Friday, March 28, 2014

Fanservice - A Pairing of Mutual Conveniendce

This is a Preview of YGG Magazine, a Yaoi Convention in Print (there are more photos in the articles) 

There is a lot to criticize about the way Yaoi fans go about shipping characters.
Shipping is defined on as: derived from the word relationship, is the belief that two people, fictional or non-fictional, would be interesting or believable (or are, or will be, or should be) in a romantic relationship. It is considered a general term for fans’ emotional involvement with the ongoing development of romance in a work of fiction.
I will use the term ship or shipping though other terms like pairings or couplings are acceptable. The criticism stems from the habit of many who write fan fiction to ship characters regardless of all sense and reason and evidence to the contrary. One meme going around the internet states that whether the characters like each other, hate each other are ambivalent to each other or never met each other, there are ways that they can be shipped. This can and does get ridiculous. Thus, it is understandable that fans of adventure shows or sports shows who just want to enjoy what is being presented, really don’t want to see the strange combination of characters doing the full blown nasty on show related sites or conventions.
That said, the extreme hostility shown to BL and Yaoi fans of shows like Kuroko no Basuke and Free! Iwatobi Swim Club is unfair. These fans are not weaving their view of those characters out of thin air. In fact, I posit that there is a deliberate effort by anime producers to infuse BL fanservice in these male oriented shows to attract a broader audience. The Bishonenifying™ of male characters and behavior that is more than a little unusual for straight young men has become way, way more common than it was in anime of the 70s and 80s. Back then, fanservice meant hot females in towels or without towels and panty shots. I know that it still means that, but it has ALSO come to mean the showing of bishonen flesh and clenches that do not happen between straight guys of this age. Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard the arguments that that behavior is cultural in Japan. It’s not. I’ll get into that later.

Why Yaoi/BL Fanservice?
Yaoi/BL fans are a rapidly growing audience, particularly in the West. They are also very, very active on
the Net. They share images from their favorite anime everywhere and love talking about it beyond the pairings. This tends to draw fans of all stripes to the anime that might not have heard of it otherwise. Japan no longer does shows aimed solely at its own countrymen. Like any other entertainment industry, they covet the extra money that the foreign markets bring. Thus they are interested in showing what the most active fans are looking most for. As it is true everywhere, sex or sex appeal sells.
I had heard of and saw images from Durarara over a year before the show aired in the US, and from what I saw and heard, I could have sworn it was a Yaoi anime. There were not manipulated images. They were screen grabs and clips. Naturally, I saw mostly Shizuo x Izaya images. That intense buzz about the show was, in part, what prompted the interest in US distributors to dub and air it here. The same can be said about Black Butler (that airs on premium outlets). Both shows rely on heavy BL innuendo at times with characters in Durarara openly discussing the Shiziya pairing. Likewise, the buzz for Tiger & Bunny was really intense in the West. The image of that pair was everywhere on the social networks and talked about in every forum. Bunny was so Bishie that he really looked like a girl. I’m very familiar with the real 70s. Guys had long hair, but not Farrah Fawcett hair. And then there was all the princess carrying of Tiger in the advance images and the trailer. That anime managed to get a simulcast here on Hulu. Side note – Hulu thinks enough of the Yaoi audience that it is currently running the full on Yaoi, Junjou Romantica and beginner yaoi, Gravitation.

