[AniFemTalk] Funimation and #FujoshiLife

Last week Funimation started a new marketing campaign for yaoi anime Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi by asking BL fans in their staff to talk about their “#FujoshiLife mishaps”:

“After my senior year of college, I binged all of Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi and Junjou Romantica in three days. I lived on fruit cups, popcorn, and drove to the Taco Bell that was literally walking distance away. #FujoshiTRASH”

“I used my husband’s iPad to catch up on some BL manga. Unfortunately the site I used wasn’t very wholesome and when he accidentally opened the tab at work it was instantly blocked. And reported to security. I can’t use his iPad anymore.”

“When I was 16 I wanted to buy my first BL manga but it was marked for 18+ only. I convinced my mom to buy it by claiming it was marked mature for violence.”

LGBTQ+ fans objected and Funimation ended the campaign, offering a sincere apology. In an industry where, as we have already discussed, it’s easy to sidestep or defer accountability, Funimation choosing to take such a public stance in support of their queer customers deserves to be acknowledged.

However, this is a complicated issue which stirred up mixed feelings in feminists and allies. On the one hand:

  • Yaoi presents a romanticised and commercialised image of queer men for the consumption of straight audiences; Funimation were, from the most clinical perspective, leveraging that image for profit
  • A #FujoshiLife hashtag implies only women were asked about this; whether true or not, appearing to invite only women to talk about their experience of texts featuring exclusively queer male characters is not a good look
  • Ultimately, LGBTQ+ fans were upset; when marginalised people are hurt by your actions, you stop immediately and commit to do better, even if you don’t necessarily understand or agree straight away.

On the other hand:

  • Women’s hobbies and interests are often sidelined and overlooked, while marketing campaigns targeting straight men who like cute anime girls have been completely accepted for some time; it’s hard to imagine a similar outcry for an #OtakuLife hashtag featuring anecdotes identical to those above
  • Fujoshi make up a large and increasing segment of the market paying big money for anime and related merchandise; it would be odd for a commercial company not to try to cater to them in some way
  • The anecdotes shared are more focused on self-deprecating fujoshi than on fetishising queer men
  • Queer men read yaoi too, even queer Japanese men.

Funimation was undoubtedly right to take the action they took and stand publicly on the side of their LGBTQ+ customers. However, BL fans are a huge part of anime fandom, mostly women, and many queer themselves. How can companies like Funimation represent these voices in a way that is sensitive to queer people who find yaoi demeaning? How could they have run a campaign for a yaoi anime as problematic as Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi in a way that would have been received more positively?

 

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  • Moni

    While this may be coming from a place of second hand information of japan. Most “queer” (to use a catch all for yaoi and yuri manga etc.) manga isn’t written by nor for queer audiences. According to a Vice program called “Gaycation” while images of gay and lesbian relationships are out there in japan they are meant for the consumption of presumed straight audiences. Queers are still heavily stigmatized and not accepted in mainstream society (same-sex marriage is illegal). While I hear “bara” manga rejects that standard by it being written by and for gay men I hear conflicting things on it being a gay slur applied to this genre by outsiders or it was reclaimed by writers. I tried getting into this series but man it just has so many problems in how the relationship develops and is portrayed. BL mangas though in general use highly gendered roles in their relationship with one man acting stereotypically feminine and the other uber toxic masculine and the rapey vibes, ugh.

  • Blusocket

    Honestly, I’m not sure Funimation could have hosted that conversation in a way that wouldn’t alienate or frustrate lgbtq fans who see BL as (primarily, at least) exploitative. Asking gay men, or lgbtq fans in general to share their experiences with BL wouldn’t make for a fun, exciting marketing campaign, as those experiences are likely to be much more complex and fraught than those of self-identified fujoshi. I feel like it would also really only obfuscate the intended audience of shows like Sekaiichi and ghettoize the genre both the genre and the targeted demographic (gay people like gay stuff and only gay stuff.) I think a platform like AnimeFeminist, or other fan-run, not-for-profit platforms, can potentially host a productive discussion about this issue specifically and solely because there’s no financial interest in the conclusions that may be drawn. If a lot of people on this post end up speaking critically about Sekaiichi and BL in general, that’s not going to hurt AniFem’s bottom line.

