The premise of Monster Musume: Everyday Life with Monster Girls, or Monster Musume No Iru Nichijo, is rather simple. In the world of this manga and anime TV series, monster girls exist, and with them, there is an exchange program where monster girls are assigned to host families in Japan. Due to a government mix-up, Kurusu Kimihito, a young man living on his own, ends up hosting one monster girl after another until he has a house full of young monster women, most of whom eventually fall deeply in love with him. While it is easy to write this series off as an 'ecchi harem manga,' a manga subgenre with sexual themes and imagery where the protagonist has many love interests, doing so would be dismissing the inherent transness of these monster girls in a series that can be read as celebrating their bodies and sexualities. This reading is critical as increasing positive representation of transgender people creates a greater social understanding of who we are. Not only that, but the historical depiction of trans people as monsters, or less-than-human, has been a harmful, hateful trope. However, with Monster Musume: Everyday Life with Monster Girls, we can reclaim this trope and re-examine 'otherness' with positivity.
In this series, as in various other monster girl series, 'monster girls' are an amalgamation of a creature of one type (snake, bird, horse, spider, etc.) and a woman. What qualifies them as 'monstrous' is the part of them that is not passable as a woman. As Dr. Talia Mae Bettcher (2015), an expert on feminist philosophy and transgender studies, notes, “when trans and intersex women are recognized as hybrid or ‘in-between’ categories, they are subjected to a particular form of discrimination” (p. 416). The depiction of the monster girls in Monster Musume is one of hybrids; the government refers to them as 'liminals,' and it is this hybridity that prevents them from being seen as human. This creates a representation where the metaphor of the monstrous is made visible and is either discriminated against or fetishized.
Discrimination and fetishization are both a product of monster girls' 'otherness' and part of the process by which they are made 'other.' The introduction of monster girls into a society where what is normal is the simplistic dichotomy of human men and women creates the idea that monster girls are neither. As Jeffrey Jerome Cohen (1996), a medieval studies and monster theory scholar, states, “the monster is difference made flesh, come to dwell among us” (p. 7). The very nature of the monster is that of differences. This is what creates the gap between the monster and humanity and makes the monster inhuman or other. This 'otherness' that did not previously exist in this established society means that “the monster is an incorporation of the Outside, the Beyond—of all those loci that are rhetorically placed as distant and distinct but originate Within” (Cohen, 1996, p. 7). Even while constructing the monster to be something outside of society, this origin of the other, we must acknowledge that its genesis as the other comes from society itself. In establishing a norm, we create something that is 'other' from the norm. In doing so, we create the monsters in our society. To this end, Anson Koch-Rein (2014), queer and transgender studies scholar, observes, “the varied transphobic uses of the monster trope often draw on ideas of physical monstrosity to uphold their naturalization of binary sex and gender” (p. 134). The use of the monster as a symbol to depict transness as unnatural and terrifying relies on physical differences. This historical use of the monstrous tries to establish an otherness that is to be feared as opposed to the human and cis-heteronormative. However, with Monster Musume, what is 'monstrous' is shown without the grotesque and without the jump-scare. Instead, these women and their experiences with their bodies are humanized and made to be understood without their oddity being a spectacle.
The purpose of the protagonist, Kimihito, is to give us a compassionate perspective into the needs of his housemates. He is experiencing being around monster girls for the first time, and so are we. In chapter two, Miia, a half-snake lamia, and Kimihito go on an excursion around town. During this trip, many onlookers make a note of Miia since she stands out. They refer to her as “it” and, mistaking Kimihito as her boyfriend, make comments such as, “How’re they gonna get it on?!” and “Does she even have a va-jay-jay?!” (Okayado, 2012, p. 55) These comments, which are common any time a monster girl is in public, mirror comments made to trans people as the question of genitals is all too ready to be brought to bear. Not only that, but Bettcher asserts that “the categorical liminality of a trans woman might be recognized by referring to her as ‘it.’ This denial of personhood is oppressive. But in this instance, she is not oppressed as a woman, because she is not even recognized as one” (2015, p. 416). The reader is given a glimpse into the discrimination and lack of privacy monster girls face in a society that is attempting to be inclusive. The verbal abuse, which mimics the same abuse many trans people suffer, creates a situation for the reader to empathize with before realizing whom the monster girls represent.
