AniFem’s Vrai Kaiser discusses the history of boys love manga with special guests Khursten and Sara!
0:05:20 The Magnificent 49ers
0:16:58 The mother of BL
0:24:35 Norie Masayama
0:25:37 Takemiya and Hagio
0:37:26 The Ribon Group
0:38:46 Doujinshi circles
Correction: The podcast refers to Moto Hagio’s They Were Eleven as a shounen. However, in the Afterword of the 1976 3rd print edition (Japanese release only), Hagio referred to the series as a “shoujo.” Thanks to the reader who alerted us to this!
VRAI: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist Podcast. My name is Vrai, I’m an editor and contributor at Anime Feminist. You can find me on Twitter @writervrai. If you check my pinned thread, you can find all the places I freelance, or you can find the other I’m on @trashpod.
This week, we are talking about BL with two scholars on the subject. Khursten and Sara, if you’d like to introduce yourselves.
SARA: Vrai, thank you! I think calling me a scholar is possibly a little bit of an overstatement. [laughter] But I’m very excited to be here and to be talking about BL from possibly a more academic perspective.
Um… so, my name is Sara. I have been reading BL for a long time. I’m very interested in the history of the genre and sort of… [the] politics of it. I did write a research paper on it in undergrad. I try to read scholarship when I can because I think it’s very fascinating.
[ringtone plays in the background]
SARA: I run the blog Feminist Fujoshi on Tumblr and WordPress. You can find me on Twitter at @blusocket.
KHURSTEN: Hi! So, I’m Khursten Santos. I’m an assistant professor at some university here in the Philippines. The reason why I didn’t disclose it is because my opinions here do not totally represent my institution in that I am presenting myself based on my academic work. My academic work is centered on female fan culture.
I’m currently working on a monograph that was basically my thesis, or my dissertation, for my Ph.D. where I examine the history of the production of knowledge among—or at least intertextual knowledge I would call the “fujoshi database.” The history of the construction of the “fujoshi database” in Japan. So… yeah.
How I got there? I got there because… oh my God. Ten years ago, I wrote this blog entry on trying to understand the relationship between Shonen Jump and fujoshi and why fujoshi are avid consumers of Shonen Jump when it’s not a media that’s directed to them.
And this kind of… you know, continued for like a couple of years, a couple of months, and then I made this really funny joke like, “Maybe I’ll make a dissertation of it!” Well guess what: I did! So… that’s how it always starts.
But yeah, my website is Otaku Champloo. You can actually see the barebones of my dissertation there. I really haven’t posted any updates on it primarily because I am developing the book right now, so because of those conditions, I have to be more careful about what’s being put out online.
But, I do talk about it on my Twitter! You can follow me there as @khursten. I’m not a hard person to find. [laughs] Um… yeah! So there!
VRAI: Cool! Will people be able to buy that book, or will it be one of those circulated in academic press?
KHURSTEN: Um… we’ll see.
KHURSTEN: As I said, I’m still developing it. I’m kind of working on it, and I’m hoping I can work with a publisher that will… will release it in a more accessible manner. ‘Cause I would like people to read it.
VRAI: Yeah, for sure. Well, I’m so glad to have you guys here today. The world of BL is vast and there are a lot of avenues to… approach it from. But, I thought that since you guys have done academic study of it, a good place to start, at least for this particular podcast, would be with kind of a history lesson on the roots of the genre. Some of the classics and how it began to evolve into what we now think of as “the modern BL genre.” Which… so, because—in English, anyway, we’ve only had a couple of those classic volumes put out very recently. So… yeah.
KHURSTEN: Mmm. Oh, but Tom—isn’t Poe no Ichizoku, um… The Poe Clan or The Poe Family, I don’t know how they’re translating it. It’s coming out soon, right?
VRAI: Oh! No, I haven’t heard. I hope so. I’m a big—
KHURSTEN: Yeah, ‘cause I remember… I don’t know if Rachel Thorn is working on it.
VRAI: She has definitely been a huge help in bringing a lot of Moto Hagio stuff over, so… I’m hoping! But… [pause] yeah, I think a good place to start is, you know, Ikeda and Hagio and, you know, Poem of Wind and Trees, and as they were kind of colloquially known as a group, The Magnificent 49ers.
Alright: I guess to start with, do you have, among the three main ones that we talk about when we talk about BL, I guess, do you have a preference? Like, have you read their works? Is there one that you’re drawn to more?
SARA: Mmm… let’s see. I actually have not read The Heart of Tomas, The Rose of Versailles, or The Poem of Wind and Trees. I’ve read other works by Moto Hagio, which I’m really enjoying. I’m like halfway through Otherworld Barbara.
SARA: Yeah… so… definitely super cool. [laughter] I own The Rose of Versailles anime! [laughter] I just haven’t seen it yet.
VRAI: Which just went out of print recently! [crosstalk] Very suddenly.
SARA: [crosstalk] Yeah, that’s why I picked it up!
So, I mean, like I definitely know about their work and I’ve been exposed to it. But I have not actually read the three big classics that most frequently get talked about.
KHURSTEN: I, on the other hand, have read all of them. [loud laughter] Well, not all of their works. Not all of their works! But I did read the classics, and that was part of my dissertation. Perhaps, a part of my long life as a BL reader and consumer and my own particular thirst for it.
The first one I read—or, my first encounter with them was actually Kaze to Ki no Uta. The Song of the Wind and Trees by Takumiya Keiko. I really didn’t understand how revolutionary that was until I started to do my dissertation. I read it when I was 16. I was in a friend’s house. This friend had travelled to Japan and basically brought home like, small bunko… wideban versions of Kaze. They were really small: I just remember how small they were. I knew a little Japanese, but I can read enough to read the kana and hiragana, but never really understand what they mean. So, I knew the names: I knew Gilbert, etcetera.
What’s fascinating about that story and why it struck me is that you can… you can get, um… the heart of the discourse. I mean, the heart of the story: what emotions she was going through—what emotions she wanted to convey, throughout the story, even with my little knowledge of Japanese back then.
I was like, screaming, “Auguste! Why is he pining for Auguste!?”, and, you know, “Why is Gilbert so obsessed him? There’s Serge there!” You know, “Serge is the better man!” blah blah blah.
Later on, reading through this series, I realized how problematic… Gilbert’s mental situation was at that point. That there was this bond that he couldn’t really break from. That for me was intense. It was like—It was a sleepover party for the weekend, I was only supposed to stay for one night, but I ended up staying for two nights because I had to finish it.
VRAI: That’s like, seventeen volumes, isn’t it? It’s long.
KHURSTEN: Well, it was the wideban, so it was probably around eight volumes or so? I can’t remember, but you know, it’s like… really going through it, I’d ask my friend, “What’s happening here? What’s happening here?”, you know?
And later on, I was a girl sobbing, and then that was my first encounter with the 49ers. Afterwards—but interestingly, of the lot, my favorite work of the 49ers was actually Moto Hagio’s They Were Eleven.
KHURSTEN: That was, for me, like… wow! That was an interesting—because I like suspense. I like the idea of a thriller. To see that within the context of shoujo was very interesting for me. I realized later it was actually published in a shounen comic line. [laughter]
Like, mmm… why did you rob the girls of this awesome thing, you know?! [laughter] It’s okay because it’s so Moto Hagio. She represents for us.
