Chicks On Anime
Yaoi - Page 2

by B. Dong, C. Brienza, R. Sevakis, Nov 18th 2008

Casey: I think because in her mind, the heterosexual relationship of, say, those people over there, will never be ideal. Because in her life, she believes she knows that a relationship with a man as a woman will never be a completely ideal relationship. Because you have personal experience.
Robin: So are they just idealizing the sexual relationship as a fantasy? Because it's not like real gay couples don't have a lot of problems in their relationships.
Casey: I know, right? *laughs* It's obviously not, in most cases. I have to say “in most cases,” because I'd say in the past, probably starting around 2000 in the boys' love genre, I've really seen kind of a steady change in the ways the stories are constructed. And there is a lot more sensitivity. And, as gay rights become more visible in the US and also in Japan, you see a lot of these female writers who are much more sensitive to the gay community. And the characters are actually gay. And they exist as gay characters in the gay community.

It's not a boys' love manga specifically, but Antique Bakery, for example, has a character named Ono, who is absolutely a gay character. And he goes through these kind of childhood traumas about it. He confesses to a classmate and the classmate basically tells him off, and says it's disgusting. I think he was considering suicide and then he decided, “Oh, what the hell. We'll go to a gay bar and get laid and then commit suicide.” And so the character goes to a gay bar, but instead of going through with killing himself, he becomes a member of the gay community as a teenager. This author was a yaoi author before she went pro. She did Slam Dunk yaoi. I don't remember the pairings, sorry. And then she went to original boys' love, and her boys' love was very similar, in many ways, with characters and action and being gay and the struggles of their families rejecting them. There were questions of whether to come out to their families and so forth. I really do see a lot more of those things and whether they are done well is the question. Yoshinaga Fumi and Yamada Yugi do this very well, and there are some other authors who aren't quite as good at telling stories who don't do it as well. But you definitely see a lot more where the characters are willing to say they are gay.

Bamboo:I've read some manga in the past where you would have one gay character see a younger character and practically force himself on him. And through that process, the young male character realizes, “Okay, I actually like this.” That's not much different than rape porn, in which someone gets raped and the woman ends up liking it. If it's supposed to represent the ideal relationship, I don't really think there should be any force, which is why I'm so confused by yaoi pairings sometimes. When you have a straight character and you slash them together, it's like saying, “Well, I have feeling for you. I'm going to force myself on you whether you like it or not.”
Casey: Have you ever read lesser romance novels?
Bamboo:Like grocery store novels? Or actual Victorian romance?
Casey: Grocery store novels.
Bamboo:No.
Casey: Because you'll find in those novels what you are talking about where a man will force himself. He has a forceful personality that won't take no for an answer. That is the same kind of character that you see in grocery store novels.
Robin: That's true. I think there is a segment of the female fanbase that actually likes that kind of sexual fantasy, where there is some force. It's certainly not for everyone, but you're right. It is in those cheesy novels. A friend of mine and I found some of those. I think they were her mom's or something. We started reading them at a party and we were kind of disturbed what was in there. Basically, there was this scene with this guy who kind of seemed like he was forcing himself on this woman and she was just like, “No, you're a beast; stop!” But she wasn't doing anything. And we were thinking, “Why is she not doing anything?” Yeah, I guess she doesn't want him to stop.
Casey: I can't say that is a personal fantasy of mine, but I do know it's not unique to yaoi. Certainly not.
Robin: I think one thing with yaoi and BL is, I guess it sort of goes hand in hand, because as you said, part of the enjoyment of the community is sort of knowing it is sort of taboo, or sort of a little sexually deviant in some ways. But there is such a huge emphasis on the sex, like it's somehow the most important thing, and I think that personally turns me off of it. There have been BL stories that I have liked. I really like FAKE. FAKE is a hilarious manga. It has really good characters, good character development; it was just a good story and to spoil it, in the last book, the two characters finally get together and bang each other in the one shrink-wrapped book in the whole series. I found it really disappointing and tacky, but for everyone else that was reading it, that was what they were really looking forward to at the ending. I really could care less about that part, so maybe it's because I'm not part of that community, but it felt kind of weird that the most important part of the relationship between these two characters was for them to finally bang each other. I guess that's them consummating and them admitting they love each other, but to me it just seemed tacky.
Casey: It's funny, because I remember I was reading this study a few years ago where someone was hooking up electrodes to the genitals of volunteers and having them watch stuff to see what they were sexually aroused by. They said that heterosexual women were the only kind of group of people that they tested that were aroused by everything. They said heterosexual men were only aroused by women, and homosexual men were only around by men. Lesbians were only aroused by other women, but the heterosexual women even got off on bonobos doing it.

It's funny because I do think a lot of boys' love is porn, and is used as porn. One of the things I've heard, and I don't know if this is true since it's something that someone told me, is that for women who like porn in Japan, the only thing you can read is boys' love, because if you read anything else, you get passes from guys. So you sit there on the train and you're reading your boys' love comic. Someone looks over your shoulder and they're doing it. If it's a guy looking over your shoulder and you're the cute girl, they'd back away slowly and leave you alone. But imagine if you were reading like, Legend of the Overfiend or something. The guy would be all over you.

