Yaoi

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Example of shōnen-ai artwork, originally published at Animexx.

Yaoi[nb 1] also known as Boys' Love, is a Japanese popular term for female-oriented fictional media that focus on homoerotic or homoromantic male sexual relationships, usually created by female authors. An article in the Guide describes it as having begun as homegrown fan fiction between male cartoon characters. As these depict males, there is an androphilic male audience as well; however, manga aimed at a gay male audience (bara) is considered a separate genre. The main characters in yaoi usually conform to the formula of the seme (top or attacker) who pursues the uke (bottom or receiver). The material that would be classified into this genre primarily involves gay relationships between the handsome or cute (male) characters, usually erotic.

Although the genre is called Boys' Love (commonly abbreviated as "BL"), the males featured are pubescent or older. Works featuring prepubescent boys are labeled shotacon, and seen as a distinct genre. Yaoi (as it continues to be known among English-speaking fans) has spread beyond Japan: both translated and original yaoi is now available in many countries and languages.

Yaoi began in the dōjinshi (fan fiction) markets of Japan in the late 1970s/early 1980s as an outgrowth of shōnen-ai, also known as "Juné" or "tanbi" (which contain platonic relationships between pubescent or pre-pubescent boys), but whereas shōnen-ai were original works, yaoi were parodies of popular shōnen anime and manga. Yaoi came to be used as a generic term for female-oriented manga, anime, dating sims, novels and fan fiction works featuring idealized homosexual male relationships.

Most yaoi fans are either teenage girls or young women. The female readership in Thailand is estimated at 80%,[1] and the membership of Yaoi-Con, a yaoi convention in San Francisco, is 85% female. It is usually assumed that all female fans are heterosexual, but in Japan there is a presence of lesbian manga authors[2] and lesbian, bisexual or questioning female readers.[3] Recent online surveys of English-speaking readers of yaoi indicate that 50-60% of female readers self-identify as heterosexual.

Contents

Terminology and concepts

History and general terminology

Yaoi is an acronym created in the dōjinshi market of the late 1970s by Yasuko Sakata and Akiko Hatsu[4] and coined in the 1980s[5] standing for Yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi (山[場]なし、落ちなし、意味なし?) "No peak (climax), no fall (punch line/denouement), no meaning". This phrase was first used as a "euphemism for the content"[6] and refers to how yaoi, as opposed to the "difficult to understand" shōnen-ai of the Year 24 Group,[7] focused on "the yummy parts".[8] The phrase also parodies a classical style of plot structure.[9] Kubota Mitsuyoshi says that Osamu Tezuka used yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi to dismiss poor quality manga, and this was appropriated by the early yaoi authors.[6] As of 1998, the term yaoi was considered "common knowledge to manga fans".[10] A joking alternative acronym among fujoshi (female yaoi fans) for yaoi is Yamete, oshiri ga itai (やめて お尻が 痛い?, "Stop, my ass hurts!").!"}}.[2][11]

Originally in Japan, much BL material was called june (ジュネ?),[12] a name derived from June, a magazine that published male/male tanbi (耽美 "aesthetic"?) romances,[nb 2] Kaoru Kurimoto had also written shōnen ai mono stories in the late 1970s that have been described as "the precursors of yaoi".[4] The term "bishōnen manga" was used in the 1970s, but became depreciated in the 1990s when the manga featured a broader range of protagonists than adolescent boys.[15] June magazine was named after the French author Jean Genet, with "june" being a play on the Japanese pronunciation of his name.[16] Eventually the term "june" died out in favour of "BL," which remains the most common name.[12] Mizoguchi suggests that publishers wishing to get a foothold in the June market coined the term BL to disassociate the genre with the publisher of June.[15]