VRAI: Sure, she’s got a lot of crossover.
KHURSTEN: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And… later on, I actually read Rose of Versailles much later in my life as a fan. Well, I saw the anime first, and then read the manga. That too would have a great impact on me and how narrative—how emotive narrative starts. I could see the cultural impact it would have in terms of drama, the grandeur and how it builds this imagination of fronts, you know? The splendor that is shoujo, you know? It’s there.
Yeah, so, actually, what’s interesting is that the 49ers were actually much broader than these three women, but… they’re the ones that are most renowned. There’s many of them and they’ve done contributions quite differently. Well… since this discussion is about BL, maybe we can just really focus on Takemiya and, um… Takemiya and Moto Hagio, because I remember that they used to be… they used to be roommates.
They lived in an apartment called the O-Izumi Salon, and—well, they called it the O-Izumi Salon because Tezuka had his… what’s the name… but he had his own atelier. Tezuka was known to have this really interesting atelier with a bunch of other artists like Shotaro Ishinomori used to work there—used to work and live there. The Fujiyo boys who’s behind Doraemon also used to live there. They all worked—it became like this creative hub for manga artists who want to absorb from Tezuka, his… although Tezuka started not living there. It became just a hub, you know, for the likes of Ishinormori Shotaro, and others.
VRAI: Right, because there was actually another very prominent, at the time, shounen artist who Takemiya, in particular, took a lot of inspiration from.
KHURSTEN: Yeah, yeah, yeah! Ishinomori Shotaro was… one of those artists. And she would—Ishinomori Shotaro and Chiba Tetsuya were those two artists. She would speak fondly of them and how for Takemiya Keiko—the fascinating thing here is that Ishinomori Shotaro and Chiba Tetsuya started their careers in shoujo manga.
Although, Ishinormori Shotaro had this debut in shounen, but afterwards, he couldn’t find a space for him. At that time, there were so many male comic artists drawing for shounen, so after his debut with Nikyuu Tenshi—Nikyuu Tenshi, according to Fujimoto Yukari, who’s also a scholar on shoujo and manga—Fujimoto Yukari said that it was Nikyuu Tenshi that introduced the sparkly-eyed character. This second class angel—the main character had sparkly eyes.
The reason why the main character had sparkly eyes was because this angel can use them to read people’s emotions. Later on that became a staple of the—it’s something that Shotaro Ishinomori would use in his shoujo work. He would use it for protagonists, he would use it for heroines… in fact, one of the cutest ones I found was him using it for Sherlock. He did a—yeah, Ishinomori Shotaro had like a comic on the Scarlet something…
VRAI: Scarlet Pimpernel?
KHURSTEN: Yes! So he did a comic on Scarlet Pimpernel, and he—the main character, Sherlock, would have those wide eyes. The woman, I forgot the name of the woman, would also have those large, wide eyes. He would use that so that they’ll have more opportunities to express their emotion. He could convey sadness, he could convey joy, etcetera. It would be clearer through the eyes.
Over time, those starry eyes would evolve. Chiba Tetsuya would also use it in his comics—in his shoujo comics. The transition of those sparkly eyes and how that kind of, for me, transformed the perception of the male.
KHURSTEN: ‘Cause it’s usually used within women, and then, in shoujo, it’s the female protagonist would have those sparkly eyes, and then some men won’t. But I analyzed if there was a crossover, and Chiba Tetsuya did it for Joe of Ashita no Joe. So, he became like this cultural phenomenon and he had the starry, glassy eyes. And when Shotaro Ishinomori transitioned to shounen with Cyborg 009, he also used the same starry eyes under the guise of X-ray vision with Joe, as well.
Why are they all named Joe? What’s up with that? [laughter; crosstalk] It’s an America—
VRAI: It’s punchy! [laughter]
KHURSTEN: It’s an America thing. They had like a big—
VRAI: [crosstalk] Right.
KHURSTEN: [crosstalk] —American, “Hey Joe!” kind of post-war thing, I guess, going on.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Hmm. Interesting.
KHURSTEN: [crosstalk] And she admired them greatly, and she would always say that their works have always been inspirational to them. For Ishinomori, it’s his ability to produce new narratives for shoujo, meaning he tackled horror, he tackled thriller, he tackled sci-fi, in shoujo. So, that made—so that diversified the genre. So, to speak for Takemiya and friends when they were growing up, they basically—
SARA: [crosstalk] Like, laying the foundation for their later work.
KHURSTEN: [crosstalk] Yeah. Yeah.
SARA: So that’s absolutely fascinating! I didn’t know a lot of that, which is really exciting! Although, I know we talked about Ishinomori Shotaro before, Takemiya Keiko and Moto Hagio were both roommates, correct?
KHURSTEN: Mmm, yes, yes, yes.
SARA: So like, they both sort of… had like a close relationship and started developing toward this… these like explorations of homoerotic themes in their work.
KHURSTEN: [crosstalk] Yeah.
SARA: [crosstalk] Like sort of concurrently, but also on different timelines.
VRAI: Hagio publishes In The Sun Room, which is the first… the first same-sex kiss in manga, if I remember correctly.
KHURSTEN: Yeah, yeah, yeah. This is why people call her “the Mother of BL.”
SARA: Yeah! [laughter]
KHURSTEN: Which is hilarious because she didn’t… she didn’t really get into this first. [crosstalk] It was Ta—
SARA: [crosstalk] It was Takemiya Keiko!
KHURSTEN: [crosstalk] Yeah!
SARA: And I think a friend of hers showed her a copy of Barazoku, a gay manga magazine.
KHURSTEN: [crosstalk] Yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah! It’s, it’s—Takemiya Keiko got into it not just through Barazoku. In this place called O-Izumi Salon, they have a landlady of sorts… something like a building manager. I really… I really don’t know where to put her. Oh, here I am again, forgetting… forgetting her name.
But, this particular—she’s very pivotal. I will remember her eventually. [laughter] I bet Matt Thorne could even just like… give it to me—
VRAI: Ah, Rachel.
KHURSTEN: Oh, sorry: Rachel. I stand corrected. Rachel would probably correct me. They did have somebody in… in… near O-Izumi Salon. This person was particularly fascinated with bildungsroman stories and these sort of stories by Herman Hesse, and they often involved boys in… boys in dormitories in Germany and so on and so forth.
And this particular person, who’s name I will find eventually as I open my files, this person actually was very influential to Takemiya and Moto. Moto would talk about it in her interview with Rachel in TCJ. She would talk about how TCJ—in that TCJ interview where she watched this particular French film with Takemiya and this friend called something like Our Intimate Friendship, or Le Particular whatever. Would you know that, Sarah? I’m sorry, it’s escaping me right now.
SARA: It was a French film. It was about… sort of, like a… I don’t think it was explicitly involved in a romantic relationship, but it depicted a lot of intimacy. Moto Hagio was really struck by that and became really fascinated with this film. [crosstalk] And then, that sort of drove her toward, writing—
VRAI: [crosstalk] Right. It was Le Sabeties Particulars. It was a ‘64 film.
