(Edited from a Twitter rant in ten parts.)
One thing I find linguistically interesting about Ranma ½ fan fiction, especially most of the more recent works, is that they make a big fucking deal of Ranma’s pronouns. Mind you, these stories are set in Japan, starring Japanese characters, speaking Japanese. It’s all just rendered in English because Internet.
Third-person pronouns in English have genders. He/she and such, you know the ones. Since these stories are written in English, you’ll often find characters refer to Ranma with one pronoun or the other. No problem there, the original manga and anime do it too. But there’s a twist.
There are lots of stories about Ranma being transgender, especially in recent years as far as I’ve seen. Which is totally understandable, really. That’s not the problem. Write about transgender Ranma all you want. The problem, at least to me, is when characters start mentioning how other characters use this or that pronoun to refer to Ranma.
(This of course applies not just to Ranma but to any other character who shares the same curse. Let’s keep it simple, though.)
Worse, for the purpose of this rant, is this one story where Ranma joins a support group for LGBTQ people and the members all introduce themselves and state their pronouns. See, if these are Japanese characters (they are) speaking Japanese (this is implied), and my research is correct (I can only hope), that is literally not a thing they could do.
Where in English it is the third person pronouns that are gendered (he/him, she/her), Japanese has them in the first person. Ano hito, yatsu, and koitsu, those are all gender-neutral. Boku, watashi, and atai, are all gendered. And that’s just a small sample of first person pronouns.
So the very first time someone like Ranma opens his pie hole and speaks of himself, he’ll use whatever pronoun he wants. That’d be ore, a very manly one, as in “ore wa otoko da,” “I’m a guy.” It’s when Ranma uses a feminine pronoun that the eyebrows rise. Mind the phrasing there!
I was reminded of the Twitter rant this post is adapted from by another fanfic I read last night, where Genma caught himself thinking about his recently-cursed child with female pronouns. As in, the English third-person ones. It didn’t do much to damage the scene or anything but I felt mildly distracted by the idea that a Japanese man would think in English terms.
There are in fact fanfics, written in English, where Ranma will say something and maybe there’s something about the phrasing in English, and another character remarks that Ranma used a feminine pronoun, perhaps even saying the pronoun itself in Japanese, in the middle of a story otherwise written in English. Just as an example: “Ranma used atashi just now instead of ore, and he’s not trying to trick Ryōga. Something’s going on here.” Something like that. It’s quite interesting how you might handle this difference.
The episode Am I Pretty comes to mind, where Ranma’s entire way of talking changes right along with his first-person pronoun. I only watched it in Japanese, but I’d imagine the dub just only has his way of talking change. If you’ve seen it dubbed, feel free to let me know how they handled it in the comments.
Suffice it to say, as weird as pronouns can get in one language, it gets so much weirder when there’s two in play.