Fearsome Asymmetry

“This Story Is Just 2,000 Words Of A Baby Boomer Mansplaining Hentai”
— A Twitter Bot post

“Conclusion: I love cake”
— A not-bot twitter post.

Nise x Koi Boyfriend/ Nise x Koi Boyfriend Lovely
Ataru Yamamoto  (2014)
Serialized In Be x Boy Magazine
https://www.mangaupdates.com/series.html?id=113661 
SPOILERS ENSUE.


Instead of adding to the essay series “The Naming of Parts” I have been diverted; first by the recent plot twists in Spotted Flower and now, by stumbling across an exemplary bit of Shoujo-fied BL. Normally, the latter is not my favorite thing but Nise X Koi does a superb job of showcasing one aspect of BL that is usually hard to wrap one’s head around. You could call it a mode of melodrama or the fetishization of male same-sex romantic confusion; you could call it hot dogs but you would be just as close to understanding the true (insidious) nature of the trick. Theorists dryly describe it as “asymmetry”: an emphasis on the emotional dynamics between characters rather than on a character (a Beautiful Fighting Girl, or a Loli Moe-blob) alone; sometimes to the point where the atmosphere itself is almost a secondary character.

It is worth examining it in action, at least once.

As a bonus, if you were already uncomfortable with stories about male same-sex intimacy, this stylistic trick is going to boost your hate levels into low orbit. Take a deep breath. Not a bug; it’s a feature.[1]

“”Soutarou Inugami is a shy and reserved high schooler interested in anime and manga. Although content with his lot in life, Soutarou also wouldn’t mind having a fateful encounter with a cute girl someday. Lucky for him, he comes home from school one day to find a girl sitting at his doorstep who he’s never seen before, but who happens to have the same red earrings as Meguru Satoi, a cool and good-looking guy at his school.””

Vol. 2 Nise x Koi Boyfriend Lovely: A sequel to Nise x Koi Boyfriend as a continuation of Soutarou’s and Meguru’s relationship.””
Mangaupdates summary

As one can tell from the description, here there be otokonoko (just one). The English fan translation is being done by a group who go out of their way to scanlate gender-bent fluff manga. They seem to favor shoujo-ish stories, hewing close to the root genre of many contemporary works that play with gender and sexuality. You can get away with almost anything in shoujo manga — as long as you shoujo-fy it. Also, I am using the clunkier otokonoko/ josou/ crossdresser terminology because the conventional western-anglo term has been condemned as hateful out in the real world. Real folks suffer harm because of the original reading of the term. A small measure of polite discretion costs nothing.

A socially clumsy otaku guy and a crossdresser who gets a crush on him. Sounds familiar. Is this a version of the same BL cliché that Genshiken Nidaime‘s Madarame and Hato riffed on? Not quite. If anything I have renewed respect for how the Genshiken‘s author avoided convention. Some of it does however look like something that Hato would draw. It gets lewd.

When a Japanese female-gaze story uses an otokonoko they invoke tropes from past works as well as scavenged real world lore from Japanese (and other) gay communities. Very little about these characters is “trans”; they remain essentially male and inclined toward subjective same-sex intimacy, even if not avowedly “gei“. It is worth emphasizing that the rotten tribes consider male-ness as an irreducible characteristic. Straight, gay, crossdressing, gender-fluid, gender-queer, Japanese, outlander, rich, poor, whatever are all just minor variations in specs of guy-ness. All are fresh meat; therefore male-ness in the gender-fluid character must be preserved.

If human societies are rigged to favor male agency and privilege, shouldn’t all guys then be fictionally frogmarched into taking advantage of all manner of opportunities, so that they can really get “interesting” in stories? Too late for “just because you could don’t mean you should” or “real guys don’t do that!

I have a notion that some fujoshi stories are as, or even more disquieting to real-life gay guys than they are for straight guys. Straight guys will just “oh heck, two guys screwing” and tune out. The chance for a gay male reader to get drawn into the story while feelings of “wrong wrong wrong!” creep up their spine could be a serious factor. The “wrong wrong wrong” effect isn’t necessarily all about the bonking either. Anyone who has researched the genre has run into mentions of the 30-year-old “yaoi controversy” (Yaoi Ronso) in Japan. The substance of the complaints against BL-ifying gay guys is reported as “objectification” and in more recent reoccurrences, ‘fetishization” and mis-representation. The only problem is that such complaints dwell on unintended ends. The mechanics of the “wrong, wrong wrong” (beyond airbrushed violent non-consensual sex and “I’m not gay it’s only you“) remain largely opaque.