KHURSTEN: [enthusiastically] Yes! Well done! [laughter; crosstalk] And then there’s only—
VRAI: [crosstalk] Thank you, Google!
KHURSTEN: [crosstalk] And then there’s only, not only that—Yeah, thank you Google!— There was another one called Death in Venice. [crosstalk] This is much later.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Ah yes, Death in Venice. [laughter]
KHURSTEN: Yeah. That’s like… classic bishounen territory, and it’s quite fascinating because once they started on these buildings—and this is why most of their stories are set in some kind of… German school, institution, whatever. It’s because what they could show back then.
And there were kind of— It was… it’s not a lie— It’s a glorified fanfic of some of these buildings that they… or a fan comic, if that’s a thing. I know one of the… one of my colleagues, James Walker, who I think you guys should also follow on Twitter. He… he’s done research on this and he’s seen… he’s seen Takemiya Keiko doujinshis and even in shoujo manga—in shoujo manga you have Takemiya Keiko talking about her travels to Europe, because you know, that’s where you get all your stuff.
What’s fascinating is rather than really talking about the society and culture at the time, those travel… those travel entries would have like, “Look at the couple stones!” She’s so driven to the aesthetic of it, and it shows in their work.
VRAI: Because in the really excellent Heart of Thomas American release which I recommend picking up for multiple reasons, Rachel Thorn has this wonderful essay in the back with some excerpts from Moto Hagio talking about how part of the appeal of a relationship between two boys is girls can read it with a degree of remove in these very intense scenarios. I wonder if setting it in Europe instead of Japan feeds into that.
KHURSTEN: Well… Takemiya Keiko has said that to a certain extent, she was really using—she was really creating the distance. She was using that distance to really explore something that was more intimate and personal to her. And that at least gave her a healthy space, you know, to really assess and digest the emotions that many of these characters go through.
And… really, part of that time of—of what was thought at time, which was called shounen ai. It wasn’t called Boys’ Love—I mean, it translates the Boys’ Love, but it wasn’t called Boys’ Love. It was called shounen ai. That they… they needed something different to really cover. And… to really cover and extract as much insight and emotions in humanity. Unfortunately, at the time, this was not seen through women’s bodies. And that’s because, you know, women’s bodies have always been controlled to a certain extent.
There are expectations, social expectations perhaps, outside of Takemiya perhaps within the editorial reach or maybe even their editorial understanding of the market, you know? The market understands that women should work and function this way, and that frustrated Takemiya and friends.
KHURSTEN: That there—anyway, and basically, this was quite pivotal because she was the one who basically lit the fire in Takemiya and friends. She was the one who said, “Why can Shotaro Ishinomori do this, but we can’t? What is something—” because the thing here is when Shotaro Ishinomori moved to shounen manga, they also followed because they loved his works in shoujo manga.
So, when he became professional and started his shounen professional career, they followed him and were like, “Why is this happening? Why can’t he write this in shounen manga as well?” And at the time, that was the peak of shounen manga in the 1960s. And at the end of the day, this girl was like saying, “Let’s do something like this. Let’s make interesting narratives that will transform this genre.”
And this woman, who’s name will appear now as I scroll up into my notes… [proudly] Masayama! Knew it. Sorry, I don’t have access to my book. If I saw my books, I’d be like… [trails off] So, Norie Masayama. She’s the… she’s… I would say she could have been the manager of these shounen ai artists. She was a big fan of bildungsroman and was basically saying, “Why don’t we explore this? Why don’t we do something phenomenal?” and that’s what they did.
What’s fascinating is that afterwards, they did—actually, November Gymnasium was the first one. Then—and the person was really… Oh yeah. So November Gymnasium was the first one, and then Toma no Shinzou, and then Kaze to Ki no Uta in 1976. And then I think they had like, a number of shorts in between. Like, short stories and so on, but… that basically opened the world of shounen ai, or Boys’ Love.
VRAI: And despite Takemiya and Hagio being friends and roommates starting out, they eventually developed a bit of a rivalry, as Hagio was a little bit… mmm, more popular?
SARA: I don’t know how they felt about each other. I know the—despite these works, like, Song of the Wind and the Trees, especially being like… like, cultural landmarks that we look back and see a lot of influence.
SARA: And also like, I know—I think it was James Walker—
SARA: —Has commented on like how, Takemiya got tons and tons and tons of fan letters, even though it wasn’t necessarily commercially successful, it really sparked interest.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Was beloved.
KHURSTEN: I think in terms of commercial success, the two titles were popular but they were not commercially big. There’s this… I studied this fan magazine named Pafu (Puff), and this fan magazine in particular—it was created by… oh well, no, not created. It was inspired by the people who created Comiket. And basically, those men, they were pivotal in building discourse surrounding shoujo manga and shounen manga.
For example, Yonezawa. Yonezawa, who is basically the creator of Comiket, he… he and other friends were pivotal in creating discourse surrounding shoujo manga: what makes shoujo manga, what is fascinating about it. They looked towards Takemiya and Hagio as pivotal artists, you know, who were developing new genres, especially with new—approaches in shoujo storytelling. Even shounen storytelling. Things like Terra e, or To Terra, and… what you call this, They Were Eleven, which is my personal favorite from the lot.
And so… there—the reason why we remember them is because these guys have placed them in the discourse. But, within common Japanese discourse—and this is by virtue of experience—unless you’re a shoujo fan or unless you’re a fujoshi or an otaku, you probably wouldn’t have heard of Takemiya Keiko and Moto Hagio. You will, however, have heard of Ikeda Ryoko, whom is basically a national institution thanks to Rose of Versailles, you know?
And it’s quite interesting because in terms of rivalries, Moto would become more popular because she would be more loved by the critics. And the critics would have some kind of influence. And I’m not gonna lie, her works are really good, you know? And… and not saying that Takemiya Keiko’s works are not good. They’re also just as great.
It’s quite unfortunate that people have just associated her with Kaze to Ki no Uta because that was her strongest and longest work. But she’s done quite a lot of works in between that were also as poignant, that were also as revolutionary, were also transformative, like Terra e is quite awesome.
VRAI: Yeah, I was actually curious, like… English—we’ve been quite blessed in the English-language market recently. We’ve gotten, you know, some Ikeda with Claudine, and maybe we’re getting Rose of Versailles (that license has been sat on for years now). We’ve got quite a bit of Hagio. We got some of Yasuko Aoike’s From Eroica with Love, which I adore.
VRAI: But we haven’t really gotten any Takemiya, and I keep wondering why that is.
KHURSTEN: [drawn out] Um… licensing, really. Whether she agrees to it or not. So… we’re fortunate to get Terra e before with Vertical, but I don’t know what happened there.
KHURSTEN: I know something happened, but I cannot disclose… [laughter]
VRAI: Gotcha. [laughter]
KHURSTEN: [crosstalk] So—
SARA: [crosstalk] I think it, like, had difficulty reaching a market, right?
KHURSTEN: Yeah. I mean, at the end of the day that’s what it is. It’s really difficult getting—reaching a market. There are also different issues—and it also boils down to the author, whether they’re happy to have it distributed or not. Clearly, Takemiya Keiko wants to have more—I don’t know, I can’t read her well in terms of why she wouldn’t.
