Chicks On Anime Girls Night Out
by B. Dong, C. Brienza, Nov 10th 2009
About the contributors:
Bamboo is the managing editor for ANN, and writes the column Shelf Life.
Casey is a graduate student currently pursuing her doctorate in sociology.
Our guest this week is Erica Friedman, founder and president of Yuricon. She's also published an extensive catalogue of yuri titles through ALC Publishing, and blogs about yuri on Okazu.
|Bamboo: To our readers who aren't familiar with your expansive resume, could you quickly introduce yourself, Erica?|
|Erica: Hello, my name is Erica Friedman. I'm the founder and President of Yuricon, an organization for fans of the yuri genre. I also function as the Publisher at ALC Publishing, the only all-yuri publisher in the world. I blog about yuri and related topics at Okazu. By day I'm a Social Media Specialist. I've been promoting yuri for almost 10 years now. In fact, Yuricon turns 10 years old next year.|
|Bamboo: Now, if I recall correctly, ALC was the first yuri publisher in the US, yes?|
|Erica: Yes. We're still the only publisher in the world that does only yuri. Other publishers do publish yuri titles, but we focus on it exclusively.|
|Casey: Would you tell us what you consider "yuri" to be?|
|Erica: Starting right in with the "easy" questions, I see. "Yuri" means a lot of things to a lot of people. Unlike BL, which is a reasonably homogeneous genre, for a reasonably homogeneous audience, yuri is different depending on your perspective. Because yuri appeals to different people for different reasons, and because it tends to be defined by the genre you find it in, than by an one set of specific qualities, I define yuri this way: "Yuri is any story that has a lesbian character or deals with lesbian themes." This is intentionally broad, so that it covers the cool, masculine girl in a shoujo series, the overt lesbian who acts like a pervy old guy in seinen and the actual lesbian in a lesbian story.|
|Bamboo: So rather than having a specific "yuri" genre, would it be more accurate to say that there are stories that have yuri elements in it?|
|Erica: Yes and no. Some stories use yuri as an element, such as "Mai Hime" Some are indubitably a yuri story, like Sasamekikoto.|
|Casey: Is how you understand yuri different from how it is understood in Japan?|
|Erica: Again, yes and no. It depends who you ask. For instance, there are some who see yuri as porn, full stop. But recently, there has been significant growth in yuri publications in Japan, and my definition is starting to become more common. Yuri Hime magazines are now joined by Tsubomi, Shoujo Yuri and Lily magazines, and many have both male and female writers, writing for both male and female readers. So it's more my definition than not.|
|Casey: What do you think has caused this shift toward your definition in Japan?|
|Erica: Lots of things. For one, in 2005, Yuricon held an event in Japan and the editors of Yuri Hime magazine came. They asked the audience what they wanted and went out and did that. BL/yaoi sales have flattened a bit, and yuri seems like a good Next Big Thing. Many of the artists drawing for the various yuri mags are women (some lesbian) who draw stories of lesbian life and love, as opposed to schoolgirl fantasy. These all conflated with other forces and lo and behold! Yuri.|
Bamboo: Hmm, that's interesting. Because although when I first learned of the term, I had been told it was straight-up lesbian porn—the counterpart to yaoi. But over the years, I've really seen it evolve to encapsulate more of a mindset. Let me try to explain what I mean by that. BL seems very cut and dry. There are two men who want to touch each other. Yuri seems to be very passionate. Almost a blend of the best kinds of sisterly love and love between friends. Strong female connections that go beyond definition.
Take a look at Simoun. It's classified as yuri, but the story itself is very fascinating. Everyone in the world is born as a female, though later in life, they are allowed to choose a gender. But even before they get to that point, they form very intense bonds with each other. Even in stories like Maria-sama, you have the underclassmen forming very tight, unbreakable bonds with their older senpai. It just seems very... passionate, if that at all makes sense. Perhaps you can call me out on it, if I'm incorrect.