Another term for yaoi is 801.[17] "801" can be read as "yaoi"[6] in the following form: the "short" reading of the number 8 is "ya", 0 can be read as "o" – a western influence, while the short reading for 1 is "i" (see Japanese wordplay). For example, an Internet manga called Tonari no 801-chan, about a male otaku who dates a fujoshi, has been adapted into a serialized shōjo manga and a live-action film. 801-chan, the mascot of a Japanese shopping centre, is used in the manga.[18]

Yaoi has become an umbrella term in the West for women's manga or Japanese-influenced comics with male-male relationships,[12] and it is the term preferentially used by American manga publishers.[19] The actual name of the genre aimed toward women in Japan is called 'BL' or 'Boy's Love'. BL is aimed at the shōjo and josei demographics, but is considered a separate category.[12][20] Yaoi is used in Japan to include dōjinshi and sex scenes,[12] and does not include gei comi, which is by and for gay men.[9][12]

The terms yaoi and shōnen-ai are sometimes used by Western fans to differentiate between the contents of the genre. In this case, yaoi is used to describe titles that contain largely sex scenes and other sexually explicit themes and shōnen-ai is used to describe titles that focus more on romance and do not include explicit sexual content, although they may include implicit sexual content.[21][22][23] When using the terms in this way, Gravitation is considered to be shōnen-ai due to its focus on the characters' careers rather than their love life, while the Gravitation Remix and Megamix dōjinshi by the same author, which emphasize the characters' sexual relationships, would be considered yaoi. Sometimes the word hentai is used as an additional modifier with yaoi – "hentai yaoi" – to denote the most explicit titles.[24] However, Kaze to Ki no Uta[nb 3] was groundbreaking in its depictions of "openly sexual relationships", spurring the development of the Boys Love genre in shōjo manga,[25] and the development of sexually explicit amateur comics.[27] The use of yaoi to denote those works with explicit scenes sometimes clashes with use of the word to describe the genre as a whole. Yaoi can be used by fans as a label for anime or manga-based slash fiction.[28]

Top and bottom/Seme and uke

Artwork depicting a seme (left) and uke (right) couple.

The two participants in a yaoi relationship (sometimes also in yuri[29]) are often referred to as seme and uke (top and bottom). These terms originated in martial arts and uke is used in Japanese gay slang to mean the receptive partner in anal sex. Aleardo Zanghellini suggests that the martial arts terms have special significance to a Japanese audience, as an archetype of male same-sex relationships involves that once held between samurai and their companions.[30] Seme derives from the ichidan verb "to attack" and uke from the verb "to receive". The seme and uke are often drawn in the bishōnen style and are "highly idealised", blending both masculine and feminine qualities.[10]

Zanghellini suggests that the samurai archetype is responsible for "the 'hierarchical' structure and age difference" of some relationships portrayed in yaoi and BL.[30] The seme is often depicted as the stereotypical male of anime and manga culture: restrained, physically powerful, and/or protective. The seme is generally older and taller,[31] with a stronger chin, shorter hair, smaller eyes, and a more stereotypically masculine, even "macho",[32] demeanour than the uke. The seme usually pursues the uke, hence the name. The uke usually has softer, androgynous, feminine features with bigger eyes and a smaller build, and is often physically weaker than the seme.[19]

Anal sex is a prevalent theme in yaoi, as nearly all stories feature it in some way. The storyline where an uke is reluctant to have anal sex with a seme is considered to be similar to the reader's reluctance to have sexual contact with someone for the first time.[33] Zanghellini notes that anal sex is almost always in a position so that the characters face each other, not in the doggy style Zanghelli states is portrayed by gay pornography. Zanghellini also notes that the uke rarely fellates the seme, but instead receives the sexual and romantic attentions of the seme.[30]

One stereotype that is criticized is when the protagonists do not identify as gay, but rather are simply in love with that particular person. This is said to heighten the theme of all-conquering love,[34] but is also pointed to as avoiding having to address prejudices against people who consider themselves to have been born homosexual.[35] In recent years, newer yaoi stories have characters that identify as gay.[2] Criticism of the stereotypically "girly" behavior of the uke has also been prominent.[36]

