important; it sounds like men complimenting someone on having a nice car.

  13. My, how flattering you’d use my terminology, even if only in the passing! In retrospect I propably should have called it “netsistence”, though.

    Also, it’s pretty much impossible to tell that is Loran without the filename. So in this case it’s a reverse “the penis resides in the canon” – the reference to the canon lies in the authors intent. Something I know you don’t quite agree with!

  14. I think ‘nexistence’ works well – it carries a hint of ‘next’, which associates it with the cutting edge.

    I’m pretty sure the dress Loran/Laura is wearing is the same one that he wears to a party at some point in the show, so it’s sort-of linked to him. Or her.

  15. Ha, Loran as a lady, just watched that episode. I have to say, I dislike purposely androgynous characters (not that I think Loran is one).

  16. Is that the episode with the party where the cake is a lie? I really liked that one.

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