Thoughts on the Representation of Yuri Fandom in Kurata Uso’s Yuri danshi
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Thoughts on the Representation of Yuri Fandom in Kurata Uso’s Yuri danshi is an essay by James Welker. It first appeared in Eureka Magazine's 2014 issue "Current State of Yuri Culture."
- Yuri Danshi manga by Kurata Uso
- Male yuri fans
- Yuri reader demographics
- LGBT representation within yuri
To research the relatively recent phenomenon of “yuri” fandom, I probably should have conducted field studies and interviews, but [given the constraints of time and] as someone whose cultural-historical research [primarily] focuses on the 1970s and 1980s, I followed the approach I generally do and based my presentation on commercial magazines, dōjinshi, and other published works. [Actually I do use interviews in my research but somehow didn’t make that clear in this article. Oops.] In addition to examining editorial comments, columns and reader contributions in numerous yuri magazines published since the 2000s, including Yuri shimai, Yuri hime and Yuri hime S, I looked at a number of dōjinshi published since the 1990s. Among the dōjinshi I looked at, I was particularly fortunate to get my hands on [all three!] issues of Yurisuto [i.e., Yuri-ist], published since 2012, which contains the results and analysis of (not statistically sound) surveys conducted among yuri fans [in Japan]. Among the materials I looked at, Yuri danshi seemed to me to offer the most interesting depiction of (male) yuri fandom, for which reason, in this essay I would like to expand upon my discussion my third focus at the Wollongong conference, Yuri danshi.
The first Yuri danshi series, published from March 2011 to July 2014 in the new Yuri hime [post-merger of Yuri hime and Yuri hime S], portrays the diversity of yuri’s male fans. First of all, like other yuri fans, the protagonist, the self-described “yuri danshi” Hanadera Keisuke, imagines yuri relationships among characters in (yuri) manga and anime. Beyond that, however, Keisuke differs from typical yuri fans in imagining yuri relationships between real girls around him. (“The truth is yuri-er than fiction,” as Keisuke says.) [Of course, the “real” girls around him are themselves manga characters so, in a sense, his imagining them in yuri situations doesn’t actually deviate from typical yuri fans.] In a roundtable discussion published in the back of the first tankōbon volume of Yuri danshi, Kurata Uso talks with Yuri hime editor Nakamura Seitarō. In that discussion, Nakamura states he “wants Keisuke to give voice to” what all (male) yuri fans are thinking. [Note that editors often have a strong influence on the content of manga and we can assume that Nakamura played a key role in shaping Yuri danshi.] Kurata himself explains that he wants to express the hardships experienced by Keisuke—who has no interest in anything but in the yuri world which itself has no place or need for him. Of course Yuri danshi is a manga, not a documentary, and the work contains a great deal of humor [and unrealistic situations]. As the work depicts fans’ feelings and the actual conditions of their reception [of yuri works] from the perspective of Kurata and Nakamura, however, Yuri danshi arguably might be read as a sort of a fanthropology.
Within this introductory textbook, the social identity of yuri fans is also addressed in depth. For instance, in the beginning, Keisuke is extremely conscious of others around him when buying yuri magazines or books, which he hides under his bed, and he is reluctant to admit publicly that he is a yuri fan. Ōtori strongly chides him for this, pushing Keisuke to feel “pride” about being yuri fan. [The fact that Ōtori hides his own yuri fandom from his wife is never directly pointed out by any of the characters as hypocritical.] As the narrative progresses, Keisuke and other yuri fans (male and female alike) who had previously hidden their liking of yuri begin to feel a sense of pride in it and “coming out.” Moreover, liking yuri itself is presented as not something one chooses but rather as something innate. Keisuke and other male yuri fans all realize they like yuri when they are quite young. Even Ōtori’s own son, Shōta, is a yuri fan in early elementary school, engaging at times in yuri chat with his father [when his mother is not around]. (Yuri danshi’s author, Kurata, himself recounts having liked yuri from a young age and “secretly, late at night, drawing pictures of girls together” by middle school.) In addition, one character, Fūga Shin’ichi tries to deny being a yuri fan [after being a practicing fan for a while] and denounces other yuri fans, but ultimately suffers from trying to suppress his true yuri nature.
And yet, while fans are presented as interested in female–female coupling [kappuringu], no one in this narrative supports female–female couples as “lesbian couples,” nor is discrimination against real-life sexual minorities touched upon. (In fact, some readers might find the use of terms like “pride” and “coming out” [and the way interest in yuri relationships is presented in general] as a parody that makes light of serious issues faced by real LGBT people, particularly lesbians and bisexual women.) Moreover, in this work, while there are female yuri fans (“yuri joshi”) who like other girls in real life, even who want to kiss girls [female–female romance in Yuri danshi doesn’t go much beyond that], the possibility that they might have a “lesbian” identity (or feel pride as a lesbian) is absent. In fact, unbeknownst to Ōtori, his wife is herself a longstanding yuri fan, and she—married as she is to a man and a mother—might be seen as representing the heteronormative future awaiting female yuri fans in the world of Yuri danshi. The presentation of female yuri fans in this work might then be understood, in one sense, as an appropriation of representations of (ostensible) love between females. That said, what we don’t see within the yuri fandom represented in Yuri danshi is the kind of denial of homosexuality that Ishida Hitoshi [among others] has called out as homophobic in BL works. Indeed, there’s no “I’m not a lesbian but I like you” uttered by female characters [in contrast to the frequent use of “I’m not gay but…” in BL], for instance, and no one expresses any blatantly homophobic thoughts. Thus, I will refrain for now from such a criticism at this point. (I do look forward to reading the next series to see whether this pattern continues.)
Further, arising as it did from shōjo culture, yuri manga and anime (and Yuri danshi [by virtue of its inclusion in Yuri hime]) is not just targeting ostensibly heterosexual male readers. Judging from survey results contained in Yurisuto, the dōjinshi mentioned in the introduction to this essay, and on results from reader survey cards from commercial yuri magazines, over half of yuri readers appear to be female, among whom are a significant minority of self-identified lesbians and bisexuals [along with genderqueer folks]. So we cannot simply dismiss the yuri genre itself as homophobic (or lesbophobic).