Extreme and variable emotional dynamics between the characters is generally not mentioned. Or perhaps a finer distinction is needed. “A Night at the Opera” is Ok every so often, when done by pros. When clueless Chads are nudged into doing a cover version for fujoshi because the audience is geeked on the raw charm of the fail…

If you were an ambitious mangaka and you really wanted to turbocharge this (jarring) effect, you could drape its presentation in the visual stylings of adolescent girls’ romance manga. Wispy hair, expressive big eyed longing glances, floral/iconic backgrounds, flare effects. Since we have a crossdressing character, add cute frilly girl clothes as well. Then pile on all of the usual miscommunication, “notice me sempai”, “who is going to make the first move”, “failing self-confidence”, “I need to prepare my heart”, “no, not yet, not like this” mush from the shoujo genre, only with two male leads who can take turns grinding through the clichéd sequences. This is funny in itself. As well, at any moment either or both characters can snap back into shonen-esque selfishness, resentment, indifference, arrogance, weakness and violence. Drama ensues!

Feeling woozy yet?

Boyfriend lovely ???

Nise X Koi “feels” at first as if it escaped form the pages of Margaret or LaLa magazine and ran gibbering off into the night. Later it gets nasty. Isn’t it in “bad faith” right from the title? Nise as in “fake” or “trick”? Again from the sypopsis, with an upgrade:

“Soutarou Inugami is a shy and reserved high schooler interested in otokonoko genre anime and manga”.

Not only is our diminutive doormat lad an otaku, he’s an otokonoko otaku; the bully-ish group of popular guys at school spot his fave manga and shame him for it. By spitting out his angry “cuteness is justice” defense; “so what, as long as they are cute!’ he lights a flame of hope in the heart of an onlooker. One of those handsome, popular guys has a secret and a fierce need to share it with someone who might accept them for all that they can be.

“…he comes home from school that day to find a girl sitting at his doorstep who he’s never seen before, but who happens to have the same red earrings as Meguru Satoi, a cool and good-looking guy at his school.”

She ain’t just sitting there smoking a ciggy. The crouched down, dejected look on the mystery girl speaks volumes to the longing she initially feels. The mangaka is going to dance along the edge of seduction by deception for a full chapter and a half, as the crossdresser is so wrapped up in their own excitement and insecurities that they forget to check if shy nerd guy has clued in to who the mysterious cutie barging into the apartment is. She and later he just assumes it is obvious and that nerd boy recognises them. This takes a bit of work to clear up but along the way nerd boy gets to show how heroically smitten he has become when the crossdresser gets in trouble and then by dismissing minor details and declaring that he’s enraptured with the complete Meguru-chan experience. Hooray, they now have a happy secret romance. Even some physical intimacy. Roll credits on a two chapter one-shot.

When the story resumes nerd boy starts by backtracking on his commitment to fully appreciate his lover and then develops a severe case of fleeting self-confidence. Then a rival appears. Nerd boy wavers. Otokonoko guy (in guy mode) gets wound-up angry and decides that if boyfriend is going to act like a cowardly doormat, then boyfriend should be spitefully treated in a –ahem– more traditionally yaoi-ish manner. The resulting near sexual assault is mean-spirited and pure raw meat thrown to the intended readership. Satoi-san stomps out of their lover’s apartment in a snit after no finally means no, angry that the one who understood him won’t show any backbone or prove his resolve.

A mite over-wrought, perhaps? [2]

At this point, a gender-studies sociologist might cut in and point out that because they are both well-socialised Japanese males, even if one dresses up like a cute girl, neither of the two are particularly inclined to carry the empathy bucket of sorting out the other’s feelings or do the work of negotiating understandings within the relationship. That’s a plausible excuse for later and perhaps one of the “features” that fujoshi enjoy. For now, it is expected, in-genre behaviour. They are both horny-excited and each wants their shiny new adventure to go their way. Also, those feelings: so intense, so conflicted! Why not let them slip? Fireworks time with light guy-sex.

In female-gaze yuri, everyone would run off for a while and eventually have a frank, serious, somewhat tearful discussion and work things out like adults. Someone would not end up paired off but would wish the happy couple well.

