The place promised in earlier days: On Usotsuki Lily

It’s like Japanese women’s pornography, without the pornography… (TM)

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Manga/UsotsukiLily
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_(magazine)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayumi_Komura
http://usotsukilily.wikia.com/wiki/Usotsuki_Lily_Wikia fan wikia, somewhat empty; there is no english language wikipedia entry yet.

Note: Spoiler warning! It seemed unfair to so use this manga without giving it a thorough treatment (that goes on wayyyy too long), so spoilers ensue… 

A year ago, I mentioned Usotsuki Lily (lit: playfully lying lily/yuri) as part of the “trap-lite” (Much Later: I need a new term, as the T-word is harmful. For now;) Josou-lite wave that gained prominence in Japanese manga over the last five years. Plenty of theory-powder has been burnt over “dissatisfaction with gender roles in contemporary Japanese society”, however the trend seemed to produce very little but low-level titillation and plenty of harmless fluff. When pushed to the wall it could always retreat into historicism, given japanese cultural traditions in theatre and the “floating world”.

“The jouso- lite is like a superhero with stupid powers – given a small chance to force society into a truce, for a few moments, in a small place…”

Central to the effort were bishie- looking young male characters that had a tenuous plot-device “reason” besides sexuality and/or gender expression to play as a female persona. While the frisson of homoeroticism was always part of the story formula, “real” homosexuality was always kept off stage, or at least confined to the chorus. As well, the overwhelming majority of these stories were extremely chaste, as befitting high school and young adult love comedies.

Besides, the idea that a good-looking representation of a young person, preferably male, could be drawn to look good in both gender roles seemed to be an easy shojo manga formula for drawing twice the eye candy.

Androgyny makes a mangaka’s job easier.

Sexually active main characters were relegated to darker works which emphasised pathology, criminality and abuse.

Of course I missed a few things…

ON VIOLENCE AND SOCIAL CAPITAL:

“I and the public know, what all schoolchildren learn.
Those to whom evil is done Do evil in return”  
— W.H. Auden

As mentioned in the earlier post, there were a few problems with the approach. One was the tendency to indulge in the trope that a cross-dressing male could “teach” a young female how to better present herself as a female, or reveal some heretofore hidden female essential characteristic. I guess this is fine if one sees all gender as performative – otherwise it is patronising as all heck.

Another major problem was the idea that somehow youthful gender dysphoria could be met with grudging, non-violent derision that would quickly move towards group solidarity and acceptance. “Look how adult and broad-minded we all are!” becomes the watch-word of the group, standing in proxy for the reader.

Meanwhile, contemporary Japan experiences ever-growing levels of violent school bullying, sometimes leading to injury and death, often by suicide. You don’t have to suffer from gender dysphoria issues – any odd kid can get targeted.

As laudable is the project of trying to promote social norms of tolerance and understanding within a manga narrative, one has to take any such efforts as (as mentioned previously) water wearing away at a stone.

“Tolerance” has never stopped bullying before, there is no reason to assume it will now. Bullying only stops when ALL fellow students, teachers, principals, parents and the police ruthlessly suppress it %110 of the time, and these seldom have the time or energy to do so unless they face an overwhelming reason to do so.

In North America, the reason at least for good middle-class schools boils down to one word: Columbine.

Given the strict controls over firearms and bladed weapons in Japan, one can not see any such admittedly horrific shift in potentialities arising.

The only thing that seems to suppress bullying in Japanese schools is over-work. The relentless pressure to attend cram schools, as documented in The Making of Japan’s New Working Class: “Freeters” and the Progression From Middle School to the Labor Market by David H. Slater (you read high school manga? You should really read about the real thing in Japan!)  serves to suck up every last-minute of spare time for middle-class youth. This of course is never mentioned in school-situated manga, lest all the characters suddenly vanish. The greatest myth of the accepting high-school/ junior college social is that there are any students left to socialize and form one. So much as well for after-school club activities.

Despite this harsh reality, the idealised fantasy social spaces provided by manga serve an important aspirational purpose – a fantasy safe space and play space, while introducing and promoting to their readers implied concepts of attitudinal social capital.

Japanese mangakas sooner or later always get preachy. Because they keep in active contact with their fans, they also tend to assume a mediating position towards diverse fan desires, and inevitably are tempted towards offering an idealised vision of a social space, along with model behaviours that lead to ‘character growth”.

We do not need the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu to explain this for us; the notion of setting down a social class-linked hierarchy of preferred modes of behaviour towards uncertain situations gives a strong whiff of the processes that Boubou’s tribe of sociologists (as well as the Chicago school of Sociology before him) have been harping on for decades. You may be born into a social class, but you exercise this distinction through your behaviour. Your knowledge of these behaviours and the opportunity to grow familiar with and use them, as well as who you can use them on, is your “social capital”.

Once again in shojo manga, in a somewhat mainstream example (as opposed to the odd derivative bl/yaoi variants), the idea of nudging a canon (which would contain an analogue or reflection of a social structure with prefered modes of behavior and ways of deploying social capital) in a certain direction pops up.

ON THE FANTASY OF UN-GENDERED SPACES:

Ed Wood: “I like to dress in women’s clothing.”
George Weiss: “You’re a fruit?”
Ed Wood: “No, not at all. I love women. Wearing their clothes makes me feel closer to them.”
George Weiss: “You’re not a fruit?”
Ed Wood: “No, I’m all man. I even fought in W.W.2. Of course, I was wearing women’s undergarments under my uniform.”

— Ed Wood (used as lead for the Wholesome Crossdresser page at TVtropes. (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WholesomeCrossdresser)

Uso Lily starts out with the paper-thin premise that Hinata, a “normal girl” who wants a hot boyfriend is suddenly smitten by the sight of a never-seen-before good-looking male fellow student. There is of course a reason why she hasn’t seen him before; he usually attends school dressed very convincingly as a girl. Because this series runs in Margaret Magazine, the drawing style and plotting is pure shojo manga style. That means wispy bishie hair, big expressive eyes, thin androgynous bodies on both sexes, and plenty of flare effects and floral backgrounds in the D’Awwwwww! moments. There is plenty of desire, chaste yearning, communication failures, shyness, relationship angst and growing pains – all played for laughs, and no actual sex. (Much later: they finally do become a couple, and it is so considerate, romantic and sweet as to almost defy belief – D’Awwwwwwwww…)

Because “fated love” plays a privileged role in the genre, it turns out that the boy, En Shinohara only reverted to male dress because he was smitten when he saw her only moments before. D’Awwwwww!

The whole point of a shojo manga like Uso lily is to provide a steady barrage of such D’Awwwwww! moments. One could run a drinking game with them and get seriously poisoned in no time flat. Note: fear the unfiltered sake in big bottles! You have been warned!

The mangaka, Ayumi Komura routinely breaks the “fourth wall” and all but proclaims this as the purpose behind the series. Every single shojo manga plot trope that drifts by will be grabbed and stuffed into the nabe pot, along with one new magic ingredient: all characters will be nudged into crossdressing as much as possible, for any reason.

usolily explained

Hijinx ensue.

If this sounds like a mess, it is a surprisingly effective one. Please note that there is no current english language wikipedia entry for this series, (see above for an incomplete fan wikia site) so a bit of summary is necessary. The fact that the mangaka is also rather careless about naming her characters and resorts to reader contests to finish their names gets in the way of fannish summarizations. (Anyone so inclined can feel free to poach any of the following, to remedy this)

The boy En crossdresses because he grew up in a family of quirky guys, the majority of whom are a bit too prone to chase skirts, or in the case of one brother, anything that moves. (His youngest brother is the most sensible; he’s matter-of-fact-ly gay) En gets viscerally angry at male misbehaviour to the extent that the sight of men (including his own reflection in a mirror) makes him lash out violently. He can control himself most of the time when he sees his brothers and when in female dress. Later he learns more self-control and will simply vomit/ cough up a bit of blood when exposed to “annoying guys”.

En can defend himself, but seldom has to. The threat of male violence never comes from guys who want to beat “that fucking faggot” to within an inch of his life. There is no gay-bashing, queer-bashing or trannie bashing in this small portion of manga-land. The only threat of violence comes from mild-mannered delinquents who mistakenly hit on En when he is in drag, or when he puts himself in front of girls (or his sweetie Hinata’s meek salaryman dad) who are so threatened and then explodes in rage at the miscreants. “Surprise assholes! I’m a guy! Grrrrrrrrrr! foam at mouth!” So far all the miscreants have been weirded out by this and have run off without beating him to a pulp. To be fair, when Hinata got in trouble with a groper, while trying to save him from acting as groper bait, he did manage a solid roundhouse punch. He then decided that he will aim for a job as a cop-in-drag when he grows up. Time for him to start taking Judo.

En holds an extremely romanticized view of women: they are wonderful all the time in all ways, and any character faults they display are a result of male misbehaviour/ male societal oppression. His crossdressing is all about surface appearance – an homage to this ideal. His desires are heterosexual and naively romantic, hence his fascination with Hinata, the “normal” girl. Her normality makes her his ideal woman, in the sense of a platonic ideal that represents and embodies all women (which neatly takes care of the family tendency towards a roving eye). He has lines that he will not cross(dress): no pantsu (he wears boxer shorts) and no bras (though he will don falsies and bra for “special ops”). He wears wigs to give him the right girlish look. He also has no unwanted body hair, “because this a cross-dressing manga” explains the mangaka.

The gal Hinata Saotome is normal and cute enough (I guess she serves as some kind of stand-in for the young female readership), but worries continually that her boyfriend is cuter then her. She wishes he would just stop cross-dressing, but comes to realise that she can wait for his little problem to gradually work itself out, lest he get physically sick from crossdressing withdrawal. Besides, she lacks self-confidence and En in drag is less likely to attract any other girls (though he does attract the occasional guy)

En avoids the annoying trope of “showing the real girl how to dress better” by being not completely skilled in cross-dressing by himself. It turns out that his oldest bother An, a lecherous, polymorphously perverse beautician/ fashion consultant is the one who dresses him; originally to stop En from smashing the bathroom mirror every morning and later because it is fun to see how cute he can make his younger brother look. Unlike Genshiken’s Hato, En has not confessed to any “I like it – its my hobby!” sentiment.

(Much later: he does eventually get around to admitting that it is fun and then proceeds to make up for lost time in the “I like it – its my hobby!” department. The mangaka then throws a corrective at him.)

Their mother is strong, independent, slighty weary of her hubby’s wandering eye and absent for five-year stretches, so the rest of the brood including their father is quite happy with En’s habits. When older brother An gets a magical manga-flu he will sexually harass anyone, including his brothers. He is devoted to his job and his customers – especially if they are cute women (cute guys are ok too) and keeps closets full of clothes and accessories. An could cross-dress a small army, and is often called to work his magic on En’s school friends.

