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Fanservice Friday: Intimacy porn

I’ve had fanservice on the brain quite a bit lately, most recently thanks to this article by comics creator Michael Arthur at The Hooded Utilitarian. In it, Michael discussed his perspective on BL manga as a gay man and an artist, and though reception was mixed (for the record, I have pretty much equal appreciation for both his points and much of the criticism he received from female BL fans) what it really got me thinking about is fanservice for women, which inevitably led to thoughts about fanservice for me.

Pretty guys in shoujo and BL? Sure, I like ‘em. I like them (maybe even more) in Korean manhwa as well, where “blond and willowy” also tends to equal “kick-ass,” at least in the stuff we’ve seen imported over here. It’s well established that girls frequently like their male idols to be pretty as, well, girls, and that taste doesn’t necessarily vanish with age, at least when it comes to fiction. The muscle-bound hunk has never done much for me, and while that may lend itself in “real life” to a preference for nerdy guys, I’m perfectly happy with the rail-thin pretty boys offered up to me in girls’ comics.

Pretty boys aren’t my real hook, though, not even if we’re talking porn–and when I use the term “porn” here, it’s in the broadest sense of the word, the sense that includes things like “food porn” and “shelf porn” or basically anything that feeds our inner obsessions with powerful visual stimuli. My real “porn,” what services me as a fan the way eye candy does for many, is emotional porn. Intimacy porn, if we’re going to get specific.

What’s great about intimacy porn, is that it is able to manifest itself in a number of different ways, none of which is exclusive to girls’ and women’s comics, though you’ll find it there in abundance. Some of it is clearly romantic in nature, like this scene from Ai Yazawa’s Paradise Kiss.

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The scene takes place in the first volume of the manga, when these characters, George and Yukari, are just barely beginning to explore their attraction. It’s the small bits of physical intimacy that really work for me here… George’s fingers circling Yukari’s, the soft kiss on the back of her hand, the tilt of his head as he leans in to kiss her–not the kiss itself (which doesn’t happen here, as you may know), but the anticipation of it, the electricity in the air between two bodies so clearly attracted to one another. The moment feels intensely intimate, though they’re standing outside where anyone could see them. That’s what I’m talking about here. That’s the way to service me as a fan.

With this in mind, I took another look at this scene from Jeon JinSeok and Han SeungHee’s One Thousand and One Nights. I’d mentioned in my discussion with Michelle that it was a ridiculously obvious image, and that its success in context was a testament to the artists’ skill with romance, but I think its success with me goes even further than that.

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Where indeed skill comes into play, is that the characters’ intimacy has been so well-established before this point, without the use of such blatantly erotic imagery, that when this stunning show of emotional and sexual intimacy is played out right in front of enemy Crusaders and the sultan’s court, it actually feels real. Sehera’s expression of devotion here is so honest, so utterly without embarrassment, its public intimacy feels not only appropriate, but genuinely romantic.

Intimacy porn doesn’t have to be romantic, though, and often the best of it isn’t. This scene from Kazuya Minekura’s Wild Adapter for instance:

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Though Wild Adapter is serialized in a BL magazine, the relationship between its two protagonists, Kubota and Tokito, is only subtly romantic. What the two really have is intimacy, and that’s what draws me so strongly to them and to their story. This scene has plenty of elements that might be typically used as fanservice–a shower, slouchy skinny guys, even nudity–but there’s no service here, not unless you count my kind, of which there’s service aplenty. This kind of intimacy–Tokito’s pain, unspoken, but acknowledged and understood between just the two of them–that’s my kind of porn, there.

To stray even further from romance, you can find this kind of intimacy porn far, far outside shoujo, josei, or BL. CLAMP’s xxxHolic, for example, was originally published in Young Magazine, a men’s publication, typically featuring bikini-clad women on its cover. Still, it’s filled with my kind of porn, including this scene:

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Here, Watanuki and Doumeki discuss the events of the day, while Doumeki makes his demands regarding the contents of rice balls. Their intimacy is apparent from the start… the verbal shorthand, the way the rice ball conversation weaves itself out of habit around the real issues at hand. At page 139 their surface banter comes to a halt, as Watanuki makes a rare, open statement revealing the true value of their relationship. It’s a gorgeously thick moment–you can just feel the weight of emotion in the air, all the unspoken trust and gratitude that Watanuki is usually unable to express–suspended just briefly in time, before Doumeki quickly swings things back into their comfort zone. The banter continues, no less intimately, but comfortable again for both of them. I probably read this scene ten times when I first picked up the volume. It’s exactly my kind of porn.