In male-gaze yuri, all would end up in the sack.

In bad faith whoever-gaze yuri one or more involved would be suffering from a serious personality disorder, so that the behavior that causes the suffering can be endlessly repeated over and over; with ever-increasing levels of emotionally wounding sex.

In a bad faith nominally heterosexual melodrama, at least one character might have a severe personality disorder, another a masochistic need for an older woman, another a narcissistic fixation on an self-centered useless old guy and there might be a pining lesbian thrown into the mix. Then the characters can variously paw at each other, because they have agency and therefore they can (neener neener neener) but they will not enjoy any of it because the story is dramatic and shall not feature any happy. Momentary physical pleasure during sullen making out only – this telegraphs literary pretension and allows for a few more turns of characters bouncing between each other for bonus spite-groping. Then all will abruptly stop, grow up and decide to get real lives or wake up and remark that it was all a dream.

The framing of any idea of “bad faith” is, in itself a highly subjective exercise. If you view any particular hetero (or homo-) normality as stifling and oppressive, anything that subverts its expectations is just peachy; even if to the riajuu, it looks like getting stuck in a temporal loop on emo night in a small-town bar.

Forever.

Bad faith is avoided in any of these genres by advancing the plot towards some resolution. Otherwise the game is just endless grinding while wandering the labyrinth. Even someone’s head ending up in a school bag is preferable to endless grinding. When a genre has a whole warehouse-load of plot tropes available for ready use, these can be strung out in service of some eventual resolution. Perhaps even a “good ending”. You lose the “serious literature” vibe with a good ending but more people buy manga than serious literature. Vox Populi, vox profitable publishing company.

If one is more inclined toward linear storylines, characterization and action, having a clump of characters run around going bat-shit random over their horny might not be your idea of a fun read, no matter what manner of bodies are involved. You want the Supply Module to meet up with the International Space Station. You expect a bit of excitement over the launch and docking maneuvers but you will have your mission accomplished!. Having everyone on the station, in the module and in mission control self-sabotage because their heads are all jammed up their particular cray-cray thing de moment (subject to abrupt change in the next 10 minutes) so that the docking almost-but-repeatedly fails, or goes horribly wrong and still repeats, will strain your patience.

No matter how many times Riley sings Kathleen.

For another group of readers, bonking pretty boys may be fun and interesting but it is much, much better when both parties are working through their stereotypical male inability to deal with new emotional situations and overcompensating dramatically while they go at each other’s bods. They can then not only switch positions but cycle through new and unexpected emotional states. Amateurs may deploy some manner of fetish-ry, but this is less effective because it is always marked as play-acting (and is a cheat to avoid actual sex and thereby edge around certain regulations enacted by a past Tokyo Governor). Far more satisfying if the two creatures are pity, hate, fear, love and disgust fucking each other all at the same time!

And they cannot stop!

“Therefore, we can conclusively state that BL holds the potential to be far more obscene than either het, yuri, fetish or gay romantic pr0n. (And that I like cake.) Q.E.D. Certain classes of Bara to remain outside of the comparison range because those are allegorical and if you don’t consider them as such, you will lose your lunch.”

Perhaps my thesis is not completely convincing?

Shoujo-fied BL often feels like a pretty-fied train wreck with light man-secks. (Or it’s just me?) What’s with this story? What’s with the characterisation? What’s all this overdone emo crap? No way that they’d do that! Now they are going at it; at least getting past necking to pawing, nibbling and pulling. Now the other one has gone all sullen and pissy. Sheeet! We get it already! BL guys not fast on the uptake. Please, can they sit down and talk it out? Please? Maybe they should watch some gay pr0n? No luck, urusai continues. Wonder what they are going on about now? Somebody must liek this. STFU!

Other views in the theory-verse suggest that while the characters are male, their emotional responses have been “upgraded” to reflect an improved male subjectivity that can do emotionally complex interaction, while enjoying the agency and freedom to act on their desires. That may be the case for stories like the Uso Lily spin-off previously considered, but it is not the only way to rebuild a guy character. What if you freed them from the need to act “supportive” or “understanding” and gave them male agency enough to go after what they wanted? Then make it so they also get wound up over their feelings, because — Hey! they are new at these and they also have the privilege and agency not to be shy about taking them out for a test drive.

