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What is a Fujoshi?

by Lauren Orsini,

Years ago, if an anime had an overwhelmingly male cast, you might say the intended audience was obvious; clearly, this was a show for male fans. However, recent years have seen a gradual rewrite of that old expectation. Enter the fujoshi, with her bottomless enthusiasm for "shipping" and discretionary income to match.

Fujoshi is a self-mocking term that literally means "rotten girl" and refers to female anime fans who are nuts not only for attractive male characters, but for imagining them in relationships with one another. (Fudanshi is the less-utilized male counterpart.) Its definition is a pejorative reference to the fujoshi's dirty mind; she knows the narrative of her favorite shows isn't explicitly gay, but that doesn't keep her from imagining it that way, "rotten" though it may be to some.

So why are fujoshi so interested in homoerotic relationships between male characters? You'd imagine that fujoshi would be more likely to appreciate a fictional relationship between a male and female character in order to self-insert as the woman, but that's where you'd be wrong. According to fujoshi, the idea of viewing a relationship between two attractive men from afar is the whole point. “When it's just boys, the reader engages in the story from the third person,” Hana, a Tokyo fujoshi, told the Daily Beast about her hobby.

Fujoshi fantasies had found their space in fan art and fanfiction for years before there was much change in the market itself, but anime producers eventually became more than happy to cater to fujoshi. There are two reasons for this gradual change—the Odagiri effect, and female fans' increased spending power.

What is the Odagiri effect? Well, in the year 2000, Japan saw the rise of a popular kid's show called Kamen Rider Kuuga that starred actor Joe Odagiri as the titular Masked Rider Yusuke Godai. Although the show was for kids, Odagiri was so handsome that moms began to tune in as well, and the show amassed an unexpected secondary main audience of housewives! A show with two audiences is better than one, and from there it became economically wise to air shows—both live action and animated—that starred increasingly attractive men.

There's also the relatively recent discovery that female otaku are rolling in dough. “Out of the otaku population, female otaku have the most spending power, which is one of the reasons why you see an increase of boy's love publications and anime featuring good looking guys,” prominent Japanese pop culture blogger Danny Choo told CNN. According to Japanese blogger MoePre, women with cash turned the Shounen Jump selection model on its head in the past decade, as catering to women went from occasional to indispensable for the magazine's titles. Prince of Tennis may have been targeted at little kids, launching a generation of tennis fans, but it's adult women who spent serious cash selling out the musical stage plays and collecting merchandise.

Right now, there are two major genres that fujoshi flock to most:

Sports Anime

Who watches sports anime? Given the genre's focus on high school male athletes and the primary origin of these stories as manga running in Shounen Jump, it makes sense to say "boys."

But anyone following sports anime fandom knows that's not the whole truth anymore. In recent years, sports anime has taken on an enormous secondary audience of women (and to a lesser extent gay men) who are attracted to each show's athletic cast of characters.

The result is that male characters in sports manga and anime have gotten hotter, but there still aren't many female characters represented (due partially to the lack of mixed-gender sports teams in reality or fiction). This has turned sports anime into the ideal environment for fans to dream up romantic relationships between these male characters in their isolated fantasy worlds of muscle and sweat.

Short of Yuri!!! on Ice, gay representation in sports anime is extremely rare, but sports shows in particular don't make it difficult for fans to awaken their inner fujoshi or fudanshi. The narrative of athletic stories, which posit characters as devoted best friends or fiery rivals, provide powerful emotional potential. Mix in the blood, sweat, and tears of high stakes hard work, and you've got dramatic grounds for romance.

Idol Anime

There was a time when idol shows might feature a female idol with plenty of handsome male idols around, so she can eventually choose one as her lucky beau. But unlike boys' sports shows, which have always been predominantly male, idol shows for girls have just been piling on more bishounen. From STARMYU to Uta no Prince Sama, the focus is no longer on one of the scarce female characters finding love—it's on how the boys interact with one another.

The double-fanservice of 2016's B-PROJECT is especially telling: it features a female manager who thrives at her job by helping her male idol groups resolve conflict and develop deeper friendships with each other. It's especially telling that B-PROJECT was dreamed up by the team behind UtaPri, because that franchise has undergone a change reflective of these overall trends across its four seasons. While the first couple seasons emphasized a one-on-one focus between the leading lady and her potential idol boyfriends, recent seasons have switched to an ensemble focus on the boys' relationships with one another instead.

There's also the very idea of performance that's so intrinsic to idol shows. When male idols put on elaborate costumes, and sing on stage, they're transforming themselves into their most desirable forms for the benefit of an unseen female audience. The heated conflicts and rivalries between starlets in show business can also play to the same fantasies that sports rivalries do. In this way, idol shows for fujoshi have started looking more like the inverse opposites of idol shows for male anime fans. More and more, idol shows targeted at men now feature a completely female cast (Love Live! especially seems to exist in a world without men entirely), all the better to emphasize the female characters' relationships and moe appeal. For both audiences, the goal is to ensure that everyone who appears on screen can be a potential object of desire, whether that's a romantic yearning for that character, a yearning for that character to romantically desire their friends, or any number of feelings in between!

Wrapping up, what do all of these examples have in common, aside from cute boys and a dearth of female characters? Relationships between male characters that break the mold. Romance relies on characters fixations on one another, and in the high-intensity fields of sports and show business where every pass, every stare-down, every competition is a life-or-death situation, the intense friendships and rivalries that sports characters develop can often feel like something more.

Is any of this emotional stuff intentional, designed to get fujoshi wheels turning? Not as much as you'd think. In a world where the two default types of relationships open to men are sexual and violent, any show full of diverse male characters with a range of male relationships and types of intimacy can double as fujoshi fanservice. So it doesn't take publishers much extra work to make those characters a little more handsome or add a little extra closeness between them, now that they know their highest paying audience will appreciate the effort. While these two genres are the most popular right now, anime doesn't have to fall into any particular genre to attract fujoshi fans—sometimes, having at least two male characters who interact in just the right way can suffice.

What are your favorite fujoshi-geared anime (or pairings in them)? Let us know how you feel about all this heated man-on-man action in the forums!

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