Intimacy porn doesn’t have to be between two characters, though. Sometimes an author is able to create this between a character and his/her readers. Going back to Yazawa for a moment, this time with NANA, note here how she’s used narrow close-ups of her characters’ eyes to open them up to the audience.

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Though the scene takes place between Reira and Shin, their circumstances make it difficult for them to connect with each other honestly. Instead, though they hide their feelings from each other, they’re sharing them with the reader, as openly and intimately as possible. This kind of intimacy has the effect of not breaking the fourth wall, but expanding it to include the reader, and can be even more powerful than something that’s established between characters. It’s difficult to do well, but Yazawa’s a master, and it most certainly contributes to my love of her work.

Is it fanservice? Maybe not, strictly speaking. But it services me better than a thousand pretty faces ever could on their own.


So, readers… what’s your porn?

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Comments

  1. This kind of communication is what comics are all about to me, the visual representation of subtext and inner narrative that comics can illustrate more easily and with more precision than plenty of other visual media. Great post.

    • Thanks, Michael! We are in hearty agreement. :) I appreciate, too, that you’re still willing to wade into the manga blogosphere after last week (or whenever it was). You’re definitely a stand-up guy.

  2. Danielle Leigh says:

    I’m not having a so-hot day so I really appreciate this post this morning. You’ve picked two of my favorite moments of all time — Yukari and George, Watanuki and Doumeki. But the Yukari one haunts me because she’s trying to play in George’s league and she isn’t there yet (well, really, no sane person plays in George’s league because he’s a crazy person). But oh, I love that line…”I’ll make you so in love with me…”

    These are bittersweet moments for me…if I had to pick a personal fanservice intimacy moment….I think I’d go with Hachi and Nobu touching hands when she draws him a bath in one of the flashforwards. If I remember correctly, it’s all about the body language, rather than what is said but man. What body language.

    • Oh, yes, I know exactly the scene you mean! *heart*

      And, hee, yeah Yukari isn’t in George’s league in terms of… I dunno, game-playing or whatever you might call it. But I really, really love that she tries. She’s got guts.

  3. When I started reading Hanagumi Ninkyouden, I was actually disappointed, because it only uses the Yakuza as a vehicle for setting up emotional conflict and homosexual promiscuity. I could easily see another reader having the opposite approach – greatly enjoying angst-driven character interactions and being disappointed by any time spent examining the Yakuza trappings.

    I want to say that “intimacy porn” is like porn in that it cuts out much of the substance that would make an organic experience and focuses on the intimacy. Curiously enough, the food prep example above does not suffer from that, and is perhaps stronger as a result.

    • I totally disagree. Intimacy is the organic experience. That’s the core of the human experience, as far as I’m concerned.

      • Hmm. I think we’ll have to agree to disagree here about the essence of human experience. I believe the setting and context are valuable to the reader, even if the desired focus of a manga is ultimately the interpersonal relationships. Sarcasm, for instance, is hard to get across in a manga panel where the tone of a character’s voice cannot be heard. If the setting is explored beforehand, absent the interaction, it can be made clear that the character has certain fixed ideas about the topic at hand and can’t possibly mean a line that contradicts those ideas literally. So, leaving out those parts has the potential to leave an exchange “flat,” with less than the entire organic experience.

        Getting back to the yakuza manga, I suppose we could say that I wanted to see the relationships between the boss and men rather than between him and the one guy, but I’m not sure that’s really it. I wanted to see the group dynamic. While in some ways intimate (the yakuza certainly discuss things amongst themselves that they don’t discuss amongst outsiders) it’s also non-intimate: it’s formalized, even ritualized, and not one-on-one. Is it made up of individual relationships? Sure. But is it enough to say that individual relationships are all there is to it? That doesn’t seem quite right.

