Tuesday, September 11, 2012

We're getting meta: Female Yuri Fans in Anime and Manga

On Skype this past week, I attended a panel on sexism in anime and anime fandom by Patrick and Lauren that spawned some interesting discussion of how female otaku are portrayed in anime- predominantly in an objectified or male-otaku-wish-fulfilling way, even though there are exceptions like most of Kuragehime's cast, Hyouka's Mayaka and Sasameki Koto's Aoi. (Heads up, Lauren and Patrick recorded the sexism in anime and anime fandom panel they held at Otakon and posted it here.) Hence my idea for this post, going character by character.

Ritsuko in "Where the White Flowers Bloom" in Sakuraike's Hanakotoba doujinshi (publication date circa 2004, but I'm not sure exactly when) and later republished in English in Yuri Monogatari 5:
"Where the White Flowers Bloom" is a comedy one-shot about a yuri doujinshi circle composed of two friends- a straight girl named Kotomi, who attends a coed high school, and a lesbian named Ritsuko, who attends an all-girls' high school and has a cute girlfriend named Miyuki. There is no angst here- Ritsuko and Miyuki are completely comfortable with themselves and quite happy together. Amusingly, Kotomi's little sister discovers Kotomi and Ritsuko's doujinshi and tearfully tells Kotomi that she'll support her and Ritsuko as a couple no matter what hardships they go through, not listening when Kotomi tries to explain that she's mistaken.

This one shot was originally published as a doujinshi by Sakuraike, a yuri circle known for their sweet, realistic take on high school romance. It's cute, it's funny, and it's frank about its characters' sexuality without objectifying them.

Kannazuki no Miko's Himeko:
I'm counting this drama CD (released in 2004 also) here because it contributes to the KnM anime's canon.

One of the many ineffective villains in the KnM anime is Reiko-sensei, a manga artist. One of KnM's two protagonists, Himeko, is a fan of Reiko-sensei's manga. In a scene from the drama CD that I would love to have seen animated, Himeko giddily attends a book-signing by Reiko-sensei and tries to explain why she loves Sensei's manga to Chikane. (For the two people reading this who don't know, Chikane is in love with Himeko, but thinks her love is hopeless at the point at which the CD takes place.) Chikane is suddenly very interested in Himeko's manga when Himeko describes the manga's heroine, Asuka, confessing her love to a princess. After Himeko acts out Asuka's love confession, a secretly giddy Chikane apologetically says that she had something else on her mind and didn't catch what Himeko said, so could she repeat it? Himeko does because she's glad Chikane is now interested in the manga. Oh guileless, naïve Himeko.

Nothing in this drama CD contradicts the anime's canon, but the overall thing feels more humorously self-aware than the anime, so it makes sense that, in it, Himeko's fannishness over Reiko-sensei's manga turns out to be fannishness over a yuri couple in said manga. It doesn't feel objectifying at all, just cute.

Yurina in "Hana no Yurina Gumi" in ES ~ Eternal Sisters anthology 2, and later Yuri Hime S issue 3:
Presenting the earliest example I've found of the cute-girls-slashing-their-friends trend in moe, from the ES anthology that came out in 2005. (See also: Hiyori in Lucky Star, Mugi in K-ON!, and Chitose in Yuru Yuri. I'm not doing a write-up on Chitose in this post because as much as she slashes Yuru Yuri's other characters, she isn't actually portrayed as someone who reads or watches yuri. I'd bet a million dollars she does, though.)

Yurina attends your classic yuri all-girls' school, and she makes a pest of herself by seeing every interaction between her classmates as gay and trying to get them to realize that they're experiencing, doki doki, forbidden love. She writes yuri doujin novels based on her "pairings."

Like every other moe girl slashing her friends in this post, Yurina's behavior is meant to be identified with by male yuri fans rather than female yuri fans- most evident in how she fetishizes lesbian relationships being "forbidden", which I've only seen straight guys do since the idea of gay relationships as taboo simply for being gay is distressing to the people who actually have them.

Unlike the other characters on this list who friend-slash, on the plus side, Yurina gets a love interest (who acts as a tsukkomi foil to her behavior.) But on the worse-than-average-for-her-character-type side, there's the "Yay, forbidden love!" thing. The best thing about this one-shot is its title, which parodies the title of a classic yuri-ish shoujo gang girl manga called Hana no Asuka Gumi.

Girl Friends's Tamamin:
In late 2006 (yeah, I can't believe it was that long ago either), Morinaga Milk's Girl Friends started running in Comic High! One of the closest friends of Girl Friends' central couple, Mari and Akko, is Tamamin, the resident otaku and flaming weirdo.