Though these stereotypes are common, not all works adhere to them. Mark McLelland says that authors are "interested in exploring, not repudiating" the dynamics between the insertive partner and the receptive partner.[37] The possibility of switching roles is often a source of playful teasing and sexual excitement for the characters, which has been said to show that the genre is aware of the "performative nature" of the roles.[23] Sometimes the bottom character will be the aggressor in the relationship,[nb 4] or the pair will switch their sexual roles.[39] Riba, リバ (a contraction of the English word "reversible") is used to describe a couple that yaoi fans think is still plausible when the partners switch their seme/uke roles.[38] In another common mode of characters, the author will forego the stylisations of the seme and uke, and will portray both lovers as "equally attractive handsome men". In this case, whichever of the two who is ordinarily in charge will take the "passive role" in the bedroom.[32]

Shōnen-ai

Shōnen-ai originally connoted ephebophilia or pederasty in Japan, but from the early 1970s to the late 1980s, was used to describe a new genre of shōjo manga, primarily by the Year 24 Group, about beautiful boys in love. Characteristics of shōnen-ai include that they were exotic, often taking place in Europe,[40] and idealistic.[41] Suzuki describes shōnen-ai as being "pedantic" and "difficult to understand",[7] saying that they required "knowledge of classic literature, history and science"[41] and were replete with "philosophical and abstract musings".[42] She says that this challenged the young readers and expanded their minds. Although they could not understand the works at first reading, as they grew older they would come to understand the works more. In the meantime, "the readers' attention became focused on the figure of the male protagonist" and how he navigated his sexual relationships.[42] By the late 1980s, the popularity of professionally published shōnen-ai was declining, and yaoi dōjinshi was becoming more popular.[8] In recent years, the terms yaoi and shōnen-ai have sometimes been used by Western fans to differentiate between the contents of the genre.[21][22][23]

Bara

Although sometimes conflated with "yaoi" by Western commentators, also called ML (men's love), in Japan and "bara" in English, caters to a gay male audience rather than a female one and tends to be made primarily by homosexual and bisexual male artists (such as Gengoroh Tagame) and serialized in gay men's magazines.[43] Unlike bara, yaoi is largely created by and for women and features idealized bishōnen (beautiful young men) who frequently conform to the heteronormative formula of the dominant and masculine seme and effeminate uke characters.[44]

Bara is an even smaller niche genre in Japan than yaoi manga; none has been licensed in English and not much has been scanlated into English.[45] Considered a subgenre of seijin (men's erotica) for gay males, bara resembles comics for men (seinen) rather than comics for female readers (shōjo/josei).

Bara can vary in visual style and plot, but typically features masculine men with varying degrees of muscle, body fat, and body hair, akin to beefcakes, or bears in gay culture. While bara usually features adult content (sometimes violent or exploitative) and gay romanticism, it often has more realistic or autobiographical themes, as it acknowledges the taboo nature of homosexuality in Japan.

Bara is more true to actual gay male relationships, and not the heterosexual-esque relationships between the masculine seme and feminine uke types that are the most common romantic fantasy in women's yaoi manga. In comparison to yaoi, gay men's manga is unlikely to contain scenes of "uncontrollable weeping or long introspective pauses", and more likely to show characters who are "hairy, very muscular, or have a few excess pounds".[46] Compared to gay men's manga, yaoi is "more careful to build up a strong sense of character" before sex scenes occur.

