How Fandom Made Queer Manga Possible
(Originally Presented at Harvard University, November 9, 2017)
I would like to begin by thanking Professor Luis, Committee on Degrees in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, the Open Gate Foundation, and the Division of Social Sciences department for having me here today. And I would like to thank all of you for being here today to listen to me speak on how fandom made queer manga possible.
Slide 1 – Manga is a Medium, Not a Genre
To begin with, I want to go over a few words I’ll be using in today’s talk. These are mostly-commonly used words in the anime and manga world. My definitions and pronunciations are not definitive; I just want us all to be on the same page regarding terminology.
Japanese manga demographics are determined by the general age and sex of the targeted audience for the magazine in which a series is run.
Ages are not strictly defined in these demographic-based genres.
The “5th column” is a little joke of mine. When trying to come up with a descriptive term for magazines like Comic Beam[i] (whose tagline reads “Magazine for the Comic Freaks”) or Comic Yuri Hime[ii], whose audience is provably men and women,) since they sit outside the 4 demographic genres and undermine their tropes and assumptions, I went with the 5th column.
Alternative Magazines still exist in Japan – and legitimately will always exist anywhere there are humans. They tend to be short run, although Garo[iii] existed for approximately 30 years.
Gay and Lesbian Manga, drawn and published by gay women and men for themselves, have existed in some form or other since the 1970s, when political newsletters morphed into ‘zines and eventually magazines[iv]. As they do in other countries, LGBTQ magazines tend to come and go, as the groups of people who are working on it come together for a while, then group dynamics and life break them up.[v]
Boy’s Love Manga magazines first began in the late 1970s with Juné[vi] magazine; and the BL market grew rapidly through the 1980s. The money involved in the market meant that BL gained critical attention rather early. By the time the BL market began to flatten out a bit, Yuri was starting to gain traction. The first Yuri manga magazine, Yuri Shimai[vii], premiered in 2003. In 2011-2014 there were three quarterly Yuri manga magazines. In 2017, we have the first monthly Yuri manga magazine and a handful of periodic anthologies and a new quarterly magazine, Galette[viii] (which I’ll talk about later.)
A lot of the content of today’s talk is my lived experience. I was active on chat, Bulletin Boards and Usenet in the early days of the Internet, long before the social platforms of Tumblr and Instagram. Long before even their forebears, MySpace and Xanga. So we’re talking stone age here. And here, in the Dark Ages of the Internet is where I’d like to begin.
Slide 2 – The Dark Ages
Before the Internet, before IRC or AOL or even Prodigy chat, there were clubs. Most of these were university-based. No surprise as students had the time and the technology to play imported laser disks.
These clubs encouraged creation of zines, fan art, fan fic, and again, provided the technology for making music videos. In 1982, Jim Kapostazs hooked up 2 VCRs to record violent scenes from Star Blazers over the Beatle’s “All You Need is Love”[ix] for the first AMV.
These groups, being primarily tech-based were primarily straight, white men. Women , LGBTQ folks and PoC were rare, but not non-existent. Anime with gay themes didn’t exist, although porn sometimes included lesbian scenes. And, of course there was no connection between the BL (and Yuri , when it finally arrived on the scene) and LGBTQ experience.
Slide 3 – The Internet!
It’s 1992, and I’m searching Gopher[x] for resources on important topics like tea and martial arts, Druidry and anime. And finding quite a bit. I end up on a Bulletin Board System[xi] called the Dragon’s Gate on which conversation covers all of these when I talk about them. From there, I naturally found myself on Usenet[xii], specifically on rec.arts.anime[xiii] and alt.fan.Sailor-Moon[xiv] (and, ultimately became a moderator on a different Usenet group.)
Fans gathered on these groups to share fanfiction and fanart, anime music videos, cosplay and other derivative works and to endlessly argue small points of plot and character, to make recommendations and argue about those. It was, perhaps surprisingly, a popular fighting comedy that heralded a sea change in the conversations online.
Ranma 1/2[xv], the anime based on Takahashi Rumiko’s manga, follows the comedic adventures of Saotome Ranma, a boy, who, as the result of a curse, turns into a girl when he is hit by water. His father turns into a Panda and many of the other characters likewise are transformed. Ranma’s transformation is always played for laughs, not the least of which is when he – in his female body – forgets to put on his shirt.
But in online conversation, and especially in fanfiction, these situations lead to sincere confessions of gender identity and expression confusion and resolution.
Fandom was desperate for gay and lesbian representation. The BL market in America has been built on the back of fan-subtitled series like Gravitation[xvi] and Yuri had developed around Sailor Moon[xvii] (and of course fans slashed any other characters they felt spoke to them, like Asagiri Priss from Bubblegum Crisis[xviii] or Kurama and Hiei in Yu Yu Hakusho[xix] – both popular action series.) Companies like CPM[xx], AnimeWorks[xxi] and Tokyopop encouraged this fandom, by licensing Yaoi and Yuri anime series like Fake[xxii] and Revolutionary Girl Utena[xxiii]…marketing them openly to those audiences.