    I’m a big fan of BL and I think there’s a lot of new work, particularly manga, that’s playing with the typical (often regressive) genre conventions seen in works like Junjou Romantica and Sekaiichi in really interesting, satisfying ways–whether that’s complicating the seme/uke dynamic or attempting to tell stories that grapple with homophobia in contemporary Japan. I think the history of the genre is fascinating, from the pioneering work of the Year 24 Group, to the boom of BL dojinshi, to the ebb and flow of the industry over the past 10-15 years. Although I find a lot of the mainstream work within it distasteful (though it’s genuinely much better than most of what was being made circa 2000-2005) I still love that there’s this whole fandom space that’s been carved out by and for women. I love seeing anime like Free! (not BL, but very much courting BL fans) celebrate and celebrate with an audience of young women.

    All that said, I would like to live in a world where this genre is not commercialized, because I would like to live in a world where art and entertainment do not have to be profitable to be created and enjoyed, and I am ambivalent about the inherent ethics of primarily straight creators making money off depictions of same-gender attraction that, as many fujoshi have claimed, ‘have nothing to do with gay men.’ I would like to see fujoshi–BL creators and BL fans–offer more compassion toward gay men and promote stories by and for them as much as we do BL that is by and for women. I would also like to see people who have read maybe 1 BL comic, or watched 1 terrible OVA, in their lifetime not be so quick to completely condemn the genre. Although I don’t know how this conversation plays out in Japan, I do know that one of the most widely cited examples of Japanese gay men criticizing BL (the yaoi ronso, a debate about BL which lasted from 1992-1997) began with Irokawa Nao, the editor of the women’s magazine Choisoir, asking her friend Masaki Sato, a gay man and social activist, to submit a letter criticizing BL in order to spark a discussion (source: http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue12/lunsing.html#n38 — it’s somewhat dated, and I disagree with some of the conclusions the author draws, but still definitely informative.) As interesting as it is, this one instance can’t provide a complete picture of the relationship between (female) BL fans and gay men, and that’s going to continue to be a complex question requiring a lot of nuance to address. Based on my own experiences here in the West, however, I would just really like to see more compassion from everyone trying to have this conversation.

    • Black Emolga

      ‘have nothing to do with gay men.’ I feel historical context is necessary to understand this statement. Boys Love was created during a time were it was considered unacceptable for girls to be depicted doing traditionally masculine things including having sexual desire. In order to circumvent this absurdly misogynistic form of censorship they depicted female characters as male. BL characters were originally written as audience surrogates for girls.

      • Blusocket

        I’m reasonably aware of the origins of the genre and its importance for young women! The fact remains that BL is representing sexual and romantic relationships between men and fujoshi to this day throw up “it’s not for you or about you” in response to critiques from gay men. It’s true, sure, but it’s also kneejerk defensiveness that shuts down conversation (or at least tries to.) And I’ve been guilty of this in the past, too–I get very protective of the genre specifically because of its complex relationship to gender and gender roles. I still think we all need to do better.

        • Black Emolga

          Although that argument can be used as a means to shut down discussion. It’s not entirely irrelevant. BL is critiqued more for it’s audience than it’s subject matter. Most of the toxic tropes in BL are rampant in shoujo manga and other Anime/Manga genres. But shoujo manga doesn’t get half as much attention as BL. Because it doesn’t have the weirdness factor of women watching porn featuring gay men. Which is the opposite of what society expects. If BL had identical content but wasn’t primarily made by and for women would it receive nearly as much controversy? I don’t believe so.

          • Blusocket

            Oh I completely agree! There can definitely be an undercurrent of misogyny in the way BL gets discussed, even by gay men. One of my favorite things about the Wim Lunsing essay I linked is how it points to parallels between gay manga and BL in the depiction of same-gender sexual relationships (e.g. sexual violence, characters not claiming a gay identity.) BL can and does sometimes get unfairly singled out for criticism of its terrible tropes because it’s such a female-dominated fandom and industry, and I really firmly believe that female BL fans AND gay men need to do better by each other.

            But there are still valuable critiques to be made about what it means to profit off a depiction of a marginalized community that is by and large disconnected from and unaccountable to that community. I genuinely don’t want to see BL become stories by and for gay men–I love women! That would drain the genre of its entire identity!–but I do think BL fans (particularly straight BL fans) need to work past the sort of persecution complex that tends to come up when people (particularly gay men) start airing their grievances with the genre and try to really listen with open minds and open hearts.

