Thoughts on the Representation of Yuri Fandom in Kurata Uso’s Yuri danshi

Originally appeared as James Welker, “Kurata Uso Yuri danshi ni arawasareta yuri fandamu no sugata ni tsuite no ichi kōsatsu,” Yurīka 45, no. 15 (December 2014): 148–54. Translated (roughly) by the author.

Note: This is a fast and furious translation of the original article. To those reading this here on Okazu for anything beyond amusement (or bemusement), I strongly encourage you to refer to/read/cite the original. Words/sentences added in square brackets are points I wish I had thought to include in the Eureka article or added for clarification.—James

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At the beginning of this month, I was given the opportunity to present a paper at the Manga Futures conference at University of Wollongong in Australia, focused on the future of domestic (Japanese) and global fandom of manga and anime, as well as manga and anime research. In the paper I presented, “Whose Queer Media? An Examination of the Diverse Fandoms of the Cross-Media Yuri Genre,” I attempted to provide an sketch of yuri fans through a focus on the prosumers [consumers and producers] of dōjinshi etc. and readers of commercial publications, as well as the world represented in Kurata Uso’s Yuri danshi.

My preparation for the presentation wasn’t as thorough as I would have liked. The fact that, in sharp contrast with otaku and fujoshi, there is hardly any existing academic research on yuri fans[1] [the present Eureka collection being a notable exception] made my preparation challenging. To research the relatively recent phenomenon of “yuri” fandom, I probably should have conducted field studies and interviews, but [given the constraints of time and] as someone whose cultural-historical research [primarily] focuses on the 1970s and 1980s, I followed the approach I generally do and based my presentation on commercial magazines, dōjinshi, and other published works. [Actually I do use interviews in my research but somehow didn’t make that clear in this article. Oops.] In addition to examining editorial comments, columns and reader contributions in numerous yuri magazines published since the 2000s, including Yuri shimai, Yuri hime and Yuri hime S, I looked at a number of dōjinshi published since the 1990s. Among the dōjinshi I looked at, I was particularly fortunate to get my hands on [all three!] issues of Yurisuto [i.e., Yuri-ist], published since 2012, which contains the results and analysis of (not statistically sound) surveys conducted among yuri fans [in Japan].[2] Among the materials I looked at, Yuri danshi seemed to me to offer the most interesting depiction of (male) yuri fandom, for which reason, in this essay I would like to expand upon my discussion my third focus at the Wollongong conference, Yuri danshi.

The first Yuri danshi series, published from March 2011 to July 2014 in the new Yuri hime [post-merger of Yuri hime and Yuri hime S], portrays the diversity of yuri’s male fans. First of all, like other yuri fans, the protagonist, the self-described “yuri danshi” Hanadera Keisuke, imagines yuri relationships among characters in (yuri) manga and anime. Beyond that, however, Keisuke differs from typical yuri fans in imagining yuri relationships between real girls around him. (“The truth is yuri-er than fiction,” as Keisuke says.[3]) [Of course, the “real” girls around him are themselves manga characters so, in a sense, his imagining them in yuri situations doesn’t actually deviate from typical yuri fans.] In a roundtable discussion published in the back of the first tankōbon volume of Yuri danshi, Kurata Uso talks with Yuri hime editor Nakamura Seitarō. In that discussion, Nakamura states he “wants Keisuke to give voice to” what all (male) yuri fans are thinking.[4] [Note that editors often have a strong influence on the content of manga and we can assume that Nakamura played a key role in shaping Yuri danshi.] Kurata himself explains that he wants to express the hardships experienced by Keisuke[5]—who has no interest in anything but in the yuri world which itself has no place or need for him. Of course Yuri danshi is a manga, not a documentary, and the work contains a great deal of humor [and unrealistic situations]. As the work depicts fans’ feelings and the actual conditions of their reception [of yuri works] from the perspective of Kurata and Nakamura, however, Yuri danshi arguably might be read as a sort of a fanthropology.

At the beginning of the narrative, we meet Keisuke, who is a passionate reader of yuri media but who has no ties to the yuri fan community. As the story develops, Keisuke becomes involved in the community, including becoming connected to other male fans. Through this development, readers of Yuri danshi are able to learn about the shape of male yuri fandom alongside Keisuke. (Female yuri fans also appear in the work, but as Yuri danshi is created by a male yuri fan from a [blatantly] male yuri fan perspective, it doesn’t appear to be very useful for getting a sense of actual female yuri fans.) For instance, while Keisuke has imagined yuri fandom to be predominantly female, we witness his shock and chagrin when he learns, upon making his way to his first “yuri only event” (yuri dōjinshi spot sale event) that the general participants (buyers; ippan sankasha) are predominantly male.[6] We also find out, to his surprise, that circle participants (dōjinshi producers/sellers; sākuru sankasha) are around 60 percent female and they appear to “frankly interact” with the male general participants.[7]