LGBTQ fans found that online, perhaps hiding behind aliases, it was safe to come out.
Slide – 4 Manga Boom, Then Bust
The late 1990s into the early 2000s saw a boom in anime and manga. Tokyopop[xxiv] standardized the size and price point of manga.
Fans were asking for a more authentic (ie., more like the Japanese consumers) experience, less Americanization.
Fans, who had come out in the 1990s in the post-AIDS, post-Ellen Degeneres world were naturally looking for representation in their media. Anime and manga companies were inevitably headed by straight white men, looked at porn and comedy as valid forms of representation, given the limitations of printing, distributing and sales of overtly LGBTQ content.
So we got stories like Angel Sanctuary[xxv], in which all the characters are bi (or perhaps pan)sexual, since they are not human. In Kizuna[xxvi], masculine characters have violent relationships and violent sex.
Your and My Secret[xxvii] is an example of what I consider to be excruciatingly unfunny gender switch comedies. The body switch is played for laughs, with more attention being paid to things like the boy unable to touch the breasts of the body he finds himself in, issues of superficial gender roles, rather than anything substantive.
Again, presenting gay desire as a comedy, Azumanga Daioh[xxviii] has what was most common for the early 2000s – a side character with an unrequited and unstated crush on a character of the same sex. In later chapters, Kaorin, the girl with the crush, imagines herself being carried off by Sasaki-san on a horse, and later marrying her in a wedding ceremony punctuated by jets flying overhead with rainbow-colored contrails, just to make sure we know that this is a “gay” crush.
The lack of interest by larger manga companies in publishing LGBTQ stories inspired smaller publishing companies to begin licensing manga. Tran Nguyen started Drama Queen[xxix], to license Korean and Japanese Boy’s Love and I began ALC Publishing[xxx] to present manga that represented lesbian narrative, as opposed to service.
Slide 5 – Post-Bust, A New Landscape
As the 2000s progressed, America slid into an economic depression and the bottom slid out of the manga and anime market at the same time. It was a “perfect storm,” as Justin Sevakis noted on ANN.[xxxi] Salvation came from a surprising place – bookstores. Borders was expanding into non-traditional book retail markets with major purchases in music and manga in order to capture a younger audience, forcing competitor Barnes & Noble to do the same.[xxxii]
Manga, which had only been available through the comic direct market, by mail or at shows, was everywhere.
In this new landscape, new publishers were about to step in.
Slide 6 Meanwhile, In Japan…
The BL market, like any market, inevitably matured. Consumers were cycling in and out at roughly the same rate. Magazine publishers were looking for something that could open up a new market niche. (As they always do. Magazines go in and out of publication in Japan at a fairly rapid pace, in order to accommodate new niches.
By 2003, Yuri had developed a history and a few key tropes and a body of artists who wanted to draw Yuri manga. Yuri Shimai magazine was launched by Sun publishing in 2003 and by 2005, had been sold to Ichijinsha, who relaunched it as Yuri Hime magazine. In 2017, Comic Yuri Hime was relaunched as a monthly magazine. Yuri has grown in waves, as new, popular series bring in fans.
LGBTQ presence in Japan is still less public than it in other countries, but over the last decade there have been many signs of growth. Gay Pride parades have sponsorship and participants are less likely to hide their faces. Gay Comics, which came out of the Shinjuku Ni-choume gay culture and bookstores in Japan, tend to favor erotic artists and situations. But they and their artists are getting wider distribution, as we’ll discuss in a second.
And, in a recent change, crowdfunding has finally hit its stride in Japan and BL and Yuri artists are finding community-focused creation tools like Pixiv and Enty to be a valid means to get work out that used to require mainstream publisher interest.
Which brings me to Galette[xxxiii]. Galette is a collaborative effort by several top-name Yuri manga artists, (many of whom have day jobs as editors and illustrators) to build the Yuri manga they want to read, Crowdfunding allows them to pay contributors fair rates. Japan’s stellar self-publishing industry make shipping slick and fast. The sophisticated manga-distribution system in Japan to sell the books through the multiple on and offline retail venues. Comic market events and digital distribution mean that Japanese creators have access to multiple income streams simultaneously…something that we still don’t have here in the USA, where exclusive contracts forces publishers to go with one or the other of the few distribution networks.
