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153 MOETALK Affective Communication among Female Fans of Yaoi in Japan PATRICK W. GALBRAITH “They say that the compulsion to consume certain kinds of manga is a sickness (byōki). But we all have our sicknesses.The question is what is your sickness? And what sickness can we live together with?” —SAGAWA TOSHIHIKO, FOUNDER OF JUNE1 Introduction In the growing body of literature on boys love (BL) manga in Japan, more attention is paid to texts than readers. Where discussions of BL readers do appear, they tend to be autobiographical or abstract.2 This has led to much speculation about the identifications and orientations of BL readers—they are straight women, lesbians, men in women’s bodies, gay men, straight men3 —which is fascinating in its own right. However, at a time when erotic manga face public criticism for their possible deleterious effects,4 despite academic writing on the complexity of engagement with fiction,5 there is an urgent need for grounded discussion of what readers do with BL manga and with one another. This chapter explores how female fans of BL in Japan talk to one another about relationships between fictional male characters, which is not only pleasurable, but also productive of new ways of interacting with the world of everyday reality.6 Drawing on fieldwork conducted in Tokyo from 2006 to 2007,7 I focus primarily on three female university students and friends named Hachi, Megumi, and Tomo, who started reading BL in middle school and later became producers and consumers of yaoi. Distinct from BL, a genre of Patrick W. Galbraith 154 commercial manga, yaoi is a form of fan-fiction and art that depicts romantic and/or sexual relationships between straight male characters from manga, anime, games, and other popular media, as well as media personalities and public figures. BL is a formula—a couple comprised of two male characters, where one is the top (seme) and the other is the bottom (uke)—and yaoi is reading this formula in unexpected places.8 One imagines that a relationship between men might be romantic or sexual, in other words a character “coupling” (kappuringu).9 At the time of our encounters, Hachi, Megumi, and Tomo no longer read BL manga because the relationship between the two original male characters was already apparent, so the space for imagining and producing the relationship was closed down. While BL manga (and its historical antecedent, shōnen’ai) can be serious in tone, yaoi fan-fiction and art tends to be playful and parodic. Indeed, the term “yaoi” is an acronym for “no climax, no punch line, no meaning” (yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi). If, as BL scholars have noted, relationships between male characters that neither look like men nor identify as homosexual opens up the possibility of “perverse readings,”10 then this is amplified in yaoi, which is not burdened by expectations of “meaning” and “reality.” In yaoi fan-fiction and art, women can “play sexuality.”11 The bulk of this chapter is devoted to unpacking what Hachi, Megumi, and Tomo called “moe talk” (moe-banashi), where they discussed affective relationships between not only fictional male characters, but also animate and inanimate objects. The goal is to show how yaoi fans use their imagination to interact differently with media, one another, and the world around them. I conclude that fans understand and negotiate their own relations far better than outside observers can, which should discourage hasty intervention by “authorities.” Indeed, the true authorities are not lawyers and researchers, but rather the fans themselves. I certainly learned from Hachi, Megumi, and Tomo, who graciously included me in sessions of moe talk. This chapter is an attempt to work through and convey, however imperfectly, the experience of hanging out with three yaoi fans in Japan, which changed my perspective on things. Fujoshi: The Imagination of “Rotten Girls” Many yaoi fans that I encountered, including Hachi, Megumi, and Tomo, self-identified as “fujoshi,” literally meaning “rotten girls.”12 When I asked informants what makes fujoshi “rotten,” three explanations were recurrent. One, fujoshi are in relationships with fictional men rather than actual members Communication among Female Fans of Yaoi 155 of the opposite sex. Two, fujoshi prefer male–male romance to male–female romance. This is taken to be abnormal, a perception reinforced by sometimes extreme depictions of sex in yaoi fan-fiction and art. Three, fujoshi have deviated from the social roles and responsibilities that define women. In homosocial and imaginary relations, yaoi...


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