This deal about Boys Love (BL). Or Shounen’ai. Or Yaoi.

I hardly get sick, but when I do, man do I get knocked out. I’m currently nursing a dry sore throat and the onset of a runny nose. The meds I got from the doctor’s aren’t supposed to induce drowsiness, but I’ve been sleeping literally all day today. Not that I’ll have any trouble sleeping later tonight.

But that’s not why you’re here right? That headline must’ve grabbed your attention. Hurhur.

First, I’m going to lay it out there – I will always prefer to let people live their lives their way. I don’t volunteer my opinion on their choices. But if you don’t feel comfortable about this subject that I’m about to embark on, please look away.

Okay, so here goes….

It was Sunday night and I was randomly playing videos of Kamiya Hiroshi on Youtube, when I saw in the “recommendations” bar some audio clips of his recordings for BL audio dramas. I can’t remember what it was, but the subject clearly had uke in it.

Let’s just say…. listening to that audio/video clip was the most awkward, embarrassing 15 seconds of my life this year. I decided to find other videos of him voicing over as Peeta Mellark.

I decided to do some investigating of my own. I knew many seiyuus were involved in BL drama CDs or similar, but I wasn’t prepared to see running lists of shows and sequels by some of the more popular voice actors in the industry – especially Kamiya. His list was long. 

I’m not about to suggest that this exposure and experience in the BL business is what gives him a less-than-masculine air. Until proven otherwise, anyway. As high profile as these guys get, I must say they really keep their private lives as they should be.

But has anyone wondered what it is about this particular genre in the manga industry that’s this popular? Or why this is excepted to some degree? To whom are they exactly targeting? What’s the motivation?

“Boys Love Manga and Beyond: History, Culture, and Community in Japan” by Mark McLelland, Kazumi Nagaike, Katsuhiko Suganuma and James Welker

Coincidentally, a book was also published in January this year on this very topic. And based on the introduction alone, there’s a lot I don’t know about this history of BL. Or the difference between BL, shounen’ai, or yaoi. 

What I’ve learnt so far, based on the free sample I downloaded:

There is a difference. Shounen’ai (少年愛) is the most widely referred to in commercial shoujo manga from the 1970’s to 1980’s. But these days, they apparently get associated with pedophilia. Whoops.

JUNE refers to the title of a commercial BL magazine that was published for two decades between the 70’s and 90’s, and published original doujinshi works.

Yaoi is a combination of terms: yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi (literally “no climax, no point, no meaning”). Encompasses both commercial and non-commercial works.

Boys love (ボイズラブ) first appeared in the 90’s, and is frequently used to label works in commercially published manga or light novels.

As you can tell, there’s a lot of overlapping even within the sub-groups. There’s no faulting anyone if you mislabel one for the other.

The real gay community hates it. They claim that BL works are a complete misrepresentation of homosexual relations. I can sort of identify with this. You’ll never catch me flirting in a mini skirt or thigh-high socks going all moe for anyone. I’ll be at the cafe if you need me.

Male-male romanticism/eroticism goes as far back as the samurai era. Apparently there’s a thing about men fighting with their lives in a place where no women were accessible or relied on for emotional support. Or maybe those youthful looking samurai just can’t be ignored.

The seme-uke relationship is the highlight. More than the beautiful youthful-looking men emulating the female’s role is this seme/uke behaviour during sexual intercourse. Seme (攻め) refers to the attacker, or the person on top, while uke (受け) refers to the person at the bottom, the subjugated, the one receiving the end of the stick (no pun intended).

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Confucian teachings during the Edo period taught that women were “inferior, sometimes evil, and certainly not as suitable objects of admiration.” Ouch.

Japan had no equivalent for the Western world’s concept of romantic love until the mid-19th century. This strikes me as particularly important. Love in Western literature have been largely influenced by the four types of love inspired from a biblical/philosophical perspective. There’s storge – a bond through familiarity or relational ties (like family and friends); philia – love between friends that’s strong enough to be siblings; eros –  where you get the term “erotic”, or love based on sexual passion; and agape – the kind of love that lasts regardless of all circumstances, a.k.a. God-levels of unconditional love.

This, to me, plays a huge role in understanding the rationale behind the behaviors that inspire the BL literature. The sort of equality in body, mind and soul experienced by both male and female apparently was quite incomprehensible to even Japanese intellectuals right up to the Meiji period (at the turn of the 20th century!). To fully quote: “There were no terms in Japanese at the time that could adequately express the fusion of spiritual and physical love that underlay Western notions of romantic love”. 

