As a particular genre in Japanese comics (and to a lesser degree, animation), Boys’ Love and the related generic/content label of yaoi has attracted significant scholarly attention from English-language scholars of Japanese popular visual culture. Boys’ Love, often abbreviated to BL, refers to texts with homosexual or at least homoerotic romance themes, created primarily by, and primarily for women. Yaoi is used generally for explicitly pornographic fan-created works, depicting sex between male partners, and using characters from established media properties such as novels, films, and anime/manga. Some of the ways that scholars are writing on BL/yaoi can be seen in book chapters such as Suzuki, Kazuko (1998), Pornography or therapy?: Japanese girls creating the yaoi phenomon, in S. Inness (Ed.), Millennium girls: Today’s girls around the world (pp. 243-267), and McHarry, Mark. Girls doing boys doing boys: Boys’ love, masculinity, and sexual identities, in T. Perper & M. Cornog (Eds.), Mangatopia: Essays on manga and anime in the modern world (pp. 119-133), and journal articles like Welker, James (2006), Beautiful, borrowed, and bent: “Boys’ Love” as girls’ love in shojo manga, Signs, 31(3), 841-870, McLelland, Mark (2006), Why are Japanese girls’ comics full of boys bonking? Refractory: A Journal of Entertainment Media, 10, and Pagliassotti, Dru (2008), Reading Boys Love in the West, Particip@tions: Journal of Audience and Reception Studies, 5(2). In addition, out of the less a dozen edited collections of essays on anime/manga that have been published in English before this year, one specifically focuses on “Boys’ Love manga”.
The publication by the University Press of Mississippi of Boys Love Manga and Beyond: History, Culture, and Community in Japan now brings the number of English-language essay collections on shounen-ai/Boys Love/BL/yaoi to two. And the obvious question is – what makes this essay collection unique. Is it anyhow different from the already-published five years ago now Boys’ Love Manga: Essays on the Sexual Ambiguity and Cross-Cultural Fandom of the Genre (Jefferson, NC: McFarland), or is it just more of the same?
The focus of Boys Love Manga and Beyond is specifically on BL (the choice to use the wording Boys Love, rather than Boys’ Love or Boy’s Love is intentional, and explained in the introduction) and related topics purely in the Japanese context, rather than internationally or transnationally. It is also a comprehensive overview, presenting essays drawn from several different academic fields (including anthropology, cultural studies, history, literature, and sociology). Probably the best way to get an idea about its scope is from the list of questions that it addresses, as presented in the introduction:
- Under what cultural and historical circumstances did adolescent girls and young women in Japan begin creating and consuming narratives about beautiful adolescent boys and men?
- What genres of BL have emerged in the course of its more than forty-year history?
- What is the significance of the differences between these genres?
- What kinds of girls and women actually create and consume BL works, and what kinds of pleasure do they derive from reading and writing about male-male romantic and sexual interactions?
- What kinds of bonds among readers are fostered by a shared interest in such narratives?
- Do boys and mean read BL too? Are they gay? If not, why do they enjoy BL?
- What do the boyfriends and husbands of BL readers think about their girlfriends’ and wives’ interest in BL?
- How is the BL phenomenon received in Japan in general?
Of the book’s twelve main chapters, five are authored by Western scholars, although two of them teach at Japanese universities. Five more are by Japanese scholars writing in English and based in schools in Japan, Australia, and the U.S. Most of these are based on papers first presented in 2011, at the “Global Polemics of Boys Love: Production, Circulation and Censorship” workshop, held at Oita University, Japan. A number of other papers from the same symposium were published in 2013 in a special “Transnational boys’ love fan studies” issue of the journal Transformative Works and Cultures. Finaly, two of the book’s chapters are translated revisions of papers originally published in a December 2007 issue of the Japanese literary magazine Eureka.
One more thing to note about this particular volume is that the contributors to it really are some of the most authoritative and prolific scholars writing on the topic of BL in English. The lead editor, Prof. Mark McLelland (University of Wollongong), is an expert on the history of sexuality in Japan, with over 80 publications to his credit, most of them focused on gay culture/gay identity in Japan, and depictions of homosexual characters and relationships in Japanese media. The other three editors, Kazumi Nagaike (Center for International Education and Research, Oita University), Katsuhiko Suganuma (University of Tasmania), and James Welker (Kanagawa University), are also well-known for their contributions to this field.
The full table of contents for this volume is as follows:
- McLelland, Mark, & Welker, James. An introduction to “Boys Love” in Japan (pp. 3-20).
- Hartley, Barbara. A genealogy of Boys Love: The gaze of the girl and the bishonen body in the prewar images of Takebatake Kasho (pp. 21-41).
- Welker, James. A brief history of shonen’ai, yaoi, and Boys Love (pp. 42-76).
- Fujimoto, Yukari. The evolution of BL as “playing with gender”: Viewing the genesis and development of BL from a contemporary perspective (pp. 76-92).
[Translated by Joanne Quimby. Originally published as “Shonen-ai/yaoi, BL: 2007-nen genzai no shiten kara” (Shonen-ai, yaoi, and BL: From the perspective of 2007), Yuriika, 39(16), 36-47.]
- Suzuki, Kazuko. What can we learn from Japanese professional BL writers?: A sociological
analysis of yaoi/BL terminology and classifications (pp. 93-118).
- Nagaike, Kazumi, & Aoyama, Tomoko. What is Japanese “BL studies?”: A historical and analytical overview (pp. 119-140).
- Otomo, Rio. Politics of utopia: Fantasy, pornography, and Boys Love (pp. 141-152).
- Galbraith, Patrick W. Moe talk: Affective communication among female fans of yaoi in Japan (pp. 153-168).
- Hester, Jeffry T. Fujoshi emergent: Shifting popular representations of yaoi/BL fandom in Japan (pp. 169-189).
- Nagaike, Kazumi. Do heterosexual men dream of homosexual Men?: BL fudanshi and discourse
on male feminization (pp. 189-209).
- Ishida, Hitoshi. Representational appropriation and the autonomy of desire in yaoi/BL (pp. 210-232).
[Translated by Katsuhiko Suganuma. Originally published as “’Hottoite kudasai’ to iu hyomei o megutte: Yaoi/BL no juritsusei to hyosho no odatsu” (On the declaraction “Please leave me alone”: The autonomy of yaoi/BL and the appropriation of prepresentation, Yuriika, 39(16) , 114-123.]
- Aoyama, Tomoko. Queering the cooking man: Food and gender in Yoshinaga Fumi’s (BL) manga (pp. 233-252).
- McLelland, Mark. Regulation of manga content in Japan: What is the future for BL? (pp. 253-273).