That might get messy. What? Messy good you say?

There is one further “technical” aspect to the genre that arises from the canon, from fan practice and from tradition and that has evolved either into a happy accident or a sneaky author’s trick. Recalling one of the roots of the term “yaoi” – no climax, no resolution, no plot – a term of art in Japanese literary criticism long before being adopted by fujoshi, points towards a tradition within the genre for disconnected, stand-alone scenes or tableau. Porn movie directors would call these the “money shot”.

cue the wikipedia entry:

“The term yaoi is an acronym created in the late 1970s[1] by Yasuko Sakata and Akiko Hatsu[8] from the words Yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi (山[場]なし、落ちなし、意味なし) “No peak (climax), no fall (punch line/denouement), no meaning”. This phrase was first used as a “euphemism for the content”[9] and refers to how yaoi, as opposed to the “difficult to understand” shōnen-ai being produced by the Year 24 Group female manga authors,[10] focused on “the yummy parts”.[6] The phrase also parodies a classical style of plot structure.[11] Kubota Mitsuyoshi says that Osamu Tezuka used yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi to dismiss poor quality manga, and this was appropriated by the early yaoi authors.[9] As of 1998, the term yaoi was considered “common knowledge to manga fans”.[12] A joking alternative yaoi acronym among fujoshi (female yaoi fans) is Yamete, oshiri ga itai (やめて お尻が 痛い, “Stop, my ass hurts!”).”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yaoi

Once again, Genshiken Nidaime‘s Kio Shimoku left clues about larger rotten practice in his trans-fujoshi character Hato’s inability to draw anything but one-page sex scenes. Fanzines/doujins must accommodate page restrictions and low-output amateur artists. There is a strong bias towards jumping right to the lewd. When creating a parody work that brings together two wildly improbable giant robot piloting guys, the scant dialogue can stick with luvvy dovey fluff or they can expressively work out their conflicted feelings while they go at it. Same printing bill.

The space station metaphor once again becomes instructive. A mangaka might already have a number of schmexy hawt mis-en-scenes in mind, complete with a who-is-wound-up-which-way script for the drama component. Wouldn’t it be cool if this one surprised that one, but is still angry about such and such, while the other has lost confidence? And they still go at it while sniping at each other! “Talk dirty to me” taken to a new level.

What if the next big scene has the two emoting in completely different ways? Do they both have multiple personality disorders? Did some magical girl gimmick their headspaces? Nothing so fancy. They are just completely overwhelmed with a whole new range of feelings and are cycling through all of them. If we can acknowledge that smut with emotional fireworks delivers more than just smut with the dialogue turned off, story mechanics becomes an exercise in logistics.

When a mangaka becomes responsible for a monthly serialised work, instead of 12 pages of doujin smut they have to maneuver the characters from one “yummy parts” scene to the next. Using the “new at this, making a hot mess out of it” excuse, a mangaka gains extra maneuvering thrusters and fuel. She can even make one of them do an end over end tumble before docking.

It is almost impossible to pull anywhere near this level of variable characterization and emotional range with boy-girl romantic shoujo. Even if the boy is Doctor Jekell and the girl is Harley Quinn. Uso Lily tried with a crossdressing boy and a girl and had to concuss the guy for multiple cases of soap opera amnesia. At no time did the heroine take her turn getting banged on the head so they she could become the male lead. Lady Chatterley may switch between haughty and horny while groom Mellors gets to be servile and then forceful but he never gets to be her ladyship. Neither does she have to muck out the stables.

Only the “carnivalesque” excesses of drag and camp offer more potential. Perhaps the entire genre needs to be theoretically re-positioned when subjected to critical analysis. Normalities must be (over-) performed so they can be subverted.

I remain uneasy with the entire genre but at least now I have some idea (beyond gehhh! dudes making out!) why something as simple as Nise x Koi set off my wrong, wrong, wrong alarms. Nothing like a bit of attitudinal gymnastics to negotiate a new understanding with one’s prejudices. [3]

Anyway, I Shouldn’t Take It Personally, It Just Ain’t My Story

Against the tautological structures of excessive emotional drama and characterisation within the genre, complaints by nosy outsiders are easily brushed aside.

