Wherein the why of the tomboy lesbian exorcist is considered.
Anime: Hanamonogatari – SURUGA DEVIL
Orig LN vol 9 of the series
Nisio Isin/ Studio SHAFT
(Warning: Monogatari series spoilers ensue.)
“Then say, as his divine embrace
Destroys the mortal parts of you:
I too am of that royal race
Who do what we are born to do.”
— Tiger, A.D.Hope
Nisio Ishin’s (and Studio SHAFT’s) Hanamonogatari does a better job of dropping a somewhat lesbian protagonist into a story beyond a simple “redo story with a female character” approach. In retrospect, it is one of the better segments in the entire Monogatari project. The title conceit is of course the height of cheek: the entire Class-S genre was invented by an author with a similarly titled series of stories back in the 1920’s [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nobuko_Yoshiya]. You might as well pop a 50 foot high flashing neon sign above the anime with the word YURI on it. Certainly the opening credits do not lack for lilies. I have touched on it previously but a re-watch and a noteworthy essay on the franchise [https://wavemotioncannon.com/2016/02/25/monogatari-the-sexuality-is-the-narative/] prompts a revisit and a more considered appreciation.
I like it a lot, It is very good. It could almost stand alone without the help of the background of the Bake/ Monogatari story-verse, although knowing some of the franchise lore ads layers to the tale. It retains many of the quirky visual conceits of the Studio Shaft Monogatari exercise, as well as their penchant for sexulaizing the narrative but for Hanamonogatari these impulses are toned down and/ or far better harnessed to the over-all coherence of the story.
Chronologically, it is one of the later, if not the last of the stories that affect the town and the friends and family clustered around Koyomi Araragi and his brush with his town’s supernatural imbalance. Araragi-sempai makes a cameo appearance but is most important to the tale as an absence. The story belongs to the athletic, somewhat supernaturally cursed, somewhat lesbian identified, somewhat fujoshi Suruga Kanbaru. In many ways, she is a far better protagonist than Araragi.
Nishio Ishin is still cranking out light novels for this series. I hope to see more of her.
Cue the (slightly reworked) stock teaser:
“One morning, Suruga Kanbaru meets the troublesome Ougi Oshino, who calls himself a nephew of the exorcist Meme Oshino. He tells Suruga about a rumor of “the Lord Devil” that grants any wish. Suruga is worried that she might be the Lord Devil in a fugue state because she made a wish on a cursed monkey paw. The item was left behind by her mother and turned Suruga into a Simian-ish monster that acted on her jealousy and tried to kill Koyomi Araragi. To make sure her dormant curse has not re-awoken Suruga arranges to meet the Lord Devil but the one who greets her is unexpected – Rouka Numachi, her old basketball arch-rival.”
Within the larger Monogatari-verse, a recap of sorts will help to better position Suruga Kanbaru. A large part of the Monogatari-verse hinges on the suppressed love triangle (original application) between Koyomi Araragi, Hitagi Senjougahara and Tsubasa Hanekawa. Despite Hanekawa-san’s earlier help when he was turned into a vampire, Araragi-kun helps Senjougahara-san and she claims him as hers. Hanekawa-san may or may not remember all the details of her initial brush with the supernatural. We will get a better appreciation of the fine details after the last two instalments of Kizumonogatari hit the screens. No matter. Hanekawa’s stress over losing Araragi plus her miserable family/ not-family situation were enough to set lose at least two violent supernatural manifestations.
Araragi-kun just seems to attract supernaturally troubled young women, or perhaps trouble is drawn to his shadow-inhabiting ruined vampire, Kaii (oddity, abnormality, aberration), Kaii-devouring, adopted contractee Shinobu Oshino (Aka: the iron-blooded, hot-blooded, cold-blooded 598 year and some 10 month old Kiss-Shot-Acerola-Orion-Heart-Under-Blade) who now appears as a sometimes sullen, always haughty 8-year-old girl who needs an occasional drink of blood and donut offerings from her “master”). If one really cares to delve deep into Monogatari-verse lore, the problem lies with the deity-bereft Kitashirahebi (Northern White Snake) Shrine. It is a supernatural gravity well and all manner of weirdness is going to pop up around town until it is properly dealt with – but that’s another story.
Senjougahara is in the center of her own secondary love triangle: she was a highly regarded junior high school athlete before she lost her mass to a crab-god. Her only peer was Suruga Kanbaru, the one-year-younger girls’ basketball ace who also had a strong but never acted upon crush on her. Suruga had even gone as far as begging for cram-school lessons so that she could follow Senjougahara to a prestigious private high school, (per LN) only to lose her to an idiot boy with a dodgy reputation. Once again Suruga wished on the cursed monkey paw but this time she learned how it worked.