In addition, Keisuke learns that yuri fans, who have various backgrounds and characteristics, have diverse orientations toward yuri. At his first yuri only event, Keisuke has the good fortune to meet four other male yuri fans, and after the event he is blessed with the opportunity to engage with them in “yuri chat” (yuri dangi). This chat becomes a clash between the other four over how yuri should be—a fight over issues such as whether the best yuri is penned by a male or a female artist, whether it is tailored for a male or a female audience, and whether it includes erotic scenes or projects a pure image.[8] Through witnessing this debate, Yuri danshi readers learn that “yuri” is not singular in meaning. For his part, Keisuke brings about a detente by reminding the others that it is yuri that unites them: “One for yuri! All for yuri!”[9] For so doing he is immediately proclaimed the group’s yurīdā [yuri leader].[10]

Among the characters in the work is 30-year-old Ōtori Takashi, who purchased Keisuke his first copy of Yuri shimai when Keisuke was in elementary school and who, early in the narrative] becomes Keisuke’s “teacher” (shishō).[11] Soon after Ōtori is introduced, he and Keisuke have a battle over the depth of their knowledge of yuri. This knowledge battle, the above-mentioned fight among yuri fans, and similar scenes frequently cover a wealth of knowledge about yuri, including history and prominent artists/authors (naturally favoring works and artists appearing in Yuri hime, in which Yuri danshi is serialized). Through these scenes, Yuri danshi readers can enjoy learning about various aspects of yuri [or take pleasure in recognizing the knowledge they already have]. In addition, Ōtori and other male yuri fans around Keisuke frequently point out the error in his own yuri reading habits (namely reading yuri relationships into real life). Throughout first series [in addition to yuri only events and yuri magazines], manga/anime tourism, Twitter as a site for yuri chat, and other elements of yuri fan culture are also introduced.[12] On the whole, the presence of this kind of information offers Yuri danshi readers themselves an understanding of how to be a male yuri fan; and thus, more than just a fanthropology, Yuri danshi might be read as a sort of textbook-like introduction to yuri.

Within this introductory textbook, the social identity of yuri fans is also addressed in depth. For instance, in the beginning, Keisuke is extremely conscious of others around him when buying yuri magazines or books, which he hides under his bed, and he is reluctant to admit publicly that he is a yuri fan. Ōtori strongly chides him for this, pushing Keisuke to feel “pride” about being yuri fan. [The fact that Ōtori hides his own yuri fandom from his wife is never directly pointed out by any of the characters as hypocritical.] As the narrative progresses, Keisuke and other yuri fans (male and female alike) who had previously hidden their liking of yuri begin to feel a sense of pride in it and “coming out.” Moreover, liking yuri itself is presented as not something one chooses but rather as something innate. Keisuke and other male yuri fans all realize they like yuri when they are quite young. Even Ōtori’s own son, Shōta, is a yuri fan in early elementary school, engaging at times in yuri chat with his father [when his mother is not around]. (Yuri danshi’s author, Kurata, himself recounts having liked yuri from a young age and “secretly, late at night, drawing pictures of girls together” by middle school.[13]) In addition, one character, Fūga Shin’ichi tries to deny being a yuri fan [after being a practicing fan for a while] and denounces other yuri fans, but ultimately suffers from trying to suppress his true yuri nature.[14]

Putting this together, while the work makes only infrequent references to actual LGBT culture and people, through the use of ideas like pride and coming out, through the presentation of yuri fandom as innate to individuals rather than chosen, and through Shin’ichi’s internalized yuri-phobia, Yuri danshi might be seen as rather “queer.”[15] This is most true for Keisuke. In liking girls, he may well be heterosexual, but Keisuke expresses no desire to have sex [or romantic relationships] with females, and demonstrates next to no sexual arousal. (We certainly don’t see Keisuke using yuri works or his fantasies about yuri relationships among real or fictional females as “okazu”—fuel for masturbation.) [This may be in large part because of the fact that Yuri danshi is serialized in Yuri hime, and while there are evidently a lot of fans of the work—it ran for three years and is starting back up soon—readers of Yuri hime certainly aren’t buying the magazine to see representations of male sexuality.]

