“Trap” is anime-speak for a boy who looks enough like a girl that a straight boy might be
attracted to him. (Or a girl who looks like a boy, the “reverse trap”.) This doesn’t happen IRL a lot but it is a fairly common trope in (usually) comedy anime. Unlike real life, the trap character in anime is usually treated with respect, not bullied or ostracized.
The term really did come from the famous line in Star Wars. It was commandeered by anime watchers to describe the surprise you feel when something seemingly one way turns put to be just the opposite – specifically gender. It has evolved to be any person whose gender could easily be confused if they so wanted.
Still, I have known a couple of traps in real life that took my breath away. Beauty is still beautiful and I still admired them for it, even if I didn’t try to hop in the sack with them. (Think Crying Game.)
Now, if I were 4-5 decades younger, well, speculation runs rampant… Also lusted after girls who were Tom-boyish when I was a youngster too. I hope that life becomes easier for girlish guys and boyish gals. Diversity makes the world much more interesting and enjoyable.
Females characters are often attracted to a trap’s feminine side. They get to have their cake and eat it too, a guy who is totally not sexually threatening but still potentially available for romance.
Female traps need a deeper voice, alto or contralto, and usually, end up looking like a boy and not a man. Large busted women are at an obvious disadvantage here. I’m not talking about an actress who puts in a lot of effort to be a male for a role. They don’t count. Everyone from Katherine Hepburn to Julie Andrews has done that. (Think Victor – Victoria.) Rather one who could be taken for a male with just little effort, a “bi-faux-shounen”.
Traps are not always crossdressers and not necessarily gay. Male traps usually are soft and without sharply defined musculature. Most important is the smooth complexion and delicate features. An example of a crossdresser that is not a trap is Goro Mori from FLCL Progressive. He may be wearing a skirt and panties but nobody would ever mistake him for a female as he behaves like a boy and his penis shows thru his panties when his legs are spread. The character is shown (quite happily for me) in a positive light.
Almost any prepubescent boy could qualify as a trap with makeup, hair styling and proper clothing, so they don’t count. And I have exactly the same issues with shoutacon as I do with lolicon, most examples of this being a bit disturbing.
The way to do a very young trap can be seen in Fruit of Grisaia, where a very young Yuuji dresses up as a little girl. He’s an assassin and he is attempting to deceive a target, not just being fan service for people with some kind of complex. He is a literal “death” trap and not acting in his actual character.
I’m going to go out on a limb and list my 6 favorite trap characters in anime. No particular order. You know what? Female traps are much less common.
Haku from Naruto
Totsuka Saika from My Teen Romantic Comedy Snafu
Kikuchi Makoto from The iDOLM@STER
Yuu Kashima from Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun
Kinoshita Hideyoshi from Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu
Hamaji Yakumo from H2O: Footprints in the Sand
Yup. The one in the middle is a guy.