Guys don’t act like that! Hmmmmmm, you sure? They might if they were sufficiently smitten and unhinged by their conflicted desires…
Your plotting and characterisation is bat-shit random! Hmmmmmm? Repeat.
Gay guys don’t act like that! Hmmmmmm? Repeat.
Transfolk don’t act like that, and you are being insulting! Hmmmmmm?

Back to weaponised queer shoujo. This type of story seems to be popular and commercially viable. Outsider opprobrium is not going to put the idea back in a box. Can’t un-see once seen. An entire “lore” surrounding the genre makes it easy for rotten newbies to crank out more. It’s not just ‘seme” and “uke“; a range of off-the-shelf roles come with modular, emotional scripted subtypes such as “wimpy seme” and “trickster, inviting uke” (which is the second link of the chain back-tracking the origins of the “emotional range character trope” effect that I will resume grinding on about in future “Naming of Parts” essay instalments.)

Recall the brief summary of Nise x Koi above. Classic BL clichés favor the smaller guy “taking” the taller, initially dominant-appearing partner. In this story, the latter is already inscribed as female-role, even if he has previously initiated, even attacked. A challenge has been issued to wimpy nerd boy. Anyone care to guess how this one ends? [4]

If heteronormative narrative tried this kind of dynamic “making progress in a relationship” story, one would end up with a Taming of the Shrew retread.

Disapproval by phobic old-school guy otaku of BL will continue but as this mirrors the emotional dynamics of the conflicted characters, the hate-on becomes an unexpected bonus for fujoshi onlookers. When reading distressed fan reactions to the alt-Mada x alt-Hato fling in Spotted Flower I began to wonder if one of the thread originators might have even been a stealthed slash-fan trolling for a taste of honey. (“the misery of others is like…” ) Yesteryear’s girly-boy threads on 4chan’s /a board were a lot more inventive and far funnier. They usually started with “If it wears a skirt, it’s a girl” and went sideways fast.

Then a further notion struck: what is all that rage really about? To properly appreciate what is so disquieting (for straight guys) about BL, one needs to untangle the fujoshi “gei” or gender-queer character from the (straight) male subjectivity gay or gender-bent character.

Here’s a fun insight into contemporary fan practice and its intersection with activist gender politics — although I might be grabbing at fog. (requires more research, subjective evaluation, database coding, yadda yadda yadda). More and more anon on /a seem to be sort of, kind of Ok with “the gay”, as long as a gay male (secondary) character gets treated “seriously” within the story and isn’t trotted out as a cardboard joke or creep or abruptly vanished – in other words; afforded male respect and privilege. No depictions of male same-sex intimacy either, please! What sets off rage is when a gay male and/ or their same-sex desire is portrayed and/or deployed in a way that appears to pander to fujoshi tastes. “Real” gay; it’s 2017 – just don’t scare the horses. “Fujoshi-fied” gay; bad thing!

As for the otokonoko as male-gaze fantasy eye-candy creature, far fewer instances of vocal hate rear up in social media venues than one might first imagine. Pro-forma surprise is usually followed with a “that’s coolio too” rejoinder. Edgy quips that “the extra” makes her even better are not uncommon. The slightly sheepish reaction (cute cartoon girl character plus slightly pervy bonus) has become a safe consensus position. Public over-reaction would telegraph any manner of weak unresolved personal issues. All good, no biggie. Similarly, creating her is remarkably easy. Design a cutie, go easy on the boobs and impute a “little bit extra”. You can even make her act with less reserve than a usual female character has to maintain. Drop one as needed into each new franchise.

However, when the rotten tribes get their mitts on an Otokonoko character, Astolfo the hottie will be mangled into something else; something complicated and insidious. Far worse than Kio Shimoku’s Hato Kenjiro. Designed to highlight male wonkiness. Does things not-for the male reader/viewer’s enjoyment. Problematic. This will not end well.

Aside: Astolfo was originally a (male) magic-using sidekick character from 1500’s European-knights-do-heroic-things tales; most notably from the poem-story Orlando Furioso (the Rage of Orlando). The hero’s “wits” get stolen, so he rages. Only Astolfo has enough magic to go to the moon and retrieve said wits in a bottle. Astolfo MkI does not crossdress. In medieval Europe, guys got all the fun clothing anyway. Magic users are expected to be a bit eccentric.