  • Lori P

    It may have softened the blow had they held a similar campaign for a show that wasn’t as awful as Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi, and if they didn’t used the term Fujoshi at all.

    I don’t really know crap about Hatsukoi, but I do know it’s by the people who made Junjou Romantica, and that’s a show where 2 of the 3 main ships are “rapey but in a romantic way!”. The 1 non-rapey ship is an angst filled one that didn’t exactly have healthy beginnings, and could, arguably be seen as flat out abusive. So I don’t really have a lot of hope for Hatsukoi.

    Fujoshi are also associated with ‘straight chicks who fetishize gay men’, like, even in Japan that’s pretty much what they’re assumed to be, even if a lot of fujoshi fall under the queer umbrella themselves…fujoshi still has a pretty gross stigma behind it.

    So yeah. I guess the only way this campaign could have “worked” is if they were promoting a show that’s known for having happy, healthy, normalized gayness in it, and in a way that included fans from all walks of life, maybe even with an LGBTQIA+ and female slant.

    • Ashen

      Everything I’ve heard about Sekaiichi and Junjou make them sound absolutely terrible in terms of romanticizing/fetishizing unhealthy BL relationships.

      The negative association with fujoshi comes as very little surprise to me, since iirc the term derives from “rotten” or “trash woman.” Not exactly something you’d see in a positive light.

      While it had its missteps I really fell in love with Yuri on Ice because of how it DIDN’T portray a toxic relationship between the male leads (There IS room for discussion on the equality of said relationship, given one character is in a teacher/superior role to the other).

  • Mendinso

    What frustrates me as a gay male is that there is very little queer series out there for audiences such as myself. The manga industry, as even to a degree the visual novel industry, this is less of an issue and there’s plenty of gay manga written by gay authors. The problem is…. None of these particularly ever get adapted into anime. Honestly, it was a miracle that something like Yuri on Ice got made and I have a feeling that some compromises were made still in the end, given what I heard happens later (probably not the fault of the Director).

    Still, I would like to see anime adaptions of gay material, targeted towards gay men. It’s a struggle to never really see this content, as well as proper portrayals of gay men. Don’t get me wrong, even with characters who have stereotypes, I do have some favorites (Leeron from Gurren Lagann being one particular favorite of mine), but I would like to see more.. every day gay characters, not played up for their stereotypes and such.

    • Ashen

      I can absolutely agree with this, and I believe wanting a more believable depiction is a desire many fans can understand as it can apply to so many types of characters or stories.

  • Yvette

    Well as a bi woman who has occasionally found something in a
    BL title to appreciate, but who would not go so far as to ever call myself a
    fujoshi or BL fan…

    I’m not sure what Funimation could have done differently to
    avoid the situation. I agree excluding fundanshis isn’t good; personally I’ve
    enjoyed the perspectives and experiences of fundanshis I’ve met over the years.
    The flavor of the campaign would have been a little bit different. Still, at
    the end of the day, anyone despite their gender or orientation can offend others
    with their behavior. Most of the BL fans I know are thrilled about being able
    to own The World’s Greatest First Love from Funimation. I don’t know if the FujoshiLife
    controversy has soured anyone who wasn’t getting out their wallet to begin with.
    So the whole campaign seems like a zero sum game. Funimation admitted they were
    furthering hurtful stereotypes. So I guess I hope what came out of it was
    learning a bit about some of the complexities around BL.

    Honestly, I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to the posts
    because The World’s Greatest First Love is exactly the sort of BL property that
    embodies what I detest about the genre. A super romanticized narrative that
    excuses and trivializes sexual assault, especially when it occurs between
    same-sex characters, gets under my skin so badly. I feel like most of the anger
    expressed was more directed because of the anime and certain parts of BL
    culture that does stigmatize same-sex relationships between men in one way or
    another. So I’m not sure this case serves well as a double standard. Absolutely
    women and girls get so much more flack for no good reason over the media they
    consume. Unfortunately it is also the case that some fans, including in the
    industry, are very bad about recognizing unhealthy elements or, try to defend
    them to detractors in very bizarre, convoluted ways. (That still does not mean
    they need to dislike any problematic content they may favor.) I’ve had more
    than one fujoshi I know recommend me The World’s First Love for example, and
    not comprehend my dissatisfaction with it. Worse some fans do behave in very
    bad ways to real life LGBTQ people; I’ve been there for that too.