Slide 7 – Fringe Becomes Mainstream
Brenner and Wildsmith (Perper & Cornog. 2011)[xxxiv] make what I think is a really interesting point about gay and lesbian fandom of anime and manga, namely that anime and manga, having been written by and for a Japanese audience, relies on a body of stereotypes and tropes that differ from western “gay and lesbian” stereotypes. This is true and to some extent does explain western LGBTQ audience dissatisfaction with the representation of LGBTQ characters in manga, but it misses, I think, a key point which is that the cultural stereotypes of LGBTQ characters in Japanese manga and anime also fail to fulfill the representation needs of Japanese LGBTQ readers. Not surprisingly, they weren’t waiting around for other people to tell their stories.
We don’t have the time here to go over all the titles created by LGBTQ artists for a LGBTQ audience, but suffice it to say that there are out lesbian and gay creators, like Takemiya Jin and Kazu, Jiraya, Nakamura Ching and others.
With the advent of LGBTQ characters in mainstream media and the change in distribution models, it’s become much easier for licensors to find manga with LGBTQ characters, and even engage crowds using social media to influence animation choices. Kase-san and Morning Glories[xxxv] went from being a popular Yuri manga to major animation campaign online. After 100,000 views on a few short animation scenes, a full 6-minute music video was created by a production tem from animation studio Pony Canyon.[xxxvi] After more than 250,000 views on Youtube, the production team announced an OVA to be aired in 2018.[xxxvii] Fan engagement could be measured in real-time for the first time.
More publishers have entered the market, which has also matured. While stories like Classmates[xxxviii] and the Kase-san series are still set in and focused on first love in high school, there are other options. Wandering Son[xxxix] is a narrative of transgender tweens and My Brother’s husband is a ground-breaking work by gay erotic artist Tagame Gengoroh, about a gay Canadian man, visiting his late husband’s brother in Japan. The brother, Yaichi, expresses and confronts all the passive homophobia of Japanese society.[xl]
It’s worth noting Kamatani Yuki’s series Shimanami Tasogare[xli] here. The creator identifies themselves as non-binary[xlii] and the manga, which runs in Hibana magazine, is about a young man coming to terms with his being gay. The story stats with him being bullied for being gay, but closeted even to himself, and his life changing when he meets an out lesbian with a “wife.” This has not yet been licensed in English, but it has been announced for an Italian release and I have hope we’ll see it in English.
Social platform Pixiv[xliii] made it possible for Kabi Nagata to tell her heart-wrenching tale of depression and loneliness in My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, to gather enough interest online, to encourage a Japanese publisher to publish the book with great success[xliv]. This in turn influenced American manga company Seven Seas to license the book, which has been on or near the #1 position in all of its categories on Amazon since it debuted in spring 2017.[xlv]
Stories of LGBTQ characters and comic essays are on the rise now in Japan and in the West and it was at least in part to the demands and desires of fandom that made these niches possible.
[iii] Garo Magazine (ガロ) , https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garo_%28magazine%29
[iv] Friedman. How Lesbian Social and Political Activism Helped Give Birth to Yuri Manga, http://okazu.yuricon.com/2017/05/21/how-lesbian-social-and-political-activism-helped-give-birth-to-yuri-manga/
[v] Barazoku (薔薇族)., published by Itou Bungaku was first published in 1971 and with several extended lacunae continued through the 2002s. Anise, published by Hagiwara Mami, ran from 1996-1998.
[xi] Bulletin Board History. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bulletin_board_system
[xv] Ranma 1/2 Anime (らんま1/2). Manga by Takahashi Rumiko, published in Japan by Shogakukan from 1987 to 1996, published in English by Viz Media from 2003-2006. Anime and Manga released by Viz Media. 2016. https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=64
[xvi] Gravitation グラビテーションmanga written by Murakami Maki, published in Japan by Gentosha, 1996-2002. Anime released in Japan by Animate Film, 1999. https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/manga.php?id=8119
[xvii] Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon (美少女戦士セーラームーン), published by Kodansha in Japan from 1993-1997, originally released in English by Tokyopop, rereleased by Kodansha in 2015. Anime originally released by Tokyopop, rereleased by Viz Media from 2015-present. https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/manga.php?id=1578
[xviii] Bubblegum Crisis / Bubblegum Crash OAV, (バブルガムクライシス /バブルガム・クラッシュ! ) released in 1987 by AIC in Japan, released in 1992 in English, re-released by Kickstarter campaign by Animeigo in 2016. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/madoverlord/bubblegum-crisis-ultimate-edition-blu-ray-set
[xix] Yu Yu Hakusho (幽★遊★白書) manga by Togashi Yoshihiro, published by Shueisha in Japan from 1990-1994, published in English by Viz Media from . Anime in Japan by Fuji TV 1994-1996, rereleased in English by Funimation. https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/manga.php?id=1597
[xx] Central Park Media profile on Anime News Network https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/company.php?id=6
[xxi] Media Blasters/Anime Work profile on Anime News Network. https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/company.php?id=91
[xxii] Fake manga by Matoh Sanami, released in Japan by Biblos from 1994 – 2000, released in English by Tokyopop 2000. Anime released in Japan by J.C.Staff in 1996, in English by Anime Works in 2000.
