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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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?