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APA's resident fangirl Kanara Ty dives further into the Yaoi culture and gives us a preview of September 26 to 28's Yaoi-Con 2008.
My first encounter with yaoi was at Anime Expo 2001: Long Beach, California. Exhibit Hall. Doujinshi section of a vendor's table.
It came in the form of a Final Fantasy VIII doujinshi, featuring the game's male protagonist and antagonist, Squall Leonhart and Seifer Almasy, positioned similarly to the cover image below:
At the time, I was a full-fledged Final Fantasy fangirl, but my sixteen year-old eyes had never seen two, very animated men, looking, well, very enamored with each other. In my mind, Faye Wong's "Eyes on Me" convinced me that Squall Leonheart was destined for FF8's female protagonist, Rinoa Heartilly, and to see such a striking image on the cover of a doujinshi challenged what I have fully supported with my beating fangirl heart. However, I couldn't help but wonder how I could sense much more sexual tension within two men on a fan-created comic than in the countless hours of game time of Final Fantasy 8 (four Playstaion discs!).
Fast forward to now, years past my sixteen-year old self and I'm about to jump into telling you, my readers, all about the magic that goes in and behind the Yaoi-Con – an event that's just slightly different the Anime/Manga conventions of the world. Between the research I've done for my last yaoi article and this convention, I had an alarming revelation: I've been missing a lot of interesting things these past couple of years.
Boys Love, if you didn't know, first came to the US by way of fandom, through the Aestheticism boys love fanzine. Later on, Tokyopop became the first to distribute the first BL manga Gravitation, and Ariztical Entertainment released Kizuna, the "first gay male Anime on DVD". Digital Manga Publishing became the first company to actually brand yaoi as a genre.
"A brief history lesson of yaoi in Japan is that yaoi started out originally as shounen-ai," says Digital Manga Publishing markeing/PR manager Rachel Livingston. "That translates to English as Boys Love. But in reality, these stores were shoujo manga. They were difficult to read, usually took place in a foreign land and were an idealistic view of prepubescent, beautiful boys and their relationships. As shounen-ai started to fade away, many artists started creating doujinshi based off the male characters of these manga with each other. As you can imagine, a commercial demand for it soon followed."
Little did I know, Yaoi-Con began the same year I first had my hands on that precious Final Fantasy 8 doujinshi, during September 2001, in the very fitting location of San Francisco. It was created by and for female fans: to celebrate (as they proudly proclaim on their website)"male beauty and passion in Anime and Manga." Yaoi-Con prides itself in creating a space for fans of the Boys Love genre to meet other fans and manga-ka of the genre.
Yaoi-Don press relations officer April Gutierrez explains further: "Nowdays, it's not uncommon to find multiple yaoi panels -- and even a video track -- at the larger conventions (and even at the smaller ones), but back when I first started going to anime conventions (around 1998) there was nothing. You might be lucky to find a few well-pawed doujinshi on a back table in the Dealers' Room. While yaoi fangirls are teeming at today's conventions, back then, I wouldn't have known where to find other fans at any con, and I'm sure others felt the same way."
Like most anime conventions, Yaoi-Con also boasts numerous events, such as an Anime Music Video contest, cosplay masquerade, Bishonen Bingo, along with workshops and panels, all which, of course, have a BL/yaoi focus. Attendees also have the chance to check out the Dealers' Room, where BL/yaoi merchandise is much more readily available than you would find in anime conventions -- not just because it is a Yaoi-Convention, but because of the 18+ age restriction on attendees. Distributors and publishers also make a presence at the convention and often make industry announcements about the latest BL/yaoi releases. Livingston says that yaoi is a chance for her company to meet their readers and to be able to receive feedback by talking with them. At larger conventions, there aren't many opportunities to build closer ties with your customers.
So, are you searching for the bishonen of your dreams? Attendees at Yaoi-Con are able to do that through the Bishonen Auction, which I find to be Yaoi-Con's biggest highlight (and also, quite a clever idea). After gazing upon numerous reports (with quite the collection of vivid images) of last year's successful auction, I momentarily went into shock. For the sake of surprise, I won't give any full report of what I discovered, but one thing you should know is that the auction is the convention's fundraising event, proceeds to towards funding future Yaoi-Cons.
The hard earned cash of fangirls (and fanboys) goes a long way, that's for sure. Last year, a couple bishonens even went for $1000 a piece! It's like Ouran High School Host Club, but with a dash of Chippendales thrown in. (Bless my soul, because my eyes will never be the same again.) This year, Guiterrez notes that that there will be a fairy-tale theme for the Bishonen Auction. I can only imagine what interesting costumes and skits the Bishonens will come up with this year to fit in with the theme.
