- Desire in Subtext:Gender, Fandom, and Women's Male-Male Homoerotic Parodies in Contemporary Japan
Manga and anime fan cultures in postwar Japan have expanded rapidly in a manner similar to British and American science fiction fandoms that developed through conventions. From the 1970s to the present, the Comic Market (hereafter Comiket) has been a leading venue for manga and anime fan activities in Japan. Over the three days of the convention, more than thirty-seven thousand groups participate, and their dōjinshi (self-published fan fiction) and character goods generate ¥10 billion in sales.1 Contrary to the common stereotype of anime/manga cult fans—the so-called otaku—who are males in their twenties and thirties, more than 70 percent of the participants in this fan fiction market are reported to be women in their twenties and thirties.2 Dōjinshi have created a locus where female fans vigorously explore identities and desires that are usually not expressed openly in public. The overwhelming majority of women's fan fiction consists of stories that adapt characters from official media to portray male-male homosexual romance and/or erotica. This particular trend of fan fiction writing is known as slash in English-speaking countries, and as yaoi (also transcribed as 801) or BL (boys' love) in Japan. Women's exploration of male homoerotic subtexts in mass media makes fan fiction a rich and vital vehicle for reframing female fans' gendered identities and sexual desires. [End Page 171]
The prominence of this fan fiction genre by women for women—in Japan and increasingly in global fan markets as well—poses several critical questions surrounding fan culture and gender. First, the male homosexual parody is an intriguing case that embodies the complex relationships fans have with the mainstream media. These dōjinshi represent the conflict between fans' love for and critique of the sources that are being parodied. I will analyze some BL parody manga based on the assumption that slash parody is one form of women's reaction to the male-centered mainstream media. Second, gender seems to impact fans' relationship to the mass media, thereby forming fundamental connections between being a woman and writing fan fiction. The gender distinctions in society seem to extend to values concerning media production and distribution, thereby questioning women's role in domestic consumption and reproduction. I will examine how male characters in fan fiction reflect gender norms for women in social contexts, especially ideas surrounding family and marriage.
Before any discussion, however, it seems necessary to explain the Japanese terms used to signify the genre. Whereas slash is often used as a convenient replacement, this English term blurs many of the fundamental conditions presumed in the common usage of Japanese genre names. Western scholars have defined slash as a "subset of fan-fiction which eroticises the homosexual bonds depicted between media heroes" and "a form of fan fiction (i.e. fiction written by and for fans on a not-for-profit basis) that centers around romantic and/or sexual encounters and relationships between same-sex characters drawn from the mass media."3 The Japanese terminology for male homosexual fiction targeting female readers ranges from shōnen'ai (boys' love), bishōnen (beautiful boy), tanbi (aestheticism), and bara (rose) to Juné (the title of a magazine in this genre), yaoi, boys' love (bōizu rabu), and fujoshi.4 While slash and these Japanese terms may appear similar, three fundamental differences divide English and Japanese understandings of this genre. First, these Japanese terms do not reflect the West's standardized distinction between original fiction and secondary fiction (fan fiction, parody), although different terms carry different connotations. For example, the term yaoi (an abbreviation for "no climax, no ending, no meaning"), reflects tendencies common in dōjinshi such as incoherent plots and the absence of a climax or resolution, whereas the "boys' love" label originates from the publishing industry, which used it for commercial purposes. This parallels the historical shift in terminology from yaoi, a term associated with the rise of fan fiction in the mid-1980s, to "boys' love," which stemmed from commercial investments starting in the 90s.5 The interchangeability of these...