The “middle” brother Ken, is a fairly normal womanizing guy. The youngest brother Ten is “no-big-deal” gay, and does not adopt any stereotypical negative “gay” behaviour patterns. He is just a normal good-natured young guy who happens to like guys, specifically one guy…

Hinata has a younger brother Taiyou, a “normal” mom and dad, and recently a puppy. Her father’s initial resistance to En as boyfriend centered only on the societal difficulty that having a cross-dressing guy for a future husband would cause their daughter. No visceral reaction against the boyfriend’s kink was displayed. As for the younger brother Taiyou, he is also extremely normal and wishes he could fall in love with a nice girl. He has of course been pressured into crossdressing to fill in for Hinata, and resembles her strongly in this state, but in this manga everyone gets cross-dressed eventually. En’s youngest brother Ten has a youthful gay crush on him that is not appreciated, but is refused without too much over-reaction.

We will return to Taiyou: the mangaka has plans for him..

Hinata’s school friends represent little more than a chance for the mangaka to play cupid and come up with ever more implausible reasons for cross-dressing. They are all extremely accepting, and the rest of the school is mostly tolerant and well-behaved because of the charm of “good-looking” and/or “cute” guys and girls overrides any “Ewyuck” factor. Male teachers can be fooled into letting En crossdress with a few fake tears, female ones get accessorizing advice (relayed from An) to buy them off. The majority of the boys at the school either don’t care or find En to be novelty eye-candy. The girls occasionally get jealous at his presentation of as a girl, but then En gets all “all women are the best” preachy and bores them to tears with effusive praise. Besides they find him cute to look at as well, and when he reverts to male dress, his “hot-ness” excuses all his sins.

This last bit gives the mangaka a chance to deliver body image confidence lectures to stand-ins for her female readership. All girls are goddess-derived, and as such have only to realise their innate personal gifts and confidently highlight them. Dieting is dangerous and unnecessary, anorexia is never mentioned. This over-romantic view of all womankind makes Hinata worry, but only to the degree that En can then heap routine love-struck praise on her. Of course En also worries that other guys will figure out that Hinata is the perfect ideal girl and woo her away from him – a possibility that she is oblivious to.

This routine is deployed to full extent with the tall shy girl Gotou-san (Keane Gotou) She’s pitiable and ungainly, but after an En pep-talk, she has her own epiphany when she decides to try a bit of androgynous dress. Shazaaam! She is admired by all. Girls swoon for her (she is the main back up girl-girl plot device) while guys find her strangely enticing. She develops self-confidence and poise, though at one point she seeks out En, then An for girly-girl fashion advice. (In the language of the TVtropes site she is a Bi-faux-nen; a manga character favourite variant of the Bishonen, lifted from the otokoyaku/ male-role actress Takarazuka tradition.) She has the class rep, a quiet guy, in her sights. It’s all good though; she doesn’t even need the makeover – class rep Souichirou Aikawa, sees her only as a girl, even if she wears a boy’s school uniform and as his perfect woman. Heartfelt D’Awwwwww! moments ensue.

Other class friends get paired off as fast as the side-stories for them can be rolled out. This is shojo manga after all, and pairing off young love is %98 of the exercise. (D’Awwwwww!) Everything cranked out by the theory mills about relationships in BL/yaoi goes double for straight-up shojo. Childhood friends Kojirou Amakusa (a Samurai enthusiast) and the kendo champ girl Komachi Ashiya, daughter of a kendo dojo running mother and a mangaka who specializes in historical samurai epics are of course fated for each other, and of course he has to ‘win her hand’ in an overly cute story arc. (D’Awwwwww!) Otherwise, the mangaka just enjoys drawing them, especially Kojirou, who alway appears in samurai cosplay dress. He also speaks in affected oldee- tyme-ee Japanese.

Then there are the two pairs of twins at the school – this makes its own gravy. The girls Emi and Niko Hashimoto, (their sole characteristic at first, besides being twins, is that they are manga enthusiasts and lousy cooks) quickly capture the hearts of the boys Rio and Rui Sawamura, who let on that they were waiting for the girls to make a move, because they were “fated on a biological level” to be together (D’Awwwwww!). Later it turns out that one of the couples is adept at seeing spirits.

Naoto, a cynical and somewhat touchy guy is one of En’s only male friends. A bit of rotten girl innuendo is deployed at first over this, but his excuse for not having a girlfriend is that he is a bit of a melancholy jerk, and that he “only likes older women with big boobs”

It doesn’t take long before an equally cynical, somewhat more mature looking upper-classwoman notices him. (D’Awwwwww!) Sempai aka Reina Kojima is a “carnivorous woman” only in the sense that she speaks her mind, will punch out anyone who gives her trouble, and carries a miniature cat-tiger-pet (the size of a large rat) on her shoulder. She also has cleavage, so Naota is in heaven, even if he won’t admit it. Later it develops that he has a reason for his sour (read asshole) behaviour: He is the son of a very rich, self-made construction magnate who is a controlling paranoid tyrant. Reina has her hands full getting tyrant dad to smarten up and accept their love. She repays the favour by laying down the law on Naoto that he is going to take his duties as successor to the family empire more seriously. (D’Awwwwww!)

The pair come with side characters too, childhood friend/ butler Kage (lit. shadow, he needs to be paired up) and the suggestion that Reina’s mini – tiger-thing pet “Rawr” is the reincarnation of a sick boy who befriended and defended a then weak and bullied Reina in grade school only to die during an operation. (Much later: turns out he was only in a coma – lets see if the mangaka finds him a nice house cat.)

The mangaka also devotes a few bonus chapters to a few of the older guys and how they met their loves (the cafe’s owner, the mangaka father) for some more obligatory D’Awwwwww!. And there are a few new characters that can be dragged out into the light to pair off cutely, especially after some flimsy plot device gets everyone to crossdress.

It is important to note that no character suffers from any identifiable gender dysphoria issues. No one “feels like an x in a y’s body”. In the Uso Lily -verse an assumed gender role is not so much performative of an underlying desire, as it is cosplay; fashion and clothing.

Since I am wasting effort on this thing, why not include a few typical western fan responses:

“I apologise for the lack of summary. It’s long and I can’t get over the cross-dressing. This is for Fujioshi. Enjoy”. (http://ankemaybe.blogspot.ca/2010/09/usotsuki-lily.html)

“I love their personality. xD It’s also one of the few mangas I found that a guy loves cross-dressing. The art is also very nice! I recommend this manga to anyone who enjoys a good laugh, comedy, gender bender, romance, and shoujo”. (http://shorenx.blogspot.ca/2010/12/usotsuki-lily.html)

“It really is twisted but at the same time really cute, funny and sweet! Manga lovers out there should definitely try this one! Hope this becomes an anime! XD”. (http://firstblogpaige.blogspot.ca/2011/05/usotsuki-lily-manga-my-recent-favorite.html)

“Even though I personally am not into this kind of genre with a deep shoujo sense, I though this was an interesting story. The art is really good, but Saotome’s personality isn’t really played out well (in the first chapter at least). I also like the base of the story because its simple and flowing, which makes a good manga. One with no detailed storylines are hard to follow that’s why they tend to be disliked by younger people, (because usually they are Seinen manga)”. (http://mangachaos.blogspot.ca/2012/11/usotsuki-lily-review.html)

“This is an ongoing manga by Ayumi Komura; it’s a story of romance, comedy, gender bender and school life, I totally recommend this manga to anyone that enjoy a cute and innocent story about love and of course to those who like to laugh with the ironic situations of life”. (http://maujg.blogspot.ca/2011/06/usotsuki-lily-manga-review.html)

“This plays out as an episodic romantic comedy, so there are tons of ridiculous situations for our two leads, and plenty of laughs to be had every chapter. The romance that slowly develops between them is sweet too, in its own strange, special way. The side characters in the series also have rather peculiar romances, which makes the story all the more amusing (such as two sets of twins falling for each other, and a boy and girl who acted as role models for a manga artist’s samurai comic). On top of this, the author of Usotsuki Lily enjoys breaking the fourth wall from time to time, and pokes fun at herself and the comic, clearly aware at just how ridiculous the manga is. =D”. (http://yumestate.com/2011/shoujo-manga-shoucase/#more-2596)

We can take these as a qualified endorsement that the formula is working.

ON RELATIONSHIP PORN:

Rachel Matt Thorn was not the only researcher to note how the tropes of shojo manga carried over to its derivatives in BL, (and later in yaoi) but she was one of the first. The point seems so simple it is often glossed over, but it remains a defining characteristic of the genre. Perhaps an analogy can give it prominence: Martin Amis once remarked that science fiction was a lot like colonial literature, that the setting played such a prominent role as to be a secondary main character. Yes; the moon is a harsh mistress. In a similar vein, the relationship dynamics of shojo manga is a secondary character/landscape/substance of the narrative just as it is in other derivative forms of girl’s romance stories, BL (and yaoi that ventures beyond simple fuck mise-en-scenes).

Back to Hinata’s younger brother Taiyou. The mangaka uses him like a wedge to crack open a wall and slip a few idealised gay characters into a very heteronormative manga-land. More important is why they are there. Expanding the relationship dynamics of a story beyond simple heteronormative pairings expands the potential field of narrative exponentially. Even by simple dint of mathematics, one can see the appeal to authors. The only danger lies in taking it too far:

polymorphous Ten usotsuki_lily

“If anyone can pine for anything, then no pining is interesting”. (TM)

Expanding the field to include well-behaved young gay male characters is “daringly transgressive”, on another level, it is still profoundly conservative. And because of the continuous crossdressing, the effect can safely provide some fun gender boundary “blur” while providing lots of bonus rotten-girl squeeeeee lite.

En’s youngest brother Ten has fixated on Taiyou, even though there is a guy called Saeki who yearns for Ten. Previously Taiyou had seen this wonderful girl at school, and had fallen for her. Well, that was embarrassing – ya fell for your older sister’s crossdressed boyfriend. Taiyou does not continue to fixate, (much) nor does he hurl himself off a bridge; he just wants a cute girlfriend – one who is a girl.

Ten gets wind that Taiyou is helping out at the plot contrivance cafe where Hinata and En work, and has a brilliant idea. He will go see Taiyou cross-dressed (because he looks “almost” like his brother in drag), and will drag along a friend Saeki because the cafe only serves couples. Meanwhile Taiyou is not officially an employee at the cafe; he is just filling in for Hinata who has a bad cold, so of course he is crossdressed as well. Did I mention the “any excuse” rule in this manga?

not handing over usotsuki_lily

Hijinx ensue and Taiyou agrees to later meet with Ten to try to sort things out. Saeki will tag along for the meetup too. Ten decides to show up crossdressed and turn it into a “date”. Jealousy ensues. Saeki starts acting petty, as the whole mess starts sliding towards rotten girl territory fast.