Thematic elements

Female characters

Female characters often have very minor roles in yaoi, or are absent altogether.[34][47] Suzuki notes that mothers, in particular, are portrayed badly, such as Takuto's mother from Zetsuai 1989, who killed her husband in front of her young son. Suzuki suggests this is because the character and the reader are attempting to replace a mother's lacking "unconditional love" with the "forbidden" all-consuming love presented in yaoi.[48] Nariko Enomoto, a yaoi author, says she feels that when women are shown, "it can't help but become weirdly real".[49] When yaoi fan works are created from a series which originally contained females (such as Gundam Wing),[50] the female's role is either minimised or the character is killed off.[47]

Early shōnen-ai and yaoi has been regarded as misogynistic, but Lunsing detects a decrease in misogynistic comments from characters and regards the development of the yuri genre as reflecting a reduction of internal misogyny.[2] Alternatively, the yaoi fandom is also viewed as a "refuge" from mainstream culture, which in this paradigm is viewed as inherently misogynistic.[5] Fumi Yoshinaga is regarded as a creator who usually includes at least one sympathetic female character in her works.[51] Also, there are many female characters in Yaoi who are Fujoshi themselves.

Muscley-Chubby BL

Recently, a subgenre of BL has been introduced in Japan, so-called "muscley-chubby BL" or "gachi muchi" which offers more masculine body types and is more likely to have gay male authors and artists. Although still marketed primarily to women, it is also thought to attract a large crossover gay male audience.[52] Although this type of material has also been referred to as "bara" among English-speaking fans, it is not equivalent to gei comi proper (although there is considerable overlap, as writers, artists and art styles cross over between the two genres). Prior to the development of gachi muchi, the greatest overlap between yaoi and bara authors has been in BDSM-themed publications[53] such as Zettai Reido, a yaoi anthology magazine which had a number of openly male contributors.[2] Several female yaoi authors who have done BDSM-themed yaoi have been recruited to contribute stories to BDSM-themed bara anthologies or special issues.[53]

Homophobia

Many BL manga have fantastic, historic or futuristic settings, and many fans consider BL to be an "escapist fantasy".[54] Homophobia, when it is presented as an issue at all,[55] is used as a plot device to "heighten the drama",[56] or to show the purity of the leads’ love. Matt Thorn has suggested that as BL is a romance narrative, having strong political themes may be a "turn off" to the readers.[8]

Yaoi narratives show characters "overcoming obstacles, often internal, to be together". The theme of the victory of the protagonists in yaoi has been compared favourably to Western fairy tales, as the latter intends to enforce the status quo, but yaoi is "about desire" and seeks "to explore, not circumscribe, possibilities."[57] Hisako Miyoshi, vice editor-in-chief for Libre Publishing, has said that she feels that boys love manga has become less realist, with more comedic elements or being "simply for entertainment". She thinks that earlier BL focused "more on the homosexual way of life with a realist perspective."[58]

Makoto Tateno has said that she doesn't see that BL with a focus on realistic gay issues will "[become] a trend, because girls like fiction more than realism."[59] Akiko Mizoguchi feels that while depictions of homosexuality as "shameful" to heighten dramatic tension are still shown, BL is including more coming out stories which portray a gradual acceptance from the wider community. Mizoguchi feels that BL is showing far more gay-friendly depictions of Japanese society, which she regards as activism.[60]

Yaoi stories are often strongly homosocial, which gives the men freedom to bond with each other and to pursue shared goals together, as in dojinshi representations of Captain Tsubasa, or to rival each other, as in Haru wo Daiteita. This spiritual bond and equal partnership shown overcomes the male-female power hierarchy.

Rape

According to Suzuki, sexual intercourse in yaoi is a way of expressing commitment to a partner, and "apparent violence" in sex is a "measure of passion". Suzuki elaborates that when a woman is raped, she is stigmatised by society, but in yaoi narratives, boys who are loved by their rapists are still "imbued with innocence", a theme she attributes to Kaze to Ki no Uta.[61]

