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3 Things Thursday: Love in Disguise

Yesterday, Deb Aoki posted a transcript of a panel from this year’s New York Anime Festival, Gay for You? Yaoi and Yuri Manga for GBLTQ Readers, featuring Erica Friedman (Okazu/ALC Publishing), Leyla Aker (Viz Media), Alex Wooflson (Yaoi911), librarian Scott Robins, and Christopher Butcher (Comics212), moderated by author/super-librarian Robin Brenner. It was the most compelling and informative panel I attended all weekend, and the only negative thing I can say about it was that I wish it had been scheduled for two hours instead of one.

One of the things I found most surprising during the panel, was how willing its panelists were to recommend yaoi and yuri manga to GBLTQ readers here in the west. Though I can’t speak much to the yuri question (not too surprisingly, I guess, since Erica’s recommendations make it pretty clear that most of the best yuri has yet to be translated into English), I’ve been a guilt-ridden BL fan for several years now, enjoying more than a few books within the genre while cringing at its frequent elements of misogyny and a level of fetishization that sometimes even reads as homophobia. But while the panelists made it clear that they wouldn’t recommend every BL series (as Chris Butcher said, “I recommend comics, but i don’t recommend shitty comics.”), it was clear that they felt that representation, even representation without identity, was too important and too rare to scoff at.

At one point in the panel, Robin, who had conducted quite a bit of research for an upcoming publication, said, “One of my favorite responses that I got from the survey was from a young gay man who said he liked reading yaoi because it made him think that one day he’d get a cute boyfriend too.” It’s pretty hard to argue with that.

Panelists also made it clear that cultural differences could not be ignored, that there were reasons behind the way that BL and yuri are presented as they are in Japan, and that we can’t expect those things to change anytime soon. Still, as a reader, I found myself wishing–wishing that the kind of stories I’d like to see might one day come to be. I love romance, don’t get me wrong. I want romance. But my favorite kind of romance is also so much more. I want action, adventure, mystery, fantasy, or even just really good epic soap-opera. Thing is, these kinds of stories already exist, and some of them even appear to be same-sex love stories of one sort or another. They just don’t quite go there, at least not yet.

So finally, I get to my point. :)

For this week’s 3 Things, I’d like to talk about three same-sex love stories I wish would actually go and BE LOVE STORIES.

1. Banana Fish | Akimi Yoshida | Viz Media – Listed just last week as one of my three favorite “classic” shojo series, it’s too late for 1980s manga Banana Fish to become the love story it might have been, but that doesn’t stop me from indulging in the dream. Though the series doesn’t necessarily shy away from discussion of homosexuality, the close, tender relationship between its two male leads remains chaste and ambiguous to the end.

Yoshida attempts to clarify things a bit in her later side-story Garden of Light (“But they did love each other…maybe the way lovers do”) and her Angel Eyes art book is not terribly shy about it either. But what kind of story might she have written if she’d been comfortable enough (or allowed) to turn Banana Fish‘s generous subtext into actual text? I’d have liked to read that story. I’d have liked to read that a lot.

2. Wild Adapter | Kazuya Minekura | Tokyopop – “But wait!” you protest. “Wild Adapter is BL! It’s published in a BL magazine!” Sure, that’s true, I’d respond, and certainly there’s more overt sexuality in WA than in something like Banana Fish, but six volumes in, I still haven’t seen it. I’m not talking about sex, either. I’m talking about any kind of genuine acknowledgement of the apparently romantic relationship between its two leads.

Obviously this series is still running (and there may truths already revealed in the Japanese chapters that haven’t yet made it over), and its presence in a BL magazine does give one hope. But from what we’ve seen in English so far, Wild Adapter is still a love story that refuses to admit it’s a love story.

So bring it on, Minekura. I’m dying to see it.

3. NANA | Ai Yazawa | Viz Media – Now, most of us who love this series have long reconciled with the fact that we’re never going to see its two title characters finally shake off the screwed-up men in their lives and really shack up together (and at this point, frankly, we’re just hoping against hope we’ll see it finished at all). Still, there’s a corner of every NANA fan’s heart that wishes it might be so. Don’t get me wrong–I adore some of those screwed-up men. But Nana/Nana is the ultimate ‘ship that will never be, leaving us to subsist only on a few voiced fantasies and some super-romantic narration.

“The hand that I was holding then… was the only one I wanted to hold… that night… and forever.”

I mean, come on. *Sigh*

So, time to open up the floor! Readers, what are your favorite love stories in disguise? Respond in comments or in your own blog!