Taiyou gets jostled, tripped and finally pushed into a fountain by Saeki, all while Ten, still in drag pretends to be oblivious to the bullshit. While Ten-chan is off getting a towel, Taiyou gets pissed off at Saeki and tries for a simple resolution.

Cue the shojo relationship porn:

austin 1 usotsuki_lilyMoments later…

austin 2 usotsuki_lilyThen…

austin 3 usotsuki_lily

What to make of this “comedy of errors”? The two young gay males don’t come off very realistic, but at least nobody goes into “mr. hard gay comedy shock routine” or “yaoi seme mode“. Instead it is all feelings, “feelings, feelings, nothing more than feelings” for the next 20 pages.

Young (and very chaste) male-male yearning is represented politely, as a matter of fact – in the sense that no one goes into tainted love/ ughh- thats- gross/ abject mode, but at the same time these are not young males speaking their lines. They are some kind of idealised ultra-sensible BL critters that think (and speak) like (female) updated Jane Austen characters.

Ten is in troublesome, scheming-mode even as he blurts out his plans to worm his way into “normal” Taiyou’s attention, but at the same time “doesn’t want to lose Saeki as a friend.” Saeki’s pettiness is revealed as (rather mild all things considered) hopeless yearning turned into jealousy, and Taiyou is left soaked and completely confused by the complicated mess he’s stuck in the middle of; one that will not resolve with a simple “here: you do this, you do that, problem solved!“. As a bonus, he gets a full declaration of love from a crossdressed Ten.

While Taiyou is caught in the middle, he remains a good-natured well-behaved person so he does not spit venom and abjection at Ten, or Saeki. He even has a bit of empathy for both of them. Perhaps that Ten could soon be an in-law counts as a reason for a good behavior imperative in Japanese manga-land? Later Saeki gets dragged over to Hinata and Taiyou’s house, with Ten in tow to apologize for his petty behaviour. Taiyou gets to ask why? “Why fall for a guy when you look normal and could get a nice girl?”

Pride lecture time usotsuki_lily
Suddenly Saeki gets the high moral ground. Note that Saeki does not pull a 1970’s BL oath defending his need to live truthfully in the manner that so moved so many 1970’s female readers. Society has changed. There is likewise no need for the problematic “I’m not gay but” line. Instead it is an assured “I know what I like“. The Saeki character might be revealed as still a BL trope – a “normal” guy who just gets fixated on a “special one and only” but the dynamic has been updated so as to wiggle past any of the old-style insulting “I’m not gay, but” tropes.

In the end lots of friendzoning ensues.

Score 3 wins for the Mangaka. First she gets to preach from high moral ground, and she gets to deploy some light BL candy-floss for her (assumed mostly female) readership. Finally she does it while slipping past a yaoi-ronso faux-pas; which both gains and promotes social capital! Win-win-win!

The Mangaka is not yet finished with Taiyou:

A few chapters later he spots a plain but somewhat cute glasses girl/ young woman up a tree, meets cute (she falls on him) and ends up working at her oddball craft store. How the store pays the rent is a mystery, as the craft items can get downright creepy. The girl/woman/ proprietor is more than a bit odd and introverted, and only keeps the store going as an excuse to see her childhood female friend, who routinely drops by. Taiyou fades into the background. Her childhood friend departs…

Soon it is revealed that store-girl has a long standing unrequited crush on her friend, but will never, never, never speak dare its name… Except to Taiyou. Wow! an honest- to- goodness female homosexual character in a chaste shojo manga! A potential for real yuri, or at least some shojo-ai. That puts Lily one, no wait, three, perhaps four sympathetic gay characters up on Genshiken.

Of course, the friend is oblivious to this, and worries that store-girl is not getting on with her life. A solution is at hand: prod young Taiyou into making nice at store-girl, then bow out of the picture. Sure enough, store-girl gets very sad when her friend stops visiting, and then gets surprised when young Taiyou confesses that he likes store-girl, even though he understands (sigh!) that she probably can’t reciprocate. “Oh well!” says she, “why not try being normal”. Taiyou gets a girlfriend.

D’Awwwwww!   …    Whooops!

A Mangaka who routinely breaks fourth wall to interact with her readers can expect more than a few negative comments on this, especially since she sets herself up as an expert at current politically correct tolerance in Margaret Magazine – land. Is the mangaka seriously suggesting that lesbians just need to find the right guy to get “cured”?

Of course not, it is just an excuse to pull Ten back out of the plot sack.

Ten, who can’t help keeping apprised of what Taiyou is doing with his life (not being quite a young gay stalker…) sees the happy new couple in the store window and then sits on a park bench as the snow falls lightly: “It was inevitable, best to cry a bit and let it go” (aint shojo manga over the top!) But wait: next bench down is store-girl’s friend crying too!

D’Awwwwww!

Of course, only a sympathetic young gay gentleman can politely offer a handkerchief to this crying woman, all while explaining that his motives are pure because of course… Two seconds later crying woman admits to herself and this stranger that she must be feeling sad because she always had real feelings for store-girl that she had denied for so long. And now she has set them up and lost her friend forever Bwahhaaahh!

Time for the amazing super powers of young be- true- to- yourself- gay- guy to appear and save the day!

Uso Lily Ten gets serious1

And…

Uso Lily Ten gets serious2
And of course Ten is rewarded for his impulsiveness when he discovers that her crush is the same girl who has gotten together with Taiyou.

When Taiyou leaves the store all happy, he gets to hear that he now has a female rival for store-girl’s affections (the same person who set him up) and that pest-boy (ooops be-true to yourself gay guy) is helping her. Taiyou already knows that store-girl really wants crying-girl and will undoubtedly do the right thing. Only store-girl remains in the dark.

A proper respectful, sensitive resolution is guaranteed. Cross-dressing will be implemented as part of an ungainly plan to salve the feelings of store-girl and move her towards a moment of personal acceptance and courage to confess her feelings for her childhood love. Happy somewhat adult women friends will go off into the sunset, move to Kamakura and adopt a few cats.

Taiyou will end up girlfriendless again after a lot of goggle-bait is trotted about, but he is young and this will make him a far nobler character and a great catch when some girl his age target locks on him. Ten might even snap out of it and make Saeki happy.

This is like some interminable Shakespearian shepherd tryst.

A CRUSADE FOR MODESTY:

The readership is going to lurv it to death, which causes a bit of cognitive whiplash when one realises how “normal” this manga is for shojo manga in Japan. If this thing was made in the USA, the mangaka would soon find her house under siege from fundamentalist haters.

In certain countries the mangaka could risk beheading.

No one can seriously complain that this manga is perverted, it carries with only the frisson of the forbidden within its pages. En and Hinata were given a free luxury hotel room, and room- sneaking opportunities during the school trip but still behaved themselves. Hinata has desires, but is still a bit shy. En’s cross-dressing throws her off a bit too. En has lots of desires too, but is too good at controlling himself, to the point that during intimate opportunity #2 Hinata worries that he has lost interest in her; even though she admits to herself that she will probably just panic and push him away again – he should at least try!

Meanwhile fake samurai boy cannot resist any longer and gets a bit too familiar with kendo girl; He kisses her on the (gasp) collarbone. Yikes! Extreme freak out! “Never touch me again!” “All guys are perverts!” Much guilt and embarrassment on both sides! Long plot arc with D’Awwwwww! and crossdressing to resolve the mess.

Naota/ Reina and the twin couples are left in reserve to repeat the formula on. This could go on for a while. The only constant is “don’t rush things” and that the girl is the ultimate arbiter of when and what degree of intimacy feels right. Full sexual romance is seen as a mark of adulthood. You also get red bean paste cakes to celebrate. (this is another common trope, deployed in this manga to cause embarrassment in cautious couples).

What puzzles me is why I keep peeking in on the mess every few months. I don’t have professor Thorn’s eye for shojo manga, but this thing screams raw sociology at me. It has been happily grinding away since 2009, has 64 plus chapters and looks like a winning recipe. And part of this recipe is its light touch when it comes to scary problems of youthful desire and sexuality, served up with cross-play and heaps of formulaic relationship mush.

“D’Awwwwww!-service”

I doubt that there would even be yaoi (or other) dojins made by rotten girls (or others) on this thing. (Would the author do a Ogiue style “My characters are… whatever… “) It is too sweet and harmless.

Harmless is good.

Harmless can sneak around and do all kinds of worthwhile mischief.

Harmless might even keep some poor oddball youth with or without minoroty sexuality and/or gender identity problems from jumping off a roof, and/ or prod a microscopic few of the riajuu/ hoi polloi into the absorbing the idea that tormenting their oddball classmates is low-class, unacceptable behavior.

Watch how issues are contested in social space. Drip, drip, drip…

Lets leave it to Rachel Matt Thorn to provide the coda:

“In drawings and in words, revolution is easy. In fiction, one can rewrite the world, remodel human relationships, with the stroke of a pen. Here, at the Comic Market and in countless smaller venues throughout the country, throughout the year, women and men paint worlds so outrageous that the mainstream media won’t touch them. But out there, on the lawn, on the street, in the home, in the workplace, the stakes are much higher. Even those who dream the wildest dreams become timid when confronted with the weight and complexity of social reality.

But let us look again. These women and men, dismissed by so many as otaku, as reclusive geeks, are taking small risks. They are crossing lines that many others couldn’t cross. They are finding their own place, making their own way, while most of the societal mainstream takes the easier, socially sanctioned course. They are holding hands, talking to one another, enjoying each other’s company”.

— Matt Thorn, Girls and Women Getting Out of Hand
http://matt-thorn.com/shoujo_manga/outofhand/index.php
archived at:
https://web.archive.org/web/20140109042024/http://matt-thorn.com/shoujo_manga/outofhand/index.html

Later: Revised version:
https://www.academia.edu/12110339/Girls_And_Women_Getting_Out_Of_Hand_The_Pleasure_And_Politics_Of_Japans_Amateur_Comics_Community

Thank you Ayumi Komura.

Congratulations and please keep drawing!

1) Updated 2016 to reflect professor Thorn’s prefered pronoun use.