According to Nagaike, rape scenes in yaoi are rarely presented as crimes with an assaulter and a victim. Nagaike feels that scenes where a seme rapes a uke are not symptomatic of the seme's "disruptive sexual/violent desires", but instead are a signifier of the "uncontrollable love" felt by a seme for an uke. Instead of being depicted as a crime, rape scenes can be a plot device used to make the uke see the seme as more than just a good friend, resulting in the uke falling in love with the seme. Rape fantasy themes have been said to free the protagonist of responsibility in sex, leading to the narrative climax of the story, where "the protagonist takes responsibility for his own sexuality".[62] The 2003–2005 Under Grand Hotel, set in a men's prison, has been praised for showing a more realistic depiction of rape.[63]

Tragedy

June stories with suicide endings were popular,[64] as was "watching men suffer".[65] Matt Thorn theorises that depicting abuse in yaoi is a coping mechanism for some yaoi fans.[8] By the mid 1990s the fashion was for happy endings.[64] When tragic endings are shown, the cause is not infidelity, but "the cruel and intrusive demands of an uncompromising outside world."[66]

Publishing

Books on display at a San Francisco Kinokuniya bookstore

Mizoguchi divides BL publication into two eras – the first era from the time of June to 2004, and a second era from 2004 onwards.[60]

Japanese BL works are sold to English-speaking countries by companies that translate and print them in English; companies such as Digital Manga Publishing with their imprints 801 Media (for explicit BL) and June (for "romantic and sweet" BL),[21] as well as Kitty Media. Companies that formerly published yaoi manga but are now defunct include Drama Queen,Central Park Media's Be Beautiful,[19] Tokyopop under their imprint BLU, Broccoli under their Boysenberry imprint, and Aurora Publishing under their imprint Deux Press. Yaoi Press, based in Las Vegas and specializing in yaoi that is not of Japanese origin remains active.

According to McLelland, the earliest officially translated BL manga in print appeared in 2003, and as of 2006 there were about 130 English-translated works commercially available. In March 2007, Media Blasters stopped selling shōnen manga and increased their yaoi lines, anticipating to publish one or two titles per month that year.[67] Diamond Comic Distributors estimated the U.S. sales of yaoi manga as being approximately $US 6 million in 2007.

Mark McLelland surveyed 135 yaoi books published in North America between 2003 and 2006, and found that 14% was rated at 13 years or over, 39% was rated for readers aged 15 years or over, and 47% was rated for readers 18 years or older.[68] In 2008, BLU reported that although bookshops are becoming more willing to stock BL titles, they are conservative about how the books are labelled, leading to books being shrink wrapped and rated for over 18s which previously would have garnered an over 16 rating, and do not "really follow through on the adult content promise."

A 2006 breakdown of the Japanese commercial BL market estimated it grosses approximately 12 billion yen annually, with novel sales generating 250 million yen per month, manga generating 400 million yen per month, CDs generating 180 million yen per month, and video games generating 160 million yen per month.[69] A 2010 report estimated that the Boys Love market was worth approximately 21.3 billion yen in both 2009 and 2010.[70]

Fan fiction (Dōjinshi)

The dōjinshi subculture has been considered the Japanese equivalent of the English-language fan fiction, especially as they both do not have typical "narrative structure", science fiction works are particularly popular in both,[10] and they both originated in the 1970s.[21][5]

Typical yaoi dōjinshi features male-male pairings from non-romantic, published manga and anime. Much of the material derives from male-oriented (shōnen and seinen) works which contained male-male close friendships and are perceived by fans to imply homosexual attraction,[8] such as with Captain Tsubasa[9] and Saint Seiya, two titles which popularised yaoi in the 1980s.[5] Dōjinshi has been described by Comiket's co-founder Yoshihiro Yonezawa as being "girls playing with dolls";[33] yaoi fans may ship any male-male pairing, sometimes pairing off a favourite character, or creating a story about two men and fitting existing characters into the story.[9]

Important characteristics of the early yaoi dōjinshi were that they were amateur publications not controlled by media restrictions, the stories were by teens for other teens and they were based on famous characters who were in their teens or early twenties, the same age as the yaoi fans.[5]

Though collectors often focus on dōjinshi based on particular manga, any male character may become the subject of a yaoi dōjinshi, even characters from non-manga titles such as Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings,[71] or video games such as Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy,[72][73] real people such as politicians, or personifications such as Hetalia: Axis Powers, or complementary items such as salt and pepper or peanut butter and jelly.