What remains are complaints against the problematics of fantasy cross-dressing characters in light of real-world fall-out; including any deceit implied in that term. Anglosphere fandom needs a new short, snappy and less loaded descriptor. It should be noted that current best practice in manga and anime invariably has the character matter-of-factly announce that they are male or have a body that others would “deem male at birth” to any who have a need to know, well before sparks fly (as well as to any number of obnoxious types who should have minded their own business before they get their comeuppance). Seduction by deception is rarely any issue, though fetishization remains one. If the otokonoko and another (usually male) character hook up it is not because the latter wanted a “girl” but because they wanted “more than a girl”.

Fetishization in general is why a majority of cartoon characters are dropped onto the page and screen; male-subjectivity otokonoko remain “flattened” to their eye-candy outward appearance, as much as any other female-ish fanservice character. Their gender-queerness is their “hook” in the same way the glasses-girl and the athletic tomboy have theirs. When deployed in slice of life comedies, she is often used as a variant and/or extra moe-blob. In adventure scenarios, a variant Beautiful Fighting Girl.

“For duty, a woman. For understanding, an otokonoko. For ecstasy, a melon.”
— Slavoj Zizek

Only when one wanders into the recycled BL thickets of josou narratives, where some emotional complexity is necessary to move the plot along, does the revealing of the “feels” component of the “better than” come into play. Her gender-fluidity and essential male “core” posits her as more sympathetic to a class of male lead. The author must then tread lightly and leave much unsaid. The two are in sync; they understand each other perfectly and therefore dialogue can be kept to a minimum. A few reassuring quips, an exchange of knowing glances because they have (re-)invented sex, a few tender words and finally the frenzied mutual tearing off of clothes that leaves at least one female-marked accessory or piece of clothing still clinging to the otokonoko‘s body, can progress through to mutual exhaustion. Both will be blissfully happy because the genre posits, then leaves to the reader’s imagination a vague intimation of mutual physical and emotional satisfaction that is for the two of them “better than” heterosexual or conventional same-sex intimacy. The novelty and transgression masks a “just so” story. One may speculate that the difficulties of fine-tuning the move from pure transactional exchange towards affective interest is why the genre remains a niche market and why the one magazine devoted to such stories went under. Lewd twincest tales play a similar trick. You need some token emotional charge but not too much, or too fast. The overload/ overwhelmed effect is what remains disquieting.

The “deception” that the straight male subjectivity fears is not present upon the body of the otokonoko but within the emotional complexity of any interaction. [5]

Snowflakes!

Understandable then that male subjectivity fan discourse has kind of, sort of, begun to make peace with matter-of-fact, just-a-guy gay male characters and even simplistic eye-candy otokonoko characters. As long as neither of them bear any marks of “rotten” purpose or complexity. A diffuse, consensus notion of essential male identity is thus preserved. There are far scarier things in the world than a touch of queer in a lad. As for secondary appropriation, the fujoshi will always come out at night to cut up what remains. Look what they did to poor Holmes and Watson!

Good luck to us all.

Have some cake.

 

ENDNOTES:

[1] This entire essay may be complete and utter bunk; the result of my residual homo-panic freak-out when a quick read of a harmless looking shoujo-ish one-shot (that looked interesting because “that scangroup” distrod it), turned into confusing guy-smut. WTF? Run Away, run away! You’ve heard of the ‘unreliable narrator” trick? This is the unreliable critical essayist version.

[2] Someone reading this might actually be here for a “review” rather than a subjective over-reaction, followed by a mess of speculation about plot mechanics and conventions. If one is really into BL-ish things, I’m betting that NiseXKoi is probably a quite good an example of its kind. The art-work is pro level. The emotions are not completely random (if you pay real close attention), the two characters are noobz enough to justify their mildly selfish fuckups, the “rival” is not a jerk; the thing is well constructed and the author has her own active doujin circle. Since I have few comparison points, I can’t say whether she is genius rank but I suspect that experienced readers would find her work solid, and “yummy”. She knows how to tell a story and play within the bounds of a style.

[3] Keep reading. It’s really easy: all you have to do is displace one bias with a different one. It just becomes a matter of fully understanding what one’s original bias was trying to protect. We guys should all thank the fujoshi tribes for “highlighting the contradictions”.