Bamboo:Going back to what you said about FAKE, about how the climax of the story is them banging each other. It's so different from regular straight romance stories in which usually the sex occurs in the middle with the end goal of marriage.
Robin: Right.
Bamboo:And I guess it's just interesting to compare the two where you have an end goal of two characters hooking up versus an end goal of people getting married. You never, ever see a heterosexual romance story in which the end goal is them having sex.
Robin: Yeah, unless it's a game.
Casey: Yeah, I don't think FAKE is a very good example of the genre because it's somewhat unusual. It's a very early example of modern boys' love. And the genre as it is today is very different. And what you see more often is more along the lines of, they get together, they meet, they do it, and then they live happily ever after. Of course they can't get married because gay guys don't get married in Japan, but there is this sense that beyond the sex, they are now together forever and they walk off into the sunset happily ever after, and we'll know they'll be together till the end of time. And now a happy ending is almost obligatory.
Bamboo:That's the case with heterosexual love stories, too. You rarely see films where they break up and they stay broken up, except maybe The Break-Up. Unless they break up with their current lover to get together with someone else.
Casey: I mean, there was a point. Boys' love is probably the newest genre term, but there were also older genre terms like “tanbi” and “june”; you see DMP using “Juné.” It was originally magazines. There was a point in the 80s where suicide stories were very common and they would end with suicide. It's not that way anymore. I can't remember the last time I saw a suicide story.
Bamboo:Well, back in the day, they made straight suicide stories, too. They were very popular.
Casey: Right, but it is as formulaic as a grocery store novel. Like, it was a suicide that ended every story. Now it's the happily ever after at the end. I guess we can say that's progress.

You know, it used to be that those stories where characters live happily ever after in this very unorthodox relationship… before, they had a love that would last forever, but it was not of this world. Now it is absolutely of this world. At least in the world of the story. And like I said, I see way more and more that the character is very nuanced in his portrayal and is supposed to address issues of identity and family and the prejudice explanation in the course of the story so.

Robin: What I think is interesting is that there are a lot of haters of yaoi. I think people just have a problem with the obnoxious fangirl.
Bamboo:It's totally the fangirl they hate. Those fangirls are just too much.
Robin: But there are people who are freaked out by the material. They tremendously don't understand it and I think one of the interesting aspects of it is how it does sexually objectify them as characters in a way we are really not used to here in the West. Or even if it's a piece of artwork, you know, a nude or shirtless guy is so different and unusual. That is just interesting to me.
Casey: What about Michael Jackson. You don't think so?
Robin: He is like an alien.
Bamboo:He's androgynous. People really don't think about him.
Casey: Well, I was thinking in the old days, in the 70s and 80s, he was very much a symbol. David Bowie too.
Robin: But it's not that way in anime. You may have a shirtless poster of these guys, but you wouldn't see them reclining and displaying themselves like in the traditional art of women.
Bamboo:I think that there is something awkward about nude men, probably because we don't see it in society as much. Like if you see a poster of like a naked woman with petals all over her body, you think, “Oh, alright, that's a nice image.” You see a nude guy reclining with a sock on his penis, you would find it disgusting right? It's just so awkward.
Robin: This one time, I don't remember what I was looking at. Maybe it was in a gay magazine or something, or maybe it was a calendar. I don't remember where I saw the picture, but it was like this sort of reclining-on-the-beach swimsuit picture, and it was this pose that you would normally see in a swimsuit calendar for women. I just looked at it and it just struck me in a different way, because I was like, why is this weird? Because you would have a girl do this pose and it'd be totally normal. You wouldn't even think twice about it, but just having a guy in this sort of mass kind of display of visual sexuality… I feel it's just kind of a bit foreign, or different, or just not the norm here, and I think a lot of older adults would think, “That's weird, what the hell is that?”
Casey: I do have to say… you know when you talk about fangirls that run after gay guys in an inappropriate way?
Bamboo:Yeah.
Casey: I will say that I think that the endgame of it is does promote more tolerance. I really do. I mean, I think that's the way it's gone.
Bamboo:See, I don't agree. Because to me, running after gay guys and telling them to make out is similar to a guy with like an Asian fetish running after someone saying, “Please dress up in this geisha outfit.” I guess that promotes equality and less racism, but at the same time, you are fetishizing them.
Casey: But I don't think there is a norm. Like I said, there is bad behavior in every imaginable group. I'm sure you've seen examples of bad behavior that doesn't come from yaoi fangirls. But I do think the endgame of it all is tolerance, just because…
Robin: It exposes you to those relationships.
Casey: Yeah. To the possibility of those relationships, while some people might not even thought it was possible. And like I said, it does seem like in Japan that there is a push towards a greater consciousness of the larger world. Even if it just fantasy, it gets to the point where certain things are just impossible in the setting. If it's a real life setting, your awareness of the world around you is greater and there are just certain things that don't fly anymore because it's too flatly unbelievable. And that flatly unbelievable has shifted more towards reality.

Transcribed by Keith LaPointe

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