I think there’s… there’s this one interesting conference that I was in. Basically, I had the fortune of meeting her. The first thing—because some of the scholars there knew that like, “Oh my God, this is Khursten, she’s like a big BL fan.”
They would just warn me just like, you know, “Just give her—don’t dwell so much on her older works.” And I’m like, “Okay.” But at the end of the day, when I had to ask her to sign something, what I asked her to sign was like, from the first print. I managed to get the first print of like, Kaze to Ki to Uta.
VRAI: [excited fan gasp]
KHURSTEN: So I got the first volume and the first print. It was a gift from a friend who’s also a scholar. I had it signed by Takemiya Keiko and I just said—the only thing I told her is that this book changed my life. This basically made me discover you and a wonderful genre that you’ve established without saying the word BL. You know? [laughter] And she was kind of moved by it, and I was like… yeah. [laughter] And that was it.
KHURSTEN: You know? And like… but, apparently, when you read, she has—she released an autobiography lately called Shounen no na wa Gilberu and in Shounen no na wa Gilberu, you really see the process, you know, and how at one point in her career, this emotional journey she went through with Kaze to Ki no Uta was an interesting development in her life because that’s when she really started questioning who she was as well.
For her, it was really knowing or loving the craft, you know, the craft of creating comics, and that’s what she’s made her mission to share her teachings. She’s been—I mean, when she was a comic artist, she would do like these little columns for magazines teaching readers “how do you draw manga, what are the you should pay attention to,” etcetera…
And this is also, I think maybe, mildly influenced by Shotaro Ishinomori who also wrote something similar. It’s always been in that process of, “I’m gonna educate the next generation of manga artists.” She did the same. She’s gone far ahead. She’s even become, like, a professor for it at Kyoto Seika University, and so on and so forth.
I think that’s her legacy, but in terms—and it’s kind of unfair to her. I kind of feel that it’s unfair to her that she doesn’t get much credit for her works herself, because she’s done quite a lot.
The one who does get credit is Moto Hagio, and… I can sense there’s a bit of rivalry there, especially how, you know, in BL discourse, Moto Hagio is seen as the Mother of BL, when for me, central to BL is the bishounen. The mother of the greatest bishounen is none other than Takemiya Keiko. When you think of the bishounen and who’s a central, kind of like… person in Boys’ Love and has transformed over the years, there’s no greater bishounen than Gilbert.
VRAI: Most of our listeners, I imagine, won’t have Kaze Ki no matter how often I keep sending requests to Seven Seas. But I will say that we do not condone piracy through AniFem, but when something is very old and unlikely to get licensed, I will just say that the Kaze Ki OVA is out there and well worth tracking down. [wry laughter]
KHURSTEN: I will just say this. If… I know there’s Tumblrs who actually just do illustrations, who share illustrations, and I think that doesn’t hurt.
VRAI: The depressing thing is Kaze Ki was never completely fan translated because I guess it’s quite dense.
KHURSTEN: Uh, no, no, no. It’s a difficult—it’s a difficult read. I think whoever is translating it would have to go through some kind of emotional… I mean I read it for two—the first time I read it, I read it for two days. And even then, I was already like, sobbing on my friend’s couch, you know, and like, “Why is it so… ?” you know?
But I mean, if they want to see the aesthetics of Kaze to Ki no Uta, they can go to Pinterest, Tumblr, type “Takemiya Keiko Kaze to Ki no Uta” and they’ll find Gilbert there. Gilbert is the blonde one [laughter] just in case they wonder. Gilbert—when I speak of Gilbert, it’s the blonde one. And he… I—sorry, you were saying that Gilbert is such an icon and even appeared in, uh…
VRAI: Yeah, there’s a really cute reference, a tiny subplot reference to him in Fumi Yoshinaga’s What Did You Eat Yesterday? which is precious.
SARA: That was something Vrai brought up in our last recording.
KHURSTEN: Oh, okay, yeah, yeah, yeah!
VRAI: [deadpan for humor] What do you mean? This is the first time we’ve recorded this! [laughter]
KHURSTEN: [laughing] Yeah! Sorry, technical stuff, technical stuff. Yeah. [laughter]
VRAI: Yeah, it’s really cute, and honestly, when you told me that, that Takemiya is not as well known among, you know, outside of like, really hardcore shoujo fans, it surprised me a little bit because I assumed that that work was a little bit of a touchstone in the way that Rose of Versailles is.
KHURSTEN: Mmm, mmm, no, no.
VRAI: [crosstalk] No, okay.
KHURSTEN: [crosstalk] Not even Moto Hagio.
KHURSTEN: Yeah. And that’s why it—Moto Hagio now writes for a much more mature audience. So people would know Moto Hagio because they’ve read her later works like Otherworld Barbara. Now she has this one that reflects on the atomic bomb, Na no Hana.
She still—the thing with Moto Hagio is she’s still producing manga vis a vis Takemiya Keiko, who I don’t think she has published anything beyond her autobiography recently. Yeah. Like, she hasn’t published a manga manga, so… yeah.
But here’s the interesting thing: they don’t remember—they don’t remember Takemiya Keiko, but they actually remember other shoujo artists who are actually their contemporaries. So, you have the Magnificent 49 Group which was well-loved by many people in terms of manga discourse, you know? And then—meaning these sort of hardcore fans of shoujo manga.
Within shoujo manga as well, there’s another group and they’re called The Ribon Group. The Ribon Group, or The Margaret Group. And The Ribon Group mostly—these are the people who published in Ribon. But they’re actually quite popular among Japanese, so people know…
Another good shoujo artist at the time that was unknown to Western discourse, and actually, I don’t think her works are popular or doesn’t even have some kind of cultural agency among us, is Yukari Ichijo, who did Pride, who did Yukan Club, and she’s been writing—she’s actually contemporary of Takemiya and friends.
And they actually have an interview together in Com, which is the magazine where Takemiya debuted. This Com is actually the Osamu Tezuka contemporary of Garou, so there’s like this whole gekiga relationship, you know? She also published there. She also did a little doujinshi there, but they never—and that’s an interesting result. She has more cultural latency in Japan. Like, people know Yukari Ichijo. She’s well loved.
VRAI: We’ve mentioned doujinshi once or twice. I actually—we’re going to run up on an hour, but before we do, I wanted… Sarah, I know you know some really interesting stuff about kind of how the doujinshi circles eventually kind of coalesced into June and the official what we now think of BL as a market, as opposed to, you know, being under the umbrella of shoujo as it were.
So I guess, how does doujinshi become original BL works? Like, where’s that form at?
SARA: Sure! So, initially, I believe doujinshi was created to talk about original works. Just like works that weren’t published with a publisher. They were self-published works. Sort of the first doujinshi we see are actually original works.
But then with the rise of Comiket—I think it was sort of concurrent with that—we see a lot of the “fan comics” and specifically with BL, a lot of playing with, sort of, shounen. So, Captain Tsubasa, I think Saint Seiya… yeah, a lot of the big shounen titles.