        • I”m not sure what you’re getting at in the first part of your response. I’ve certainly never said or implied that setting and context aren’t valuable, and I don’t think any of those things are ignored in the manga I used as my examples in this post. So I’m not sure in what way human intimacy is mutually exclusive from those things. It’s definitely my priority as a reader, but I don’t think it can be built effectively without context. A comic has to be a good comic before it can effectively portray real human interaction of any kind, including the intimate moments I talk about here. All of these comics are, in my opinion, good comics.

          I haven’t ever read Yakuza in Love, nor have I ever had the interest (sounded like unbelievable, cracky BL to me, which is not something I typically like), so I can’t really have an opinion as to its effectiveness on any front. :)

  4. La Esperanca by Chigusa Kawai: The intimacy and chemistry between Robert and Georges is undeniable. Georges had always been the pure, innocent, model student type until he met Robert and started having those confusing emotions within him. The light touches and kisses between the two was more than enough to deliver the whole picture. I especially liked the scene when Georges pulled Robert and kissed him passionately, which was so unlike him as he was always the one on the receiving end. It is a shounen-ai and so things were subtle, the way I like it.

    Wild Adapter by Kazuya Minekura: I couldn’t help but fall for Kubota and Tokito. The subtlety always makes me want more and this is how I felt reading Wild Adapter. Seeing how attracted they were to each other and yet not crossing the line is enough to set my heart aflutter. The shower scene was one of the best. Also, the part when Tokito found out about Kubota’s first time and he started to feel jealous. So cool!

    Cardcaptor Sakura by CLAMP: Definitely Touya and Yukito. One of my favorite CLAMP’s pairs. While watching the anime, I couldn’t help but wish something happens between the two. The fact that they both had feelings for each other was enough to make me happy. It is the kind of intimacy that I like.

    • Hmmm… I’ve always been of the opinion that Kubota and Tokito’s relationship is probably, uh, across the line as you put it. Just… private. :) Then again, I haven’t read the untranslated chapters & I’m not sure when/if we’ll ever see more!

      • I so would love to see more of Wild Adapter but only six volumes have been published in Japan. It has been on hiatus for a long time and I’m not sure if there will ever be more. I was so disappointed that I wanted at least a tiny bit of naughtiness between Kubota and Tokito to happen.

  5. “So, readers… what’s your porn?”

    Hmm. Well, aside from the kind of porn which is about, y’know, sex, I kind of go for emotional porn; great big emotional-torque situations, whether it’s the grand sweeping romance, “no-one has loved like this before” type or the feel-bad “cathartic experience of devastating trauma” type. Which is why, when I don’t feel like flowers and sparkles, I prefer relationship-horror BL angstfests over mopey josei go-nowhere relationships; there’s some fabulous mopey josei like Setona Mizushiro’s out-in-French Heartbroken Chocolatier where it’s tremendously satisfying to watch the characters be depressed, but on the other hand there is a the kick-in-the-gut intensity to, say, Yuki Fukai’s out-in-French Réminiscences that pushes a completely different set of buttons. Which is kind of odd, since I have a limited tolerance for horror and violence outside of emotional-porn contexts; I don’t enjoy feeling scared or disgusted, but I do enjoy feeling conflicted, if that makes sense.

    • That makes complete and total sense. “Emotionally conflicted” is pretty much the best thing a manga can do to me, as far as I’m concerned. I like it when they mess me up. :D

  6. Hee, I’d forgotten about the Watanuki and Doumeki domestic scenes, they’re pretty fun.

    Scenes like that one from One Thousand and One Nights are both too much and too little for me. It’s blatant enough that it may as well be openly erotic, but I find its stretch for a visual metaphor a bit condescending towards real sexual relationships. To me, these sorts of scenes in yaoi, josei or shojo that I’ve read really often punctuate the relationships being edited to fit specific comfort levels of the fantasy rather than depicting two characters interacting. I’m not trying to boo on BL, it’s more my support of fantasy as a stylization of reality vs. fantasy as pandering to desires.

    Otherwise, I think those moments of anticipation appeal to everybody to some extent. I think a lot of the differences between porn for women and porn for men have been manufactured to appeal to their particular purchase impulses based on the traditional financial roles.