Rather than just conjuring up horribly bad resolutions to one’s wishes, the damn thing takes over one’s body and beats the living shit out of anyone in the way. Use it two too many times and you are stuck with a homicidal super-powered simian appendage that can sleep-walk you into murderous rampages. Araragi-kun was set to handle the situation by getting swatted around by an enraged super-powered young woman, until Senjougahara intervened and defused Suruga’s jealousy by denying Suruga’s love and then trivialising it by offering her a Class-S “petit-soeur” relationship. Kill my boyfriend and I will hate you and do everything I can to kill you… Or you can take the consolation prize and I will dote over you a bit.
That was rough on Suruga’s feelings and desires but it was enough to use her heartstrings to bind up the jealous demon. Senjougahara is a lot more confident and adventurous now that she has been cured of her affliction.
Suruga ends up as a third wheel to the couple. Unlike Shiki from 14-sai, no nurse bandaged up her arm, she did it for herself. What’s all the arm-bandaging for young lesbians who are thwarted in their first loves? We might have the beginnings of a trope here!
Suruga eventually takes on the role of a quasi-male-friend/ ex-rival and sometimes kouhai to Araragi-kun (who doesn’t seem to have any male friends), though she is not above flirting with and harassing him (fall for it and you lose big time buddy-boy!) or threatening to seduce one or both of his sisters. On the other hand, Senjougahara has warned Araragi that while he may spend too much time helping out young women while neglecting his girlfriend, if he ever, ever falls in love with one of them and out of love with her, she will be forced to kill the interloper, herself and probably take Suruga with her as an honor-guard into the next life. I will use my kouhai as I please.
I mention this only in contrast to more conventional approaches to the problems of love triangles. Add Suruga’s addiction to BL novels to her tomboy presentation and she fills the role of page-boy to her supernatural warrior upper-classmates.
Suruga has experienced the occult weirdness afflicting the town and knows of Shinobu. Senjougahara’s appreciation of her boyfriend’s “shadow” is sketchy. Suruga might even know of and have met Hachikuji Mayoi the wandering ghost. Suruga’s deceased mother was Tooe Gaen, sister of the fearsome Izuko Gaen and was esteemed to be an even more formidable exorcist; the memories of her mother’s harsh attitude towards her haunt her to this day. The cursed monkey paw was a dangerous gift/ legacy from her mother. Her paternal grandparents who took her in are extremely wealthy, retired and somewhat distant form her – or her from them, even as she lives in their luxurious old-style Japanese estate.
As Hanamonogatari begins, she is still afflicted by the monkey-devil possessed hairy arm which she keeps bandaged up. At night she packing-tapes it to a post hoping that this will be enough to keep her from going on any sleepwalking rampages (or at least indicate if she has – per LN). She has quit high-school sports for fear that using her supernatural strength and the chance that a competitive wish might trigger the monkey arm demon once more. The exorcist Meme Oshino has assured her that if she does not wish on it for the next few years, it should leave her by the time she reaches adulthood. She works off her troubles by running each day, sometimes to exhaustion.
On the first day of her third year of high school Suruga is worried that her arm has gotten up to mischief again, possibly because she is feeling despondent, missing Senjougahara and even Araragi who have both gone off to University. What she does not expect or need is to be dogged on her way to school by Ougi Oshino, who for some reason now appears before her as a boy.
Ougi is a recurring focus of trouble throughout the entire monogatari-verse. She, now he is somehow associated with the exorcists, though his/her kinship to Meme Oshino is suspect. Ougi is bad news; a stand-in for notions of justice, propriety and a curious idea of order which those with a psychological-literary bent would call out as a stand-in for a fear of death. Certainly Ougi looks the part. His/her face looks like the mask of Darker than Black‘s Hei, minus the lightening bolt mark. Ougi, male or female always appears as Nemesis.
Hanamonogatari could have taken many different approaches to the problem posed by Suruga’s old junior high school basketball rival. Its genius lies in how it goes out of its way to discourage Suruga from intervening and to continue to do so after her initial concerns are put to rest. She is not sleep-rampaging as “the Rainy Devil”. The Lord Devil is an unemployed NEET with a sports injury that acts as a free trouble hot-line for silly teens with minor problems. Anything serious is referred to appropriate adult authorities and the trifling matters “accepted” are merely dealt with by a cryptic assurance that “Your problem will be taken care of“. Then the “Lord Devil” makes a point of doing nothing! It all seems to be some form of self-pitying wallowing by a washed up athlete who turned her anger and self-hatred into an unhealthy hobby. Suruga never even had a fleeting crush on the girl, nor did Rouka Numachi have a crush on her. If there was anything more than a rivalry on the courts, Suruga has long since forgotten about it. Moreover, Rouka does not want Suruga’s help, her interest or her pity.
