Subscribe to the APA Newsletter
Kanara Ty wonders what Yaoi is all about -- and gets more than she bargained for.
How's this for a dream man, ladies?
He's a successful salary man at the top of his game, full of intelligence and willpower. In addition, this Casanova is tall, dark, and handsome -- with chiseled features and a strong build that rivals Roman gods. His charm and wit has people groveling at his feet, worshipping the very ground he walks on.
You think he's the walking epitome of perfection except for when you realize one little detail...
...he likes prepubescent boys with faces much, much more feminine than yours.
Sounds like a nightmare in real life, but fortunately my dear readers -- I welcome you to world of Yaoi, a genre with beginnings in Japan and which has seemed to gain a following of fans worldwide. [Cue loud roar of screaming fangirls.] While I'm familiar with some Yaoi work, only in doing so research do I realize how complex this world is.
So how did the term come about? "Yaoi" is an acronym for YAma nashi, Ochi nashi and Imi nashi ("no climax, no point, no meaning"), implying that there's less focus on the storyline and more so on the characters. As some of you may know, Yaoi originated in Japan, beginning with the publication "June" (1978), which focused on the more "aesthetically pleasing" parts of these works.
"Yaoi", however, isn't the proper term to use, but rather "Boys' Love." California Lutheran University Professor of Communication Dru Pagliassotti argues that the term "Yaoi" has become such a popular term in Western culture to actually describe the actual genre's name "Boys' Love". Yaoi, in fact, is considered to be more a subset within the Boy's Love genre, as it seems to encompass more of the sexually explicit material found in various mediums -- manga, comics, artwork, etc. Pagliasscotti proposes a more broad definition to describe the genre: "a narrative about the romantic or erotic relationship between two or more male characters that has been created with the intention of appealing to a female audience." Such a definition breaks down the stereotype often associated with this genre -- that Boys' Love is just about sexually-explicit same-sex encounters. A similar case can be made for "Yuri," which is often interchanged with "Girls' Love."
Boys' Love in North America has definitely become widely accepted within the anime and manga community, beginning in 1996 as a web community opened up called Aestheticism, based on a web zine. 2002 saw the release of America's "first gay male Anime on DVD," Kizuna, which includes the story of two male high school lovers torn between the son of a Yakuza boss. Even conventions such as Yaoi-Con (based in Northern California) and Yaoi North (as an extension to Anime North) have emerged. The popularity is definitely picking up speed, as the number of BL fans have increased steadily over the years. American anime publishing companies like Tokyopop and Digital Manga Publishing have also worked on distributing titles from Japan. As of 2006, 130 works have been translated and distributed. This is, of course, not including the work of fansubbers who have translated some of these works and informally distributed them on the web. American BL has also emerged. However, rather than "American BL," it's referred to as GloBL (Global Boys' Love).
There's also fan fiction to consider in all of this. In both anime and manga (along with non-anime and manga), there's a huge following in all shapes and sizes. For instance, doujinshi (self-published comics) seems to have spawned from the genre of Boys' Love. While doujinshi began as amateurs publishing original work, the content today now also includes parodies of series -- where characters are re-imagined in different situations and relationships. For example, it isn't hard to find doujinshi featuring the lead male characters of the manga/anime Bleach engaging in sexually explicit encounters. This slash fiction also extends to real life personalities: Asian male idols are often the leading characters of fangirls' stories, with a lot of the material being based on the idol's actual persona.
Today it's more than just fangirls who are fascinated by Boys' Love; academics have taken notice too. As mentioned earlier, Dru Pagliasscotti is one of numerous scholars in the world who continue to contribute to Boys' Love and Yaoi in academia. Pagliasscotti, as well as fellow researcher Mark McHarry and Professor Antonia Levi, serve as editors for an upcoming anthology, Girls Doing Boys Doing Boys: Japanese Boys' Love Anime and Manga in a Globalized World, which looks at the representations of Boys' Love in different media, while also addressing controversial and legal issues and fandoms. While writing this article, I was pretty amazed at the amount of research being done on the genre. But hey, Boys' Love is some serious stuff, I'll admit.
While I believe the world of Boys' Love has given Asians and homosexuality in the media a bit of more depth, I believe the stronger meaning of having such a genre is that it forces fans to rethink their conceptions of sexual boundaries. Some of the homosexual characters that authors and manga-ka develop and illustrate have developed a strong sense of tolerance in young people. Perhaps the times have changed, but I have a strong sense that since fans of anime and manga are becoming younger and younger, they also become more exposed to the different genres found in these various medium -- including Boys' Love. While for some, there may be an initial shock, eventually, readers and watchers of all ages become more enamored with the stories between the two men or women. And since there is no shortage of widely available Boys' Love material, there is potential for greater tolerance coming out of the anime and manga -- especially compared to cinema and television dramas, which tend to be more conservative in their representation of homosexuality.
Of course, there are a lot of issues that surround the world of BL: it's not hard for one to stay quiet, when there are comics featuring older men with young boys in explicit sexually compromising positions. While North American comic books have age restrictions, depending on the content of the story, the internet provides easy access to fan-translated anime or manga. Although it's animated, it can still be a question of child-pornography because younger characters are involved. In addition, characters in BL are disproportionately successful older men. In May 1992, gay activist Masako Sato attacked BL fans in a published letter in a zine, accusing producers for promoting images of gorgeous and successful gay men that make gay men in real life seem quite inferior. However, BL fans retaliated by writing that BL characters are not supposed to represent real men.
With 18.5 million hits for "Yaoi" on the internet alone as of last month, it's no mistake that the popularity is on the rise, worldwide. It's pleasant to hear how this fandom has connected people all over the world. This is how the "Yaoi Fangirls" are born: these men were created to show a beautiful, blossoming relationship between two individuals from opposite ends of the world. Watching two people fall in love is just something quite fascinating to girls and women of all ages. Okay...and it also helps that the guys are just really, really hot too.
Date Posted: 8/8/2008