East Apps: Otokonoko Games Pt.1

Welcome to a new series on Infinite Rainy Day called East Apps, a look at all the weird Asian and anime inspired apps that litter our phones. You'd be amazed at the weird shit you can find on these things, like today's topics, Inline Planning's “育成!男の娘~やめて!ボク男だよ~” and “育成!男の娘~男の女優 葵編~,” which are roughly translated to (and I took a good while trying to get good translated titles put together here) “Training! Stop Otokonoko! You're No Man” and “Training! Otokonoko Actress Aoihen.” Forgive if I'm not quite on the mark, getting to this point took hours.

If you don't know, a “Otokonoko” is a Japanese term born mainly from otaku circles that roughly translates to “Male Daughter.” In other words, crossdressing. In particular, it refers to a type of genre focused on male characters dressed as women, usually in male targeted spaces and porn because would you expect anything else from otaku? These particular games, though, seem more targeted for a female demographic, though, and while it's not hard to imagine what the focus and intent of the creators were, I think they may have accidentally made two games that have transition subtext.

Please stay with me here, because I am about to explain a lot about queer and trans cultures, how sexuality relates to fetishism, and the divided stance on crossdressing in queer circles.

Yes, all of this from two free apps I found about cute anime boys wearing dresses.

I hate to link to Kotaku for many valid reasons, but one of their staff did a good write-up that explains the Otokonoko subculture that's now starting to appear in more mainstream media. To put it as simply as I can, it's a movement that chooses to appeal to otaku culture over more mainstream popular culture via cosplay and ideas of beauty from anime and manga, born partly from a culture norm in such places as kabuki theater where female characters were played by men and never transitioned out of that (unlike western plays). Also, Otokonoko want to be mistaken or seen as female and not a man wearing women's clothing, yet sexuality and gender identity are not particularly important to being an Otokonoko.

There's a lot of debate over subcultures like this, and crossdressing in general, among trans circles. There's good reason, too. The most common argument is that crossdressing can be dehumanizing, and considering what otaku have done with it in fetishizing it, there's a strong foundation in that argument. It's also used as a stereotype for straight and cis (people who identify as their assigned gender) to laugh at in comedies, making queer and trans people the other. As a bisexual man myself, I have to deal with ignorance and denial, while crossdressers have to worry about genuine violence.

At the same time, crossdressing as history in queer culture for a reason. I talked with a good friend of mine about this (whom asked to remain anonymous here), and they explained that crossdressing is a way for queer people to explore gender fluidity, whether they're aware of their true queer nature or not, and to challenge the common gender binary belief when it's portrayed in a way besides a punchline for cis audiences. Said friend is bigender, and they spoke of their own experiences explaining this. It helps people figure out their own true gender identity at times, and many Otokonoko may be bigender, gender fluid, or even trans, or they may just be bi or gay individuals exploring themselves. The fact we're seeing more Otokonoko characters treated as more than punchlines is a step in the right direction, but the culture not being strictly queer is where it creates debate.

These games are about Otokonoko, so background is necessary. But you also need to know about training games as well, because we're reaching into weird Japanese gaming subgenres with these. Training games are a type of app game similar to clicker games, except they're not necessarily designed to be as addictive, or at least in the same way. Training games base themselves after the pace of actual training. You do a little every once in awhile and make progress, and systems in place here limit your actions to simulate losing stamina. You have a limited amount of moves every time you play, and they replenish with time. These games condition the player to come back every once in awhile to try and unlock the next thing, making the process to getting that thing longer each time and occasionally offering ways of faster progress. It's kind of insidious, but the effect can be lost if the player gets too bored due to a lack of satisfying reward.

These games rewarded me with cute anime boys in dresses, and that sadly worked on me.

The actual mechanics are dirt simple. The future Otokonoko is on the screen with a bunch of people around them (maids in the rich kid's game, make-up artists in the actor's). You touch the other people, and they speed right at the main character, a dust cloud animation plays to stimulate activity as the character reacts a little, and you gain points. In these games, you get three points in the bar every press. When the bar is filled, the main character changes into a more feminine form, and the process repeats. Each game has three different endings, and you just select one to go for after the second to last segment is done. Said replay is less frustrating because your press power is raised to five, which adds up really fast.