Locker Room Fun
There is fanservice that is hard to ignore. No. 6’s foundation is a BL relationship, something the US distributor does not deny. But no one will call it that. But nothing is more out there for blatant yaoi/BL fanservice while still in the closet than the sports based anime Free! Iwatobi Swim Club. True, Kuroko no Basuke has a lot of well built guys and lots of fanservice (this season, there seems to be no fewer than four love triangles – all between the male players). But nothing beats Free! Iwatobi Swim Club for a show of skin and frequency of fanservice. The day that the first trailer turned up, the interent was on fire with Fujoshi losing their minds. The buzz was so intense that it became the topic of our weekly webconference meeting with my manga publishing company. The publishers were fairly certain that it wasn’t a yaoi but didn’t know how it couldn’t be with all that skin and loving shots of muscles. The next ones grew more intriguing, because instead of hinting at the actual plot of the series, it hinted at the relationships between these very, very, beautiful characters. For plot, we were left to read the press releases. There was full blown shipping going on before one episode aired, because that’s what fans were lead to do. The result of this international net freak out? There were net campaigns to raise funds to make the show seen in the preview. There were petitions to known distributors to sign it up. In the end, fans in the US got simultaneous streaming with Japan. That super fanservice preview was all about building an audience for a show that was already in the works.

Anime guys have gotten prettier over the decades. I call it Bishonenifying™. Male characters in these allegedly male oriented adventure shows have markedly changed since the 1970s shows I grew up watching. They guys in the lead roles then were cute. I couldn’t call them pretty like I can now. I think the best direct comparison I can make from one era to the other is Leader Dessler from Space Battleship Yamato. Leader Dessler has definitely gone through a change. Not that the first one was ugly, but this one is very pretty. You can see in him the change in how male hair is drawn. It is also animated with the same loving care and lighting as a female character. And now, the guys get equal time with the show of skin and backs and butts.
And then there is the behavior. Back in the day, when a guy is going to threaten or fight another guy, it was clear that that was going to happen. Any rolling on the ground between men was accompanied by punching. There was no staring deep into the opponent’s eyes while on top of said opponent. There was not staring nose to nose for long moments as music played without someone ending up with a black eye.
So this behavior is somewhat new. It is also unusual behavior for straight men around other men. No, this
is not how Japanese men behave around each other. As I said, this sort of behavior is relatively new (10-15 years). Because this notion is so adamantly held by fans, I conducted some research. I asked my U.S. male friends about the clenches and locker room tickling and other things that happen on shows like Free! Iwatobi Swim Club. They thought I was kidding. The funniest response was from a friend who said guys try hard not to even look at each other too long in a locker room. They may see something or people may think they are looking at something. I asked a number of Japanese men whom I know through business as well as the expat fathers of mixed sons who live in Japan. The fathers said that their sons were too busy trying to overcome being mixed to act in any way that may be perceived as gay. The Japanese men also said that there was a lot of pressure all through school to not be too different. Being gay was way beyond being merely different. Even guys who were gay didn’t want to be thought of as gay. Extended staring or touching a guy would draw a lot of really unwanted attention. These men also had brothers whom they kindly asked the same questions. The most responses were, “No!” No one wanted to look gay. And that was just something they did in anime for fujoshi. I must point out that though Japanese pop culture spawned yaoi, the culture actually does not approve of homosexuality. It is so taboo that it is difficult to get interest in events like Gay Pride. There is a fear of backlash. It is a country that values appearances. No one wants to be too different. So guys who are at an age when they are most self-conscious are not going to be holding and clenching or kissing or exchanging rings with their buddies.

What summed it up in my head, ironically, was a snarky email sent to me by someone less than pleased at seeing a Yaoi a GoGo post on their newsfeed. Before I banned him, the man accused me and all these other horny women of gaying up anime for everyone. There were hardly any panty shots or big eyed chicks in tiny towels anymore. It’s all one big sausage fest. I think he may be right, but we aren’t happy in this perpetual state of tease. If we had our way, we’d gay it up big time so that there is no doubt that these shows are aimed at us.


  1. That fellow has evidently not seen Strike Witches...

  2. Haha, "gay it up big time." -funniest. I couldn't believe when is first watched Free!, I was like, this is really really not about swimming. I think Hollywood is catching onto this phenom, too. I couldn't believe the innuendo and the too long male stares in the recent GI Joe movie (which wasn't that recent, but still). I've only come to know of this genre in the last few years. I wish I knew about it earlier.

  3. I take issue with what the banned guy said - I'm not horny. I just enjoy a good bromance with an adult ending.