People got very excited about playing with them, and pairing the two leads—pairing the two male leads, for example, to make erotic [laughter] like, just very fun, plotless erotic manga.
VRAI: Which is what yaoi was specifically referring to was basically PWP (Porn Without Plot) yeah? [laughter]
SARA: Yeah, exactly. It’s…
VRAI: Yeah, um—
SARA: I always wanna say it’s an acronym, but it’s not actually an acronym just because of the Japanese syllabary works. But it’s yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi. I might be getting that wrong. [laughter]
KHURSTEN: No, no, no, you got it right.
SARA: Okay! Good. Yeah!
SARA: And so people have translated that a few different ways, but a lot of times it comes up as “no plot, no climax, no meaning.” Sort of like the main draw is the porn: the eroticism. Yeah, and that’s sort of like… a self-deprecating way, or like a playful way for female fans—
KHURSTEN: [crosstalk] It’s, um…
SARA: [crosstalk] —reading these doujinshi to talk about their work.
KHURSTEN: This is interesting, one—there’s this book that came out maybe a few year’s back called Boys’ Love Manga and Beyond. James Walker wrote an interesting piece there about the history of BL, and he would talk about how—and this is also emergent in my research.
A lot of the fans who wrote doujinshi during the time in the 1960s and 1970s were fans of shoujo. Doujinshi are not necessarily comics. For example, Yonezawa’s doujinshi were mostly criticisms. They were criticizing the works of Moto and Takemiya and how they’re enjoying it and they made parodies of it. Those were like the early parody comics. They were in an effort to criticize, critique, or satirize their original work in an entertaining manner.
Yaoi springs from that as well, around the same time. I’m not saying that one came after the other, but there were actually, you know… emerging in parallel in terms of consumption.
There was the kind of atmosphere that inspired people to do a lot of different things. What she mentioned about this doujinshi called yaoi, or at least one of the terms they used in that was yaoi, is that it was fans of shoujo manga as well. There were fans of Moto and Takemiya and they wanted to—sorry, Hagio and Takemiya, and they wanted to kind of push the boundaries a bit, make a PWP kind of, you know, and the answer was… yaoi.
What’s interesting later on is that James would note how because of how handsome they were, etcetera, and there was also fascination for… for this beautiful man, so to speak. That going to rock stars like David Bowie…
KHURSTEN: The heart of the genre! Yeah, and I… so, from like the fans who were reading and inspired by Hagio and Takemiya in the ‘60s and ‘70s to sort of where we see Comiket emerging in the ‘80s, that’s sort of our timeline the… the bell curve [laughter] I guess for doujinshi. And then you see sort of like as the ‘80s go on, we get works like… Ai no Kusabi—
VRAI: Wow, Ai no Kusabi is that old?
SARA: Yeah! [laughter]
KHURSTEN: [crosstalk] Yeah, yeah, yeah! Ai no Kusabi is quite interesting because she actually started her career as a doujinshi artist for Captain Tsubasa. So I actually have a couple of her doujinshi. [laughter] I have—
SARA: [crosstalk] Yeah, yeah! There’s like that real… that real like, movement in between the amatuer and the professional in BL which is really interesting.
KHURSTEN: And it’s quite interesting because I know Banana Fish is quite big this year because of its resurgence, but if you think about it, those were initially published in shoujo magazines during the 1980s. They were not necessarily separated from shoujo manga, but—
SARA: Yeah, even though we were getting more erotic works that were like, very different from what Hagio and Takemiya and Ikeda and the rest ofthe 49ers were doing in the ‘60s and ‘70s, it was still really under the umbrella of shoujo.
KHURSTEN: That’s why I find it fascinating when—I’ve had a number of conferences where you have these kids coming up to me and are like, “I don’t like shoujo but I like BL.” And I’m like, you cannot… [laughter] you cannot—the history stems from there, my love.
So let me talk—but, it wasn’t… I’m sorry, I just have to spring, not Ai no Kusabi, but… Zetsu Ai, the author of Zetsu Ai, Minami Ozaki. She… it’s quite interesting because she published Zetsu Ai in the same publishing line as—’cause they were working in this magazine call ShoComi. ShoComi was like this interesting experimental place for shoujo manga. And so from ShoComi actually… I think Banana Fish emerged.
Minami Ozaki was in Margaret, and Margeret was where another like… how do I put it? Margaret’s where Rose of Versailles—again, another revolutionary one… title— was made. And so on and so forth.
SARA: Yeah, we really have those legacies of magazines, just because of the author… the author’s relationship with the magazine they debut in and the long relationship that they tend to have with the editor.
KHURSTEN: [slightly faded audio] And readers as well.
SARA: Yeah, absolutely. So you get these really interesting… even though a lot of the times, we tend to like, overemphasize demographics as like a genre determiner, there really are these continuities within different magazines, and the relationship that author’s have with those magazines. So you totally see that with like, the shoujo magazines that these women were writing in as BL was sort of emerging.
KHURSTEN: One of the funniest anecdotes I had from one of… another researcher, Fusami Ougi. She’s done work… she’s published works mostly in English—sorry, mostly in Japanese—but she’s got a couple of like, articles on shoujo manga here and there in English. And she was saying that… what’s fascinating about—the reason why these women were able to publish these kinds of stories in shoujo magazines was that editors just didn’t know what women want! [laughter]
And women—and they were women! So they assumed, “If this is one you wanna read, go ahead!” you know? Fortunately for them, it worked. In fact… it’s interesting that with Zetsu Ai, with the creation of Zetsu Ai it was certainly said that the creation of Banana Fish—I’m not saying that… Zetsu Ai is definitely more homoerotic than Banana Fish would ever be. Banana Fish would… would still kind of have like, those you know, ambiguous boundaries.
VRAI: [crosstalk] It’s riding that line of “this is a love story, but also we’re real deep in the coding pretty hard.”
KHURSTEN: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s like… it’s however you want to read it. It’s more open to interpretation than let’s say… Zetsu Ai that really establishes, “Aw, hell no! We’re going to the shower together and you know what’s gonna happen!” you know?
VRAI: Whereas Banana Fish is like, “Well, they loved each other like lovers, but they didn’t bone, so… ”
KHURSTEN: You know.
KHURSTEN: And it’s hard to define “lover.” I may have, “I kissed this particular character, but do I wanna bang him?” It was a strategic—you know there’s always that kind of like, you know… play on, on meaning. Actually, I really should read some of her interviews early on, because I do have a couple here, but I haven’t had time to read it.
But, for me, that was kind of the world that they navigated in, that they couldn’t really do… it can be overt, expressing Boys’ Love how they wanted it. And that’s why there was this magazine June that kind of was a space for it, but that didn’t last long. It took—
SARA: [crosstalk] Yeah, June’s been up and down.
KHURSTEN: [crosstalk] —years, I mean, before…
SARA: [crosstalk] It ran in like—it was founded in like, the ‘60s or the ‘70s and it didn’t last very long—
KHURSTEN: [crosstalk] The late ‘70s.
SARA: [crosstalk] —and then it had like a res… yeah, late ‘70s. Then it had—it got re-established and ran for a few years and like, shut down again. June’s had a complicated history.
KHURSTEN: [crosstalk] Yeah it does.