And yet, while fans are presented as interested in female–female coupling [kappuringu], no one in this narrative supports female–female couples as “lesbian couples,” nor is discrimination against real-life sexual minorities touched upon. (In fact, some readers might find the use of terms like “pride” and “coming out” [and the way interest in yuri relationships is presented in general] as a parody that makes light of serious issues faced by real LGBT people, particularly lesbians and bisexual women.) Moreover, in this work, while there are female yuri fans (“yuri joshi”) who like other girls in real life, even who want to kiss girls [female–female romance in Yuri danshi doesn’t go much beyond that], the possibility that they might have a “lesbian” identity (or feel pride as a lesbian) is absent. In fact, unbeknownst to Ōtori, his wife is herself a longstanding yuri fan, and she—married as she is to a man and a mother—might be seen as representing the heteronormative future awaiting female yuri fans in the world of Yuri danshi. The presentation of female yuri fans in this work might then be understood, in one sense, as an appropriation of representations of (ostensible) love between females. That said, what we don’t see within the yuri fandom represented in Yuri danshi is the kind of denial of homosexuality that Ishida Hitoshi [among others] has called out as homophobic in BL works.[16] Indeed, there’s no “I’m not a lesbian but I like you” uttered by female characters [in contrast to the frequent use of “I’m not gay but…” in BL], for instance, and no one expresses any blatantly homophobic thoughts. Thus, I will refrain for now from such a criticism at this point. (I do look forward to reading the next series to see whether this pattern continues.)

Further, arising as it did from shōjo culture, yuri manga and anime (and Yuri danshi [by virtue of its inclusion in Yuri hime]) is not just targeting ostensibly heterosexual male readers. Judging from survey results contained in Yurisuto, the dōjinshi mentioned in the introduction to this essay, and on results from reader survey cards from commercial yuri magazines, over half of yuri readers appear to be female, among whom are a significant minority of self-identified lesbians and bisexuals [along with genderqueer folks].[17] So we cannot simply dismiss the yuri genre itself as homophobic (or lesbophobic).

While Yuri danshi is serialized in a yuri magazine and includes some yuri scenes, as the protagonist and many other major characters are male, it’s safe to say that this work is itself not a yuri manga. So, then who is this manga targeting? The other day, I attended the yuri only event GirlsLoveFestival 12 in Yokohama with Erica Friedman, and in talking with her about Yuri danshi this very question came up. Female yuri fans are not particularly interested in works with male characters. Male yuri fans are the same. In fact, at the beginning of the first installment of Yuri danshi in Yuri hime appeared a warning in red letters: “This whole work contains expressions, images, and characters that probably a lot of people [readers of this magazine] don’t want [to see].” It continued to jokingly suggest that “those with weak hearts” might want to cut the manga out of the magazine.[18] That warning notwithstanding, as I’ve already noted, this work is filled with enough information to function as an introductory textbook and actually has the potential to expand yuri readership/fandom. But more importantly, given the diversity of (cool, handsome) male yuri fans in the work, there’s a high chance that there’s a character in the work for any given male yuri fan to identify with [and that male yuri readers might want to identify with]. This is, of course, not to say that male readers of yuri don’t identify with female characters in yuri works. Quite the contrary, many probably do.[19] But, even as this narrative has many unrealistic elements to it, the work offers male readers the possibility of connecting with characters in the work, a connection through which they might imagine themselves also openly living in (real) society as a yuri fan. And thus, while Yuri danshi is not a yuri work, it is a work that has the potential to provide male yuri fans a sense of pride.

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Postscript

In their detailed review of the entire yuri issue in a blogpost on December 5, atms.lilyholic notes several points that I don’t adequately address in my article, both of which I now wish I had thought to at the very least touch on when I was writing the article. (atms.lilyholic’s specific points are in bold.)

(1) atms.lilyholic notes that inherent in the “danshi” (male/boy) in the title itself is the gender binary, which is manifest in the work itself. There is a danger that readers who fall outside the gender binary might feel erased in the representation of yuri fandom in the work.

I agree that this is a potential danger in the work, but that’s—unfortunately—true for most narratives. One of my major points in the article is that the work offers positive (if somewhat unrealistic) representations of male yuri fans that other male fans might identify with. Cross-gender identification is, of course, always possible, though I don’t give it extensive space. (I’m using “cross-” here keeping in mind the fan practice of crossplay.) I do note, however, that ostensibly heterosexual male readers may identify with (female) yuri characters—in Yuri danshi or other works. Transgender individuals are equally free to cross-identify and presumably do, just as other queer readers are likely to identify with non-queer characters in narratives they read and watch. Of course, I would love there to be a world in which there are many many narratives featuring protagonists and other characters who happen to be transgender, as well as those in which being transgender is important to the plot. So far, we don’t live in that world. Until we do, at the very least, the freedom to cross-identify or rethink the gender and sexuality of characters is facilitated, even celebrated, in many aspects of Japanese fan culture, from dōjin culture to cross-play itself.

