The universe of men on men as well as women on women relationships in Japanese comic culture is a complex one. The types of stories range from downright pornographic to subtle hints of romance. ‘Yaoi’ and/or ‘Shonen Ai’ are terms used to describe men on men stories while ‘Yuri’ and/or ‘Shoujo Ai’ are for women on women.
Generally speaking, soft to hardcore men on men relationships in Japanese animation (anime) and comics (manga) are labeled as Yaoi. In a typical male on male plotline, there is always the dominant (Seme) and submissive (Uke) pairing. Tamer romances – labeled as Boy’s Love – simply insinuations of relationship between two male characters. Yaoi and Boy’s Love have been hugely popular among women consumers as these are often written by women for women. There is also Gei Comi (Gay Comics) written by men for men. Where ‘Boy’s Love’ and ‘Yaoi’ often depict relationships mimicking heterosexual dynamics (masculine + feminine), Gei Comi generally focuses on pairing at an equal level. Examples of some well-known shonen ai stories that have made it to the mainstream audience are Loveless, Saint Seya.
Women on women relationships or transgendered characters in Japanese anime are more complex to explain since lesbians and transgenders often figure prominently in pornographic materials.
Though transgendered characters appearing often in Japanese animation, strictly speaking, there are no firmly established genre for transgendered characters as their male or female counterparts. However, transgenders in entertainment has been a part of Japanese culture as far back as the 17th century with Kabuki .Generally, transgendered characters often provide comedic relief or serve as basic of a comedic plot. Examples of well-know anime with central transgendered characters are Ranma ½, Simoun, Tokyo Godfathers, Kashimashi. More often, MTF or FTM characters are categorized either in the Yaoi (Ritsu Sohma from Fruit Basket) or Yuri (Utena in Revolutionary Girl Utena) genre rather than its own.
Yuri started appearing in 1970s in the hands of mangaka (comic authors) such as Riyoko Ikeda (Rose of Versailles, Claudine, Oniisama e) and Royoko Yamagishi (The Two in the White Room). Unfortunately, the recurring theme of these novels has the lesbian protégé villains or suffer unsavory endings. In the 1990s, more positive-themed yuri become available such as the sisterly love-laden ‘Maria-sama ga Miteru’. Though at the same time, lesbian characters are used as a shock-factor in mainstream anime such as ‘Ghost in the Shell’s Motoko Kusanagi (read the original Japanese manga), ‘Gunsmith Cats’ Goldie, Misty and Rally Vincent. In the early 2000s, publications such Yuri Hime helped introduce works by Rica Takashima, Aikiko Morishima, Eriko Tadeno to name a few which depicts down-to-earth lesbian relationships.
With Japanese syndications such as Yuri Hime (was Yuri Shimai – geared towards a female audience), Yuri Hime S (geared towards a male audience), Eternal Sisters as well as American publishers like Seven Seas Entertainment ) and ALC Publishing , yuri is getting easier and easier to come by. Titles like Hayate Blade & Revolutionary Girl Utena have definitely made it in the mainstream. Good quality English scanlated Yuri material from stellar sites such as ililicious.net, Wings of Yuri, Horobi no Michi, Tranquil Spring, Dynasty Scans also help expose Yuri to the people in the know.
As with all the dedicated fansubbers and scanlators, if you like what you read/watched, be sure to buy the work when it gets commercially published to show your support for the genre!
Ana A hopes that talented readers will be inspired to submit Malaysian-themed yuri stories for publication in ALC’s upcoming 7th Yuri Monogatari book. She would have liked to submit something too but life is prevented her from doing so…