Almost a little girl
“I am fond of children—except boys.” This famous quote from Lewis Carroll, a noted appreciator of the (preferably naked) youthful female figure, should have put to rest uninformed allegations to the effect that all interest in child-like body features were bisexual in nature. Unfortunately, Carroll is probably not a favorite read among men who measure woman beauty in bust line centimeters, and people continue to believe that we can't tell apart little boys from little girls. Well, yes we can, and we have our preferences (and I don't mean that as yes we can fix the economy; it's more like yes we can bail out Goldman).
Except, admittedly, in those rare cases when we can't (black swans?). I'm refering of course to something akin to the trap concept in manga and anime.
I'd like to be slightly careful with words here, because it is not clear that there is such a thing as a well-defined trap concept at all. The English word (probably coined on some anonymous image board) lumps together at least two different Japanese terms: the josou shounen “boy in girl's clothes” on the one hand, and the otoko no ko on the other hand.
The first one refers to any kind of cross-dressing, especially if forced (Hayate as a plaything of Nagi and Maria), obvious (something like this), or more generally, in which the (possibly involuntary) cross-dresser retains most of his masculine qualities. This kind of character is mostly popular with female fans, and isn't what I'm interested in here.
The otoko no ko is more intriguing. For one thing, it's a clever pun that gets a bit lost in romanization: usually, otoko no ko is the transcription of the word 男の子, which simply means “boy” (literally “man-child”). In this case, however, it's 男の娘, which is pronounced the same but literally means “man-girl.” Since there is no reason to write otoko no ko when you just mean “boy,” please bear with me and let the phrase refer to this piece of otaku lingo.
As the gloss suggests, an otoko no ko doesn't just have a girlish outlook, but also a girly behavior and psychology. He is, however, well aware of his male condition (and his male genitalia), which usually makes for an interesting gender identity play. The typical storyline (for example, the original Boku no Pico—linking to a poorly written review, but there doesn't seem to be many to choose from) has this boy meet a heterosexual man who doesn't realize that he isn't a girl. They're attracted to each other, but as a boy, the otoko no ko has to try very hard not to lose out to real girls: he must exude cuteness, frailty, moe-ness and every possible non-male trait imaginable as an excuse for his lack of a vagina.
(By the way, such a well-known loli mangaka as Sasakura Ayato, of Shana manga fame, and who usually draws very strong-willed girls, turns to boys when she wants to depict cute children. Her recently published Shounen dolce is an all-shota book, which I'm not sure I want to read).
While I quite liked the whole Pico OVA series, it's not completely clear who the intended audience was. The idea that it was mostly made for shotacon fujoshi is probably quite naive. I haven't read a lot of BL, but even the younger boys in those titles don't look much like girls-with-an-inconvenient-appendage-below. I'm guessing the main audience was us, with the shota aspect thrown in to extend the appeal to some female viewers (or for the shock factor?).
It's much more clear who the audience of the book that prompted me to write this article was. Ueda Yuu is my second favorite author in LO these days, and probably the one who draws the cutest little girls in the magazine. I'll probably have more to say about his works in later posts. He was selling two doujinshi at C77: a Kimi nomi zo shiru sekai book which I was too late to grab, and Otoko no asobiba, a very cute otoko no ko original of which I could get one of the last few copies.
I'm not sure I would have bought it had I noticed that it was shota, but I don't regret the purchase. In addition to the Ueda Yuu style I am fond of, the endearing characters and the inordinate amount of cuteness, there's a very peculiar charm to this kind of books which possibly boils down to the realization that, “hey, I'm fapping to gay porn.” The half-serious sexual identity doubts are adding to the experience, somehow.