[4] MUCH LATER: In fairness to those wanting some manner of “review” and to the mangaka, I should add that the story ended on a surprisingly happy, vanilla, aspirational, linear and not too crumpled out of shape by semexuke conventions, way. The young crossdresser was snagged by the school drama club as “the princess‘ in a play and used the opportunity to solve the issue of his childhood friend blindly crushing on his girl presentation. Meanwhile doormat boy showed some spine at school and began to socialise, then used his new found confidence to declare his resolve to the crossdresser. Both vowed to have a happy high school romance with lots of sex, with the crossdresser both as a boy and as a girl. (I am almost tempted to D’awww here…)

A few points of note: once the mangaka decided to wrap it up, the characterisation and story lines became more linear, with the motivations easier to follow. Resolve. Follow through. Also of note, both characters try to abstractly empathise with the other’s situation; not at shoujo girl levels but at least they make a token effort. Even the childhood friend, while at first embarrassed, is supporttive. He also now understands why the two were hanging around with each other at school. Duh! moment. The otaku is not an intrusion, he has been vouched for within the male social/ circle of friends.

Finally, the happy ending recalls why all the straight girls are reading smutty romantic guy:guy highschool love stories. The two get to (at least promise to) sex themselves down to exhaustion because they are in a relationship. Because they are horny teenaged guys, even gay, they should really want to do so even more than playing video games. And they can, because no one is going to be labelled a slut or have to deal with a teen pregnancy and/or D&C if something goes awry.

(At some point will future general-interst high school romcoms feature stock zoned-out falling asleep at their desks with stupid grin on their faces male beta couples?)

To this end, the “formalism” of older rotten rigid BL pairing conventions are jettisoned for a more up-to-date “versatility”. It might even pass muster as aspirational ending for a young gay male reader, although the gay crossdresser type is apparently considered one of the least desireable “types” in IRL Japanese gay communities. At least Meguru doesn’t “femme out” while crossdressing, so he’s not completely outre.

[5] Ha! I have made it through this thing and not mentioned a certain game.
Slick, or whot? Oh yeah, almost forgot: Praxis! Now is must be legitimate academic-ish essay! What else? No mention of Dr. Tamaki or Lacan, although if you scratch the cheap paint you can see that old “ontological consistancy” chestnut; it’s harder to paint over than magic marker. And then there’s the “shota” component in nerd boy. Crap: even wearing shorts on the frontspiece! Pure Dr. Nagaike bait, though Tamaki called it first. Mangaka sure covers all the bases. 

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6 thoughts on “Fearsome Asymmetry

  1. Of course in fujoshi fantasy boys have to stay boys otherwise they would be a girl with a boy and it would be simple-minded mainline pornography. Angela might like that but boy on boy is what stirs their loins and the creative juices in the cranium. And if they are two girls it is Yuri and still aimed at boys 99% of the time. The 1% leaves plenty of room for serious shojo ai and ‘bian real life stories.

    An otokonoko is not x but xy, just like the rest of the boys. As far as I can see while boys can love other boys i.e. shounen ai and even into b/l even if the boy has the bad habit of cross-dressing there is nothing coming from the rather messy TG/TS spectrum or even intersex.

    Even in Hourou Mousou Nitori is still attracted to women and stays within the scripted otokonoko limits. But the details of his sex life are completely off screen & off the printed page unless there are doujin. (Are there dojin for HM and its crew?)

    In a lot of the otokonoko (or tr*p) stories I have read, as in Spotted Flower the turn on is embarrassment of the characters. They are embarrassed by being in the wrong gender of clothing and embarrassed to be discovered to be so doing. Just a !Saki is embarrassed by wearing striped panties and !Madarame is turned on by her embarrassment.

    Remember in the Family Compo manga, the protagonist is embarrassed by the possible discovery of his attempt to discover the heroine’s(?) true gender but it never stops him from an fresh attempt.

    Oh and Hato was in love with his single-page-drawing Sempai who will marry his brother. Remember the plot of Greenwood? The protagonist leaves home because again the elder brother is marrying the girl the protagonist has crushed on. Hato though, the T/fujoshi ships himself and his brother. The page drawing Sempai even catches right on. This is all very embarrassing of course. With the embarrassment comes the turn on aka “Tasty”.