Everything and everybody repeatedly screams: “don’t pick up the kitten”.
And then Rouka Numachi steals the curse from Suruga Kanbaru’s arm.
Bereft of the power and curse of her arm and burdened with a terrible realisation, Suruga Kanbaru, daughter of Gean-Sensei, kouhai to Araragi Koyomi, beloved petit-soeur of Hitagi Senjougahara and apprentice exorcist sets aside her self-doubt and rouses herself to action.
The Monogatari franchise has been dismissed by some as the Monologue-atari series. Nisio Ishin’s nearly endless dialogue relentlessly questions and draws out the motivations, the curious mixtures of selfishness and impulsive selfless behaviour towards others as his characters work through their supernatural predicaments. No urge towards action goes unexamined and complex motivations are considered to be the most potent for the truths they contain. Desire and regret are charged with power, more so if they are acknowledged. Friendship as a ward against loneliness and isolation is valued, even as its demands are seen as fraught with danger. Everything is out of balance and balance itself might be a deadly delusion. The universe is a cold and dangerous place; shit happens relentlessly.
Amidst the larger conventions of the franchise, Suruga could have easily been written as compelled to intervene. Rouka Numachi could have been an old flame, her power might be threatening someone, “The Lord Devil” could be a developing small time swindle that will get out of control as Kaiki’s swindle on junior high school students did. Suruga could get dragged into the mess because the Araragi siblings played Fire Sisters and got in over their heads. If one closely watches Hanamonogatari, much of the incidental interaction with other characters exists almost entirely to rule out such reasons. Kanbaru Suruga has as much reason to care about her old basketball rival as we have to care about her — or the conflicted desires of cartoon junior high school girls caught in a love triangle that dares not speak its name.
Nisio Ishin goes even farther than eliminating the usual plot devices that would compel Suruga to action. As Rouka tells her bitter tale of how she was visited by pitying acquaintances from her school and how her abject state moved some of them to open up and tell her their problems – because they could look down on her, he further blocks the audience and shames Suruga. If she is to act, she must not act out of pity. Did her meeting with the con artist Deishuu Kaiki give any hints towards a righteous reason to continue? All he did is advise her against getting involved and buy her a lavish meal at a Korean-style barbecue restaurant.
Meat is good, eat up. Eat more meat! I am enjoined from entering the town and the mummified devil bits are valuable, the more valuable and the more dangerous as they are brought back together. If someone wants them, let them have them and steer clear. Otherwise, Kaiki seems to have once nurtured a severe respect-crush on Suruga’s mom (or he is lying?). Ever since he got chewed out by Senjougahara he lets slip occasional flashes of sentimental bloody-mindedness.
He knows of magic but having no powers of his own he is not bound by the limits or responsibilities of any. He has made it clear to Senjougahara that the religious cultists, including one that abused a young girl have all mysteriously suffered very very bad, occasionally terminal luck (or he is lying again).
Watch the scene as he offers Suruga his card for a second time, holding his arm immobile over the table’s cook-pit. Brilliant!
Suruga is torn between walking away from Rouka Numachi and intervening; so torn that she runs herself to exhaustion one night. Ridiculously, she is found at a crossroad by none other than Araragi-sempai. He informs her that he and Senjougahara are busy but homesick and that they both miss her. He offers vague reassurances but she declines to ask him for any help beyond a promise that he will drop by in a few days to help her clean up her room. The joke that her room, the size of a dining hall is buried in 3 metric tons of BL light novels is an amusing, recurring distraction.
Araragi-kun’s reappearance will later be an excuse for some mild fanservice. In a series noted for gratuitous skin and sexual harassment, Hanamonogatari is remarkably restrained and well-behaved. We get an early peek at Suruga’s athletic bod, a lot of her in running gear and a brief glimpse of her sleeping in the nude but Araragi goes out of his way to downplay his interest… by going off on a creep-out tangent about his younger sisters. Suruga’s sexuality puts her in a special position in Araragi’s gaze; quasi-male (while surrounded by BL books!). While confronting Rouka Numachi over the theft of her demon arm we are treated to a moment of clichéd yuri mashing only to see Suruga paralysed by the forceful propositioning and quickly decide that she is being played.