Erica: You have to remember that BL/Yaoi is one thing. It's stories of same-sex male relationships for the express titillation of a female audience. Yuri is, like, 6 things. It's lesbian relationships for the express titillation of a male audience, or a lesbian audience, or stories about schoolgirl crushes, or intense relationships between female students (based on the "S” tradition) or a best friend who is in love with her best friend, or, sometimes, the story of two women who, just, love one another. But there's a space in Japanese culture - the word is akogare. It's this intense admiration on the edge of crushiness... sometimes right into full-blown crush or even a relationship. In that space, you can do a lot. Relationships in that space might even become physical, but they aren't thought of as a "real" relationship. It's just akogare. Everyone does it, it's immature. It's a phase.
Different genres have different ways of portraying this. For instance, Simoun is an action story - the girls aren't just friends, they are "nakama," teammates. "Nakama" always goes way beyond friendship. In Maria-sama ga Miteru, which draws strongly on the "S" tradition, the relationships are intense, romantic, and almost entirely platonic. In Sailor Moon, Haruka is a Takarazuka Top Star type of woman - masculine, cool, smart, sexy, but still a woman. In Mai Hime, (not to beat it to death, it's just a popular seinen series) Shizuru is cool, smart, popular...and kind of a perv, the way the viewer thinks he would be if he were a hot lipstick lesbian. So, because you're talking about different things, there's different kinds of intensity, if you will.
|Bamboo: Wait—I'm not entirely sure what an S tradition is. Could you explain that?|
|Erica: In the early part of the 20th century, there was a early feminist socio-political movement called "S." S might have stood for Sisters, among other things. It was the dawn of a new age, the westernization of Japan, women were breaking out of ancient gender roles. Literature for girls had its birth then. Much of what people take for granted in shoujo manga was created by one woman, Yoshiya Nobuko, who wrote a series, "Hana Monogatari," that was generation defining. We named our Yuri Monogatari after it, in fact. "S" is a tradition that fills Maria-sama ga Miteru and many other school girl stories.|
|Bamboo: Would you call yuri pro-feminist?|
|Erica: Depends who writes it. When it's passive-aggressive, or falls into really traditional uke x seme roles, then no, not at all. When it pushes past what I call "Story A" (girl likes girl, other girl likes girl, they like each other, the end) into recognizing what "a woman who loves a woman" means to a life, then yes, it can be.|
|Casey: You mentioned that yuri appeals to a very diverse audience here in the West. Can you talk about the sorts of people who like it?|
|Erica: Casey - They are, erm, mostly bipedal, with two-front-facing eyes and ears on the sides of their heads. The yuri audience here is split about evenly between genders, and I don't ask folks what their sexuality is, because that's exhausting. Seems to be a pretty mixed bunch.|
|Casey: Do you think gender maps to particular tastes in subgenre in any predictable way?|
|Erica: I don't, really. It's been shown over and over that girls watch "boy" series, and it's very obvious to me that guys do, in fact, watch "girls" series, conventional wisdom be damned. I read and watch series for boys, girls, men, women, kids. It's psychographics now, not demographics - which is why I think yuri magazines have a chance.|
|Bamboo: Judging from the titles you were mentioning earlier, it seems like a lot of those series have universal appeal—and many viewers may not even realize there are yuri elements in them.|
|Erica: I'm not sure yuri has universal appeal. Some people like it, some don't. I've seen comments on Crunchyroll on Aoi Hana (a very beautiful story about a young lesbian) with the stereotypical "Eww, yuri." But it's a popular fetish to add to a long list of other pandering things to help sell anime, so...|
|Bamboo: Sorry, you may have understood me. I didn't mean that all yuri had universal appeal. I meant that there were series with yuri elements in them that had universal appeal. Like Sailor Moon, which you were talking about earlier.|
|Erica: Sailor Moon was a phenomenon. It was a series for girls that showed sexy girls in short skirts for boys. It was atypical 18 years ago and it's still atypical now. Mai Hime...it's a pretty standard seinen riff on magical girls, focusing more on the sexy and the service and less on the girls. That's always going to appeal to the lowest common denominator.|
|Casey: So even if yuri doesn't have universal appeal, as a publisher, you do think there is a viable commercial market for it in the US?|
|Erica: Not yet. Not quite. Yuri is just taking off in Japan, and the US market (i.e. people who buy, as opposed to people who download) is teeny. Five years from now - I hope so.|
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