SARA: [crosstalk] Even though it’s like a very famous—like the first distinctly BL magazine that I can think of.
KHURSTEN: Mmm. [crosstalk] And, um—
SARA: [crosstalk] It was before BL was very… had it’s—
KHURSTEN: [crosstalk] Commercial.
SARA: [crosstalk] —own fully commercial identity as a genre. But it was like, very… very influenced and very rooted in that homoerotic shoujo.
KHURSTEN: And it’s—I remember the first June issue was really about establishing who they were and they were defining themselves as shounen ai.
They were using the term tanbi to really highlight how they were focused on aesthetic, the beauty of aesthetic. And how—and that is both seen in the visuals of their comics… that was Takemiya Keiko’s love child so to speak, June. She’s done the covers, she’s done essays on it, she—she engages in discussions with fans.
And then there’s—and then yeah, there’s that lapse. It will come once in a while, but it’s no longer—it’s becoming increasingly… especially when it was gone, the growth of yaoi as an underground fan movement, or underground fan concept really grew, you know. That became—that really transformed how people consumed the masculine body, how they also… how women—in particular, female fans—reimagined the masculine body, let alone reimagined the characters that these masculine bodies, you know, portray.
They became like this… they became like dolls that they could play with, you know? Like you would… like you would [take] your Barbie doll, and you would imagine them today. Yaoi gave them that space because there’s no rules to it, there’s no meaning to it. Meaning suddenly, if you think you’re bound to the rules of June, with yaoi, suddenly, there’s no rules! What are you going to do? Well… some one artist would say, “Well, I wanna put them in a fairy tale!” Okay! “I want them to be lovers!” Okay! “I want them to, you know… have long sexual pinning and all of that jazz!” Okay, you got it!
I wanna do that for like—and that’s basically what Minami Ozaki did with her Captain Tsubasa doujinshi. It’s all about this character Hyuga pining for the goal, for his goalie, Wakashimaya. And it’s like this long build up until they became world-class players. They became like, world cup athletes! And… and it’s, who wouldn’t love a good slow burn, you know?
They’ll go on a holiday: go ahead! And that’s the playful atmosphere that the 1980s and even into the 1990s where I think by the time Yoshinaga Fumi did her Slam Dunk doujinshi, it was already the peak of that… of that cultural movement, so to speak, or cultural consumption.
KHURSTEN: [crosstalk] Where—
SARA: [crosstalk] I think… it’s really interesting how we get that sort of progression from like, the very… sort of high-minded, in some ways, and like aesthetic works of the ‘60s and ‘70s into the like, the more… playful works of the ‘80s and ‘90s, but that’s still developed these really rigid, for the most part, like… rules for BL. It’s like you can do anything you want… within the rules.
KHURSTEN: [crosstalk] Yeah. And it’s—it just—
SARA: [crosstalk] The dynamic of seme and uke, and all that kind of stuff.
KHURSTEN: [crosstalk] And the fan, of course. The whole idea of the shipping started in doujinshi. Well… not shipping as we know it because again, this is running in parallel with what is happening in the United States. And I’m not exactly sure how strong this influence of one over the other, but I’m certain that probably, because of what they consume, it’s quite independent of what was happening in the US.
But I think it was mid-1980s when there’s this big fandom surrounding Samurai Troopers, which I don’t think any of the listeners know that, they started using markers for who gets to be on top. They like to use hearts, they used to use slashes, x’s, smiley faces… and then eventually, when they moved to—and this is after Captain Tsubasa.
When they moved to Saint Seiya, and then later on, Slam Dunk. When you say “Ruhana,” you already know Rukawa is the top, and Hanamichi of Slam Dunk is the bottom. And so they were actually building—this is part of my thesis already. They were already building their knowledge of how… what are the rules that will make our consumption of this really growing media a lot easier.
And this is why when you go to places like Mandarake, these are heavily outlined. Like… if you go to this section, this is all just this particular pairing. This particular—even the way Comiket is designed, the way it’s… if you look at the maps of Comiket, it’s done by ships, you know? You won’t find a HanaRu in a RuHana section because it’s just easier to navigate for fans.
VRAI: As an aside, very old American listeners may know Samurai Troopers as Ronin Warriors where it was released in a very interestingly edited English dub. But…
KHURSTEN: [aghast] Oh… oh I didn’t know that!
VRAI: Yeah. [laughter]
KHURSTEN: I didn’t know that! I actually—you know, it’s only this… so, I’ve read this whole Samurai Trooper thing in a Japanese research, and so I’m like, “What is this Samurai Trooper thing?” I tried looking for it, never found it. I was trying to look for manga, but because it was an anime, couldn’t find it. I only actually managed to score a doujinshi this year. [laughter]
KHURSTEN: I’m on the hunt for like, legacy doujinshi. Cheap, cheap legacy doujinshi that people don’t really want. Unfortunately, I’ve only found a Samurai Trooper doujinshi this year, so I’m hoping to educate myself. I’ll try to find Ronin Warriors. Ronin Warriors?
VRAI: Yeah, that was the Americanized title.
VRAI: So I take it if you’re looking for obscure ones, you won’t be getting the CLAMP Devilman egg baby doujinshi? I think that one’s quite famous.
KHURSTEN: Oh, nah, nah. That’s impossible! I’ve—here’s the thing. Of course, I’ve got to include CLAMP. They’ve done milestones for Saint Seiya. I haven’t found Saint Seiya CLAMP doujinshi, but I’ve seen it in a number of anthologies, and I’ve seen it in how they engage in discourse with other fandoms.
There’s this one that I’m particularly looking for because it was very specific to Shonen Jump, and in fact, it’s interesting because it’s already showcasing how they’re consuming particular texts differently. This is the CLAMP in Wonderland issue with… with them—again, the baby egg, or whatever. Where… where Kakuin gives birth to Jotaro’s child. [silence] And, um…
VRAI: [quite sad] And then they just turned that into Wish.
KHURSTEN: Precisely! Precisely. Wish is like the glorified fic of that. Um… but yeah, that’s… you know, part of that fan consumption and that fan movement. It’s quite interesting though, because this—I don’t know if it’s because CLAMP is really big, but I’ve always been… I know that they’ve been quite intimate with fandom during their heyday. But it’s fascinating how their works have never really reached some kind of… fandom latency in the same way that other titles are.
KHURSTEN: As shoujo artists. I just found that fascinating.
VRAI: I mean, I certainly remember a lot of fan content for X.
KHURSTEN: Yeah, but… I’m referring to doujinshi, like Japanese comic doujinshi. There’s a lot of fan content in the anglophone fandom, but I’m actually quite—that’s why my surprise when I went there—
VRAI: [crosstalk] Oh, I see.
KHURSTEN: [crosstalk] Maybe I should look for a like, X doujinshi, there’s hardly any, even—
VRAI: Not much, huh?
KHURSTEN: Not much.
VRAI: Huh, that does surprise me.
VRAI: Alright, well, we’re at about an hour, so the last thing I wanna ask you guys is if you were to send away the listeners with a… either a, a classic manga to look for or a piece of criticism if they want to read up more about what we’ve been talking about, what would you suggest?