Much Later: Although I never got around to a sequel essay/review on Usolily’s final volumes, the 2016 release of the quasi-doujin “Otokonoko no Koto” (About a Boy)
oneshot by Komura Ayumi prompted me to see if I could pull off an analysis of a prime example of “sparkling fluffy BL”, even if it contained mildly explicit m:m material. See for yourself if it works: “Usotsuki Daisy” ( January 11, 2017 )
https://heartsoffuriousfancies.wordpress.com/2017/01/11/usotsuki-daisy/

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The possibility of global causality violation

Wherein your correspondent wonders on where Shimoku-sensei got the idea of stuffing the new Genshiken with fujoshi and digs up a fresh trove of theory on fujoshi-dom

“It was only around 2006 that media interest turned toward fujoshi in and of itself. Women who expressed a positive interest in expressions of male-male romance began to be depicted in media aimed at the general public—for instance, in publications such as Yumiko Sugiura’s book Otaku Girls Research: Fujoshi Ideology (2006a), and in various manga about fujoshi as exemplified by Ajiko Kojima’s 2006 text My Neighbor Yaoi-chan (Tonari no 801chan). In 2006,[moi: this could be a typo, it is probably 2007] the magazine Eureka (Seidosha) published two special issues, Fujoshi Manga Compendium (June) and BL Studies (December), about boys’ love/shōnen-ai works and their fujoshi fans. Both issues contained critiques and essays by fujoshi from many age groups and professional backgrounds, and they strongly foregrounded insider points of view. They also made references to male readers of yaoi and BL. The word fudanshi, “rotten boy,” was used to denote male fans who liked fujoshi-oriented content, indicating that a taste for expressions of male-male romance was not as strictly gendered as was previously assumed.””
http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/462/386.

The first generation of the Genshiken graduated in March 2006
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Genshiken_chapters). When it revived a few years later, the venerable clubroom soon turned into a pit of fujoshi mischief. What happened?

As noted above, the 2006-2007 period had a lot of fujoshi media awareness. Also, as previously went-on-about-for-too-long, the second season of the Genshiken anime also ran its infamous yaoi episode in 2007 (https://heartsoffuriousfancies.wordpress.com/2012/04/05/i-do-not-feel-the-romance-i-do-not-catch-the-spark/) so there was a certain zeitgeist in the air.

A fair bit of the theory writing after this time mentions the importance of three or more specialized issues in the popular Japanese literary magazine Eureka.

Want to stop the whole pesky fujoshi mess in its tracks? Set the wayback machine guys, we are going to stop Eureka from publishing in 2007!
Hey this is more fun than Stein’s Gate!

Back to those issues: Their influence is explored in a short but important essay by Tomoko Aoyama: Eureka Discovers Culture Girls, Fujoshi, and BL:
Essay Review of Three Issues of the Japanese Literary magazine,
Yuriika (Eureka) http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue20/aoyama.htm

…Who also points out the importance of an earlier 2005 issue on “Culture Girls” (probably best understood as a survey of girl’s culture) and a late 2007 issue on Mori Mari:

“…the magazine has rarely dealt with women writers and artists—until relatively recently. Given this general background, the November 2005 Culture Girls issue has a special historical significance.

The issue quickly sold out and the term bunka-kei joshi (used broadly for young(ish) women culture vultures, intellectuals, writers, artists, and fans)[3] gained some currency in popular media. From this issue onwards Eureka has paid much more attention than before to a wide range of ‘Culture Girls’ favourite topics, artists, and genres.

The January 2006 Forefront of Manga Criticism issue, for example, included slightly more input from women commentators than the August 2005 supplementary issue Otaku vs Sub-Cul[ture].[4] Other topics featured in 2006 included singer Madonna (March), female manga artist Saibara Rieko (July), and women film directors (December). The trend was further heightened in 2007 (see Table 1), with the regular December issue dedicated to woman writer Mori Mari, who is regarded today as the pioneer of male homosexual fantasy stories for women, as well as the Fujoshi manga and BL Studies issues that are also reviewed in this essay. “

It should also be mentioned that one of the 2006 issues was devoted to the anthropological science fiction works of Ursula K. LeGuin. One can surmise that while the Earthsea saga was discussed, some discussion of the groundbreaking and gender-role questioning The Left Hand of Darkness (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Left_Hand_of_Darkness) took place. Footnotes in later essays verify LeGuin’s influence on narratives in contemporary Japanese feminist fiction. (but damn if i haven’t lost the citations again – will fill this in when they re-surface)

[MUCH LATER: found it in a footnote in a survey article:

“(48) Yaoi in Japan appears to have arisen independently of slash, though both genres were influenced, as Thorn says, “by a global questioning of gender and sexuality” (personal communication). Ebihara (2002) says Hagio cited Western science fiction author Ursula Le Guin as a major influence on her works in the mid-1980s. Other Western authors who influenced shōjo manga artists were speculative fiction writers such as Joanna Russ, James Tiptree, Jr. and Suzy McKee Charnas, especially their feminist-themed science-fiction stories, which Marlene Barr termed “feminist fabulation.” Thorn says Takemiya illustrated the covers for a paperback series of Le Guin’s works, and that Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness was translated into Japanese in 1972 and Russ’ “When It Changed” in 1974 (personal communication).”
– http://web.archive.org/web/20040815054437/http://www.guidemag.com/temp/yaoi/a/mcharry_yaoi.html   ]

The three issues were:

Bunka-kei joshi katarogu (Culture Girls’ catalogue, November 2005) ISBN4-7917-0140-2;
Fujoshi manga taikei (Fujoshi manga compendium, June 2007 supplementary issue) ISBN978-4-7917-0163-6;
and
BL (Bōizu rabu) sutadiizu (BL [Boys Love] studies, December 2007 supplementary issue) ISBN978-4-7917-0172-8.

While there were plenty of fujoshi before this, the media, the academics and mangakas looking for research got a veritable trove of material, done up as popular social science within the space of half a year.

Here is Aoyama on the Nov 2005 issue:

“The contributors to the Culture Girls issue vary immensely—certainly more widely than contributors to the other two issues. The issue is divided into several sections: literature, visual art, music, ‘Otaku-kei’ (manga, yaoi, BL, anime, digital games and gadgets etc.), and fandoms (pop music and comedians). The issue also includes a roundtable discussion with four ‘culture girls,’ the responses of twenty men (critics, writers, and artists) to the questionnaire about their ‘favourite culture girls’ and a culture girls’ chronology. As is clear from Takada Rieko’s opening essay, some of the contributors are more familiar with the conventional danshi-kei bunka (men’s culture), such as German literary studies (Takada’s own field), than the genres associated with bunka-kei joshi. In Takada’s view women academics, who have been working within the male-centred humanities, ‘do not deserve to be included in the Culture Girls’ Catalogue, which presumably expresses the creativity, intelligence, and misery of women who are free from the institutional restrictions and the shadow of men.'[5] And yet, as she also claims, it is worth noting that the decline of ‘men’s culture’ based on Western cultural hegemony has released ‘culture girls’ from the spell of their often turbulent personal relationships with the bunka-kei danshi.[6]

The significance of ‘freedom’ and ‘relationships’ is mentioned in many other contributions. Issues of gender segregation are also recurrent. Ozawa Eimi, Kimura Kana, Kodai Nariko, and several others deal with the dilemma of women academics, literary girls, and artists. Horikoshi Hidemi, who chaired the roundtable and compiled the culture girl chronology, notes that only after graduation did she realise that years of reading books written solely by male authors had suppressed her interests in girl culture.[7] Kanemaki Tomoko begins her essay ‘Joshi ota 30-nen sensō’ (30-Year War of Female Otaku) with a discussion of the absence of women’s views and voices in debates and studies about otaku. This is despite the fact that 71.2 per cent of the exhibitors and 56.9 per cent of general participants at the 30th Anniversary Comic Market[8] were women.[9] “

Aoyama then gets down to the two 2007 issues: (big honking quote warning!)

“Compared with the broad, ambiguous, and somewhat hesitant tone that permeates Culture Girls Catalogue, the two later issues are much more clearly focussed and less reserved. Fujoshi manga taikei opens with a dialogue between the Naoki Prize winning popular novelist Miura Shion and sociologist Kaneda Junko. Titled ‘”Seme x uke” no mekurumeku sekai: dansei shintai no miryoku o motomete’ (The dazzling world of ‘seme x uke’: in pursuit of the charm of male body), the two women discuss thematic and technical freedom, innovation and diversity in BL manga. Their topics range from the significance of depicting uke men’s nipples and body fluids to the much wider types of protagonists, including the ‘fat, bald, and old.'[18] Terms such as seme (lit. attacker), uke (lit. receiver), and riba (reverse/reversible) are used without gloss. One of the important points raised in this dialogue is the homophobic (e.g. ‘I’m not gay but I love you.’) and misogynistic expressions (‘Stop treating me like a woman!’) that used to be commonly found in BL works.[19] These are much less common now, however, as BL has become more and more diversified and includes critiques of gender stereotypes and discrimination. While the dialogue thus emphasises the positive aspects and specific innovations of BL, it also mentions the negative view that was dominant until the mid-1990s and is still present.[20]

As mentioned above, gender asymmetry and segregation are the central issues in the Culture Girls’ Catalogue. Many contributors to Fujoshi manga taikei also discuss these. Ueno Chizuko, for example, emphasises in her essay ‘Fujoshi to wa dare ka?’ (Who Is Fujoshi?)[21] :

despite the post-war Americanization and permeation of heterosexism [dēto eiji ‘date age’], Japanese gender segregation culture has been reproduced. ‘Couple culture’ has failed to establish itself in Japan…Sub-culture media are filled with couples; however, the imagined sex differs immensely between male and female cultures. It rather amazes me that real sexual intercourse is possible at all between men and women who have separately developed such gender-asymmetrical sexual fantasies.[22]

In psychologist Kayama Rika’s view, fujoshi have two contradictory traits, namely, the otaku-like (i.e. erased or blurred) ‘self’ and feminine orientation for relational narrative.[23] Kayama also notes that ‘while more women are released from relationship-based illnesses, at the same time the number of women who suffer more deeply has increased.'[24]

Sociologist Ishida Hitoshi discusses the gap between the ‘real gay’ and gays as represented in yaoi/BL and the lack of dialogue between the fujoshi and the ‘real gays.’ In BL Studies Ishida further examines the ‘autonomy’ and ‘appropriation’ in BL representations.[25] Mizoguchi Akiko offers another angle: she argues that while the majority of yaoi artists and their audience are heterosexual women, ‘nevertheless its discursive space is highly lesbian.’ [ moi: Note the appearance of A. Mizoguchi, writing for the popular Japanese reader, in Japanese, while she was finishing up her PhD thesis ] Like Miura and Kaneda, Mizoguchi confirms the increase of non-homophobic and more diversified representations including, for example, gay human rights issues. Diversity is also evident in other essays including Mori Naoko’s discussion of ‘hard’ (sexually explicit) BL and Yoshimoto Taimatsu’s analysis of male BL fans (fukei 腐兄[27] and fudanshi 腐男子). Yoshimoto also deals with the BL subgenre called shota, which involves pre-adolescent boy protagonists. The topic of shota appears in many other essays and interviews but with the unspoken understanding that this has nothing to do with ‘real’ paedophilia, child pornography, and censorship. As Mark McLelland and others have pointed out, this presents a great contrast to the sensitiveness of these issues in the West.[28]