In addition to facing discrimination, the monster girls are also fetishized by society. In fact, much of the time they stay at their host homes or go to spaces created for them. This is likely a reaction to the overt sexual attention they receive. Even though they are considered monstrous, Rachnera, an Arachne, notes that “the only part of me that your web shooter responds to is the part that looks human. The rest of me is just a huge repulsive blob to you, isn’t it?” (Okayado, 2013, p. 29). Spider pun aside, and this series loves its puns, Rachnera is voicing the difficulty of being monstrous, and for her, the human part of her is what is passable. The part of her that appears like a giant spider is the unacceptable, the unpassable. “The monster is continually linked to forbidden practices, in order to normalize and to enforce. The monster also attracts…the linking of monstrosity with the forbidden makes the monster all the more appealing” (Cohen, 1996, p. 16-17). What keeps Rachnera from being passable also makes her desired. As an Arachne, she uses her webs like a dominatrix, trussing people up and eliciting pleasure, sometimes resulting in their shame. As a figure of both transness and kink, we see how Rachnera uses the way people fetishize her, yet this only isolates her further. The fetishization of both monster girls and trans people is as dehumanizing as finding them monstrous. Rachnera's character shows us the hypocrisy of this dichotomy between monster girls and trans people; rather than viewing the sexualization as flattery, she sees it as being someone's experiment.
Cohen (1996) insists, “the monstrous body is pure culture. A construct and a projection, the monster exists only to be read: the monstrum is etymologically ‘that which reveals,’ ‘that which warns,’ a glyph that seeks a hierophant” (p. 4). In the case of Monster Musume, let me translate this glyph: what is revealed through the monster girls of Monster Musume is the humanity of what has been historically seen as monstrous. The transness of this series is woven within that. We need to celebrate the humanity of these characters, especially given the love interest of the whole series, the person so many monster girls are smitten with, is loved because he treats them all as human women. His compassion, respect, and understanding make him desirable.
This series reveals that there are many kinds of monster girls: centaurs, ogres, mermaids, and more, and they are all women. What Monster Musume warns the reader about is a society and people who so easily dehumanize, discriminate, and fetishize trans people. That warning is all the more alarming as we see legislation across the United States that aims to criminalize early transitioning, eliminate shared spaces based on trans people's gender, and request the banning of books that overtly talk about trans and queer experiences. With the banning of overtly trans materials, it becomes essential for us to read the transness into more subtle works. Such readings are how we become human, even as monster girls.
Bettcher, T.M. (2015). Intersexuality, transgender, and transsexuality. In L. Disch & M. Hawkesworth (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of feminist theory (pp. 407-427). Oxford University Press. 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199328581.013.21
Cohen, J.J. (1996). Monster culture (seven theses). In J.J. Cohen (Ed.), Monster theory: Reading culture (pp. 3-25). University of Minnesota Press.
Koch-Rein, A. (2014). "Monster."Transgender Studies Quarterly, 1(1-2), 134-135. https://doi.org/10.1215/23289252-2399821
Okayado (2012) Monster musume: Everyday life with monster girls (Vol 1) (R. Peterson, Trans.) Seven Seas Entertainment. (Original work 2012)
Okayado (2013) Monster musume: Everyday life with monster girls (Vol 4) (R. Peterson, Trans.) Seven Seas Entertainment. (Original work 2013)
Okayado, Monster Musume: Everyday Life with Monster Girls. Seven Seas Entertainment. Retrieved from https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/81cEvHDMOtL.jpg
Okayado, Monster Musume: Everyday Life with Monster Girls. Seven Seas Entertainment. Retrieved from https://sevenseasentertainment.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/monster-musume.jpg
Okayado, Monster Musume: Everyday Life with Monster Girls. Seven Seas Entertainment. Retrieved from https://static.zerochan.net/Monster.Musume.no.Iru.Nichijou.full.1757743.jpg