 

(2) The work itself is open to reading in terms of “homosociality” as defined by queer theorist Eve Sedgwick. Under this definition, women (or yuri characters) are something that heterosexual men collectively possess, and a phenomenon in which men identify with one another—points which Sedgwick outlines in her classic Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire.[20] What we see in Yuri danshi is the same phenomenon but with “woman” replaced with “yuri” or “lesbians.” [Whether yuri characters are lesbians is a whole other very complicated issue I’m going to skip over here.] atms.lilyholic acknowledges that Yuri danshi is lacking homophobic statements and the protagonist Keisuke doesn’t express heterosexual desire—two things I point out—and there have recently been major female characters in the work, both of which run counter to Sedwick’s notion of homosociality. But they do not negate the possibility of such a reading.

Excellent point. I’ve got nothing to add to it at this stage. If I write more about Yuri danshi I’m going to reread Sedgwick and rethink the text from this angle. Thank you, atms.lilyholic for providing such great food for thought.

Notes:

[1] To the present day [excluding the yuri issue of Eureka in which this essay originally appeared] most academic work on yuri is about the works themselves rather than fandom. Verena Maser’s forthcoming monograph on yuri does incorporating yuri fans’ opinions and beliefs, but it too is primarily focused on yuri works themselves. Of course textual analysis has proven itself to be quite valuable [but so too have fan studies].

[2]  “Yurisuto ni kiku,” Yurisuto 0 (May 2012): 4–10; “Yuri no yurisuto,” Yurisuto 1 (August 2012): 4–21.

[3] Kurata Uso, Yuri danshi 1, (Tokyo: Ichijinsha, 2011), 47.

[4] Kurata Uso and Nakamura Seitaro, “Yuri danshi ga dekiru made,” in Kurata, Yuri danshi 1, 161.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Kurata, Yuri danshi 1, 101–11, 117–18

[7] Ibid., 118.

[8] Ibid., 115–23.

[9] Ibid., 124.

[10] Ibid., 126.

[11] Kurata Uso, Yuri danshi 2 (Tokyo: Ichijinsha, 2012), 30–31, 39.

[12] Kurata Uso, Yuri danshi 5 (Tokyo: Ichijinsha, 2014), 13–31, 45–53.

[13] Kurata and Nakamura, “Yuri danshi ga dekiru made,” 163.

[14] See episode 12 “Yuri danshi renmei saigo no hi, kōhen,” in Kurata Uso, Yuri danshi 3 (Tokyo: Ichijinsha, 2013).

[15] Of course, in analyzing Yuri danshi [in addition to pointing out the work’s inherent queerness], it is very tempting to also draw comparisons with fujoshi and other BL fans. Given the limits of space at present, I will save that for another time.

[16] Ishida Hitoshi, “‘Hottoite kudasai’ to iu hyōmei o megutte: Yaoi/BL no jiritsusei to hyōshō no ōdatsu.” Yuriika 39, no. 16 (December 2007): 114–23. [An expanded version of this essay appears in English in Boys Love Manga and Beyond: History, Culture, and Community in Japan, ed. Mark McLelland, Kazumi Nagaike, Katsuhiko Suganuma, and James Welker. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, forthcoming (2015), 210–32.]

[17] “Yuri ni kiku”; “Yuri no yurisuto”; Sugino Yōsuke, ed. Yuri sakuhin fairu (Tokyo: Ichijinsha, 2008), 141.

[18] Kurata Uso, “Yuri danshi,” Yuri hime, March 2011, 267.

[19] Not a small number of male rorikon fans identify with the underage female protagonists in such works, as Patrick W. Galbraith points out in “Lolicon: The Reality of ‘Virtual Child Pornography’ in Japan,” Image and Narrative 12, no. 1 (2011): 83–114, http://www.imageandnarrative.be/index.php/imagenarrative/article/ view/127.

[20] Eve K. Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985).

3 Responses

  1. […] My thanks and commendations to Professor James Welker and to Erica Friedman Yuricon/ ALC Publishing for making the translated text of the above mentioned James Welker essay/ presentation available to an english-language-limited audience.  “Thoughts on the Representation of Yuri Fandom in Kurata Uso’s Yuri danshi” , originally appeared as James Welker, “Kurata Uso Yuri danshi ni arawasareta yuri fandamu no sugata ni tsuite no ichi kōsatsu,” Yurīka 45, no. 15 (December 2014): 148–54. Translated (roughly) by the author, at: http://www.yuricon.com/essays/thoughts-on-the-representation-of-yuri-fandom-in-kurata-usos-yuri-dans… […]

  2. Gustavo says:

    Great article. As a male yuri fan I found it very interesting and could relate to some of the points presented. Too bad is very unlikely that Yuri danshi will ever receive an english translation.

  3. […] not at all like the actual women I encounter who enjoy Yuri. James Welker wrote of Yuri Danshi as a meta-look at Yuri fandom, but I can’t see anything resembling actual Yuri fandom in this series.  Oh well, at least […]

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