Disclaimer: Slight spoilers for Hunter x Hunter 2011 and Yu Yu Hakusho. Also the Ember video is required viewing I’m not just going to parrot his points. Check the sources pls and thank you.
“Given two works of artistic majesty, otherwise weighted equally, we will give greater acclaim to whoever did it first. It doesn’t matter what you create. It matters what you create before anyone else. So it’s not the beauty itself we admire. It’s not the force of intellect. It’s not invention, aesthetics, or capacity itself. The greatest talent that we think a man can have? Seems to me that it must be nothing more than ‘novelty’.”- Brandon Sanderson, The Way Of Kings
Think for a moment about your best friend. If you don’t have one humor me and imagine them. Fundamentally this person helps you see the world more wholly, and that’s why you love each other. This is someone who is not you, yet is. You are not them, but you are. A different body, different thoughts, a different heart, yet you take in the world together. A best friend is someone who takes you back to before you became you- when you felt connected to everything because you are. You get a small piece of that lost world back. No, it’s even better because you can see more than you ever could before.
Existence can seem like a strange thing. You’re the sum of all your parts: your thoughts, your body, your relationships. None of these are you in themselves, but you can focus on things to the exclusion of others. In fact, you have to. If you didn’t focus on one part at a time, you wouldn’t be you anymore. All your thoughts and dreams are just memories of sensations. All the atoms in the world are connected since the beginning of time, which in itself is an oxymoronic statement. You are just perception. You are an eye. The things you see become reality, and that world is shaped by where you focus your attention- where you look. The thoughts in your head, the body that moves, the heart that connects, are all made by a thing we decided to call you despite the fact that you almost never can see it all.
But your friend does. And you see them. Neither sees all at once, but together you’re a bit more whole. And the world opens up.
Masculinity & Sexuality in the ToGODshiverse
For the philosopher Hegel the idea of “recognition” was central to how a person came to understand themselves, who “they” were exactly when contrasted with the “other”(1). This dialectical understanding of how ideas like the “self” formed went on to inspire a great many other philosophers, most famously Karl Marx who applied a dialectical understanding to the material world in order to better understand history(2). “Dialectical Materialism” basically functioned on the scientific law that every action has an equal and opposite reaction in the material realm. We’ll definitely be returning to Marx & Hegal again in this series where I analyze ToGODshi’s philosophy but suffice to say these thinkers or at least this method of thinking, is necessary in order to understand how ToGODshi approaches the ideas of gender and sexuality in these stories of friendship effort and victory.
None of Togashi’s works are subtle about or censor references to sex. While you’ll rarely find explicit fan-service for its own sake that doesn’t you won’t get jokes about not wanting to die a virgin (and “finding what they were looking for”), whole arcs in Level E and Hunter x Hunter about the potential end of the world caused by inter-species mating, and a general laissez-faire attitude whenever the topic is brought up, especially in Hunter x Hunter with things like “Aiai-The City of Love”, Bisky looking at Hisoka’s member, or just how woman tend to approach Gon in general. Of course, Hisoka is often called a pedophile clone by many but he’s really more “battle-sexual” which I’m almost certain is probably a real thing with a scientific name and everything. There are plenty more steamy examples if one is ever inclined to look into it but needless to it’s not a topic Togashi shies away from out of some sense of modesty.
When it comes to how masculinity is portrayed in his works it’s fair to say there is a general thread of characters being pushed away from what people frame as “Toxic Masculinity”, most notably in the case of Yusuke in Yu Yu Hakusho. Cherryboywriter wrote a piece that I feel is very in line with ToGODshi’s approach to the subject(3) but one could just as easily look at the Dark Tournament arc and call it a day. The parallels between Yusuke and Toguro, the way in which Yusuke has to unlock his true powers, his relationship with Keiko throughout the series, they all speak for themselves in my opinion. And while Hunter x Hunter hasn’t touched on it in exactly the same way, I imagine it may in the future with a certain character.
Some in the past have taken issue with how the Gay and Trans characters in Yu Yu Hakusho were portrayed, such as Youtuber Rantasmo(4). Now to be fair to rantasmo he admits to having not seen the entirety of either series due to time constraints. At first glance, it may appear clear cut that the MC beat up a trans person before telling them to “be a man all the way not halfway” was the wrong move, and that the author is just being stereotypical making the 1 gay guy a villain. But upon closer inspection, I don’t believe these critiques hold much water. While Miyuki, the trans character, is berated by Yusuke as cowardly it is important to remember that Yusuke is constantly projecting his negative qualities on to his enemies, and we are not supposed to identify him as the moral compass of the show, as with some other stories. Yes, there will be times when Yusuke says the “right” things from the authors perspective but that mostly comes later in the story aka after the Dark Tournament and Sensui arcs. The point of the story is for Yusuke to learn from the enemies he faces, be open about his emotions, and expand his perspective. By the end of the series, he’s empathizing with demons desire to eat humans and resolving the political disputes of an entire realm. As Yu Yu Hakusho moved away from existentialism and into materialism, as I’ve spoken about before, the change was reflected in the MC. I believe endgame Yusuke would have very different words for Miyuki indeed, who need I remind you is still the villain in this situation.