Once again, Nisio Ishin closes off another reason why Suruga should care enough to intervene. Earlier in Hitagi End, Kaiki likewise went through the possible reasons for helping out with Senjougahara and Araragi’s snake god problem. Why bother? Atonement? Restitution? Money? Lingering feelings for a young girl? Only the most tenuous of excuses decided the issue for him: Suruga Kanbaru, Tooe Gaen’s daughter would be saddened by their deaths.
In both cases, since the franchise deals in supernatural action adventure and reluctant heroics, we know that both Kaiki and Suruga will talk themselves into sticking their necks out. Likewise Araragi can never resist helping out a supernaturally distressed young woman – perhaps because he must atone for the trauma of the events recalled in Ougi Formula and Sodachi Riddle/ Sodachi Lost. Or perhaps simply because he is the hero of the franchise. An entire anime cours, Tsukimonogatari is built around the notion that buddy boy should give up on playing action hero. Best to let monsters kill monsters.
When Suruga finally resolves to try to save (or exorcise) Rouka Numachi, her reasons are uniquely hers. First, the monkey-devil-arm curse was hers and she was dealing with it. What was hers was taken from her. Secondly; bereft of the strength and agility the paw had granted her, she may well wonder if she could push herself to face a supernaturally powered opponent. A threat is a challenge. Finally, she recognises in Rouka Numachi a fellow sportswoman and athlete, one who faced giving up something that she loved and derived identity from and who, by nature of the banality of the loss, did not fare as well as one who was cursed with a super-powered homicidal devil-arm.
One Monogatari side-story had Araragi-sempai resolve to teach his kouhai some humility by challenging her to some one-on-one basketball. He powered up by having Shinobu drink more than her usual maintenance dose of his blood to boost his vampire powers. Suruga brought her “Rainy Devil” power to the court. She whooped his ass over a 2 hour marathon match 99 to 0 but thanked him enthusiastically. Since getting the monkey-paw powers she had not been able to go full-out on the court with anyone.
If Suruga is to exorcise her old rival, she will do it one on one, on the basketball court. The elegance of the resolution to the problem of Rouka’s demonic possession was of course “built” to be solved only by Suruga Kanbaru, by who she is uniquely written as being. There is affection, and respect, not pity in her actions. Suruga is not a boy-character in a girl body or even a straight tomboy athlete turned into a Studio SHAFT fanservice “lesbian” fujoshi athlete who is petit-seour to her junior high school crush and sidekick to her ex-rival in love. Suruga might be struggling with all manner of doubts regarding her self-identity and future but she is already ironically detached and mildly disenchanted from their hold on her. When they reach out to paralyse her, even though she thought she had long ago killed their power over her, her character shines.
Had Kaiki not sent his final gift, she would have found something else to bait Rouka with. She doesn’t need supernatural powers any more. Because she knows herself, she knows how to win against Rouka and she knows why she will do it.
“1am tip for writing a character of an identity you don’t share: imagine a teen of that identity picking up your book at their worst moment” — @mara_fitzgerald via Twitter
Once again: why are the three friends in Asterism all girls? If one was a boy, we could have a standard love triangle. Why is Suruga Kanbaru a self-proclaimed, if chaste “lesbian”? Why did Shiki-chan have to hurt? Is it that sticking well-behaved, sympathetic minority sexuality characters into a story can solve a few plotting problems and create a modicum of novelty, allowing for a “territorial expansion” in storytelling, wherein old tropes can be recycled into new tales? An author could have used sci-fi aliens or you-fell-into-a-game trickery to do similar, though at the loss of immediacy.
I have been suggesting that in each case, the authors are pursuing an unexpected expansion of the field strength of the concept of iyashi.
Iyashi-kei, the “healing” genre is one of those uniquely Japanese things, like the taste “Umami”. A lot of fans as well as civilians might find formal Iyashi-kei works too boring, too cloying to deal with. It’s all warm fuzzies all the time. Interesting, safe locale, nothing much happens. Days go by. Grass grows, paint slowly dries. Aaaaarrrrghhhhh!
Here’s a few takes on the effect:
“Nothing really happens, but in a really good way.”