SARA: I would say that just picking up Boys’ Love Manga and Beyond is a great start. I think, like… BL is like a very expansive genre. So, like, it goes… there are threads and themes of it that can be seen before the ‘49ers. And then the genre, the commercial genre, is still evolving and changing a lot!
We’re seeing more—I think some interesting trends that we’re seeing is more gay protagonists. A little more flexibility with who tops and who bottoms with seme and uke. Not a lot, it’s still pretty… I think what authors are doing more is playing with expectations. So, you’ll still have a seme and an uke, but the uke might not be as… evidently feminine or… you know, submissive in the relationship or whatever.
KHURSTEN: I’m… Like, for example, my new love and fascination are all of these ojisan uke titles that are being published left and right, and I’m like, “No, stop! Stop! This is—”
VRAI: I can’t prove that this is because of Tiger & Bunny, but I suspect it’s because of Tiger & Bunny.
KHURSTEN: I don’t think so, because it has always been there. It has always been there. I think… the—I think what really sparked it in the last few months is this series called Ojisan Rabu, which is a television show. Apparently, it’s on Netflix. I saw it on Netflix in Japan, but I haven’t seen it here in the Philippines.
VRAI: It is just an older… an older love interest?
KHURSTEN: No, no, it’s… Ojisan Rabu—sorry, Ossan Rabu, that’s the name of the television show. Ossan Rabu is an office, a typical office love story between the boss and this particular… I don’t know what. I haven’t seen it, I’ve only seen bits of it and how popular it’s been lately. Like in my recent trip in Osaka, there’s like, little light novels related to it, and so on and so forth, so…
VRAI: Hmm, cool.
KHURSTEN: I think it’s available in Canada? Maybe Canadians can watch it, I’m not sure… but yeah.
SARA: The other thing that I would wanna give a quick shout out—I don’t know it’s necessarily a recommendation, but I have a very soft spot in my heart for Loveless.
SARA: I think it’s like—
KHURSTEN: [crosstalk] She’s also a doujinshi artist, you know that?
SARA: Yeah, yeah, yeah, totally! You have that tons of movement between the amatuer and the professional. It’s really cool.
KHURSTEN: Yeah! Um—
VRAI: Yun Koga is always… interesting.
SARA: Yeah… ! It—
VRAI: I can never take that away from her.
SARA: I can definitely agree. Loveless is kind of a hot mess.
VRAI: [crosstalk] It is the hottest mess.
SARA: [crosstalk] But it has the hottest of lesbians! And also it’s like, got… it’s like trying to say something which I think is interesting. I love—
VRAI: [crosstalk] Yeah, if it ever ends, we’ll know if it actually said it.
SARA: [crosstalk] Yeah, I know! Sure would be nice to get a final—some closure.
KHURSTEN: [crosstalk] I swear! I remember reading Loveless, and I’m like, “What is this hot mess that I’m getting into?” I’ve had the fortune of reading her doujinshi, and I’m like, “Crap, her hot mess has always been there!” [laughter]
VRAI: Yeah, I feel like with Loveless, she’s certainly trying to say something about CSA survivors, but also… she’s kind of fetishizing her twelve-year-old protagonist.
SARA: Yeah, yeah… it straddles a very fine line.
SARA: I—Yeah, it’s trying to say something about a lot of things, but it’s… it’s always worth criticizing its execution. I do love it though, and I do think that it’s like… it’s a really interesting work, if nothing else.
For an actual like, recommendation, something that I think a lot of people would enjoy, it’s pretty obvious, but I think like, Scarlet Berico’s Jackass is really fun. It’s got a really unique character.
One of the—like, the side couple, there’s a high schooler who explicitly identifies as gay and is like… visibly queer in some ways. Ear piercings, slightly gender non-conforming. He works in Nichome. He has like, a relationship with the culture, and it’s not just… not just gay bars. It’s a whole network of people. Like, supporting each other, living together.
It’s very subtle. It is a side relationship, but I just found that really interesting and really remarkable. It felt refreshing. The main story is really fun and cute too.
VRAI: Khursten, what about you?
KHURSTEN: So there’s BL Manga and Beyond, it’s definitely a read. In fact, there’s this interesting special issue on OTW: Organization of Transformative Works.
VRAI: A very important organization!
KHURSTEN: They have a journal and they did have—it’s actually a special issue that runs parallel with Boys’ Love Manga and Beyond and it’s edited by some of the same editors, Suginuma and Nagaeki-sensei.
SARA: That was like… 2015— Oh my gosh!
KHURSTEN: Yeah! Yeah, so—yeah, yeah, yeah. They’re actually like, some of the articles that couldn’t make it to Boys’ Love and Beyond were actually there. It’s also an interesting perspective—
SARA: I know there was an earlier book that came out in the Western… in the US.
KHURSTEN: Yeah, that was the one by Pagliasotti.
SARA: [crosstalk] Yeah, yeah, yeah! So, um—
KHURSTEN: But it’s more of a global understanding of BL, so—
SARA: [crosstalk] Yeah, and this is on, like… on like fandom and fan dynamics rather than the history and the genre.
KHURSTEN: But yeah, of that… of that special issue, there’s—so it’s called “Transnational Boys’ Love Fan Studies Special.” There’s this really interesting article by Akiko Hori, okay? And Akiko Hori is one of the leading Boys’ Love scholars in Japan, and she’s done this particular—she’s done this particular article… actually, there’s a lot of interesting articles there.
But the one I liked the most, or at least the one I would strongly recommend reading, especially within the space of online discourse on BL, is Akiko Hori’s “On the Response, or Lack Thereof, of Japanese Fans to Cricisim to Yaoi is Anti-Gay Discrimination.”
SARA: Oh yeah, we didn’t even get into the yaoi [unintelligible].
KHURSTEN: Yeah, so… so—
VRAI: I feel like that is… it would do that very important discussion a disservice to try and cram it in in ten minutes, so…
KHURSTEN: [crosstalk] Yeah, yeah, yeah. So there’s her—I think that’s very important. She’s actually published a book about this in Japanese, and especially in terms of understanding sexuality and so on. So, I think that’s quite important that—this was in 2013, so it’s been five years since it was published? So I think fans should give it a shot.
SARA: Okay, so I think that was published concurrently with Pagliasotti’s book rather than Boys’ Love Manga and Beyond.
KHURSTEN: But it—it actually was kind of developed around the same time.
KHURSTEN: Yeah, because this is actually—no, what I mean is this was actually done in a… what you call it? Nagaeki-sensei and Tsugunuma-sensei were working alongside the people in Boys’ Love Manga and Beyond.
KHURSTEN: Because they’re also editors for that one. That’s why I said they kind of worked together; one was just published earlier. Because Boys’ Love Manga and Beyond was written in response to Pagliasotti—because Pagliasotti was tackling the global issues—what was really happening in Japan. This was really more a Japan-focused, let’s really understand Boys’ Love as what it is when, you know… it was how it’s conceived and perceived in Japan.
Boys’ Love Manga and Beyond is critical because it actually has a lot of important Yurika issues. Yurika has been an interesting literature journal and have been doing a lot of special issues on Boys’ Love, so some of them are published there as well. So, that is on the academic side, at least the easy reading that doesn’t involve reading Japanese.
