Does the Gender Matter in Correlation to the Plot?: The Case of Isekai/Virtual World Protagonists

Now that the drama from the winter 2020 first episodes is over, let’s talk about them. This is inspired by Karandi’s post on whether Bofuri would work if Maple wasn’t a cute high school girl.

I mentioned in the comments of that post that sometimes the gender matters, such as CGDCT (because it’s in the genre name), but sometimes it doesn’t. Bofuri is one of those where you can make the protagonist basically any other gender and, with the right execution, you can achieve (roughly) the same results.

It helps that Bofuri is a virtual world where not much from outside matters, including the gender. If, say, Bofuri was done through the lens of someone who had obligations outside the virtual world that would cause them to log out more frequently, such as a mother with small kids or a teacher, then the play style wouldn’t be very conducive to the ability to enjoy the game and the main character would start wising up really fast. (Then we’d have no story though…and that would be boring.) Conversely, if you had an isekai where the person had pressing existing commitments in the other world, it would make for a more interesting story but at the cost of potentially having an undercurrent of stress for everything.

I like to think a lot about “what if”s – “what if everything were the same except for one thing” is one of my favourite because it shows the butterfly effect at work. There was a book I started (but didn’t finish, because the character is of a time, place and age that I couldn’t relate to) called Louis and Louise – basically, the premise of it is “what if there was the same character, but portrayed as both a man and a woman?” That got me thinking about such things.

I also mentioned in the comments section of Karandi’s post about one of these “what if”s – what if Shield Hero were that world’s cosy series and Bofuri were the one with the contentious accusation to kickstart the plot? Certain people would still be enraged by the accusation, but less people would bat an eye at it because of the fact it more closely aligns with predominantly patriarchal norms. Shield Hero, in this “what if”, wouldn’t have gotten as much buzz as it did in the world we know because some of the buzz was contingent on assumptions based on how the scorning works with the double standard.

It’s also interesting that this is Bofuri and Shield Hero we’re talking about – although they can be considered counterparts to each other because the protags use shields and there’s a fantasy element with isekai trappings, that’s basically where the similarities stop. However, what I really wanted to bring up was that because most isekai and virtual world protagonists during the boom are expected to be male, any attempt to shake this up with a female protagonist is either “refreshing” (Abilities Average, Bookworm) or “an attempt to bring back the ’90s”. Or they could be their own thing, such as the otome game villainesses we’re going to be seeing a lot of in the future, starting with “Bakarina” (My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!) in spring.

Sidebar: This also begs the question – why haven’t we seen an isekai where a character is part of the LGBTIQ+ category, or a fantasy counterpart to one? The closest I know of this is UQ Holder‘s Kuromaru and that’s not an isekai. I ask this because although I’m not the best person to write one, I’ve noticed there aren’t any.

So what’s your take? Would a parallel-world Bofuri or Shield Hero interest you? For that matter, is anyone else looking forward to our new villainess overlord-er, ladies?



6 thoughts on “Does the Gender Matter in Correlation to the Plot?: The Case of Isekai/Virtual World Protagonists

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  1. I would love to see an isekai about a trans character. I was actually thinking about this watching SAO Alternative, of all things. If you’re going into a virtual world, you can be anyone you want – so why not have a trans character who is still in the closet, discover themselves by presenting the way they want to in a virtual world? I think it would make for a really unique take on the standard isekai formula and also be super validating for trans people watching it. But that’s just me


    1. I’ve been kicking a similar idea around myself for a few months now (as in, an isekai where there is a fantasy counterpart to transitioning, but the one who learns how to present as what they want to be is not the main character), but due to more pressing matters, that particular project has been relegated to the back burner. I agree it would be unique if it ever sees the light, though.

      I seem to remember a “trapped in a virtual world” fantasy (I forget which one) had crossplayers stuck in their avatars’ bodies and they became more like their swapped gender the longer they were trapped, which is probably the closest thing that does exist currently. Dunno about SAO Alternative, though.

      Liked by 1 person

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