But here’s a twist: BL thrives because the girls are drinking them up. While I haven’t found any data to back this up, the irony is all but lost. BL is about the romantic/sexual relationships between males, which cuts women completely out of the picture. And yet we’re apparently the ones consuming these books. Apparently fujoshi (or the female version of otaku) are the main consumers – a horrible label in my opinion, once you realize that fujoshi literally means “rotten girl”.

What do I make of all this?

I’m sensing a theme here that girls get the blame for almost everything. We’re either demons that should be avoided at all costs, or rotten girls who inadvertently promote such literature by buying into it. The excuse that using homoeroticism to teach girls about gender roles and acknowledge elements of weakness and passivity is absolute bullshit.

I think it’s important that men find friends whom they can be closer than brothers. Finding someone who will stick by you regardless of who you are is a real blessing. I’m happy to have a friend like that in my life. But it also takes respect, acceptance, balance, understanding, and patience to love someone. Real love communicates transparency, clarity, and honesty. A lot of what I’ve personally observed in the BL market is rather superficial – the ero type of love. And a lot of these characters – if not all of them – are young men. I may not be that much older, but I know passion runs deep , especially when you’re young. I see nothing in those books except older men taking advantage of these innocent guys (in character, at least).

I’m really glad that such studies on this topic are being made available now. This book is available on Google Play Books as well as Amazon Kindle. I haven’t decided where to purchase the book from. Kindle is cheaper, but Google Play Books has an smoother interface….

If you have any comments or thoughts on this topic, feel free to share!

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3 thoughts on “This deal about Boys Love (BL). Or Shounen’ai. Or Yaoi.

  1. Hello, sorry about liking your post, unliking by accident and liking again. ^^’

    Overall, I think your research is not bad but a lot of points has to be corrected because some of the points you made are changed along the way or not that correct to begin with. However, being an avid reader of this genre for some time, I really enjoyed the perspective of someone who took the matter up and actually did research because most people just like to toss it aside and call it ‘perverted’.

    First of all, fujoshi is not the female equivalent of otaku; while otaku is not a gendered term, fujoshi (fudanshi, for male counterpart) is a female yaoi fan and is a word play on ‘respectable woman’. Both respectable woman and rotten woman is read as ‘fujoshi’, though written with different kanji. This is not a negative term, if you ask me. It’s the same as ‘homo’ being used as something negative and homosexuals calling themselves ‘homos’ because well, it’s not really negative. Another thing is that, you are correct that yaoi acronym was ‘yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi ‘ at the beginnig but now the genre has grown so much, being extremely diverse in artistic style and story telling, it was changed into a more funny phrase as ‘Yamete, oshi ga itai. (Stop, my ass hurts.)’.

    I don’t intend to justify the parts where yaoi is at fault just because I enjoy the genre; it certainly has many problems. ‘Romanticized rape’ is a common trope in it and as you stated in the post, sometimes uke is styled very closely to woman characteristics. It is also correct that women are seen inferior than men, I just don’t agree that this is the origin of yaoi and homosexual relationship. It is true that homosexuality is very common in Japanese history and is openly stated. Most probably because of this, Japan is more open to male homosexuality rather than lesbians (if you are interested in this I can link the interviews). However, “Women are bad and inferior, thus I want to have sex with men.” is not something manifested through this genre. Women are not taught about being passive, in any way. Again, I still think there are discriminating or negative tropes in BL, however, being a vast genre as any other, it has great examples, complex stories and characters, different types of relationships etc. To be honest, it does a much better job talking about romance and sex than shojo or josei. I sincerely think that most shojo or josei manga perpetuates the idea of being fragile, inferior, something to be protected and conquered for women much more than yaoi.

    I agree that there are really superficial works in the market, but every genre has and it’s readers’ job to pick the content they enjoy. I really hope I don’t sound like “Blablabla you criticized my fave yaoi, diee!” because I think yaoi has so much to offer with beautiful stories, characters and great artistic style. Just wanted to contribute my opinion here.

    Take great care!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Are you kidding? I’m just really happy that someone has finally said something meaningful about the subject! I have you to thank for that!

      I’m no expert at all, and what I know are from books by other people who shared their views (which I attempted to repeat). There’s always a risk of over-generalizing topics like this on the surface. So I absolutely welcome a different view on this topic – or any other for that matter. I would like to read the links to the interviews if they’re still available.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So glad to hear that! I was particularly interested in feminism in Japan and how they bring feminism and their not-so-woman-friendly culture together but sadly it’s a bit hard to find something written in English and is open access. What I am going to link, is not a ‘study’ however, I believe internet’s anonymity helps people to answer more openly to these kinds of ‘delicate’ subjects.

        Here is a vlogger who collected views from their Japanese followers and I find it insightful. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxQYu4MOFCY

        Like

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