BL Studies includes further updates and useful theoretical and bibliographical overviews. Kotani Mari proposes the notion of C (in contrast to the famous A, P, and V in Inagaki Taruho’s Shōnen’ai no bigaku (The Aesthetics of Love for Boys, originally published in 1968)[29] to analyse the sexuality of homme fatal(e) protagonists. Kotani argues that homme fatal narratives should be understood as stories of C, that is the symbol for service for women’s autonomous and personal pleasure without oppression or invasion.[30]

Referring to her own pioneering monograph on girls’ comics, Watashi no ibasho wa doko ni aru no? (Where is My Place? 1998),[31] Fujimoto Yukari summarises two main points:

First shōnen ai [the earlier genre that dealt with male homoeroticism] was created to flee from various gender restrictions and sexuality taboos; Once the mechanism is established, however, it has enabled girls to ‘play sexuality’ and opened up a possibility for them to change their viewpoint from passive to active.[32]

Then she discusses a number of issues and misunderstandings with updated data and references such as Nagakubo Yōko’s Yaoi shōsetsu ron (On yaoi novels, 2005).[33]

Kaneda Junko’s overview of theories on yaoi is equally useful. She argues that there are two general inquiries. First of these is the psychological approach that concerns ‘Why do you like yaoi?,'[34] which implicitly assumes that there are some problems to be solved. The other is a gender studies approach that asks ‘What does yaoi signify to women and to society?.'[35] Kaneda cites Kotani, Nagakubo, Mizoguchi, Ishida and many other studies in regard to this latter inquiry. While this issue includes Shiina Yukari’s essay on the popularity of BL manga in America,[36]  generally the discussions in all three volumes are limited to Japanese-language publications, audiences, artists, and scholars. [emp. mine]

The focus on the more recent and specific is apparent in BL Studies. The opening roundtable discussion looks at the major themes, changes, and topics in BL manga in 2007. The three most popular themes were ‘[male] pleasure quarters, Arab, and [male] brides,'[37] while there was also the first BL fiction to deal with tuna fishermen (a major industry supplying Japan’s sushi trade). Several different kinds of seme are mentioned. Recent publications on yaoi, BL, and fujoshi, including those written from male viewpoints and/or for a male audience, are also discussed. While Fujoshi manga taikei includes interviews with two artists: Nobi Nobita and Kyūshū Danji,[38] BL Studies features seven interviews. These are highly interesting, as they go into specific details and examples, which often correspond to the points raised in the essays. Each issue also includes an illustrated guide to major BL artists and texts. Perhaps these and the cover illustrations (by Hajimekku, Kusama Sakae, and Tojitsuki Hajime) best illustrate the freedom and diversity discussed above.

These three volumes are essential readings for anyone interested in BL, yaoi, and girl culture in contemporary Japan. They are also very useful and interesting for students and researchers of broader gender studies and Japanese popular culture and many other fields even though readers unfamiliar with the terms, genres and broader socio-cultural context may have some difficulties. As outlined above, each volume has its own aims, significance and emphasis. Culture Girl Catalogue marks an important turning point for Eureka from its traditional focus on male-dominant, and Euro-American oriented elite culture to a wider range of both elite and popular cultures produced and received by women. Fujoshi manga taikei and BL Studies more specifically deal with both technical and thematic innovation and diversification in the relevant genres. Earlier negative images and discourses surrounding fujoshi have been replaced by positive recognition of their creativity. The discursive centre has shifted from ‘liberation from’ and ‘alternative to’ to ‘freedom for.’ Needless to say, there are still many issues and areas unexplored or underrepresented in these volumes.”

Wow!

You can betcha that if you are going to move to Japan and do serious gender studies research on otaku/ fujoshi/ queer/ yadda yadda yadda issues surrounding “modern visual culture”  that you will be practicing your hard-won ability to read japanese of photocopies or scans of these three Eureka issues. Now if only some kind scanlator or blogger would care to have a go at the whole mess, the rest of us could be enlightened.

In any case, the evidence mounts that Kio Shimoku had access to this material, and if he avoided it, he was at least soaking in a field of enquiry where the topics covered in these three issues were at the cutting edge of discussion about manga and Japanese visual culture.

That the muddy footprints of these Eureka issues can be found hidden in the corners of the pages of Genshiken Nidame is undeniable.

Meanwhile some fresh fujoshi studies material finally bobs to the surface, and (three cheers!) it is not hidden behind an academic paywall.

We will now pause for a mandatory “Boo Hisss” at Mechademia and it’s habit of hiding behind an academics-only paywall. Repent and free your research!

Here is some fresh theory writing:

Please visit the TWC website and snag the following articles from Issue 14

http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/issue/view/14

all of which seem to have come out of Glocal Polemics of ‘BL’ (Boys Love): Production, Circulation, and Censorship symposium at Oita University (Japan, Oita city near Fukuoka) held on 22nd & 23rd January 2011
(http://www.isc.oita-u.ac.jp/e/news_window_epdf/BLworkshopprogram.pdf)

Goodies include:

Symposium: The possibilities of research on fujoshi in Japan by Midori Suzuki, Kyoto Seika University, Kyoto, Japan
http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/462/386

more…..

Rotten use patterns: What entertainment theories can do for the study of boys’ love by Björn-Ole Kamm, Heidelberg University, Heidelberg, Germany http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/427/391

“This shift from asking the problematic question “why” to asking “how” mirrors developments during the 1970s within the field of media use research. A growing disenchantment with media effects theories led to a new interactive perspective on media use and to new concepts and models that understand media preference (such as for a particular genre) as arising from societal, biographical, and situational contexts and not from an essential personality trait. The same change is apparent within the discourse on boys’ love.

[1.4] Exchange between the fields of communication studies and manga studies remains limited. Most manga research ignores theories of media use, neither applying nor critiquing them. Similarly, communication research still focuses on television as the sole producer of symbols, ignoring media systems outside the North Atlantic sphere—or, more precisely, outside the United States. Consequently, it continues to rely on a Hollywoodesque “hedonistic principle” as the basis for theories of entertainment (note 3). Manga as an entertainment medium has been mostly ignored. The aim of this article is to address the weaknesses on both sides. In an attempt to foster a dialogue between communication studies and manga studies, I evaluate the uses and gratifications approach (UGA) and outline a conceptual framework for the analysis of boys’ love and its diverse patterns of use. Following the UGA and attending to the genre’s tayōsei, my framework also favors direct contact with the readers (and producers) instead of analyzing texts only.””

Later:

“Early UGA research limited the concept of audience activity to the decision-making process, for example, deciding which movie to watch or manga to read. This approach was based on the premise that people are aware of their needs and the media content that will best fulfill those needs.

[4.2] Instead of assuming that the world is completely knowable and individuals have access to all the information they need to make decisions, as rational choice theories imply, later conceptualizations of the UGA were more consistent with symbolic interactionism (Blumer 1969). Interactionists assume that the (life) world is “created by processes of defining situations and interpreting actions and objects…[and] that these definitions and interpretations are to be seen as neither natural nor permanent, but socially constructed and provisional instead” (Westerik et al. 2006). Humans process their world symbolically, because they act toward objects according to the meanings they ascribe to those objects. These meanings are based on experiences, on earlier interactions with these objects, and on interactions with other humans. Such interactions are recursive and framed by changing contexts, resulting in corresponding changes in the meanings.””

“”[4.5] After repeated experiences with BL, the interviewees in my study have learned what they can gain from it or, more precisely, from a specific range of titles and authors within the genre. A use pattern develops to such a degree that reading manga, commercial or amateur, sexually explicit or romantic, is not a “problematic issue” (figure 1) but a routine. When Misato comes home stressed after school, she knows that she can relax by rereading one of her favorite BL manga. There is no need for her to search for another way to find relief from stress. Because the time involved in the decision process decreases, use patterns can be seen as a form of media competency (Schweiger 2007).”

Sounds useful!

Another fine paper:

Simulation and database society in Japanese role-playing game fandoms: Reading boys’ love dōjinshi online by Lucy Hannah Glasspool

Just from the title, we KNOW that we are going to get a bleep-load of interpreted Baudrillard, and some Azuma. “Simulation and cultural capital of a country, of objects, of familiarity with by fans” will be dropped out of a cloaked cargo plane like Mithril’s avenging mechas.

A sample:

“[4.4] Baudrillard (1990) has a good deal to say about pornography as a symptom of the hyperreal: as sex without the potential for his concept of playful seduction, it is “the mechanical objectification of the signs of sex” (27). The more explicit it becomes, the more it can be considered an empty simulacrum: “The more one advances willy-nilly in sex’s veracity, in the exposure of its workings, the more immersed one becomes in the accumulation of signs, and the more enclosed one becomes in the mindless over-signification of a real that no longer exists” (33). Baudrillard concentrates here on hard-core photographic/live-action pornography, which, although similar in some respects to the drawn contents of many erotic dōjinshi, is possibly less playful. It may be that the creators and consumers of these fan texts are less obsessed with “games of sex” than “with play itself” (13). In either case, the pornographic element of dōjinshi may add another layer to the build-up of elements that enable the classification of such fan works as simulacra.”

later

“[4.10] The ways that an idea of Japaneseness is maintained by fans can also be seen in dōjinshi themselves. Apart from raw scans and hard copies—which of course constantly remind their readers of their origin by the fact that they are in Japanese—many scanlated digital versions also contain what are recognized by fans as Japanese characteristics, which cannot be observed in the localized versions of the RPGs they are based on. The dōjinshi are English enough for the content to be comprehensible, but some foreign features remain intact. They fetishize the “rubric of cultural/Japanese difference” (Allison 2006, 15).

[4.11] Scanlations of FFVII dōjinshi like K. Haruka’s Endorphine (2001) and Bring You Back to Me (2003) retain some Japanese words without attempting literal or cultural translation, such as the diminutive suffix -chan, which has a specific meaning in Japanese but no real equivalent in English. The translator assumes that the readers, who are likely to have some knowledge of the RPG upon which the dōjinshi is based, will also know enough about Japanese culture to recognize the word and understand its meaning.

[4.12] Many scanlations, though translated into English, leave Japanese script intact in the form of sound effects, which are often an integral part of the artwork and difficult to remove (they are sometimes overlaid with English effects instead). This is an aesthetic decision rather than one that consciously promotes the idea of Japaneseness, but it nevertheless contributes to the apparent cultural specificity of the text.””