She cosplays! She's in the school manga club! She brings doujinshi to school! In fact, when she bumps into Mari in the school restroom, she drops her smutty Revolutionary Pretty Girl Marriage doujinshi, which Mari unwittingly reads and flips out over. (Partly in a "What the hell did you bring to school" way and partly in a "*light bulb goes off* Is this what I want to do with the girl I like?" way, thus joining the ranks of teens who have explored their sexuality through manga smut.) As with all of Tamamin's otaku moments, it's played as a comedic moment to lighten Girl Friends' angst. I think Morinaga just wanted to reference her own prolific yuri doujinshi drawing (and probably collecting), which has included Utena and Sailor Moon yuri slash.

Some of Tamamin's cosplay choices do pander to Comic High!'s seinen audience, like the cosplay Ohno does in Genshiken, but Girl Friends does a good job of not making it feel male gazey. Kind of like how Kaichou ha Maid-sama avoids making its scads of maid cosplay feel servicey- although in Maid-sama's case, because it's shoujo. (Tangent: If someone finds Tamamin's cosplay more problematic than I do, their opinion is totally valid. I don't want some defensive fanboy linking here to be like "See! A girl wrote this! Tamamin's cosplay isn't male gazey at all!" to someone who thinks otherwise. If a woman says she finds a story's depiction or treatment of a female character sexist or icky or problematic in some way and you're a dude who disagrees, step down. You'll step into condescending jackass territory otherwise. Or framed more broadly, if you enjoy privilege in any particular area and someone who has less privilege than you in that area finds a portrayal of a character in their less-privileged-than-you group problematic as a depiction of people in that less privileged group, it isn't your place to argue that it isn't problematic.) I am, admittedly, biased by the fact that I like Girl Friends as a whole and I like Tamamin, shameless nerd that she is.

Tamamin shares her nerdy interests with a group of otaku girls, which is quite nice to see. Interestingly, she's the only conventionally pretty one. The other otaku in Girl Friends, including a couple otaku guys who attend a mixer Tamamin attends, fit the gawky, not-caring-much-about-their-looks otaku stereotype. In the afterword to Girl Friends volume 1, Morinaga depicts herself and her friends in high school as plain and nerdy/not mingling with the Beautiful People- so her depiction of Tamamin's otaku group feels like she's poking fun at herself in a way. Tamamin's closest friend, ironically, is Sugi, a more image-conscious girl who loves Tamamin as a friend despite her otaku hobbies.

Kyoshiro to Towa no Sora's Kozue:
In the winter 2007 anime season, we got Kyoshiro to Towa no Sora, Kaishaku's Tsubasa Chronicle-esque mish-mash of series they'd done, including expies of Kannazuki no Miko's Chikane and Himeko, named Kaon and Himiko. Like KnM's Himeko, KyoSora's protagonist Kuu has a chummy, tomboyish roommate who teases her about her love life, named Kozue. When Kuu sees Kaon and Himiko kiss in episode 2, with sparkles around them and everything, she's like "Doki doki! Oh my! Two girls kissing, just like in the manga Kozue owns!" It is but a fleeting comment, but it counts. It's also one of KyoSora's few intentionally funny moments. KyoSora has plenty of service, but none involving Kozue, for what little she appears.

Lucky Star's Hiyori- and Konata?:
Hiyori is a fan of BL and yuri. She guiltily draws yuri doujinshi based on two of her friends who, blessedly for her, are too naïve to catch on. Hiyori has some funny moments (my favorite being the one in which she trips and twists around mid-air to save her drawing hand from being injured) and like every other otaku character in Lucky Star, is meant to parody how otaku practice their hobby and relate to non-otaku.

I'm sure the Konata x Kagami fans drew all sorts of inferences from Konata's geeking out over Maria-sama ga Miteru and watching Strawberry Panic! in episode 7. She could count, but she isn't as definite as Hiyori.

Lucky Star's entire premise (the daily lives of moe otaku girls) is service. And as with Tamamin's cosplay, it has elements that could be read as what we more commonly think of as service for people who really want it to be there. But like pretty much everything by Kyoto Animation, Lucky Star does a good job of avoiding feeling male gazey. I've only read a smidgen of the manga, so I can't comment on it. A lot of women like the Lucky Star anime, myself included, but I get that, even though I and other female anime fans identify with some of its characters' behavior, the female otaku characters in it are meant to, overall, be identified with more by male otaku than female otaku.

K-ON!'s Mugi: 
So basically, Mugi's as gay as a rainbow banner festooned with lilies at a pride parade.

She slashes her friends, which is obviously an unrealistic meta gag (I've explained why I don't like it before), but she's also the first one in her group to decide to go to a women's college. (<- Said with a wink and a nudge, y'all. I know there are other great reasons for attending women's colleges. But it's Mugi, so... ^_^ ) There's also her brief thing for Sawako-sensei in the anime.

After Mugi graduates, her kouhai Sumire (in the original K-ON! manga's high school sequel) confirms that Mugi has read her share of yuri. (I'll assume anime-Mugi has done it too, because I can.) Once again, just a one-time reference to the yuri fandom of the character in question, but still nice to see it mentioned- especially for a character who is already pretty gay.