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  1. No kidding on the Angel Eyes artbook, I almost felt like half the drawings were unconnected dots of like, some side story/alternate universe where Ash and Eiji got to have more blatant romance scenes. But since I loved Banana Fish just fine as is, the artbook is there to fulfill my fantasy of what Banana Fish would have been like if Ash and Eiji had kissed more than once. Which is weird because I’m not really a yaoi fan and I normally don’t care to see two guys in a romance (not that it offends me, it just doesn’t interest me), but Ash and Eiji were just so darn cute that I wanted to see more of them together. All the same I’m glad she didn’t distract the awesome story that Banana Fish is with stuff that might not have fit in quite right without adding too much downtime and maybe 4 more volumes that weren’t entirely necessary. Guess in some ways just teasing us with the concept somehow added more to it.

    • I actually agree that the kind of carefree love scenes depicted in the Angel Eyes book would have been a distraction in Banana Fish. I would have liked a story, though, where a romantic relationship was acknowledged, even if it was kept discreetly in the background for the most part. Their story was already so romantic, it really would not have changed much.

  2. Not to fixate or anything, but OMG, Wild Adapter is still running?! I thought it was on hiatus in Japan!! The noises my brain is making now are so high-pitched they can only be heard by bats, who should be sleeping now!!

    Okay, I’ve collected myself. Another excellent installment of this very enjoyable feature. I’ll have to think of my own trio, though I certainly (obviously) agree about Wild Adapter.

  3. judi(togainunochi) says:

    I so agree with Wild Adapter. I have a bad feeling that it will not finish.
    Besides Wild Adapter, I nominate Nodame Cantabile. I have 16 vols(all that is published here), and so far only two real kisses! I think I’ve waited long enough for some kind of bigger pay off. If it ever finishes, I hope I get to see more than a hint of romance. At least, they could take a bath together.

  4. Thinking about this, as I said over Twitter, I think more of TV shows (which I list further on for those who are curious) for, in terms of comics in which I wish they’d just GO THERE already, I’ve got Tokyo Babylon and X/1999 by CLAMP (Seishirou and Subaru, for the twisted side of love). CLAMP in general likes to imply the heck out of pairings but never acknowledge it, and I’d love to see them just do it. Same goes for Legal Drug, of course.

    Mainly, though, I’m putting all my wishes toward the hope that Wild Adaptor will go there. Explicitly (and not in a dirty way, necessarily, just in an acknowledgement, yes, they are in love THAT WAY sort of way.)

    As for TV shows, revealing my fangirl self completely, the big one would be Due South. I know the creators were well aware of the fandom (especially in the later seasons), but the two leads head off into the sunset together! Come on! Would it have been so hard?

    And House. I know the actors and creators do not intend House and Wilson to be a couple. And I do love them as friends, I truly do. They just an example of how I wish some network show would just man up and make it a damned love story.

    Sports Night. Again, I’m doubtful the creators or the actors intended that reading (although, you never know). This one I think is more that it would have been fascinating if they’d actually gone there. They could have, and it would not have been out of character. And it would have been intriguing if they had.

    And finally, all the shows that it would totally crack me up if they went there, but I know they won’t? NCIS: LA. The new Hawaii Five-O. Smallville (1st seasons, never mind that Tom Welling was supposed to be 14). And for the yuri fans, Rizzoli and Isles has a total vibe I’d believe if they decided to do that.

    My roommate also chimes in that The Fast and the Furious movies SO should have gone there. And in fact they actually make more sense if you think of it as an epic love story. Especially the 4th movie. Hee!

    • And I’m about to reveal my *lameness* as a fangirl by admitting that I haven’t watched a single one of the things you mentioned. *sigh* I fail.

      CLAMP does like to tease us, don’t they? Though I am not sure I can call what Seishirou instilled in Subaru “love” exactly, I at least give credit to CLAMP for using the word repeatedly, rather than trying to pass it off as something less intense. I do wonder what they would have done with the characters in Legal Drug if it had gone on longer. *sigh*

      Mainly, though, I’m putting all my wishes toward the hope that Wild Adaptor will go there. Explicitly (and not in a dirty way, necessarily, just in an acknowledgement, yes, they are in love THAT WAY sort of way.)

      Yes, exactly. :)

      • Ha! Well, clearly you should listen to me, because I watch an enormous amount of TV, so at least I can claim to have a good knowledge of which shows are worth it. FYI, all of those shows are worth watching anyway, gay couple or not. Well, except the crack me up sorts of shows are not nearly as good at the others, but Due South, Sports Night, and House are all good in their own right (with Due South and Sports Night being two shows I own and rewatch all the way through periodically.)