And then in terms of classics… I just checked now. Fantagraphics, so that means Rachel Thorn is behind this, is—they’re releasing Poe no Ichizoku late 2019 to early 2020. And Rachel Thorn will translate the manga.
So that, I think, is a very interesting series to read. It’s less drama compared to Kaze to Ki to Uta, but it’s fun and cheeky. It has very interesting characters and relationships and dynamics. It’s about a family of vampires. So, it’s like, it’s like… I’m doing injustice by saying “it’s better than Interview with a Vampire.” Whatever.
VRAI: [gobsmacked] Uhhh… [laughter]
KHURSTEN: I’m doing severe—that’s why I say I’m doing severe injustice. It’s a lot better than that.
VRAI: [still gobsmacked] Uh…
KHURSTEN: But, I guess… yeah. [laughter] Let’s not—let’s just say it’s a good story about a family that lives forever.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Okay, I’m just forever reading it.
KHURSTEN: Okay, it’s about a… yeah. So, yeah. That’s for the classic one. For more contemporary ones, and I think—and this involves a bit of reflection. I think Sara mentioned earlier how, you know, Boys’ Love has rules, but recently, there are artists that are now challenging and are kind of questioning and interrogating those rules and what are the boundaries of Boys’ Love.
I think if there’s an author out there who’s doing that, that would be none other than Harada. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, and I’m not saying you should like that cup of tea. In fact, what’s fascinating about her is she is designing to ensure you don’t like the cup of tea.
SARA: Yeah! [laughter]
KHURSTEN: That, you know, it’s something that—she’s been writing really… intellectual… I mean, she’s had cheeky fun. She has the tsundere office one, which is actually one of my more lighthearted favorites from her.
But the ones that are released in English, like Yattamomo, is an interesting question about eroticism and hard sexuality or hard eroticism in Boys’ Love manga. Like, “How do we push—why should we go this far? At what point is this still pleasurable to us? If you get bonking every issue and it’s not just intense bonking, how then—is this still in your definition of erotica, or is this something really an explanation of Boys’ Love as pornography?”
Harada… Harada has more questionable titles that are not available in English, and I’m happy that it’s not available in English simply because I think the—not that I’m saying English-reading audiences are immature, but that I also don’t want her to be caught in the crossfire for an audience that is not necessarily familiar with the genre. Because some of her works dialogue with the genre that is very embedded, currently, really embedded, in Japan.
Having it taken out of context, having, you know—we can appreciate Moto Hagio now because for the past fifteen, twenty years, you have the likes of Rachel Thorn and all of these scholars bringing in and talking about how fantastic her works are. But imagine… imagine bringing these works in without context.
But yeah, that’s the thing. It has to be taken in context, and I think Harada right now, there are some things that we can still appreciate individually, but some of her more pressing and poignant works, like the ones that she… From Hen Ai, which is her one-shot series. That’s really her exploration of like, if we… if we started questioning Boys’ Love as odd, or weird, or perverse, this is how it will look, you know? And it’s in a dialogue with what do we define as perverse in Boys’ Love. That is a very interesting start to that title because it’s unsettling, and there are other unsettling titles, but it’s… yeah.
So, Harada is one. For cheeky fun, and its representative of not really yaoi, but rather one of the interesting outputs in yaoi. I’ll plug my favorite Yoshinaga Fumi title of that genre. That would be Ichigenme. Ichigenme is more representative of her work—of her yaoi work. [pause] It’s cheeky, it’s fun, it’s also very sexy, and there.
VRAI: Cool. I guess I’ll just throw on the end there. I… I… am a fan of BL. [pause] Since we’ve had two suggested works here that are very positive, and you know BL does deserve, as a genre, to be celebrated for what it’s done, especially for women creatives, I would also suggest listeners maybe seek out some Gengoroh Tagame beyond My Brother’s Husband. ‘Cause he is super not a fan of BL as a genre, and he’s a very prominent influential gay-comi writer.
KHURSTEN: [crosstalk] Ah! Can I just also plug something with regards to Gengoroh Tagame?
VRAI: [crosstalk] Yeah!
KHURSTEN: So I did a podcast with a colleague of mine who’s done research on Gengoroh Tagame’s discourse on gay manga and so on. It’s on Otaku Champloo, and actually, Gengoroh Tagame is quite appreciative of the genre—of Boys’ Love.
We are now—in fact, it’s interesting because this colleague of mine, he researches on gay consumption of Boys’ Love as well. We talk about the discourse of gay consumption of gay manga, Boys’ Love comics: is there a difference, do they really hate it, ecetera, ecetera. Gengoroh Tagame comes into the discussion as well.
So, I strongly suggest—it’s a two part show because we talk a lot, but it’s a two-part show, so I hope if you want to also hear something about that, then…
VRAI: Absolutely yeah. I think it is important—I don’t… I come here not to bury BL, but to say that we should definitely be keeping up with the conversation about how the people depicted are feeling about it as we go.
And… for manga recs, I’m always pulling for a license rescue on From Eroica With Love, which I adore.
KHURSTEN: [deep sigh] That’s such a beautiful title. [laughter]
VRAI: I freakin’ love it! Well, before she took a hiatus. The post-hiatus stuff is not… good. But those first fifteen volumes! Boy, they’re joy!
KHURSTEN: It’s still ongoing, if I’m not mistaken…
VRAI: Yeah, I think it’s allegedly over as of 2012.
KHURSTEN: Oh, okay.
VRAI: Or at least she hasn’t posted another one of the semi-updating chapters since then. I don’t think it ever actually properly ended, sadly. But it’s a lot of fun. It’s a spy caper. Dorian has a harem of beautiful men, and the, you know… very tsundere, deeply repressed love interest. They have crimes all over Cold War Europe. It’s great.
Modern stuff? I am a really big fan of… well, I mentioned it before, so I might as well plug What Did You Eat Yesterday? which is interesting in that it’s trying to be a depiction of a grounded, middle-aged couple going through, like, day-to-day realities of living as a gay couple in Japan.
I feel like it’s already, having started since 2010, aged poorly in some respects with how quickly [gay rights] have evolved over the past decade. But it has a really good heart and it… it excels at really quiet, tender moments that I like a lot. Also, it’s a cooking manga, which is fun.
KHURSTEN: Mm-hm! Amen!
VRAI: Truth. Well, thank you guys so much for joining us.
SARA: [crosstalk] Thank you!
KHURSTEN: [crosstalk] Thank you! You as well. I appreciate it!
VRAI: Yeah! Thanks, we’ll have to have you guys back some time to talk about stuff a little more recent maybe. [laughter]
SARA: That would be very fun!
VRAI: Listeners, if you liked this episode, we also have another BL podcast where we —where I spoke with Masaki C. Matsumoto and Devin Randal, a.k.a. The Queer Fudanshi. You can also find other episodes of our podcast on Soundcloud.
If you really liked this episode, you can head over to our Patreon at patreon.com/animefeminist. Even a dollar a month helps this content to happen on the website and in your earbuds.
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Thank you so much for joining us, and you know? Go out and pick out a BL manga tomorrow. Try it out.