Most dōjinshi are created by amateurs who often work in "circles";[74] for example, the group CLAMP began as an amateur dōjinshi circle, drawing Saint Seiya yaoi. However, some professional artists, such as Kodaka Kazuma create dōjinshi as well.[75] Some publishing companies have used dōjinshi published in the 1980s to spot talented amateurs,[21] such as Biblos hiring Youka Nitta.[76]

Convention when labelling stories differs between Japanese fandom and slash-influenced fandoms. In Japan, the labelling is to put the two names of the characters separated by a multiplication sign, with the seme being first, and the uke being second.[77]

Demographics

Primary market

Two female cosplayers strike a pose as the Kingdom Hearts characters, Roxas and Sora (from left to right) at Yaoi-Con 2008.

Although the genre is marketed at women and girls, gay,[78] bisexual[79] and hetero males[80][81][82] also form part of the readership. In one library-based survey of U.S. yaoi fans, about one quarter of respondents were male;[83] online surveys of Anglophone readers place this percentage at about 10%.

Lunsing suggests that younger Japanese gay men who are offended by gay men's magazines' "pornographic" content may prefer to read yaoi instead.[84] That is not to say that the majority of homosexual men are fans of the genre, as some are put off by the feminine art style or unrealistic depictions of homosexual life and instead seek "Gei comi" (Gay comics), manga written by and for homosexual men,[2] as gei comi is perceived to be more realistic.[9] Lunsing notes that some of the narrative annoyances that homosexual men express about yaoi manga, such as rape, misogyny, and an absence of a Western-style gay identity, are also present in gei comi.[2] Some male manga artists have produced yaoi works, using their successes in yaoi to then go on to publish gei comi.[2]

In the mid-1990s, estimates of the size of the Japanese yaoi fandom were at 100,000-500,000 people;[2] at around that time, the long-running yaoi anthology June had a circulation of between 80,000 and 100,000, twice the circulation of the "best-selling" gay lifestyle magazine Badi. As of April 2005, a search for non-Japanese sites resulted in 785,000 English, 49,000 Spanish, 22,400 Korean, 11,900 Italian and 6,900 Chinese sites.[37] In January 2007, there were approximately five million hits for 'yaoi'.[85]

Popularity outside Japan

As Japanese yaoi gained popularity in the U.S., a few American artists began creating original English-language manga for female readers featuring beautiful male-male couples referred to as "American yaoi." The first known original English-language BL comic is Sexual Espionage #1 by Daria McGrain, published in May 2002.[86]

Since approximately 2004, what started as a small subculture in North America has become a burgeoning market, as new publishers began producing female-oriented male/male erotic comics and manga from creators outside Japan.[87] Because creators from all parts of the globe are published in these "original English language" works, the term "American Yaoi" fell out of use; terms like 'Original English Language yaoi'[88] shortened to 'Global Yaoi'.[89]

The term Global BL was coined by creators and newsgroups that wanted to distinguish the Asian specific content known as 'yaoi', from the original English content, and so the term Global BL was used.[90][91] "Global BL" was shortened by comics author Tina Anderson in interviews and on her blog to the acronym 'GloBL'.[92] High-Volume North American publishers of 'Global BL' are Yaoi Press,[93] which continues to release illustrated fiction written by the companies CEO, Yamila Abraham under the imprint Yaoi Prose.[94] Prior publishers include DramaQueen, which debuted its 'Global BL' quarterly anthology RUSH in 2006,[95] and Iris Print,[96][97] both ceased publishing due to financial issues.[98]