— Iyashikei on TV Tropes http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Iyashikei
” The term “iyashi” can be translated as “healing”, so that makes iyashikei [a] healing series. Iyashikei is most often considered a sub-genre of slice of life series, because all iyashikei series feature the same character-centered nature of slice of life: There is no real continuing plot and in most cases no conclusion, but the mostly episodic stories are depicting people’s lives without any drama or suspense. However, what differs iyashikei from slice of life is the healing effects: In short, iyashikei calms the reader and leaves them with light-hearted, maybe with a hint of melancholy. The typical of characteristics of iyashikei are a few characters who all feel sympathetic towards each other; close, slowly developing relationships without conflicts as we might know them; an appreciation for nature and the small, beautiful things in life – and most importantly, iyashikei series are mostly located in another time and another world as we live in. Despite the similarities to our lives, iyashikei series are supposed to set us in another world where our sorrows actually are practically non-existent.
— A PRESENTATION OF “IYASHIKEI” SERIES AND THEIR EFFECTS by Sasa, July 20th, 2007 https://web.archive.org/web/20100923131442/http://chrome.dasaku.net/?p=501
” Most people use pop culture as a diversion from their mundane reality, and I’m not going to get excited about a music video that shows some lanky guy sitting at his laptop, writing a blog essay about Japanese marketing.”
— The Soft Appeal by W. David MARX (Marxy) Neojanism, August 16, 2005 http://neojaponisme.com/2005/08/16/the-soft-appeal/
Compared to some recent trends in Japanese popular fiction, say “detective stories written by women that leave you feeling bad”, (yup, it’s now officially a thing, called Iyamisu. Wait until the expat press blerghs on it) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natsuo_Kirino], Iyashi-kei tales are slow, safe, happy and free of anything that would disturb the reader.
Gawd, I lurv the Aria anime. Nothing bad happens (repeat somewhat hysterically in CAPS!!). Aria, if you have not previously met her, is an apprentice gondolier on a very watery terraformed Mars, who works the canals in New Venice. Slow poling of gondolas ensues. I found Aria years ago while hunting for something suitable for the nieces and immediately loved it, if only because work at that moment was being a real mind-killing sucking hole of futility, annoyance and despair. Have a relax! The genre is critiqued, obliquely in Paranoia Agents, where the pressure to crank out one more soothing hit cartoon mascot watching paint dry anime drives all involved into a catastrophic reality-warping mass delusion.
One of the above considerations of Iyashi went on to clumsily position it near to the more dramatic concept of “catharsis”. While both are states of mind brought on by consuming fictional narratives, the gulf between the two states is far too wide to bridge by mentioning one after the other. We should strive to maintain the separations of both the mechanics and effects. Iyashi is a pleasant 4 hour drive in the country with a picnic lunch stop midway. Catharsis starts with everyone else in the car feeling less than the driver, then adds a sudden hurricane-blizzard which the driver refuses to pull over to wait out, a 137 vehicle pile-up on the highway, a few gasoline tanker explosions, death, injury, panic, selfishness, heroism, sacrifice, more death and a final numb exhaustion among the survivors. Both take place in cars.
The ancient Greek dramatists who gave us catharsis, did not do iyashi. Comedy was done by the coarsest of the poor — slaves and by non-humans — satyrs, Tragedy was the realm of heroes, the exemplary among us whose hubris led to over-reach and a curse when the gods stepped in to toy with them. The chorus was where the audience was best represented; as bystanders, sympathetic onlookers and old guys – when ineffective warnings and good-old-days admonitions were needed. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_chorus]
A cosmology that only has space for rude animal lusts, fools, the demotic chorus, exemplary heroes and gods is ultimately pitiless and therefore hopeless. It can also be further “compressed” to render it nihilistic. Suruga’s mother’s remembered voice claims that gods and devils were only flip sides of the same condition. Here the shade of Tooe Gaen is full of shit.
Consider Rouka in contrast to the Monogatari-verse’s Hachikuji Mayoi:
“Every time Hachikuji appears thereafter, two things happen: Araragi’s perverted antics, and his verbal catharsis. The relationship is inappropriate, same as any adult confiding in a child about adult issues is inappropriate. But in many ways, Mayoi is an adult, and that idea is expanded upon in Kabukimonogatari. If Araragi is unable to confide in her then the whole world is destroyed. She bares his mental burdens as a true friend would, and to be honest, that is quite beautiful. But it’s inappropriate, and represented as such.
— Wave Motion Cannon
It is a shame that she declines to appear in Hanamonogatari. Perhaps that would have been too much. For Japanese fans who have read the 19 (or more) light novels in the franchise, Hachikuji Mayoi is more than a child, or even the ghost of one. She might be the most powerful character of the entire opus. We’ve seen her put Araragi-perv in his place, seen her adult alt-probability self hold out against a zombie apocalypse, watched as Araragi broke down as the grey fog erased her (and at the risk of committing massive spoilers form the LNs), seen her pass on, return, be sent to hell, rescue Araragi from hell and in turn be rescued by him and finally ascend one last time to godhood. She originally died trying to visit her mother. She will be there to listen and put up with your nonsense and show understanding and friendship; compassion not pity or fear. She may be a wandering ghost but she retains that part of humanity which we have declared to be the best of us.