[5.8] As might be considered appropriate for works drawn from the medium of games, these techniques of borrowing particular elements and discarding others are playful. Such texts are intended for the pleasure of specific in-the-know users. Although practices like pastiche are criticized by theorists such as Jameson (1983) for being “neutral and ‘blank’ parody, parody that has lost its sense of humor” (114), Baudrillard (1990), in his theorization of the silent masses, suggests that a lack of earnestness or overt social or political content is sometimes the only method of protest. In the context of contemporary capitalist cultures, rife with simulation, the masses do not respond seriously to simulations of meaningfulness; rather, people subvert it by refusing to engage or produce serious meanings for themselves. They “take the hyperlogic of the play of signs to its most banal” (Grace 2000, 103). In this kind of inertia, they frustrate and trouble attempts to make a serious matter of fixing gender.”

What really makes this paper interesting is how the author ends by decrying the relative lack of serious study of fujoshi dojins, by the fujoshi-studies mafia aka “the usual suspects” and their Japanese brethren. It seems that the rotten girls are suspicious of academic outsiders and worry about a possible double whammy clampdown driven by moral panic and copyright concerns. Don’t ask don’t tell comes to fujoshi-land.

Finally, this one caught my eye:

Reflection on Chinese boys’ love fans: An insider’s view by Erika Junhui Yi, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, United States

Interesting point: while Mizoguchi et al go on about virtual lesbian spaces and others call fujoshi-dom ‘queer” Chinese rotten girls bear the brunt of a much simpler form of discrimination. Chinese society don’t like weird, it don’t like homosexuality of any stripe and it don’t like uppity wimmins. If the latter looks at anything that looks “gay”, then they are gay, and therefore must be lesbians/ queers/ gays/ disruptive/ abject/ dangerous all rolled into one without distinction. Send them all off to the re-education through labor camps, let Marx sort them out!

So much for Western “queer theory” privilege. Ouch!

So these articles will be a lot of fun to grind up against Genshiken and other manga. Anyone who gives a whit for this kind of “theory moe” is invited to partake!

Next time, something light and pleasant

Fujoshi moe-nogatari

Wherein your correspondent reviews another bit of important fujoshi-studies literature, as part of an ongoing survey project to skim through notable articles, try to make sense of them, and then grind them up against Genshiken (or other manga/anime) to see if any sparks fly:

Fujoshi: Fantasy Play and Transgressive Intimacy among “Rotten Girls” in Contemporary Japan by Patrick W. Galbraith, http://www.jstor.org/stable/full/10.1086/660182  JSTOR: Signs, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Autumn 2011), pp. 211-232 (somehow not locked down in Jstor – grab it before they change their mind)

Galbraith is pretty well unavoidable in the field; when he gets around to looking at fujoshis acting as fujoshis you get to witness a first-rate academic popularizer at work. You get the feeling he has run through the theory/ world interface more than a few times in classes and symposia and knows what he wants to say. If I was still a grad student working in the field, I would be torn between admiration and jealousy. “Goddammit he just grabbed all the good stuff!

Well, there is plenty of fujoshi misbehaviour to go around in Japan, and he has done the fieldwork – lots of fieldwork, so calm down and pay attention! This article and his moe one: Moe: Exploring Virtual Potential in Post-Millennial Japan are now required reading.

(Big honking quote warning:)

“All of my informants self-identify as fujoshi, a term transforming the Japanese word for ladies into a homonym meaning rotten girls. Fujoshi are rotten because they are enthusiastic about yaoi, a genre of fan-produced fiction and art, usually manga, that places established male characters from commercial anime, manga, and video games into unintended romantic relationships, roughly analogous to “slash” fiction outside Japan (Jenkins 1992; Pagliassotti 2010).

Stories range from depicting boys just holding hands to boys having sex, sometimes roughly, always passionately, and appear as text and images in physical and virtual forms.

Yaoi evolved from the mainstream commercial medium of shojo (for girls) manga and shares the genre’s focus on romance and interpersonal relationships, but yaoi is dedicated to relationships between androgynous men. In a country where patriarchal family values persist, fujoshi are criticized for pursuing yaoi and are described as rotten because they are attracted to fantasies of sex that is not productive of children (Sugiura 2006).

However, fujoshi typically lead heteronormative lives despite their queer fantasies, which they describe as nothing more than play. Indeed, fujoshi consciously situate their fantasy as digression: the term yaoi is an acronym for “no climax, no punch line, no meaning” (yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi). This follows a long tradition in Japan of asobi, or play that is outside the expectations and rules of the everyday (Hendry and Raveri 2002).

Yaoi erases the female in fantasy because female-male or even female-female couples are too close to reality. Male-male couples, by contrast, are positioned as what fujoshi call “pure fantasy” (junsui na fantajı). In this way, yaoi represents what psychoanalyst Saito¯ Tamaki describes as “asymmetrical” desire “deliberately separated from everyday life” (Saito 2007, 245). For fujoshi, fantasy is something that coexists with reality as a separate set of possibilities.

Fujoshi fantasy centers on intimacy. Sharalyn Orbaugh (2010) notes that rape is a common motif in yaoi, but adds that “rape is always motivated by the aggressor’s extreme love and desire for the victim” and “the victim eventually comes to accept and reciprocate the aggressor’s love”. As Orbaugh sees it, yaoi characters are vulnerable and abject (they describe themselves as strange), but they accept each other as true or destined lovers. The bond is key. The characters do not identify as gay (and often outright deny it) but fall in love with someone who happens to be the same-sex; the bond between them is special and ireproducible.

Likewise, yaoi tends to feature the charismatic boys of shonen (for boys) manga. Be they friends or rivals, the characters in these action-adventure stories tend to have very strong feelings for one another. Fujoshi reinterpret touches, words, and glances in shonen manga as indirect expressions of affection: they pick up on implicit tensions in male relations and playfully imagine intimacy. I call this “transgressive intimacy,” or emotional and erotic potential that is latent in the everyday and separate from it. Fujoshi are devoted to exposing and exploring transgressive intimacy in their fiction and art, and among themselves. Some of my informants, even those with boyfriends, described themselves as lesbians.(see orig Mizoguchi fn 9 below)

My informants generally imposed temporal and spatial limits on their contact—they often “do not want to know” one another, as one informant frankly told me, outside of their shared experiences as fujoshi, which tends to focus discussions and interactions on yaoi. Fujoshi relationships, like yaoi relationships, are based on a mutual status as abject and vulnerable (hence fujoshi describe themselves as rotten) and are consciously separated from reality as moments of transgressive intimate potential in fantasy space.

Intimacy among fujoshi is characterized by playful surface interaction. At the most basic level, when the interaction occurs online, it is a construct between the user physically sitting in front of the computer and the other imagined beyond the screen (a flat viewing surface mediating interactions with a fujoshi partner who is not deeply engaged, talking about supposedly “meaningless” fantasy). Philosopher Azuma Hiroki uses the metaphor of the screen to describe the nature of late-stage capitalism as “hyperflatness” (Azuma 2009, 102). Drawing on Jean-Francois Lyotard and Jean Baudrillard, Azuma theorizes that the grand narrative has broken down, leaving only fragmentary moments of sensual pleasure obsessively reproduced in a flat world without meaning, since meaning was generated by the grand narrative.

This goes a long way toward explaining fan fiction and art, but it fails to explain the sociality and intimacy of sharing these moments of pleasure or sensual intensity. On this point, Suzuki Kensuke has theorized “neta communication” (neta teki komyunike¯shon), or topic-oriented communication in which the topic itself is less important than the communication act (Suzuki 2002).

Neta means material, as in the material a comedian draws on when making jokes on stage. Those needing reference for how such communication functions need look no further than Seinfeld, an American sitcom where a comedian and his friends draw on an endless string of topics from trivial matters in everyday life to fuel discussions that unfold like performances. While extreme in arguing that humans have reverted to buzzing like bees in hive interactions, neta communication theory highlights the importance of the phatic function of language, which seems crucial to understanding fujoshi. Communication and interactions may be surface, but they are not trivial. As Elspeth Probyn (1996) suggests, the social world is a “surface” upon which “all manner of desires to belong are conducted in relations of proximity to each other” .

If you can get the in-journal pdf from the link, the footnotes are easier to manage as they sit at page bottom.. Here’s one that caught my eye:

“9) While there certainly are lesbian fujoshi, and while not wanting to deny my informants their sexual agency, I should point out that it seemed to me that they were using the term “lesbian” not to indicate a sexual orientation but rather to mean “deeply intimate with members of the same-sex.” This sort of intimacy, or special friendship, at girls’ schools is not historically unique (Pflugfelder 2005).”

Shortly following is a footnote that does the big ooooops! on Mizoguchi due to a bit of careless quoting:

“Mizoguchi Akiko (2007) has also worked on lesbianism among yaoi fans and has stated that she “became” a lesbian because of exposure in adolescence (Mizoguchi 2008, vi) “

Whoops! I have previously made noise about this. Let me dig at it a bit more:

Dr. Akiko Mizoguchi has to be dealt with in any discussion of yaoi in Japan: Her main thesis posits that while the majority of yaoi consuming Japanese females are “straight”, their social exchange of libidinous material constitutes a “virtual lesbian space”. The puppets look male, but the hands that draw them are female, in a female productive fan community. Her “virtual lesbian” thesis confuses the heck out of “straight’ fujoshi research, to the extent that there is a temptation to fuzzy-fy her stuff and slip by it.  There goes the odd charm of fujoshidom: “normal” Japanese women with perverse desires – as if they were all “real” lesbians, they would be “bent” anyway, so looking at m-m pr0n would be no big stretch: They would be all “virtually butch” or some such rude miscomprehension.

For me, her “virtual lesbian” concept helped me put the whole Genshiken Hato-plot-trick in context (and left me a bit queasy about reading yuri, though I still can’t bring myself to read her fave stuff). Dr. Mizoguchi knows all about yuri, but keeps seeing the male “social” hiding behind the female characters.

One reason I harp on this is that the frank personal testimony that Mizoguchi used in her thesis is what made it real and readable, and while I suspect it might be a tad embellished, the story of a young lesbian isolated in her social using the tropes of a classic BL tales to recover from a painful rejected confession is pure high heroic romanticism!

Lets dig up the Mizoguchi passages in question:

“But of course I had crushes on girl friends prior to that time. Especially serious was one episode with a classmate in college, whom I ended up telling that i was in love with and wanted to become lovers with. She was surprised and said she was sorry but she could only be friends with me, and proceeded to advise me that i should try to correct my ways so I could fit back into a straight lifestyle, as the lesbian or bisexual life would surely be more difficult.

“Whether or not I will lead a non-normative life is not your business. I will make my own decision and I know I will not lie to myself. The chosen lifestyle might be the more difficult one, but that is not the point.”