    • If you haven’t read One Thousand and One Nights, you should give that moment a chance. I swear, it’s built up better than I’ve seen anything like that done. Anywhere else, I would have laughed at it outright.

      • Yeah- I agree. And I think the reason that taken out of context it seems way too cheesy, but in context it’s fine is because it takes the context to see that it’s not really sexual fanservice hardly at all. I mean, I’m not denying there’s a sexual element to it, but it really reads as a pretty small part of the whole moment. I agree that it’s much more about a public expression of intimacy. And especially of their mutual acceptance of how the power in their relationship is shared- that Shahryar holds all the overt power (and violence), but Sehara’s acceptance is actually the final mediator of what does or doesn’t happen in the relationship. Sometimes kissing your Sultan’s sword is just kissing your Sultan’s sword, lol.

        And I really liked both your choices from Wild Adapter and xxxHOLIC btw. They’re both incredibly touching moments of intimacy as well. I guess really I’m an intimacy porn girl too.

        Do you read Vassalord? Yummmm, that’s got every single one of my favorite kinds of porn in it, lol (even though it’s rated T+ I believe). But the intimacy stuff is especially hot and powerful.

        And also, I have to agree with Erica below- Competence is one of my hugest kinks, lol. That’s why I’m so in love with Roy and Riza from FMA, all that gorgeous, gorgeous competence… x2!

        • And I really liked both your choices from Wild Adapter and xxxHOLIC btw. They’re both incredibly touching moments of intimacy as well. I guess really I’m an intimacy porn girl too.

          Thanks! :D And somehow I thought you might be.

          Oh, and no I haven’t read Vassalord… I’ll have to put it on my list!

      • Looking at the 1001 Nights scene again, I can see how, in context, it’s prolly more about the character making the innuendo than the author, which is cool.

        Otherwise, my point is those sorts of images pop up sometimes as the artist just playing around and it speaks more of the artist’s immature view of sex as something fun to play around with and hint at, but shameful to actually depict. Empowered is a good examples of this: there’s cheesecake everywhere, but it stops short of full nudity or sex like cutting away or hiding it with strategically-placed foreground is the only tasteful way to depict it. I’m not saying everything needs to be graphic, I just think smut comes off childish and demeaning if it’s ashamed to go all the way; smut that chooses not to go all the way is a different story.

        I can’t pull my thoughts together enough to explain the parallels, but that’s how I feel about yaoi and homosexuality too.

  7. My kind of service is *competence.* There is nothing that grabs me faster than a woman who handles a situation with competence borne of long years, many failures and a whole lotta heart. This is why everytime Balalaika gives an order in Black Lagoon, I sigh just a little.

    • Hee, I can get behind that. I think in general, I tend to find characters most interesting when they are competent people experiencing moments of incompetence, but I appreciate very much the spirit of your service.

    • Now there’s a term I wish I’d coined! I can forgive the very worst manga if there’s some competency fanservice.

    • Speaking of Balalaika, it’s funny how we look at scars as symbols of experience and competence, but when you think about it, it could just as easily indicate a moment of gross incompetence. Maybe it’s more in abiding hardship.

      • With the understanding that we are talking about a comic book, so now, I’m not taking this too seriously, I somehow don’t think it’s a smart move to refer to battle injuries as a sign of incompetence. I’m betting a lot of professional soldiers would take issue with that.

        • Compare Balalaika to Nice from Baccano and there, that’s my point. I wasn’t intentionally referring to battle scars specifically and especially not real soldiers, but I should have made it clear that I was talking about characters with scars in general.

          I really do love Balalaika. There’s a level of personal guilt she associates with her command, so there could have been some screw-up in the past that acted as a catalyst for her becoming a better leader. On the other hand, she associates a soldier’s profession directly with a willingness to die or be wounded, so it’s as likely that her scars were just a matter of course in her battles. It’s hard to pin down what the scars really mean to her, but they’re more than just a visual cue to the reader: scars = badass.

          Overall, I think there’s a point when scars and wounds as short-hand for heroism or the ravages of war diminishes the story behind those wounds and the efforts to cope with them. In the real world, I understand what a wounded soldier has sacrificed for others and that should be recognized, but I don’t like seeing soldiers reduced to simply how much the military-industrial complex has damaged them.