Sasameki Koto's Aoi:
Sasameki Koto's Aoi, "Where the White Flowers Bloom"'s Ritsuko, and Hanjuku Joshi and Ruruiiro no Yume's Chie are the only characters in this post whose yuri fandom isn't A) only referenced once/obscurely or B) at all meant to make them act like your stereotypical otaku guy in a cute girl suit. Like Ritsuko and Chie, Aoi isn't a sex object at all either.

Aoi is a yuri fangirl (in love with a series of Maria-sama ga Miteru-esque shoujo light novels written under a female pseudonym by the brother of SK's protagonist's love interest, Ushio- try keeping that straight) who crushes on SK's protagonist Sumi after Sumi accidentally gives Aoi the impression that she likes the same novels. Thus, Aoi ropes Sumi into helping her publish and sell a doujin novel for a yuri event aimed at female yuri fans. Aoi's fan behavior is over-the-top when we first meet her, like a lot of otaku characters, but SK gives us a thoughtful reason for that. (Besides her age and inherent awkwardness.) None of the other girls she ever knew were into yuri, and they acted like she was "forcing [her] interests on [them]" when she acted the same way about yuri that they did about BL. So Aoi's really, really excited about having a friend (Sumi) who she thinks not only doesn't mind her interests, but shares them.

Aoi buys into some problematic, Class S literature-esque assumptions about lesbian relationships, but Sasameki Koto makes the point that that aspect of Aoi's fandom is ridiculous and deconstructs it while otherwise portraying her fandom well- as an outlet for her own gayness. I want to point out that, while Class S lit and the Class S feminist movement that spawned it have their problematic aspects, yuri fandom and feminism in Japan owe them a considerable debt, as explained here. Not trying to sugarcoat the problematic side of Class S, but I don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water either. Which I don't think SK does, given the positive aspects of its portrayal of Aoi's fandom for those novels.

Anyway, Aoi doesn't get a love interest before graduating high school, but she does become more comfortable in her own skin. See: Her befriending Sumi's out lesbian friends Tomoe and Miyako, who provoked some homophobic blustering from her when she first interacted with them.

Maria Holic's Kanako:
Ech, I have to include Maria Holic, don't I. I prefer writing about titles that haven't made me want to taser myself unconscious, but yeah. Kanako digs girls and yuri and attends her dead mother's all-girls' high school alma mater to find a girlfriend. That premise has potential to be charming, but MH's execution of it sucks. Rather than rehash what's wrong with the show, I'll just point you to my old review of it. Kanako is another example of a yuri fangirl character whose behavior is meant to resemble what otaku men stereotypically behave like rather than otaku women, but unlike, say, Mugi and Hiyori, I don't know a single woman who is a fan of the series she's in. I sat through MH's first season, didn't bother with its second, and haven't tried the MH manga.

Hanjuku Joshi and Ruriiro no Yume's Chie:
A lot of Morishima Akiko's fans (*pauses to leave fresh incense and flowers at our collective shrine to her*) are familiar with her "YurixYuri Observation Diary"- a funny series of short autobiographical manga she used to draw for Comic Yuri Hime in which she draws a parody version of herself acting like a mega-fangirl in various situations. It's hard for me not to think of them when I read Chie's story ("Soft-Boiled Fujoshi") in Ruriiro no Yume.

In Hanjuku Joshi, Chie's a side character. Chie's little sister Chitose tells her about her relationship drama before asking to borrow some of Chie's yuri manga. (Chie's also a huge BL fan, so she has a sizeable stash of that genre too.) Having far less experience with real relationships than fictional ones, she pretty much fails at giving Chitose advice.

But then! In Morishima Akiko's Ruriiro no Yume one-shot collection, Chie gets her own story.

In "Soft-Boiled Fujoshi", Chie attends Chitose's school culture festival (where Hanjuku Joshi fans get to see Chitose being lovey-dovey with her girlfriend Yae) and meets a cute girl named Yuria, who offers to show her around. Chie feels like she set off an "event flag" and thinks that everything is happening so conveniently, she's probably being delusional. Turns out Yuria recognized Chie as her favorite doujinshi author and is as big of an otaku as Chie is. Chie eventually finds that what she's feeling for Yuria isn't moe but, gasp, real love, and realizes that love is better than moe. Sayuri-hime volume 4 includes a cute, brief one-shot about Chie and Yuria working on a doujinshi for Winter Comiket.

So yeah, obviously I like this example. It's funny, it doesn't treat Chie and Yuria like sex objects or male wish fulfillment vehicles, and Chie's the only character on this list whose love interest digs anime and manga also, making for some charmingly nerdy interaction between them. I also quite like that Chie's surprise at her feelings for Yuria aren't caused by Yuria being a girl, but by her being that unused to non-fictional relationships. While some of her behavior is over-the-top (including shipping some random girls from a distance), she doesn't feel like an avatar for male yuri fans- just a weird girl who likes another weird girl who likes her back. I can get behind that.

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