“Until all the hells are empty.”
Recognise her yet?
Oh Heck: Any excuse for my favourite fan-created earworm:
In contrast, Rouka Numachi is a demon, or at least a lost soul. Motivated by self-hatred and bitter spite, “The Lord Devil” pretends to care and pretends to act on the problems brought to her but makes a point of doing neither. Surprisingly enough, the fame of her efficacy still spreads. No wonder she ends up working the same side of the street as Kaiki. Did the depths of her despair attract the first of the devil-bits to her? She has made it her purpose to collect them all, to accelerate the process of becoming-monster, becoming-demon that awaits all angry souls who can not find peace, who cannot accept who they are or who they must become after fate deals them a lousy hand. Devils and lost souls must be exorcised.
Suruga Kanbaru and Hanamonogatari have been the subject of more than a few excellent fan essays. Hanamonogatari and the Crossroads [http://wrongeverytime.com/2014/09/29/hanamonogatari-and-the-crossroads/] takes up the theme of Suruga’s self-doubts, which is a curious approach because at least on the surface, genki Suruga seems to be the one of the less troubled characters in the franchise. She is not troubled by her self-proclaimed sexuality, even though she doesn’t go out of her way to advertise it. Nor is she troubled by her ridiculously excessive BL light-novel habit, except for the way the clutter takes over her room and buries any number of bought and borrowed pairs of nail clippers (per LN). Having to drop out of school sports was sad but all third-year students have to drop out to study for University entrance tests anyway and she can still run. If she needs to worry, nothing so concentrates one’s attention as a homicidal demon arm.
All her other worries are more in the realm of worrying that she should be worrying about what other people consider important enough to worry about. The remembered voice of her dead mother chides her to decide, or to act if she can’t decide otherwise she is “just water”. But water goes with the flow and most of the time, so does Suruga. If anything, her past experiences of being suddenly seized by overwhelming desire and resorting to the monkey paw must have left her wary of falling into such a trap again. Violent jealousy and longing should stay between the covers of her favourite reading materials, suitably abstracted to fakee-gay male bodies and easily managed — at least until they bury her in her room.
Here is a curious resonance between Suruga’s BL addiction and the respondents in the V. Maser’s study. Yes; those libidinized same-sex romances might be schmexy-hawt, but the abstraction from their reader’s condition is just enough to render them soothing, healing; iyashi.
“A further analysis of the responses to my survey indicates that iyashi was especially important for fans of specific texts. For example, 79.5% of those who gave the pornographic text Shōjo Sekuto as one of their favorite titles also gave iyashi as one of their reasons for 150 liking yuri manga (***p<.001, n = 132). In the case of those who preferred yuri anime, iyashi was especially important for the fans of the series Yuru yuri. 81.4% of those who gave Yuru yuri as one of their favorite yuri titles also gave iyashi as one of their reasons for liking yuri anime (***p<.001, n = 113)”
— Verena Maser, Beautiful and Innocent; Female Same-Sex Intimacy in the Japanese Yuri Genre, pps 149-150. 27.9.2013 Universität Trier http://ubt.opus.hbz-nrw.de/volltexte/2015/944/pdf/Maser_Beautiful_and_Innocent.pdf
It appears that iyashi encompasses far more than mere relaxation and/or escapism. Respondents could choose the reasons “Reading these manga relaxes me.” and “Reading these manga helps me to flee from my day to day life.,” but only 36.5% and 23.7% did so, respectively. For those who preferred yuri anime, the respective numbers were equally low with 39.6% and 29.1%. It is possible that iyashi was seen as a more acceptable answer than “escape.” Yet iyashi as a reason for consuming yuri texts did also surface in a qualitative analysis of comments about yuri on Mixi that I conducted in 2008 and the term iyashi can also frequently be found in blog posts on various yuri texts. It is further quoted in some of the personal essays in the Eureka special issue on yuri (e.g. Takashima 2014, 118). I would therefore argue that at least some fans see iyashi as a genuine reason for liking yuri manga/anime and/or the yuri genre in general.”
— Ibid Maser, p.150.