At the time of this conversation in 1985, I had not heard of lesbians except for “homosexuality as a mental disorder” and a few “lesbian scandals” in show business. [ …] How then was I able to gain access to such a strong sense of lesbian pride? (p9) […] When I realized this, what came to my mind was the only “homosexual” representation I had access to in the 1970’s, that is, so-called “beautiful boy” comics (bishonen manga) within the “girls comics’ (shojo manga) genre.. ” (p10, Mizoguchi 2008))

K-rist piloting a Tracer unit in a schoolgirl outfit!!! If this ain’t a “Batman moment” stuck into a PhD thesis, I don’t know what is! I am not making fun of it, and it is fair game to call attention to it, as it was foregrounded in her thesis. The oath moment is one to self and to public agency. Perhaps the problem pops up later at the end of her personal testimony around P44:

“I “became” a lesbian after [emp mine] the beautiful boy protagonists’ homoerotic/ homosexual episodes in the “beautiful boy” comics in the 1970’s “girls’ comics”. precursor to the yaoi genre. Now approximately a million women – still a minority in Japan with a population of over 127 million – are participating in a “virtual lesbian” community, which has the potential lesbian and feminist activism based on shared pleasures among women and their sexual fantasies.” (Mizoguchi 2008)

So: there is the quote, but way out of context. Mizoguchi has made a point of invoking Judith Butler a whole lot on “becoming”, and therefore the quotation-marks- loaded “I became” must be positioned to be read as meaning something like “I initially constructed my public persona as a lesbian, by adapting the narratives and tropes of..” Butler is a big gay theorist who posits as desirable that one acts publicly to present one’s life and sexuality as a real social fact (although some parody of what is grating on you from heteronormative society is considered part of the deal too.) Just think of the ID creature in the film “Forbidden Planet”, powerful, diffuse and impossible to pin down, because it is re-created instant to instant – such is identity to Butler.

Note also Mizoguchi’s use of the word after, as in “take after“, “inspired by“, “enabled by the script” rather than “after I got hit by a train, I died”. So “I became” without the Butler concept emphasis is problematic.

Why I am I digressing on this? Pace mr. Galbraith, I am not on a search and destroy mission. The thing about Mizoguchi, as personified in her 2008 PhD thesis is how she straddles and threatens the gender and fantasy is fantasy/ reality is reality conventions of the yaoi social. They are all supposed to be “straight” women – what is she doing in there? Also, she has made it a big point of her praxis to point out that the nastier plot conventions in yaoi can hurt, insult and confuse real solid-life gay males, and possibly all homosexuals, and that less nasty alternatives are available. The potential for radical disenchantment in her critique is serious. Shimoku -sensei is not the only one who likes to poke at Saito.

ASIDE: prof Saito is a good target to kick. His main argument, that Japanese culture can easily maintain the fantasy is fantasy x reality is reality divide reads at first a lot like the usual “japan-is-special” essentialism that goes by the name of Nihon- jinronSure, different cultures process things differently, but Nihon- jinron arguments end up being “just-so” stories; long on “yup” and short on “why?” Then again, prof Saito invented the term Hikikomori, and has written extensively on Otaku sexuality and social withdrawal in Japan. If I am going to carelessly wave an essentialism stick at his work, I will have to dig it up, read it and only then mouth off.

Back to Akiko Mizoguchi and Galbraith:

Her popping up in this Galbraith essay right before the strong tip-of-the hat to that fantasy x reality/ private x public problem highlights this.  There are a few differences between Western slash and fujoshi culture, and one of them is that political correctness, or token formal consideration of such complaints is a lot more part of slash communities than of fujoshi culture. After all, up to half of the readership can be gay males in Western slash communities, while fujoshi culture is still estimated to be %90+ female.

Galbraith next goes on to highlight the notion that the thing that really turns the fujoshi crank is the relationship rather than the skin alluded to in the stories. From that flow the infamous “rapes-of-love” trope and the “I’m not gay, but” tropes. Both of course (invoke often!) annoy the heck out of some real gay folks, but both are defended endlessly as necessary for the “special“, “unique in the whole world -awwwww” characteristics of the fetishized (and endlessly re-imagined) relationship.

Galbraith is also deft at signalling that he gives some credence to the notion that the mirroring between the story characters as not just queer, but outsider/ abject/ transgressive/ outlaw behaviour in pursuit of the “one-n-only” mirrors the obsession and self-mocking abject stance of the fujoshi. So of course they have their puppets do nasty things to each other before finding true love. Because they are “fallen” themselves and that their desires are “transgressive”. (So they are all goth variants ???)

The other thing about fujoshi insistence on the “not-gay-but” trope, is that if the male fuck-puppets in question were gay, then the desire would be grounded in the realities of everyday “normal’ gay desire, which is too damn close to the way “real” guys act anyway – at least from the fujoshi pont of view. That ain’t hawt any more. More interesting is why such things are hawt to them.

pr0n lovers web SHIFT POV!

Back to Genshiken and Hato for a moment: I am dead serious about Hato being a “kage-Mizoguchi”, the shadow of the warrior (I am theory-moe-ing on my Kurosawa reference) because what his cross-dressing not-quite-fudanshi presence does is continuously short-circuit whole categories of gendered space and the fantasy is fantasy and reality is reality field.

Hato is by no means a perfect Mizoguchi “shadow”. While he makes a somewhat adequate virtual-lesbian fujoshi, he has no Butlerian “became” in his crossdressing persona, (yet) and his 3D desire for women is currently directed at one unobtainable nasty female character, (with occasional bouts of Madarame desiring fugue states).

Worse, he has not yet sworn his oath, and/ or taken any larger political/ social stand – his performance is extremely personal and extremely closeted. And, he is a judo-skilled, female desiring, seme-role assuming, compulsive yaoi consuming snake in the fujoshi garden of Eden. The whiff of potential predator about him is unmistakable, and made worse by his refusal to resolve, to “become” something that would clear up the confusion.

Oh, and he is a cartoon character – this is a blog about manga.

At some point I will have to drag the whole liminality (standing at the threshold, neither entering or refusing to enter, very fashionable in theory land, blah blah) thing into the light, but for now lets ignore it.

Dr. Akiko Mizoguchi is a real, solid-life public lesbian academic fujoshi theorist, and that public role is not “just” a truth that she vowed to live, but coincidentally a consideration to her heterosexual fujoshi sisters. A similar side effect of her “politically correct” campaign presents itself. Her “vow of truth” has the potential for a real buzz-kill when the gals start snorting about some nasty fantasy stuff, but it also lays her cards on the table (else why would she get so confessional in her PhD thesis?)

I would guess that some of the younger heterosexual fujoshis she runs into roll their eyes when she pokes at their tropes for having nasty real-world bleed-over potential, but conversely I doubt that any of them worry that she is sneaking into their midst to corrupt some sweet young fujoshi. In shojo-ai manga terms, a character loosely modelled on her would be closer to the “out” ultra-rich, ultra capable young lesbian Tomoe in Sasameki Koto. Her public position situates her within her social as a safe, if slightly stodgy expert figure. Her younger sisterhood might also point out that she grew up reading “Heart of Thomas’ and Song of the Wind and Trees” and not  “Shinji I wont let you rape my ass until you pay me that 40,000 yen…”  dojins.

I am waiting for a Karaoke session episode with the Genshiken fujoshis: Sue gets to sing The Who’s “Rough Boys“. All join in … Perhaps a vocaloid flash video is out there somewhere ???

This analysis of mine is clumsy, and possibly a bit annoying to any real Dr. Mizoguchi who may stumble across this, but I hope I am getting the point across. Whether or not Shimoku had heard of her when he constructed Hato, (later: oh I do think he has) he is getting a lot of plot juice out of having Hato poke at the same contradictions that she embodies (without the resolutions) – contradictions specifically bounded around sexuality and the reality/ fantasy interface, and these contradictions are building up a powerful charge of potential 3D world fallout; which is also Shimoku-sensei’s number one plot trick.

Hato is not a “real” fudanshi in the strict sense: a man who enjoys the company of women as a man, as they read and “exchange” yaoi. The Galbraith essay under consideration notes the testimony of a real-life “Ogiue” who found a short and pudgy, sympathetic “Sass”, even if her fave semes are tall thin and nasty. Other testimony.,in other places have more than a few guys hanging out with the rotten girls, because they enjoy the company (…Where the girls are.. la la la ) and manage to process the material in some way (which could range from a complete homoerotic reading to one that “reads” the characters as abstracted female desire). The undertones of 3D male longing are inescapable: perhaps these fudanshi “like” fantasy man-smut, but also “desire” a nice fujoshi girl.

At least “they” know that the gals are sexual creatures, and “they” have managed to worm “their” way into close fujoshi proximity to talk dirty with them. And as for guilt about hiding a bit of male predator behaviour? These girls are predatory in their own right! The “rotten girls” are also “dirty girls“. But Hato tried this once in high school and it blew up in his face. Hence Hato V2. A fudanshi Hato would be way too easy, as would a pure “trap” Hato.

ASIDE: If his “little friend” is going to trance him into chasing Mada, shouldn’t his outfit change from synthetic fujoshi to “trap” otokonoko? Hato keeps quiet and puts on one of his insipid “I like it” grins. The kid is wallowing in it!

Shift POV back to Galbraith:

The overwhelming majority of Japanese fujoshi are inscribed as heteronormative in their “real” lives. It complicates the heck out of things to posit that they also are susceptible to latent lesbianism. Mizoguchi even deals with this too, but brings up the prodigious smut intake, much like Genshiken’s Kaminaga: “You cannot read all that stuff without some effect!” (This mirroring of Mizoguchi by Kio Shimoku is another fun coincidence.. or…)

In any case, the accepted compromise in fujoshi studies at this point is to stretch the definition of queer a bit more, drop it over fujoshi desire, and keep marching… No wonder a newer generation of fujoshi theorists are going all Duluze and Guattari – the rhizome/ desiring machines/ body without organs thing is a neat way to get around the contradictions in the internal logic of the whole mess, even if it feels like trying to grab fog.

Here in a footnote, Galbraith attempt to put the train back on the tracks:

“Informants regularly told me that the beautiful boys in yaoi are separate from so-called real gays (riaru gei). Fujoshi conscientiously mark their Web sites with the reminder “yaoi is fantasy.” This is partially in response to serious criticism from homosexual men in Japan, who accuse fujoshi of misappropriating the homosexual male image and misrepresenting reality for their own pleasure. Recently, self-identified gay male characters have appeared in manga featuring male-male romance, but the social weight and consequence of their sexual orientation is nullified. For an overview of the criticisms of yaoi, see Vincent (2007).”

There is also that little matter of the new laws against certain forms of virtual smut in Japan.

After a bit more about other approaches to fujoshis and yaoi, including a big shout-out to Matt Thorn (academic papers are a lot like rap concerts – you need the shout-outs!) Galbraith pulls out his fave way of looking at things: moe.