Up to ten people can be on screen with the main character at a time, and they appear every few seconds (about fifteen to thirty, I think), so you can't just simply spam tap like you can in a clicker. Sometimes, though, the game offers you a refresh of characters if you share on Twitter ...but Inline's games are buggy enough that you can go to the tweet screen on a button press and then back out without ever sending the tweet, and then you get the bonus anyways. There are ads, but they almost never worked on my phone, which is not a problem I've had with other Japanese titles I've downloaded recently.

Like most training games, there is a narrative here. Despite the games being untranslated, it's not hard to figure out what's going on. In the first game, the maids find the young master of the manor cute and decide to raise him as they want him to be, that being a cute her. The kid is pressured along into it, realizes he likes it being a she instead, has a last minute rebellion to try and cling to his masculinity, but the animations he gives whenever a maid starts making him over suggests he really identifies as a woman and then makes a full transition to being a Otokonoko, with the three endings having her pick one of three identities.

The second game is very much the same, but has a significantly older character from start who grows from struggling young actor into a popular Otokonoko actor. Said character is much more a cool archetype, so his women roles reflect this. He's forced into this by his agency, taught by the staff to walk in high heels and dress, how to show a different type of confident expression through soft smiles, and even has a subplot where he falls in love with another man. By the end, she has accepted being a she and may have won over the other actor during a wedding scene, then selects one of three personas from there.

The intent with these games seems to target female players over male, especially the second game. The color pallet and style has a lot of familiar shojo elements, the characters lack any sort of sexy elements to their personality or design, and the narrative is mostly about them finding fulfillment by presenting as another gender and not becoming a sexual object. Plus, the second game is really queer no matter how you read the main character's gender identity. But like Otokonoko culture, these games aren't inherently queer by intent, but they somehow become that in how they read.

The rich kid's last minute attempt to reject his new acceptance of femininity is a similar reaction many newly identifying transwomen have, conditioned by the larger culture to be something and thrive to be that by all means. As a result, it takes awhile for many to truly accept who they know they are because society rejects it. Otokonoko, however, is growing in acceptance, so it's an interesting situation where the same stigmas aren't as strong as usual. In the end, the kid chooses to be true to himself and finds joy in it.

In the actor's story, the conflict comes from enjoying being seen as a beautiful woman by others, and growing feelings for a man. Needless to say, both aren't exactly looked highly upon in masculine cultures these days. The kid's story is all about how she feels in the end, but the actor takes how people perceive her as how she perceives herself. In the end, like with the kid, she chooses to be true to her feelings, accepts her sexuality, and fully gets behind being a woman unlike her originally gruff, cool guy persona. This more mirrors how Otokonoko see themselves, as those who want others to see them as beautiful women. Unlike drag queens, Otokonoko cast away masculinity entirely, finding something comforting or right in femininity.

Their respective endings also have some thematic importance as they weigh down what their identity is.

The rich kid can choose from a shrine priestess, a catgirl maid, and an idol. She takes her identity more from traditional Otokonoko background, the interests of otaku, but all three identities have different meaning. The priestess is a more traditionally reserved and kind-hearted archetype, the catgirl maid is a playful servant, and the idol is the most outgoing and independent of the three. The first two are accepting feminine roles as taught as proper by the maids, but the idol persona is more of a channeling of her independent nature with more traditionally feminine means of expression, trading outbursts for performance and glee.

The actor, on the other hand, makes a main role out of either a Japanese princess, a opera singer, or a lady knight. All her personas are more mature and refined, especially compared to earlier roles like nurse and policewoman, and are built on confidence. They also all have a different sort of confidence. The princess is a persona of status and purity, leaving no doubts in the actor's mind about her feelings of love and identity. The opera singer is joyous and takes pride in her art and expression, mirroring the actor most closely. As for the knight, this persona is one of strength and grace, able to do anything despite the challenge. The knight is someone others can look up to, mainly because of confidence and ability. It's a far cry from the whiny pretty boy the actor started as.

The intent was obviously to give girls something to squeal about, but the narratives here come off as stories of transwomen accepting themselves and owning that identity they want, in the most idealized way possible. Kind of weird how that happened. Otokonoko culture, when not being a means of wank fantasy for otaku, is on the verge of being a queer subculture completely. It just depends on how many of these people start identifying as the gender they choose to try and mimic so closely.

Holy hell, this went on for 2000 words. Well, next article is going to be longer, because we're going to loo at the other two games Inline made about Otokonoko, and things are going to get much, much more ...otakuy.


  1. Good article. Can't wait for part 2.


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