“The respondents’ “sexual identity” was another important factor for quoting the reason iyashi: 82.9% of “non-heterosexual” male respondents as well as 73.4% of “heterosexual” male respondents gave iyashi as one of their reasons for liking yuri manga. The same reason was also quoted by 60.7% of “non-heterosexual” female respondents, but only by 45.2% of “heterosexual” female respondents (***p<.001). In the case of yuri anime as well, iyashi was given especially by male respondents. It was quoted by 76.5% of “non-heterosexual” males and 74.0% of “heterosexual” males, compared to 55.0% of “heterosexual” females and 54.0% of “non-heterosexual” females (*p<.05). These results would correspond with the suggestion that men feel emotionally healed by the cute characters of moe anime (Galbraith 2009a, under “Japanese critical discourse”).
— Ibid Maser, p.150.
“In Japan, the “iyashi boom” occurred together with the “boom of pure love [jun’ai]” (Hayashi 2005, 94) in fictional texts. Iyashi has been argued to be a central aspect of the stories about “pure love,” a love that is thought to have more value than any physical commodity (94–95). Purity and innocence are considered to be essential characteristics of the yuri genre, and it would seem like these are also important factors for the feeling of iyashi enjoyed by many of its fans. Still, it remains unclear what exactly the fans are “healed” of: is it frustration with the demands of contemporary Japanese society or is it more about personal problems? Does iyashi even mean the same for everyone? A deeper investigation of this issue would be needed.”
— Ibid, p.157.
Fan and academic lore has a habit of positing the fujoshi and her western cousin, the Slash fen as uncomfortable in the bodies. Certainly some are, as in the classic testimonial by Audrey Lemon, “How Slash Saved Me”
http://web.archive.org/web/20021124081322/http://www.goodgirl.ca/how%20slash%20saved%20me.html. Others are sick of the 24/7 objectification and sexualization of women in pop culture representation. But if we flip-side over to the male yuri reader, we can also ask of both sides of the avenue: “Is that all?”
As a guy reader who likes yuri tales, I’m not annoyed with Kazuki and I don’t abstractly identify with Shiki-chan or Suruga Kanbaru. Nor am I threatened by the happenstance that Nisio Isin decided to use Suruga instead of Araragi as the hero-de-jour this time. I harbour no urge to virtual-lesbian or even “Les-bro” out on the story. Because the skin remains interesting, I will cop to the older Loser Fan Boy tag, but I was never Stockholm-syndromed by angry poser-extremists (wont dignify the neckbeard insult-label by mentioning it) into becoming more sympathetic. I did what little interest that may look like “sympathetic” all by my effing lonesome because it filled a personal need to understand and increased the enjoyment I derived from later recreational readings in the genre. That’s all. The process is commonly called fandom. No sins against Dr. Occam needed. It wasn’t a conspiracy or drugs in the water.
Lets all read some nice Class-S girl-crush stories. (Kaiki would suggest otherwise; ok — with a snack) Lots of folks who happen not to be lesbians (let alone athletic Japanese lesbian schoolgirls) seek them out because they are pleasantly diverting. They have absolutely nothing, or at least very little to do with most of us. That’s the whole idea. Could this be the simple, number one ultimate hidden reason behind all that BL for the women? Nawwww.. Must be the schmex! Or the romance, or some other secret girl-thing…
It’s called fiction ™ for a reason: It really doesn’t matter what happens and a measure of distance from one’s own howling self is often a good idea. No Old Yellers will be killed off to remind anyone of the dog you loved when you were a kid. No wet stray kittens will be left in the box by the side of the road. You want resonant reminders of that ex-lover who was less than fully human? Or of how your boss is a psychotic robot pain machine from the hell dimension (Soon to be a cabinet pick for the next administration)?
Ok, we can probably find something but I advise against it.
The only glaring problem with this otherwise cozy arrangement is that we end up reading and writing about characters who somewhat resemble real folks. As well, these real folks, who previously didn’t see much in the way of characters with their concerns in popular stories — or saw gross, insulting caricatures of their concerns, read these stories too. They are, for obvious reasons, interested in them if only to see what manner of foolishness is being trotted out to poorly represent them and perhaps to pick up enough of the craft surrounding such storytelling to attempt repairs.
We formalise this process when it involves trademarks and copyrights but not when it involves others that resemble In Real Life folks. Just try to sell your dojin featuring a certain cartoon mouse doing distaff things at Comiket. I dare you. I hear you liek relentless lawyers, so we put some relentless lawyers on top of these other relentless lawyers so that they can all relentlessly lawyer every last bit of money and blood out of the marrow in your bones. That way you and anyone else will never never never do such a thing again to sully the perfect money-making machine that is everyone’s favourite rodent.
