It’s not uncommon to relate to a fictional character. Most of us probably have several we can name off the top of our heads, be it someone who reminds us of our current, past or hopeful future self. I can name several myself, in particular from anime. I relate to Shikyoin Hibiki from Pripara, due to her love for the performance art of oujo-kei dansou. I most certainly relate to Nico from Love Live! School Idol Project, as someone who often tries to hide their more vulnerable side behind a false front. The list goes on and on, from Girls Und Panzer‘s Mako to My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU‘s Yukino. I’m sure it’s the same for most people.
But one of the major differences between most of the characters I relate to and myself is my trans status. Out of the characters I listed, none are trans women. This is a common issue of course, there just isn’t a lot of trans characters in the type of fiction me and many others consume. When there is, they’re often misrepresentative of our view of what a trans women is like. Sure, there might be a fitting trans headcanon somewhere, like my reading of Love from Pripara as mentioned in this post, but your chances of finding a trans woman in fiction that’s both stated or suggested to be trans and someone you can relate to is always rather unlikely.
However, that all changed for me in the past year, in a very strange way. Because it wasn’t me discovering a new series or character, it was a clash of a franchise from my past and new ambitions in place for myself that led me to the character that remind me of myself an eerie amount. The franchise in question was Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, which I got reaquainted with in late 2016 after nearly a decade of having it locked away in my memories. I’ve written a lot about the series already in my Lyrical Retrospective! series, but I never really got to talk about the character that this post is about. So allow me to tell you about Otto, my comforting anime counterpart.
In 2007, before I knew I was trans, the third season of Nanoha aired; Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS.
It’s my favourite of the original series and rewatching it recently was what truly made me realize that. In this season, we’re introduced to the Numbers. The Numbers are twelve cyborgs, groomed by the main villain to do his dirty work. Two of the last Numbers to be awoken are a set of twins, Otto and Deed. In their first appearance you’ll quickly make note that while Deed is feminine in appearance, Otto is not. Even when compared to the tomboy of the Numbers, Nove, Otto looks far more like a typical male character would. This led to a lot of fans assuming that Otto, despite being referred to as a sister like the rest, was a man.
Otto is not a man, but Otto does notably act and dress differently from the rest of the group. She’s the only one who wears pants, a baggy pair at that, with their barrier jacket and she seems to not be as social as the rest of the group. By just watching this anime, this is really all you’d notice about Otto and you’d likely just assume they’re a boyish girl and that’s about it. However, it’s also enough to start planting seeds of trans headcanons for many people, myself included when rewatching the series. I mean, I’m a “boyish” trans girl who likes to wear clothes that don’t accentuate my figure much after all.
What I didn’t expect was the writing to have already laid this out for me in a place I had forgotten to check. The second and third seasons of Nanoha both had supplementary manga that would run simultaneously as the anime and provide additional information on characters and events. Nothing you’d need to know to follow the story, just interesting flavor on top of what you already knew. For Nanoha StrikerS’ manga, the twelfth chapter is about how the Numbers spend their day when they’re not on a mission. It’s a fairly mundane slice-of-life chapter for the most part, until we reach a scene involving the Numbers bathing.
We learn that Otto doesn’t want to undress in public and prefer to take her baths on her own. Sein, one of her sisters, asks rather directly whether or not Otto’s body is “male or female.” A loaded and rude question, for sure. Otto responds that she won’t answer the question, with Deed also keeping it a secret. We also learn that one of their elder sisters who would know, Quattro, specifically said it’d be kept secret. It’s an awkward scene and it’s not exactly tactful, but it does give us enough context to piece things together. While Otto is indeed a girl, her body would not be considered such by cisnormative standards. You can argue they were technically ambiguous about it, but it makes no sense to keep such a thing secret if Otto was just cis like the rest.
When I finished the chapter, I wasn’t sure how to feel about the scene. It was clearly there as a joke, but not in the sense that it didn’t have contextual placement to the characters. The reading of that scene is definitely that Otto is trans, in the simplest sense. It was an interesting detail to make for such a minor character, as Otto really only plays a major role in two episodes of the twenty-six episodes long season she’s introduced in. Still, after contemplating everything, it made me glad. Because while Otto is a minor character, she’s a villain who gets a full redemption and is never suggested to be a bad person or even suffering because of their trans status. She’s accepted.
And then the sequels to Nanoha StrikerS came into the picture.
At the start of 2017, I set out to read and watch all the Nanoha content I had missed in my break from the franchise, which led me to two things in particular. The 2008 drama CD StrikerS Sound Stage X and the 2009 to 2017 manga Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha ViVid. Otto once again appears as a supporting role in both, now having established herself in society. We learn that she’s now a sister of the St. Kaiser church and that she’s taken a liking to dressing in fancy male fashion, dressing like a butler rather than the traditional sister garb. While this could easily be seen as regressive to some, to me, it was the opposite.
A major thing that helped me overcome a lot of my insecurities and self-loathing in the past year was opening myself up to dansou. The act of dressing in male fashion and “perform” to befit the style of your choice. It’s something done by cis women, non-binary people as well as trans men a lot in Japan. It’s very rarely done by trans women, because of the inherent stigma that lies within it. As a trans woman, wanting to do dansou opens you up to typical comments about how “you could have just stayed a man then” or “are you no longer trans?” and the like. All for wanting to do something cis women can do freely.
For me, it was being reintroduced to dansou through various fictional characters and real life performers that made me decide to go through with it regardless. To dress up in fancy “prince-like” clothes and act the part while still retaining what I consider vital to my femininity. It was liberating and helped me get through the year. So seeing Otto, a trans woman, decide to dress not that different from how I dress, despite being trans and still being accepted as a girl by everyone around her was truly wonderful. This series had already given me validation as a lesbian woman many times, but for it to also validate me as a trans woman was new and unique.
In the Nanoha ViVid manga, Otto’s role expands a bit. She’s still a sister of the church who takes care of Vivio whenever she visits, but she also becomes the personal martial arts trainer for Corona, one of Vivio’s classmates. From this point onward, Otto is always with the cast to some degree, training with Corona and joining them on trips, taking care of the younger girls as if they were her own family. It’s really sweet and something I could also relate to, as both an older sister and someone who’ve helped raise friends’ children. Not to mention that I’m also studying to become a teacher, admittedly not in martial arts.
And so it is that I found so many elements of myself in this minor supporting character in a franchise I thought I already had gotten all I ever could from on relatable levels. I may not be a cyborg, but apart from that I’m glad to consider Otto my anime counterpart. I also highly recommend checking out the Nanoha series and read the manga if you’re able to. If nothing else for the chance that you might find someone to relate to that makes you as happy as this one character made me.
2017 was a strange and mostly depressing year, but I’m happy that it at least led me to this.
Thank you, Otto.