          • Ah, I see your point. Gross incompetence on a macro-level. In that sense, yes, I agree.

            • Right.

              I also think positive labels and deifying someone can sometimes demean their humanity as much negativity. To say, “Balalaika has scars, therefore she must have been heroic” sounds a little off to me, not because she hasn’t made a sacrifice for her people as a soldier, but because it’s diminishing her past heroism into nothing more than the scars she bears.

              Oh well, just some random musings on Balalaika that your original comments sparked.

  8. That scene from ParaKiss gets me every time! This is the sort of thing I really love; it’s one of my favorite scenes from In the Walnut.
    http://img806.imageshack.us/i/walnutfavescene.jpg/

    [Didn't know if a code like that would work.] Nakai fell and hit his head, resulting in a concussion. It’s such a sweet scene (and there’s another right before it when Tanizaki arrives at the hospital after receiving the phone call that Nakai fell off a building; his normal cool melts away and he gets really flustered and worried).

    • Hey, FYI, I went and fished this comment out of the spam folder (I think it was concerned about the bb code you tried to use to link to the image), and fixed it so that it would display the image for all of us to see. :)

      • Hooray! Thank you! I wasn’t sure how to get it to work, so I figured it got lost in the spam filter because of the code. :(

  9. The first thing I thought of as far as “intimacy porn” is Only the Ring Finger Knows. Yuichi acts like a jerk, but Wataru’s falling for him through the manga. And then we find out at the end that he likes Yuichi likes him to, he’s just socially awkward and didn’t know how to act. Misunderstandings, awkward love…I LIVE for this king of story. It’s also why I read Pride and Prejudice once a year.

    • I read that manga a long while back… maybe I’ll have to give it another chance. It was sweet, but it didn’t really get to me at the time. I’ll check it out again!

  10. judi(togainunochi) says:

    I loved all of your choices. I would add Saiyuki to go along with Wild Adapter. Minekura just has a way that gets to me, and that has always made her one of my favorites. Another for me is Skip Beat. Outside the slapstick, there are many intimate moments that endear Kyoko to me.
    Once again, you’ve provide an interesting and fun topic. Thanks

  11. The aspect of intimacy porn is actually what I am not fond of, because it always has that possibilities, and then with a tinge of tragedy and sadness. Frustrate me as a OTP fan to no end. If you heard me complain about ABC’s Castle last week, it is the same damn thing! Hmmm.. I totally see Domeki and Watanuki as a slashable couple.. same I find with Miles and Phoenix. What gets my awareness up for intimacy… the hugging, I am a huge fan of hugs, and comfort scenes. God when one person is really upset, definitely taking action, and comfort from a significant other sets my heart pounding.

  12. I wrote up a reply about a favorite scene from In the Walnut, which seems to have been eaten. It’s in the first volume (I scanned in the pages but the link is on a different computer). The main kid falls off a building and gets a concussion, so Tanizaki comes to the hospital to pick him up, quite flustered and worried. Then he gets a little angry (and majorly embarrassed) because the injury wasn’t as serious as he thought. In the car later, Nakai asks if he can stay at Tanizaki’s house because he’s worried he might have a relapse. Tanizaki originally brushes him off, but as he sees how worried and lonely Nakai is feeling, he leans over and kisses him and says he’ll let him stay over. Nakai’s inner dialog is something like, “In that surprise kiss, I felt the fire of his love.” *Swoon* It’s a great scene.

    Also, that ParaKiss scene gets me every time. There’s so much heart-pattering romance in that series.



Trackbacks

  1. [...] manga at The Hooded Utilitarian; Melinda Beasi uses that as a starting point for her own essay on “intimacy porn” at Manga [...]

  2. [...] discussed two particular storytelling/characterization kinks of mine, one of which I referred to as “intimacy porn” (which is of course about emotional intimacy, and not porn at all), and the other as “the [...]

  3. [...] Obviously there’s a lot more going on in an epic series like Basara besides a whole slew of intimacy porn between the heroine and one supporting character, but if you know me, you know that’s my [...]



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