Those odd three-sexed alien superpowered werewolves are beginning to look like a good idea. Fear Copyright collectives.
Wiser minds than mine have noted that the fictional spaces that deal with the representations of others are all now contested spaces. Dr. Mizoguchi, writing about BL and yaoi declared:
“My critical examination of yaoi begins with the premise that yaoi does not represent any person’s reality, but rather is a terrain where straight, lesbian, and other women’s desires and political stakes mingle and clash, and where representations are born.”
— A. Mizoguchi, “Theorizing comics/manga genre as a productive forum: yaoi and beyond”
If we read the really heavy examinations and analyses of theorists who have a stake in such representations we will undoubtedly learn some neat new things, but our need for cheesy diverting little stories will not evaporate. Tomboy sports girl with a superpowered monkey-arm curse? Lets also make her a gay fujoshi! How Kewl Is That?
A respected senior reviewer and essayist once set down a list of test criteria for a tolerably believable female protagonist:
Does female character have agency?
Does she have society?
Does she have personality?
Is she merely a female-shaped male hero doing male hero things while being female?
— E.Friedman, The Friedman Addendum to the Bechdel Test
One can easily extrapolate these rules to wider concerns of LGBTQIA+ representation, as well as towards a host of diverse “otherings”. Certainly Suruga Kanbaru fits her story like a well-worn running shoe; Nisio Isin “uses” her well and makes sure that she is far better suited than Araragi-kun at dealing with this particular exorcism. Even studio SHAFT cooperated and dialed the cheap titillation down 6 notches. Dropping Suruga into the story forced the issue. Girl-crush has not been very good to her. It drove her to use the cursed monkey paw a second time and almost killed someone. Having a petit-soeur relationship with Senjougahara was pleasant but she could not have helped but notice that big sister’s heart was elsewhere. This desire stuff, as well as the love stuff that supposedly lies behind it is complicated.
When Rouka mashes on her she is paralysed, then gets a peck on the cheek and a laughing admonition: “Let’s keep things pure, shall we. We’ve got our whole lives ahead of us, so we shouldn’t play with fire too much“. Clearly she is out of her depths when it comes to matters of the heart, let alone earthly desires. She is a genki sports girl. Back away, keep things light. There will be time enough for love.
The alternative would slide Hanamonogatari in the direction of a reszbian pinku exploitation groaner. Keep Ougi female-presenting, as Suruga would have to harass and/or be harassed by every other female in the story. Who needs Kaiki? Do we have any dangerous sexy female exorcists hanging around? Can we work an all-girl yuri high school into the story? How about Shinobu and a rezbian zombie attack? No, wait: a yuri high school that turns into a pit of sex-crazed rezbian school girl zombies? And they are also all loli idols and underwear models!
Yo! Ishin-san, SHAFT! Talk to me!
Oh well, there’s always room on AO3.
Bloody tourists are always underfoot… with ideas!
The yuri market in Japan is a telling example. There just isn’t enough of a market for %100 lesbian (or even %80 lesbian) realistic or even sympathetic tales to pay the printing bills for a major magazine. Loser Fan Boys, Yuri Danshi and even Yuri-Straight-Josei readers are required. We are not going away any time soon. Them magazines have something we too need. The only useful strategy of accommodation is to encourage customer engagement through education and up-selling based on growing market sophistication. Tojisha folk will act for their place in the production process, to hopefully better reflect their lives and tastes but the rest of us clods will have to be gently sold on the benefits of authenticity, novel point of view, product sophistication, local color and a host of other characteristics that we will simply process as “value-added product”.
And since we all carry around our own globally reaching publishing houses (or at least can plant one on our kitchen tables) the contestation over what hits the page and the screen is going to become rather noisy and crowded for the next little while. In the end, some practices will be generally acknowledged as probably not a healthy place to go and everybody can so program their blocklists accordingly. Unless we all keep mooching the stuff and everyone goes broke. Back to AO3 again.
Circle back to Rouka and her hobby of collecting misfortune. Nisio Ishin was not simply having her talk talk talk to fill pages and time. He was playing with the grey spaces that obscure disparate motivations, tastes and actions — for characters and readers alike. Rouka had her reasons for collecting misfortune and these had little to do with “saving” or “helping” the people she listened to. Except for that first piece of the monkey-devil, all her interactions were opaquely transactional. The folks who had their problems solved may have imputed a motive or even “goodness” or “compassion” to her but that was their own comforting misunderstanding. For Rouka, who needed relief from her own troubles, the misery of others was like the taste of honey.
…And so she was driven to gorge on it.