As odd as it may sound, the real catalyst that moved me from reading LGBT books to writing them, wasn’t The Last Herald Mage or fanfiction (see last night’s post). It was one of my oldest loves, Japanese anime and manga. I’m been a fan of the former since the 1970’s and a decade later came the manga. Speed Racer, Gatchaman (Battle of the Planets) and Robotech were just a few of those early loves. The manga came later, adapted to American comic book format which was enough to get me searching for them. That led me to Bud Plant, which sold hundreds of foreign comic books, including the manga. The problem was, I didn’t read Japanese. I mostly bought the ones that had made it to American comic book format, so I could read the translations there while looking at the original books.
After that spurt of anime and manga in the 80’s and early 90’s died down (and none of the above mentioned were LGBT, you needed to find the fanfiction for slash), there was a long dry spell. But in 1997, I saw something in one of my many book and cd clubs’ catalogs; Fake. A VHS tape of a gay cop anime. It was three times as expensive as most VHS movies (anime still remains much more expensive than American movie/TV DVDs but it’s getting better). I figured it couldn’t be hentai (very explicit sexually oriented animation, usually featuring big-breasted women and bukkakae since the actual sexual organs aren’t allowed to be shown under Japanese law) but I hadn’t even been aware that yaoi (gay but oriented to women), bara (gay but oriented to a male audience) shonen-ai (gay but either unrequited or not shown on stage so to speak, or at least that’s sort of what the term has come to mean in the States) and yuri (lesbian) anime and manga existed. These types of manga had not made it across the ocean in the original wave of the 70’s and 80’s (or at least not that I was aware of). I simply had to have it.
So I bought it. I already had a large collection of anime. At that time it was, if you had enough cash, it was possible to own almost everything dubbed into English. There simply wasn’t much of it and to find a yaoi one was unprecedented. Fake is by the mangaka Sanami Matoh and follows the lives of two NYC detectives, Ryo, who is soft-spoken, big-hearted and a little shy and Dee, who brash and loud. You can check it out here.
By anime standards, it wasn’t great, but it got me thinking again about writing original gay fiction. I wrote several gay erotica short stories in the late nineties and I think I sold exactly one. It was much harder to break into gay publishing back then. For one, just finding a market was very hard. They often weren’t listed in market magazines.
Another hurdle back then was the publishers wanted you to be male, not just have a male name. It was believed a woman couldn’t possibly know how to accurately write a gay man. By that reasoning, I could only ever write female characters, period. Of course, writing across the gender boundaries has long been a topic for argument, but at that point, it was enough to keep you out of the game. A third hurdle was the fact that if you wrote erotica of any type, other publishers didn’t want you. I remember the articles written about it, the how-to-write books telling you to hide those sorts of credits. Luckily, this remove too, has changed.
Discouraged, I didn’t get back into the publishing game until the twenty-first century. And something else happened with one of my oldest loves at that time. Manga and anime exploded in the States. Growing up, I had to hunt down crumbs to find something new. Now there is more than I can possibly keep track of. My Netflix queue has over a hundred different anime titles on it, waiting for me to find the time. My apartment is stuffed full to bursting with manga.
While I don’t particularly like people putting things like this up on YouTube, we all know it happens and I thought I’d at least share the first gay anime I saw with you. Here is Fake:
Due to this manga explosion, I was able to get hold of Fake. Honestly, it wasn’t as good as I remembered and I think in part that’s because expectations have changed. In the early 90’s when this was written, the forensic revolution was just beginning. We gladly accepted things that didn’t have much root in reality. Nowadays, we demand accuracy. Fake doesn’t have a great hold on reality and the art is a style that was popular in the 80’s and 90’s, but isn’t quite the fashion any more. I never got more than the first one.
Gay anime and manga are extremely popular forms of entertainment. Yaoicons across the globe attract hundreds of thousands of fans. On one hand, it’s great to see this much acceptance. On the other, yaoi, on the whole, tends to be far from an accurate depiction of the LGBT lifestyle. It is very much a fantasy, for the most part, populated by bishonens (‘beautiful boys’). Very few that I’ve seen have made any attempt at realism but in general, manga isn’t about realism, any more than comic book superheroes are. From what I’ve seen online, bara is more realistic than yaoi though I’m not sure that I’ve seen any (though in the States, it is likely to be sold under the yaoi umbrella).
I have found shonen-ai more interesting than yaoi in many respects but mostly because of two very popular yaoi tropes: the ‘no,no,no,no,no,no,no,no,no please stop’ begging which actually means ‘yes, please screw me,’ and the ‘he raped me and now I’m in LOVE with him’ trope. The former just annoys me and treads a bit much on the ‘no, means no’ idea. The latter sends me through the roof for very personal reasons.
Shonen-ai usually (but not always) doesn’t have those tropes. They tend to be about the story plus the relationship instead of just the relationship, while yaoi tends to be the opposite (in my experiences, any how). Descendants of Darkness (please, don’t watch the gutted out version offered on SyFy unless there’s no other choice) is a very good example of Shonen-ai and UST. Gravitation is another (both have manga and anime versions), though this one does have a gang rape, but the character doesn’t miraculously fall in love because the rape was just that good. Shudders.
Regardless of how one might feel about the realism of the gay experience in manga and anime, there is a huge oeuvre for manga and a strong presence in anime. Keep in mind that, because of the censorship laws, in the yaoi manga you’re only going to see them going down on invisible cocks or just some vague lines suggesting male body parts. (Doujinshi artists, basically fan artists, sometimes do more).
Here are two links to LGBT anime (type in yaoi, shonen-ai or yuri into a Google search and you get huge lists of manga. June DMP is a big publisher of yaoi). A word of caution, I found these two links via Dr. Google. I have not clicked on the linked anime. I’m very leery of doing that (knowing that viruses often lurk along with pirated movies). Hulu and Veho have a lot of anime up and Netflix does carry the shonen-ai anime. It might be safer to just use these lists for names and search safer locales.
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