    It is never a waste of time to explore your own homophobia because how else will you get over it? When gay men repress their internalized homophobia it may lead to problems but when they face it they get along a lot better with their lovers and gay friends. XX or XY love disregards chromosomes and follows its own path. And a lot of the mainline anime/manga teach the lesson that “married with children” is the only way for girls and boys to grow up. But it did not work well for the Bundys

    bliss-

    • AH! You hit upon another interesting thing about Japanese “tropes of desire”: they really go for the “embarrassment as kink” thing. Embarrassment in the west/ western anglosphere blah blah is more a fight/flight thing (IMHO). They can deploy it as we used to deploy “sin”. As in, “this chocolate is embarrassingly/ sinfully delicious”. Try either pretending either N. American or Japanese context.

      Perhaps it takes a “culture of face” to really go hog wild on the potentials behind cosplay, crossplay, hobby crossdressing (run a search for yuri danshi; you have equal chance of finding the yuri-fan manga or the hardcover book of ‘looks like JK girls being very close in posed photos’), even “dollers”. Also flip side to the cultural conformity of work uniforms/ dress codes/, sumptuary codes and over-outfit/gear accumulating for hobbies.

      Hmmmmmmmm…

  2. A complication in any narrative extrapolating traits of the reader/writer based on the structure and ending-tendencies of any particular genre is that all of those “unseen”/avoided endings in various source material canons are joyously produced and expounded upon in fanworks, from fanarts to fanfiction to, the relevant medium here, doujin. If yaoi is about the subversion of climax (like a NTR of story structure, hah), then Comiket sure in making bank picking up the money left on the table by it. And what does that say about the actual desires of the fans?

    Nonetheless, there is something to be said for the size and activity level of a fandom being based on lack in the source material. Harry Potter has plotholes, shoddy characterization, and world-building Issues galore, which drives fans and haters alike to produce FIX IT fanworks or discussions that go on for pages and pages and entire websites spun from the schisms. Source material that is so tightly written that no such cracks can escalate to schisms are finished, appreciated, an no transformative works get published, because it speaks for itself. But invisibility is death. Discourse™ is life.
    Even outside of art, the liveliest fields are the ones that have capacity for growth, and growth requires a lack, the inspiration to create what is not already there.

    So why not take advantage of the formula? Build a genre that inflames the passion of their own within the audience, by making them desire to fill in the gap that’s right there in front of them it would be so easy! But that implication isn’t that the audience likes the gap. On the contrary, they are drawn in by their hatred of it.

  3. It is neat that you ‘push’ the longstanding theory on fanfiction and fan-works about the need for “gaps” and “spaces” within the work, from accommodation of fan interest to outright provocation. And that a plot/style decision +/or convention that endlessly strings out emotionally charged “yummy scenes”/ interpersonal dynamics in efffect trolls for a few more by fans, that might finally “resolve’ or at least offer a space for a break, or even some clarity within the ongoing drama.

    i had occasion to try to compare/contrast the scene-based imperative with the linear plotting imperative (crap, I am coining terms willy-nilly; guess who avoided Uni-level lit-crit courses – I am prolly re-inventing the wheel, no matter…) in the recent ‘Kado: The Right Answer’ anime. (went thread-y on Twitter) The linear plot had to go all wonky so that the alien bishie could have his “what is this thing called desire” moment and go psycho when his “advances” were thwarted. Otherwise the thing was advanced CGI demo plus some Cool-Japan soft nationalism wrapped up in a heavy-handed allegory. What I found interesting is how some folks who were massively disappointed also had the urge to advance “fixes” for the story as well.

    You have the right bucket and enough dynamite and you can get to the moon… But why???

    I like how the “provocation” approach also works just as well with linear storylines that skimp on interpersonal breaks in the relentless forward motion of the story. The old complaint: “why couldn’t they just honestly discuss their feelings, situations, fears, blah blah” can lead to massive amounts of fic-ery. I have been guilty of some myself (I swear it was all research for a never-to-get-finished participant-observer essay on what it feels like to write the stuff, not like I really had any need to have Mada and Hato sit down and talk things out while getting hammered — christ that would be kind of embarassing…). More impressive was the fan-art output of Tumblr (up until last year) of the HatoMadaHato ship. Most of the sketches were sweet and very very aspirational.

    …And far more direct than any study or survey as to what the fans ‘wanted’.

  4. ” I began to wonder if one of the thread originators might have even been a stealthed slash-fan trolling for a taste of honey. (“the misery of others is like…” ) ”

    Shit! I’ve been found out!

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