        CLAMP loves to tease. And yes, Seishirou and Subaru are a lot more screwed up than most couples, and calling it love is dubious, but…it’s that whole they are the most important people in each others lives thing. Whether it’s love or not almost doesn’t matter — no one else in their lives comes close to meaning as much, good and bad. I agree with you that the nice thing about those series is that they do call it what it is — love — and don’t pussyfoot around or, as with US media, crack jokes about gayness or emphasize their heterosexuality. They let it stand as love and call it by its name, they just don’t let you know whether it’s romantic love or not.

        I was always intrigued with the idea that they didn’t continue with Legal Drug because they felt that their other series had a pair that was too similar. I’ve always presumed they were talking about Wataniku and Doumeki in XXXholic, and it makes me wonder if THEY were ever potentially a couple. I’m behind on that series, and I felt like Himawari kind of put the kibosh on any real romantic tension between Doumeki and Watanuki on the same level as what they did with Kazahaya and Rikuo.

        This also makes me think back to what Leyla talked about at the Gay for You? panel — that we have to understand that our tropes are not the Japanese creators tropes. I wonder what it would take for them to really think to make Wild Adaptor explicit, for example, or is the kind of love story we want just outside their frame of reference? And in that case, how do we get it inside their frame of reference? :)

        • In an effort to earn back my fangirl points, I’ll admit that I once wrote Kazahaya and Rikuo *into* a Doumeki/Watanuki fanfic. :D

          Now I really want to reread Tokyo Babylon, even though it nearly did me in the first time through.

          As for the “frame of reference” question… well, I guess it’s not up to us to influence that, though certainly I want to for my own selfish purposes. :)

        • I am really enjoying this topic! I find CLAMP’s pussyfooting around with their guy romances a bit frustrating, but I love that they seem to have a lot of guys’ “special person” pairings in their stories. Now that Himawari-chan is married, Doumeki & Watanuki would seem to be good to go, but the only apparent intimate moment they’ve shared- Watanuki blows smoke into Doumeki’s face in a come-hither sort of way- ended in their usual “d’oh!” fashion. Sigh. Another CLAMP teaser (in more than one story!) has been Touya & Yukito from “CardCaptor Sakura” (& “Tsubasa”). They are aways together but we never really see them “together forever”.

          I agree with the observation about “Due South”. A guy romance would have been so much better than the “good cop goes bad” direction they elected to take.

          One manga that seems to be dancing around a guy romance is “Natsume Yuujinchou”. Both the manga & anime make you wonder where the relationshop between Natsume & Natori-san is going. Although, should Nyanko-sensei ever take human form, well it could get interesting :) (They do an awful lot of cuddling while he’s in cat form, hee hee).

          • Hmm, I hadn’t read that far along in XXXholic…so maybe there’s hope! A slim, fragile hope, but hope nonetheless.

            If I’m not mistaken, didn’t CLAMP themselves actually say that Touya and Yukito were in fact a romantic couple? They may not have stated it in the manga, but I think they did confirm it in an interview or something similar. Speaking of Tsubasa, I was always kind of rooting for Fay and Kurogane. :D

            I do think Due South did as best it could with the ending — it’s open-ended enough that viewers can draw their own conclusions. In an odd way, it’s very similar to manga — they imply things but leave it hanging and let viewers conclude what they may.

            If anyone else saw last night’s US premiere of the new Sherlock series, they’ve brought that HoYay right to the forefront in the story! In a charmingly British way, of course.

            • CLAMP was pretty clear about Touya and Yukito inthe manga. Pretty early on when Sakura confessed to Yukito he said that he liked Touya better, and then later Clow Reed said that Yue had deviated from Clow’s plan by falling for Touya instead of Sakura (or something like that, it’s been awhile).

              And yes, the new Sherlock was rather amusing in the constant – but polite – questions about whether Sherlock and Watson would need a second room? It was great fun to watch Watson splutter.

              • It’s been a while since I read Cardcaptor Sakura too — I’ll need to break out the new omnibuses to re-read!

                Sherlock cracks me up — especially because in our current world, that is not a strange conclusion to reach. In the original stories, it’s just…not really that valid a conclusion, given the period and the way men behaved. In the current world, though, those same signals can mean something entirely different. Although it does seem that anyone who knows Sherlock would know this would be quite a leap for him.

          • Thanks so much for coming by! I feel like it’s pretty much impossible for CLAMP to really write Doumeki & Watanuki as a romantic couple, if for no other reason than demographics. The series has always been published in magazines for male readers. So, while they can push it enough to make fangirls giddy, they can’t spell it out. They’d never be able to out, even if they wanted to. I can’t imagine the magazine going for it.