For him, moe expands on the little-used Bronisław Malinowski concept of phatic – originally a term used to describe how crystals split, but repurposed by Malinowski as a form of super shibboleth that in-groups exchange as a token of their in-group-ness (shibboleth is an old testament password thing – I say To-may-to, if you say To-mah-to, you are a thingamite enemy spy and I kill you!) Malinowski’s phatic concept didn’t really go too far when first launched, but is back with a vengeance in this time of the world-wide interwebs. It dovetails nicely in with Azuma’s database/ echo chamber theories too, so sticking phatic into an understanding of moe is a damn fine analysis trick!

From the earlier mentioned paper on moe:

“The moe response is progressively defined as a convergence of media transmission and personal reception, but it can engender sociality when shared with others. Morikawa explains that fans can functionally understand a great deal about the taste, range and personality of others based on what they do and do not describe as moe (Morikawa 2008). For example, if one says megane-moe, or glasses moe, he or she is saying that characters wearing glasses are stimulating and also that he or she responds to, or at least understands, that aesthetic. This emblazons a mode of communication with neither the mediation of a logical language nor the limitations of rational boundaries. Moe can thus be used to empathetically express deeply personal, intimate and even transgressive emotions in networks of mutual exposure and vulnerability. I observed this among fujoshi, who cultivated a group of ‘moe friends’ to talk about yaoi.” http://www.japanesestudies.org.uk/articles/2009/Galbraith.html Moe: Exploring Virtual Potential in Post-Millennial Japan

Note that moe is an affect (a theory term version of “effect”) rather than a traditional phatic subject, like nascar racing or Star Trek. Moe is a (shared) feeling/ condition that arises from the consideration of the fujoshi/ otaku phatic object – closer to “intense wow feeling!” “that works!” or “Way Kewl!”, but limited/ bounded by the fujoshi/ otaku material under consideration. Note also that any representation as to it being a tool for ultimate truth is a mistake of the reader: social science tools are better understood as points of view or data mining algorithms; used to extract insight. They also have their own phatic characteristics (theory -moe! brain hurts!)

“When together, fujoshi persistently discuss yaoi characters and relationships until they trigger moe. One fujoshi guides others through her fantasy by teasing out a story, helping listeners understand and share a moment of revelation and pleasure. Yaoi products are thus used to re- enchant relationships. Moe is most often a reaction to characters encountered in yaoi, but even people, animals, and inanimate objects can be imagined as characters in romantic or sexual interplay.[…a few paragraphs of discussion about “queer” space skipped] Be it with characters or with one another, fujoshi experience intimacy as transgressive potential cordoned off from everyday reality. This article will examine how fujoshi produce, consume, and share yaoi in pursuit of moe and the sets of discussions and relationships that are made possible across physical and virtual fields.” (p216)

Galbraith does an excellent job of doing a fast roundup of the emergence of yaoi in Japan, though you will miss his thoroughness if you have not done a bit of reading in the field. He pretty well hits all the important bits. Ending in the mid 2000’s he defines his study subject:

“The distinction from shonen ai is conceptually important. Fujimoto Yukari has argued that “shonen ai was created to flee from various gender restrictions and sexuality taboos,” but, once the mechanism was established, it “enabled girls to ‘play sexuality’” (quoted in Aoyama 2009). Fujoshi are those who are most interested in playing sexuality, which is most possible through yaoi, since it is self-consciously defined as meaningless and set apart from reality. My definition stresses enthusiasm because the fujoshi I encountered had libraries of hundreds, even thousands, of physical yaoi books and regularly visited dozens of Web sites. My informants self-identified as fujoshi in 2006 and 2007, at the height of an emergent discourse on fujoshi. I follow my informants in using the term fujoshi because it marked associations and distinctions central to the meaning-making process explored in this article.”

Then:

“Moe is a response to fictional characters or representations of them (Galbraith 2009). It is concerned with virtual potential, not real people, and is a reaction “prior to the formation of a distinct subject or viewing position” (LaMarre 2009, 281). Moe is the goal of producing, consuming, and sharing yaoi. Focusing on moe opens a window into the ways fujoshi use yaoi to generate and share affect [note the term, emp mine]. Moe is at once the most important and the most impenetrable aspect of fujoshi activity. All my informants resisted defining the concept during formal interviews. Informants notably all described moe as something that can only be captured partially, interpreted in the moment in different ways by different people. They were sure, however, that what distinguishes a fujoshi is an interest in yaoi and a sense of moe. Informants referred to non-fujoshi as “normals” (ippanjin), and they described such women as “short on dreams and long on satisfaction” (yume nashi, kanketsu ari).

Another way to say this was that non-fujoshi are riaju, meaning “fulfilled in reality,” and often used as an insult. Sachiko said, “A normal girl has no moe,  so love is her moe. That can be satisfied in life. Fujoshi can never be satisfied because moe is completely separate from love. It’s fantasy.”

Fujoshi spoke of their “rotten filter,” which screens out the potential for heteronormative romance in their fantasy and emphasizes signs of transgressive intimacy. This fantasy provides a set of possibilities for fujoshi distinct from their everyday lives, as demonstrated by their pursuit of moe even when they had a boyfriend or husband, at times imagining their male partners in relationships with other men (see also McLelland 2001, 4). As Saito (2007) points out, the reality of heterosexual relationships and the virtual potential of homosexual couplings are separate and coexistent. Yaoi scripts (fantasy) were read across the bodies of physical partners (reality), a “meaningless” play of symbols in pursuit of moe.”

SHift POV. Those damn goggles, and the innate taste for yaoi-moe among females should not be discounted. It is real and can pop up out of nowhere to strike!

Am odd  thing happened to me recently: I was yakking with a woman who had come on-site at my workplace about nothing much, killing time before an event and the conversation between us and an intern shifted to comic books and manga. She surprised the intern by being quite knowledgeable about western comics, but professed no deep knowledge of, or interest in manga as she considered their imagery as part of what japanese females “have to put up with ever day“.

“Oh don’t worry” I mumbled, “they have their own ways of dealing with that.”

ooooops! Intern looks embarrassed; he reads manga on scanlator sites and yaoi has become so popular among western slash girls (and others) that it is crowding out the “normal” fun stuff. This piques her interest. A short clinical explanation of yaoi as woman-produced and consumed pornographic artifact in Japan follows.

Suddenly her eyes go all starburst-y!

“Holy Shit! Where can I get that ???” etc., followed by a very fervent and exuberant declaration that she would pay good money to see her boyfriend get crazy with his best friend! (Yikes!)  Well, that cat is out of the bag and Google is her best friend now. Her boyfriend is gonna have to adapt. True story! Just like a light switch snapping on! I was present at the birth of a Canadian fujoshi. Wow! and scary all at once!

Back to Galbraith:

What follows in the article are narrative testimonies and descriptions of his fujoshi acquaintances playing with yaoi moe as a social space, perhaps “queer’ in a wide definition of the term, and then experiencing some disenchantment with the hobby, as life pressures take on a bigger part of their attention. Since his correspondents were all university women, this reader can’t help think about the Genshiken, but in his example it looks like the women gradually “graduate out” of fujoshi-dom. Class-S fujoshi? FUGs? (fujoshi-until-graduation, to echo 1990’s lesbian slang?) Even then, he notes that two of them pop up again, a few years later, back in the “scene”, even while they are happily partnered up with guys.

Galbraith’s article is a fine introductory survey of the phenomena and good research material should any male mangaka want to construct a few fujoshi characters on the fly to drop into a university or even high school comedy. (it is assumed that a female mangaka could just go mingle with the real thing.) It is bound to be required reading in all manner of fujoshi studies courses, and might also relieve some of the curiosity a puzzled straight guy might feel if he runs into a nest of fearsome fujoshi. What the paper does not do is examine how strange the effect of fujoshi desire is on larger society, but given Galbraith’s interest in Otaku sociology, I can bet that more than a few follow-ups are on the way.

In the meantime, now we guys all know why certain aggregator sites are up to the brim with y/bl stuff, and won’t freak out as much when a graphic (Yikes! Gehhh!) cover pops up in front of us by accident (That kind of over-reaction makes me feel stupid and prejudiced, but that’s how I grew up, so i am working on it). And if we have to put up with strong goggle-influenced humour in our heteronormative high-school hijinx comedies, we will at least know what the heck is going on and who is being given fan-service. (It aint us, but the context is fascinating.)

tomodochi get goggles real bad web Oh brave new world that has such edgy gals in it!

Don’t freak out, you still have a chance with them, most of them at least.

How reassuring!

For a less comforting take on the same, see the earlier cited: Everybody’s Fujoshi Girlfriend in Néojaponisme

Dude, you still need to get a good paying job!

Lets see if any of it offers a wider solution, or at least gives comfort, freedom or agency to those women in Japan (hey, the guys need some help too) who want to force some much-needed change on a society that really really needs to do some changing if it is going to maintain its standard of living. The structural problems in the Japanese economy are not going to get fixed with a simple “Cool Japan” campaign. Large sections of family law, labor law and corporate governance, as well as workplace social norms are going to have to change, if they are going to fix their economy. And every single one of these problems touches on obsolete codes of social behaviour which are currently crushing the younger generation, holding down the birth rate and family formation, and killing Japan’s GNP. Who’d have thunk that a little cronyism and machismo could bankrupt a country?

Note the last few paragraphs of this interview on contemporary feminism in Japan – the filmmaker is so pessimistic about any social progress that she is in effect leaving it to the LGBTQ community to get things rolling:

Interviewer: “Feminism has never really taken off in Japan. And women seem to lack a common platform to share their problems.”

“We don’t have opinion leaders. But while our battle for equality for women ended in defeat, what has come to our rescue is the movement by sexual minorities. Japanese society has very little know-how on redefining genders, but the LGBT movement is slowly happening here, and it offers a ray of hope.

I go to meetings of Rainbow Action (a group for sexual minorities in Japan), where they run a monthly kamo (“Maybe I’m …”) cafe. Anyone can drop by and confide issues they have, without giving their names. They can say, “Maybe I’m a lesbian,” or “Maybe I’m a girl, though I’m supposed to be a boy,” or “I think I’m gay, but I can’t tell my mom.” Or heterosexual people can also drop in and share problems, like, “I joined the company through the connection of my father, so I can’t quit even though I want to.” Nobody feels out-of-place there. It’s a really relaxing environment, where people share ideas on how they can liberate themselves from constraints of sexism. In Japan, feminism, women’s lib and men’s lib all kind of floundered. But the rainbow flag might make it.”

– Documenting the gender imbalance – TOMOKO OTAKE interviews Yu Negoro, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2013/03/03/people/documenting-the-gender-imbalance/#.UVix82icWbQ

Just how revolutionary is this desire?