    Since Funimation deleted the posts it’s kind of hard to get
    a complete picture after the fact. Personally I did feel like the comments I
    saw were rather innocuous, though possibly a couple veered in a more creepy
    direction. Truthfully I’ve become kind of desensitized to this sort of thing
    because you just can’t fight every misrepresentation or offensive attitude, especially
    in certain spaces of fandom. I’ve always felt very uncomfortable around many
    fujoshi sadly too, so I rarely even speak up about the things I find
    concerning.

  • T.B.A.

    Honestly, I think what Funimation did was just plain lazy. I haven’t watched Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi, but from looking at the wikipedia article, I’m surprised they didn’t decide to promote parts of the show that people can find funny and quirky, regardless of gender or orientation. Like they could have asked their staff to share awkward first love stories, or maybe the worst misunderstanding you ever got into with someone. I mean, everyone’s got an awkward first love story, right? Another aspect of Hatsukoi is that its set to the backdrop of shoujo manga publishing. That’s kind of meta for a romance to be written about people who edit romances. Lastly, to Keep It Simple, they could have just asked their staff what makes Hatsukoi special for them or what their favorite moments are. I think there are a lot of ways they could have promoted the show that doesn’t need to involve heavily loaded Japanese-inclined concepts such as “Fujoshi Life”.

  • Black Emolga

    I think part of the problem is that there are a lot of misconceptions about BL that have become widespread within western fandom. It’s often said that BL is made by and for straight women. And although there was some truth to that in the past. As time has gone by. An increasingly large number of LGBTQ+ have become both readers and creators of BL with some BL series having a 50/50 split in terms of male and female readership:

    http://mangacomicsmanga.com/tcaf-2015-gengoroh-tagame-talks-gay-manga-bara-bl-and-scanlation/

    http://takureinoroom.com/2016/09/14/wn-4-gay-men-boys-love/

    Another misconception that has spread is that BL is supposed to be “porn for women”. While some BL really is porn (such as anything written by Sakira). A lot of it contains very little or no sex. And the types of manga that would qualify as “porn for women” in Japan, Teens Love/Ladies Comics, don’t typically get translated and released by mainstream Western manga publishers. This results in a situation were most of the straight Shoujo Manga that gets released here is cute fluff while most of the BL that gets released here are outdated works that feature sexual violence and rape. This creates a distorted picture of what BL is supposed to be. Creating the false impression that BL is uniquely violent and rapey.

  • Aza

    imho Fujoshi deserve more attention than they get, since they are one large consumer base, spend a lot of money on their hobby, and are very active creators and fandom members. Look at AO3. When I look at the local self-publishing market for doujinshi, it’s heavily leaning to boys love content. (I’m from Germany.)

    But we (and I myself do identify as a fujoshi, intentionally appropriating a term that was meant as a slur and to ostracise women who show interest in partially pornographic media) constantly have to justify out hobby. To gay people, who think every fujoshi will only think in seme/uke-terms. To straight cis hetero men who can neither understand how homsexual pronography and love stories can be of interest, and how a woman or girl can get in in her head to consume porn at all. To cis hetero women who don’t understand the appeal and therefor question or interest in the media. To homosexual women who don’t understand the appeal and rage on about the male-centric stories. And so on.

    I’m sick of it. I’ve been a boys love fan for about half my life now, and in that time, yes, I consumed a lot of bullshit seme/uke-cliché stories. I consumed manga with decidedly unhealthy relationships (Junjo Romantica, Viewfinder, Sakura Gari, Ai no Kusabi, Love Mode, etc. etc….). But I myself and many, many other fujoshi I know have developed a MUCH more open mindset towards homosexual relationships through the interest in Boys Love. Me and others started out with heavily fictionalised gays, one of my first stories was Gravitation, and girls, was that stupid in retrospective. But It got me to open my eyes to a reality far away from my own. In my upper middle class conservative surroundings, gay and lesbian didn’t really take place. In my school (finished in 2008!), NOBODY was out. There were rumours about some people, but no teacher nor any of the ~850 students was openly homosexual. One fellow student in my law studies was gay, and he only told me because I’d admitted to being a boys love fan first. He didn’t want to be out amongst the other students. In the last leg of my law training there is, again, nobody out. My colleagues in state training mostly have never considered the statistic reality of 2-10% gay people. So: My “professional” surroundings are (accidentally or by design…) very cis heteronormative. They talk of soccer and beer and “schwul” (German term for gay) is used mainly as an insult.