With Yaoi-Con being America's most well-known BL/Yaoi-Convention (and quite possibly, one of only two, with Yaoi Jamboree being the other), it has boasted some high-profile yaoi manga-ka to come in past years -- such as Nitta Youka, Kodaka Kazuma, Yamane Ayano, and Oki Mamiya. This year, the Guest of Honor will be Nase Yamano, BL manga-ka of recent titles such as, Benriya-san and the Chintsubu series. Yamano's visit will also be her first. Joining Yamano are a few industry guests: Yamila Abraham (author of Dark Prince and Winter Demon series), Lynn Flewelling (author of Nightrunner series), Yayoi Neko (Manga-ka and Media Blasters/Kitty Media Industry Guest), Wendy Pini (Elfquest series) and M.A Sambre (Illustrator of Dark Prince series).
A good number of non-official events also take place at Yaoi-Con, and they are just as intriguing as the ones that are offered at the convention. There are many opportunities for cosplay gatherings and photoshoots, as well as anything that's spur of the moment (that is of course, perhaps to garner some attention). While thumbing through various Yaoi-Con videos on YouTube, I came across a video of a Naruto themed wedding: two young women, dressed up as Naruto and Sasuke (with a bit of that yaoi flair), married each other in a ceremony outdoors during the convention. While the wedding was not legally recognized at the time, it sure takes a lot of balls to have a same-sex marriage ceremony performed AND dress up in cosplay at the same time.
For someone who's not active in the BL/yaoi fandom, it's easy to get caught up in the stereotypes that are often associated with the genre. Thinking back to my first encounter with yaoi through the Final Fantasy 8 doujinshi, I'm sure other fans of the general anime/manga were immediately either intrigued or turned off. It's not common for people to formulate their own opinions about something without fully understanding it may be about.
With the doujinshi, I just assumed the two characters were gay. Not that there was anything wrong with that, but it was easy for me to generalize that yaoi = gay guys in sexually explicit anime/manga.
"The thing is, the characters in yaoi aren't ‘gay,'" Livingston explains. "Yaoi is a fantasy created by women, mainly for women that is an idealized view of the perfect romance. They don't deal with gay issues -- coming out of the closet, discrimination -– and they don't identify themselves as gay. And while a few yaoi stories exist with true homosexual characters, the majority of them aren't interested in guys beyond the object of their affection. So they are more like straight men who happen to fall in love with a guy.
She continues: "When you explain to people what yaoi is, the conversation gets stuck along of the lines of ‘So... it is about gay men who aren't gay... and women read this?' I think most people are too confused by it to really form an opinion. It is one of those things that you understand and enjoy or just don't get."
Another source of confusion stems from the fact that Yaoi-Con, is well, called Yaoi-Con. While "yaoi" is the western replacement for the BL term (Boys Love), "yaoi" in Japan is technically limited to the more-explicit examples within the greater BL genre. So does Yaoi-Con properly emcompass the convention's more broad focus? Gutierrez believes fans who attend Yaoi-Con are still able to differentiate between the two terms. As for newbies, there is also a more explicit explanation of the terms on the convention website as well.
The word yaoi is derived from the first syllables of each word in the expression, "yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi," which means "no peak, no point, no meaning," and originally referred to badly drawn self-published fan comics (doujinshi). Later, it came to be used for doujinshi with sexual pairings between two males. In Japan today, it is mainly used to point to the sex scenes of a manga or to doujinshi with male/male content. In the West, yaoi has become a catchall term to indicate any story that includes a male/male relationship and is linked to Japan, be it commercial manga, anime, games, game-based slash fiction, English-language fan fiction, fan art, etc.
Boy's Love (BL) is the usual term used by the Japanese publishing industry to categorize commercial works focusing on male/male relationships marketed at women. These now include not only manga but novels, CDs, games, and anime.
However, I still wonder about those who do not get into the fandom at all and may not be quick to understand the correct usage of the two terms. All in all, I still do think that the existence of Yaoi-Con plays an important part in promoting the BL genre in North America, regardless of the correct usage of terminology.
Livingston says that Digital Manga Publishing uses shounen-ai to describe the tamer BL titles, but yaoi is used for the more sexually explicit. DMP chooses to use yaoi as a blanket term to cover all the manga written by women for women involving relationships between two men. She also mentions that there are also a few male yaoi readers. Gay and lesbian manga also exist in Japan that is considered an entirely different genre.
While I won't be able to attend the convention this year, I think that the experience trying to figure out the magic behind Yaoi-Con was really about breaking down the stereotypes I already had of the genre and the convention. It's really interesting to see what kind of dynamics goes in within the community of fans. Prior to this, I've only seen the BL exist through fanfiction. Seeing the fandom emerge into real life, watching videos or seeing it in person, is a lot different than analyzing how it appears on the internet. It's fun, but yet at the same time, people are seriously committed to this hobby. It's refreshing to see fans quite engaged within all aspects, whether it's the internet or through industry members.
So even though the Final Fantasy 8 doujinshi featuring Squall and Seifer probably wasn't probably all about gay sex anyway, since then, I've become a firm supporter of the SquallxSeifer courtship. It only took one cover to express the sexual tension between the two. Amen to yaoi!
Date Posted: 9/19/2008