In 2009, Germany saw a period of GloBL releases, with a handful of original German titles gaining popularity for being set in Asia.[99] Some publishers of German GloBL were traditional manga publishers like Carlsen Manga,[100] and small press publishers specializing in GloBL like The Wild Side[101] and Fireangels Verlag.[102]

Other successful series in GloBL include web comics Teahouse and Starfighter, and In These Words from artist Jo Chen's studio Guilt Pleasure, all three of which are also being promoted by Digital Manga Publishing.[103]

Critical reception

General

Boys' Love manga has received considerable critical attention, especially after translations of BL became commercially available outside of Japan in the 21st century.[8] Different critics and commentators have had very different views of BL. In 1983, Frederik L. Schodt observed that "aesthetically" depicted male-male homosexual relationships had become popular among female readers as an extension of bisexual themes already present in shōjo manga.[104] Japanese critics have seen BL as allowing girls to distance sex from their own bodies,[105] as allowing girls to avoid adult female sexuality while simultaneously creating greater fluidity in perceptions of gender and sexuality,[106] and as rejecting "socially mandated" gender roles as a "first step toward feminism."[107] In more elaborate theorizing, Kazuko Suzuki sees BL manga emerging from girls' contempt and dislike for masculine heterosexism and from an effort to define "ideal relationships" among men.[108]

Mizoguchi, writing in 2003, feels that BL is a "female-gendered space", as the writers, readers, artists and most of the editors of BL are female.[109] BL has been compared to romance novels by English-speaking librarians.[31][56] Parallels have also been noted in the popularity of lesbianism in pornography,[78][33] and yaoi has been called a form of "female fetishism".[110] Mariko Ōhara, a science fiction writer, has said that she wrote yaoi Kirk/Spock fiction as a teen because she could not enjoy "conventional pornography, which had been made for men", and that she had found a "limitless freedom" in yaoi, much like in science fiction.[111]

Other commentators have suggested that more radical gender-political issues underlie BL. Shihomi Sakakibara (1998) argued that yaoi fans, including herself, were homosexually oriented female-to-male transsexuals.[112] For Sandra Buckley, bishōnen narratives champion “the imagined potentialities of alternative [gender] differentiations"[113] and James Welker described the bishōnen character as "queer", observing that manga critic Akiko Mizoguchi saw shōnen-ai as playing a role in how she herself had become a lesbian.[114] Dru Pagliassotti sees this and the yaoi ronsō as indicating that for Japanese gay and lesbian readers, BL is not as far removed from reality as heterosexual female readers like to claim.[14] Welker added that shōnen-ai liberates readers "not just from patriarchy, but from gender dualism and heteronormativity."[114]

As women have greater economic power, commercial demand for the sexualization of men may correlate. Korean comic writer Jin Seok Jeon wrote, "Men are now marketable. It's also a time where women are big consumers and can buy almost anything they desire. Some men think this is degrading...but the tables have turned, and I like the fact that men are just as commercialized now." He jokes that after researching oil wrestling, which requires extreme physical fitness, he does not feel as marketable, illustrating that yaoi and other pornography exploiting men is subject to traditional criticisms, such as sexual objectification, creating unrealistic expectations and negative body images.

Criticism

Some gay and lesbian commentators have criticized how gay identity is portrayed in BL, most notably in the yaoi ronsō or "yaoi debate" of 1992–1997.[2][13] In May 1992, gay activist Masaki Satō criticized yaoi fans and artists in an open letter to the feminist zine (or minikomi in Japanese) Choisir.[2][13] Satō said that yaoi failed to provide accurate information about gay men, promoted a destructive image of gay men as wealthy, handsome, and well-educated, ignored prejudice and discrimination against gay men in society, and co-opted gay men as masturbation fantasies.[13] An extensive debate ensued, with yaoi fans and artists arguing that yaoi is entertainment for women, not education for gay men, and that yaoi characters are not meant to represent "real gay men."[13] As internet resources for gay men developed in the 1990s, the yaoi debate waned[115] but occasionally resurfaced; for example, when Mizoguchi in 2003 characterised stereotypes in modern BL as being "unrealistic and homophobic".[116]