        • “… the crack me up sorts of shows are not nearly as good at the others”

          Aw, I love NCIS: LA. I see what you mean about some of the others, but can’t we say that it’s a cut above?

          • It’s actually gotten much better than it was in the first few episodes — and I think that a great deal of why I love it is Linda Hunt as Hetty, and then I do love the old married couple banter between G and Sam.

            • Whenever I see an episode of it in reruns I’m impressed by the banter. I don’t usually notice good writing in TV shows, but it shows through in NCIS:LA.

              This season, I’ve been pretty impressed with how they treat the character of Deeks, too. He’s supposed to be this jerkish kind of guy, and often writers will feel the need to write characters like that (particularly when played by handsome men) as though they’re just charming reprobates instead of really, kind of irritating. The writers on NCIS:LA are pretty good about showing the other characters being irritated or unhappy with Deeks when he does stuff like imply that Kensi couldn’t possibly fight well ’cause she’s female.

              Okay, digression over. Back to manga fun now.

  5. Like just about everyone else it seems, I’m totally with you on Wild Adapter. I think I’d also like to put forward Masa and Yaichi from House of Five Leaves.

  6. One thing I love about NANA is the idea that a plotonic relationship can mean more to its participants than their romantic ones. It’s often like that in real life, and I like it when those relationships are reflected in fiction. I mean, how many shojo manga can you name in which the lead’s platonic friendships take center stage? Heck, how many shojo manga even have any platonic relationships in them at all?

    • Actually, a lot of shojo manga feature friendships between girls, particularly the ones set in high school. I feel your point, but if we’re going to get into the question of representation, there’s a lot more shojo manga featuring female friendships than there is featuring romantic relationships between young women. So when I see something like this, where the characters are *so* into each other, even to the point of fantasizing about each other in various ways, and who obviously value each other more than they do anyone else, I kinda wish it would just take that step. Like I mentioned to someone about Banana Fish, the relationship between Nana & Hachi is already so romantic, it would change almost nothing about the story at all.

      • I’d have to agree with both points. I love it when a strong, platonic friendship is done well (I have many in my life, as I’m sure many of us do.) I also think it’s entirely possible to have what we read as a “romantic” attachment to someone without wanting to sleep with them.

        However, I also totally see your point, Melinda. In a lot of manga, they tease and imply and make it romantic without ever actually making it romantic. That gets tiresome from my point of view as a reader.

        I see all the reasons this continues to be true. I think it comes from different social structures, and tolerance/intolerance of actual homosexuality, but we have the same lack of actual romances here (see my list of TV shows) as happens in manga. I speculate that in Japan is more that Japanese society still isn’t particularly comfortable with actual identity-driven gayness out in the public sphere — there’s just not that idea of being gay as a public person. Here we have the problem of gayness arguably being more accepted but still treated with trepidation in media. For both spheres, I just want everyone to, well, grow some balls and just make it romantic. Part of the reason I love (and I think many people love) Antique Bakery is that Yoshinaga actually went ahead and had an actual gay man (who identifies as a gay man, and has to deal with the social consequences of being such) as a main character, and then had him have romances as well, just like any other character. That might be the only example I can think of in manga where that actually happens and feels realistic.

        • I also think it’s entirely possible to have what we read as a “romantic” attachment to someone without wanting to sleep with them.

          I definitely agree with this.

          And I love Antique Bakery for the reason you mention (among many others, of course), too. I really like the fact that Ono is allowed to have a full social life, including romance and sex, in the midst of a series where that isn’t the focus of the story. Because otherwise, gay men only seem to be allowed to exist in BL.

  7. I find myself hoping against hope that Saiyuki AND Wild Adapter get finished! Let’s all hope that Minekura recovers from her illnesses! That said, Wild Adapter is a great example of BL-but-not. Personally, my favorite non-couple are from Saiyuki instead. Gojyo and Hakkai will never be shown to be lovers, but love each other in such a unique and messed-up way that I can’t help but wish. The same can be said of the other two leads, Sanzo and Goku. Saiyuki isn’t a love story, of course, but these four clearly have found a way to love each other despite being cut off from and abused by the rest of the world.

    Great post!!


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Melinda Beasi, Melinda Beasi and MangaCur, Edward Sizemore. Edward Sizemore said: RT @mbeasi: New 3 Things Thursday! Love in Disguise […]

  2. […] Beasi writes about three same-sex stories she wishes were love stories, and she picks up on some clever commentary in her I Wish I Wrote That! […]

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