    As an active participant of my Fandom Community, I know dozens of lesbian couples, several trans* people, many bisexual men and women, and a few gay men. And I’m 100% sure that a huge part of the open acceptance towards those forms of living inside the (german) anime/manga fandom stems from the girls and women who shape this community, many of whom are fujoshi, meaning boys love fans.

    Is Sekaiichi Hatsukoi a perfect example of a healthy gay relationship? The fuck, no.
    Is Romance fiction concerned with realistic depiction of relationships? The fuck, no. Look at twilight. Look at friggin Shades of Gray. (I know, same shit because the one is a fanfic to the other, but those are some of the best-selling romance novels of the past few years!)

    Is it actively hurtful to anyone if some people enjoy unrealistic depictions of so-called romantic relationships? I find that at least debatable. Yes, more realistic depiction in media would be nice. But most people (especially adults) actually are able to sort fiction from reality. And while in Japan the portrayal of homosexuality is severely lacking, people in the US and Europe live in a completely different surrounding, with a growing awareness and availability of differentiating homosexual portrayal in media. And those who came in contact with same-sex media via manga or anime tend to be FAR more interested in other forms of same-sex media portrayal overall, thus being far more open to consuming other, more realistic media types as well.

    So: I dont’ think this was worth a shitstorm. I find it wholly legitimate to invite people who like a certain kind of media to talk about it, since in my opinion, inviting someone to talk in a public place doesn’t keep others from talking in public as well. So a hashtag geared towards the main fanbase of a certain type of media is legitimate to me.

    And I feel marginalized by people telling me I mustn’t enjoy boys love because there are some bad stories being published in the genre. I feel marginalized as a woman who enjoys porn. My favourite bl manga author is Youka Nitta, who is one of the authors with the most realistic relationship portrayals, amongst the japanese. I only became interested in rights for homosexuals because I read about those people in fictional stories. I barely know any gay people, and that’s not because I actively avoid them. I just don’t intrude, I respect their safe spaces, their wish to have their gay clubs reserved for gay men. But in return, I also expect some respect for my wish to not have my preferance for m/m porn questioned by all sides.

    Thank you, a proud fujoshi form Germany.

  • athenia45

    I think marketing the term fujoshi in the US might not have the same traction as otaku has had in the past. It seems that in the West, the term fujoshi doesn’t really encompass the fans that are interested in BL and yaoi. For example, Yuri on Ice and Free! are relatively mainstream, but would fans really describe themselves as fujoshi? I know I wouldn’t.

  • Taj Araji

    As a gay man who has the ability to enjoy BL despite its problematic elements (and willingly calls myself a fujoshi even though I’m male but I recognize my relationship with gender is more lax than other gay men) I do feel as though we should recognize that not every show depicting gay men has to necessarily be intended for us. So I don’t necessarily mind the campaign that was run (I actually thought a lot of the stories were funny or interesting.)

    That being said, I think a significant portion of the frustration gay men feel towards BL is that there is a shortage of decent depictions of gay men (let alone the LGBT community at large) in anime. BL is something really close to a genre we could enjoy but its problematic aspects prevent many from doing so. But rather than co-opting or changing the BL genre to be something inherently different from its original purpose I think I would rather just see more content created with more “realistic” queer characters. An anime with gay relationships doesn’t necessarily have to be categorized as BL. It can just be like any other anime with a heterosexual romance and be defined on the plot instead (action, romance, sports, etc.) For example, Yuri on Ice had positive depictions of gay characters that both fans of BL and the gay community can enjoy and I would contend it is not BL but instead a sports anime.

    Therefore, I feel it is encumbent on BL fans to be our allies. If they want to fetisize us be my guest but I don’t think its okay to then turn the other cheek when we need their help both in obtaining/creating more queer characters in anime and in the real life movement for LGBT rights especially in Japan.