There has been similar criticism to the Japanese yaoi debate in the English-speaking fandom.[55][117][118][119] In 1993 and 2004, Matt Thorn pointed to the complexity of these phenomena, and suggested that yaoi and slash fiction fans are discontented with "the standards of femininity to which they are expected to adhere and a social environment that does not validate or sympathize with that discontent."[8][120]

In China, BL became very popular in the late 1990s, attracting media attention, which became negative, focusing on the challenge it posed to "heterosexual hegemony". Publishing and distributing BL is illegal in mainland China.[121] Zanghellini notes that due to the "characteristics of the yaoi/BL genre" of showing characters who are often underage engaging in romantic and sexual situations, child pornography laws in Australia and Canada "may lend themselves to targeting yaoi/BL work". He notes that in the UK, cartoons are exempt from child pornography laws unless they are used for child grooming.[30]

In 2001, a controversy erupted in Thailand regarding homosexual male comics. Television reports labeled the comics as negative influences, while a newspaper falsely stated that most of the comics were not copyrighted as the publishers feared arrest for posting the content; in reality most of the titles were likely illegally published without permission from the original Japanese publishers. The shōnen ai comics provided profits for the comic shops, which sold between 30 to 50 such comics per day. The moral panic regarding the male homosexual comics subsided. The Thai girls felt too embarrassed to read heterosexual stories, so they read homosexual male-themed josei and shōjo stories, which they saw as "unthreatening."[122]

Youka Nitta has said that "even in Japan, reading boys' love isn't something that parents encourage" and encouraged any parents who had concerns about her works to read them.[123] Although in Japan, concern about manga has been mostly directed to shōnen manga, in 2006, an email campaign was launched against the availability of BL manga in Sakai City's public library. In August 2008, the library decided to stop buying more BL, and to keep its existing BL in a collection restricted to adult readers. That November, the library was contacted by people who protested against the removal, regarding it as "a form of sexual discrimination". The Japanese media ran stories on how much BL was in public libraries, and emphasised that this sexual material had been loaned out to minors. Debate ensued on Mixi, a Japanese social networking site, and eventually the library returned its BL to the public collection. Mark McLelland suggests that BL may become "a major battlefront for proponents and detractors of 'gender free' policies in employment, education and elsewhere."[124]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ In careful Japanese enunciation, all three vowels are pronounced separately, for a three-mora word, [ja.o.i]. The English equivalent is YAH-oy.
  2. ^ Tanbi was used for stories written for and about the worship of beauty,[12] and romance between older men and beautiful youths[13] using particularly flowery language and unusual kanji.[12] Mori Mari in Koibito tachi no mori (恋人たちの森?, A Lovers' Forest), considered "the first work of BL per se",[14] used such unusual kanji for her characters' names that she converted to spelling their names in katakana.[13] The word was originally used to describe an author's distinctive style, for example, the styles of Yukio Mishima and Jun'ichirō Tanizaki. Akiko Mizoguchi describes its application to male-male stories as "misleading", but notes "it was the most commonly used term in the early 1990s."[15]
  3. ^ First serialised in Shōjo Comic in January 1976, Kaze has been called "the first commercially published boys' love story",[25] but this claim has been challenged, as the first male-male kiss was in the 1970 In the Sunroom, also by Keiko Takemiya.[26] Matt Thorn says that Kaze was "the first shōjo manga to portray romantic and sexual relationships between boys", and that Takemiya first thought of Kaze nine years before it was approved for publication. Takemiya attributes the gap between the idea and its publication to the sexual elements of the story.[8]
  4. ^ This character has been called an "Osoi uke" ("attacking uke"). He is usually paired with a "Hetare seme" ("wimpy seme").[38]

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Further reading