[xxiii] Shoujo Kakumei Utena (少女革命ウテナ), by Saitou Chiho and Be-Papas, published in Japan by Shogagkukanfrom 1996-1997, anime released by J.C. Staff 1997, released originally in English by CPM in 2002, re-released by Nozomi/Rightstuff in 2015. https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/manga.php?id=8119
[xxiv] Tokyopop profile on Anime News Network. https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/company.php?id=11
[xxv]Angel Sanctuary天使禁猟区) manga by Yuki Kaori. Published by Hakusenshain Japan from 1994-2000, Viz Media in English, 2004-2007, https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/manga.php?id=2928. Anime OAV released in 2001 by US Manga Corps. https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=458
[xxvi] Kizuna (絆) manga by Kodaka Kazuma. Published by Be-Boy, then Libre from 1992-2008 in Japan, by Central Park Movie in English in2004. Anime OAV released by Central Park Movie in 2005. https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=1061
[xxvii] Your and My Secret, by Morinaga Ai. Published by Mag Garden in 2002 in Japan, by ADV, then TokyoPop in English in 2008-10. https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/manga.php?id=3598
[xxviii] Azumanga Daioh (あずまんが大王) manga by Azuma Kiyohiko. Published by in Japan Mediaworks from 2000 to 2003, published by ADV in English in 2003, republished by Yen Press ins 2009. Anime released by ADV Films in 2002. https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/search/name?q=azumanga+daioh
[xxix] Drama Queen 2005-2011. https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/company.php?id=4570
[xxx] ALC Publishing, 2003-2012. http://www.yuricon.com/what-is-yuricon/#aboutALCpublishing
[xxxi] Justin Sevakis, Answerman on Anime News Network wrote, ” What happened in 2006 and 2007 was a confluence of multiple terrible things happening all at once to create a perfect storm. We had the decline of the physical DVD market, which anime was still 100% dependant on. We had the bankruptcy of Musicland Group (Sam Goody, Suncoast, Media Play), which was sitting on an unimaginable amount of anime inventory and owed all of the publishers a ton of cash. We had massive, massive retail returns from virtually every major retail channel. We had the collapse of the American economy at large, and we had a gigantic piracy problem. AND license fees were out of control. All of that happened AT THE SAME TIME.” https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/answerman/2015-08-06/.91166
[xxxii] Manga: A Smaller, Mor Sustinable Market, by Brigid Alverson. 2013, Publihhser’s Weekly. https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/comics/article/56693-manga-2013-a-smaller-more-sustainable-market.html
[xxxiii] Galette, published in Japan by Galette Works, 2017 – onging. http://galetteweb.com/
[xxxiv] – By Robin Brenner & Snow Wildsmith. In Mangatopia: Essays on Manga and Anime in the Modern World, ed. Perper & Cornog. 2011
[xxxv] Asagao to Kase-san, by Takashima Hiromi, published in 2012 by Shinshokan Publishing in Japan, and as Kase-san and Morning Glories in 2016 by Seven Seas in English.
[xxxviii] Doukyuusei (同級生) manga by Nakamura Asumiko, published in Japanese by Akaneshinsha in 2008-20112 in and as Classmates in English by DMP in 2014.
[xxxix] Hourou no Musukou (放浪息子) by Shimura Takao, published by Ohta Publishing in Japanese from 2002-2013 and as Wandering Son by Fantagraphics in English, Volumes 1-8 from 2011-2015. Anime available streaming on Crunchyroll. http://www.crunchyroll.com/hourou-musuko-wandering-son
[xl] Otouto no Otto (弟の夫 ) by Tagame Gengoroh, runs in a mainstream men’s manga magazine., Action Comics, published by Futabasha, from 2014-2017 and as My Brother’s Husband in English from Pantheon in 2017-2018.
[xli] Shimanami Tasogare (しまなみ誰そ彼), by Kamatani Yuki, published in Japan by Shogakukan, 2017-ongoing.
[xlii] Kamatani Yuki on Twitter: 7 May 2012, accessed November 11, 2017. https://twitter.com/yuhkikamatani/status/199640030942208000
[xliv] Sabishi-sugi Rezu Fuzoku ni Ikimashita Report (さびしすぎてレズ風俗に行きましたレポ) by Nagata Kabi, published in Japanese by East Press, 2016 and as My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness in English by Seven Seas, in 2017.
[xlv] Amazon Bestsellers in Yaoi, Gay and Lesbian Manga: https://www.amazon.com/gp/bestsellers/books/302952011/ref=pd_zg_hrsr_b_1_4_last Accessed October 29, 2017