Autoethnography Invesitation: Japanese Yaoi Manga

Today – a day before my assignment for this subject is due – I decided to change my autoethnographic experience from learning how to cook to exploring Japanese manga. I know it’s crazy but I just was not feeling confident enough with submitting my assignment on my previous idea. I decided to explore Japanese manga because it is foreign to me and I knew it would challenge me. Furthermore, a couple of years ago, on one of my Sociology classes, I briefly read about the existence of a manga genre called Yaoi. I remember feeling quite intrigued by this genre upon learning about it. Yaio (boy love) focuses on male romantic and homoerotic sexual relationships. Yaio conforms to the seme-uke dichotomy, whereby the top, dominant male (seme) pursues the bottom, passive figure (uke). Interestingly, this is not written for a male audience; in fact it is written by female authors for a predominately young (as young as teens!) female readership.I decided to read Sanami Matoh’s seven-volume boy-love manga Fake, which is an example from the Yaio genre. I chose this comic because upon doing some research, I found out it was quite popular.

The story of Fake focuses on a romantic —which later turns sexual —relationship between two New York City detectives (Dee and Ryo). In the final volume, Dee and Ryo rekindle their relationship and confess their true love for each other. As they talk, both reminisce of the night they spent together three weeks ago. Dee then asks Ryo if he could kiss him and later they end up having a night out together in the city. The night end with the two having sex. During my reading, a number of thoughts crossed through my head:

  • the beautiful artistic detail of the drawing – however, sometimes certain images seemed quite abstract and left me feeling a little confused.
  • I also found it quite difficult to follow – i’m not used to such visual narrative structures – i noticed how I had to rely less on the words and more on the details/symbolism of the visuals – while this might sound obvious, i’m not used to it as I rarely read stories which are supported with visuals!
  • The androgynous physical characteristics of both male characters made it sometimes difficult to discern who was male.
  • The explicit and violent sex between the characters was a little confronting as I am not usually exposed to this in cartoon form…not that I am ever exposed to it in any form. But you would not expect this to appear in cartoon form because you associate animation/cartoon to children. Similar to my exploration of the Anime film, Ghost in the Shell, this challenged my assumption that cartoons were only for children!
  • I was quite surprised by the extensive detail during the sex scene between Dee and Ryo.
  • The power dynamics between Dee and Ryo was interesting – Dee was obvious the ‘controller’ – Ryo seemed inferior to him. Despite Ryo saying that that ‘he’s not ready’,  Dee pushes him to the bed and shouts ‘silence, love-slave!’ as it was time to have ‘fun, fun, fun’ —I was shocked by this as it arguably violates the fundamental legal notion of ‘consent’.
  • During the read of the text, I kept thinking how surprised I was about how such themes/storylines would be allowed in Japan. I assumed Japan was quite a conservative society where homosexuality was not really condoned.
  • I thought it was interesting but also confusing how such a text is aimed towards young females – it left me wondering whether it was a form of empowerment for women? Although, while it may be good for women’s movements, did it not also undermine homosexual men but limiting their experiences to sex and erotica?
  • I also thought about how is an ethical concern that Fake is aimed at young women and teenage girls. Some of the images are arguably quite explicit, sexual and pornographic. How can such texts be appropriate for teenage girls when pornography clearly is not?

Anyway, that was my experience with Japanese Yaoi manga. I must admit, my brain is exploding with the amount of thoughts running through my head. I feel quite fascinated by this genre and I’m keen to delve further into some of these issues.

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