Which brings me to my next point: there was just no way ToGODshi was going to put such characters in at the time and not have them be villains. It’s not an ideal world where he could have added any characters he wanted in any role and expect to have a successful series. That simply was not the political reality. But here’s where ToGODshi is really cool in my opinion in that he put those type of characters on the side of the villains who were morally correct. Now, in theory, no one knows what’s going on in Togashi’s head and he could secretly be a demonic alien who is the incarnation of evil, after all, why else would he create the greatest series ever just to go on constant hiatuses? But realistically it is likely the case that Togashi was and is progressive even by FUTURE standards and will always be. So why was Itsuki portrayed as he was in Yu Yu Hakusho? Well, the villain’s are correct in Chapter Black (at the VERY least by ToGODshi’s standards) so if anything it was a huge honor to make the first openly homosexual man in any of his works (as far as we in the west know Cough Cough translators Cough get on that Cough.) a villain.
Nanika & How None of This Really Matters
ToGODshi once confirmed that he attempted to make a sports manga with homosexual characters & cross-dressing and was rejected(5). Considering he now virtually has a “do whatever the fuck you want” card which allows him to literally make the company he works for Mafia in his manga, I think it’s safe to say we will be seeing more stuff like this in his work in the future. ToGODshi has always had androgynous characters in his works like Kurama and Kurapika, and he’s not afraid to throw some cross-dressing in there from time to time. Despite how I may end up portraying it here I don’t think he’s the type to get several Ph.D.’s on gender studies just to write a couple of characters, so one must wonder what is the underlying philosophy guiding such inclusions. It seems cheap to say something cliche like “He writes ‘people’ first and foremost and thus any politics that arises from the text is just a result of that.”
When it comes to this topic at least I don’t seek to debate anyone about whether or not this is the definitive reading of his text. This is just my interpretation and if you have a completely different take due to having more knowledge on this subject more power to you. That all said in addition to Nanika representing Trans Essense in the metaphorical sense, as explained excellently by Ember Reviews(6), I believe Nanika’s introduction is supposed to help signify what the entirety of the election arc is about and consequently ToGODshi’s philosophy of what identity is: Recognition. The story is framed through an election because, as stated in Game of Thrones, power resides where people believe it resides. It makes perfect sense that the main villain of the arc is someone who is a master and controlling image and pleasing systems. Both sadist and masochist Pariston is presented as the opposite of what we should strive for. It’s only through authenticity that we can truly connect to each other, and to be truly authentic requires realizing that- in the Buddhist sense- you do not exist. You are not a weapon, a political pawn, a tool, or any label you or others can give you. The eightfold path that will free beings from suffering requires the quelling of desires from false selves. Therefore we should love each other as friends and family, not as products or means toward an end. Thinks like gender identity can be seen as distractions to be ignored.
Perhaps it’s not my place to say such a thing as “this is all to show how pointless identity is and why you should all become Buddhist”. After all the point of Hunter x Hunter is as much a tale about chasing after what you want as it is a cautionary tale about over ambition. While such messages come in slight contradiction, that is life as we know it right now. There’s a difference between demonstrating that even the most idealized simply lifestyles come with complexities that you’re just going to have to work through on an individual case by case basis and completely contradicting what was said before. Clearly, I think HxH falls into the former and as such the right of the viewer to come away with their own reading will be respected by me. I know there are many who value representation and I hope that, even in a small way, I’ve been of use to you. To put it simply at the core of ToGODshi’s philosophy I believe there to be a creed of “Will” being more important than the shape of the eye. So grab a friend and see what you can find.
- “Hegelian Recognition and Incels” by Cuck Philosophy
- “Maoism Explained: What is Marxism-Leninism-Maoism?” by Tovarishch Endymion
- “The Masculine Ideals of Shounen Jump: A Praxis for Masculinity” by Cherryboywriter
- “Yoshihiro Togashi Needs More Gay” by Rantasmo
- “Hunter x Hunter’s BRILLIANT Portrayal of Gender Identity” by Ember Reviews