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Yaoi Manga: The Meaning of Love for Yaoi Readers

In this article, we discuss Yaoi and related works by reading the excerpt of book "Adults Don’t Understand" by Nobi Nobita.


Here is the English translation of excerpts from “Adults Don’t Understand”(1) (“Otona wa wakatte kurenai” in Japanese) by Nobita Nobi (Nihon Hyoronsha, 2003). Nobi starts her creative carreer as a yaoi manga writer.

To start with, I would like to point out that even if you were to sum up these works as yaoi dōjinshi, only a small number contain nothing but sex scenes between males, and outside of the sexual imagery, many yaoi dōjinshi are shōjo-manga-styled love stories. Works that actually do contain a climax, a denouement, and meaning are broadly called “yaoi” if they contain sexual imagery, though sometimes they are also given labels such as “yaoi ari” (“contains yaoi”). There are also cases where pieces about love between males are included under the “yaoi” label even if they do not include clear instances of sexual imagery. In other words, although the yaoi movement emerged from unambiguous depictions of sex, the key detail for yaoi was love between males, and because of that inclusion of the element of relationships, yaoi does not exclusively attach itself to sexual imagery.

Why Poeple Read Yaoi?

Yaoi is known as a genre which includes explicit sexual description. However, as Nobi mentions above, the significant point is love, not sexual relationship. Then, why do so many people want to read yaoi?
So then, what kinds of people consume and produce yaoi? There is a common, malicious misconception that they are uncool, unattractive virgins who are unpopular with men. Comiket runs for three days, using all available space at the Tokyo International Exhibition Center, and still numerous circles are rejected. If you took half of those circles to be female-oriented—or yaoi—circles, they would still make up an enormous number. Furthermore, if you include the visitors who come only as consumers rather than as members of a circle, the total number becomes incalculable. On top of that, if you were to include the numbers of people who do not attend exhibitions and sales, and instead buy via mail order or bookstores, the total becomes even more overwhelming. […]
Yaoi is active wherever dōjinshi based on the shared fantasy of “two characters being in love” is created and consumed by this diverse population of people. And I am one of them.

Females Read Works without Female Characters

Mostly in Japanese context, Yaoi genre is supported and consumed by female audience. You have probably heard of fujoshi (a rotten girl) , meaning those female fans of yaoi. But why do those female readers avidly read yaoi works without female characters?
It is a given that females do not exist within yaoi relationships. When they do appear, they are usually depicted as being an obstruction to the relationship from the male couple’s point of view. Otherwise, they are depicted as being understanding and positive toward the love shared by the couple. In yaoi fantasies, females are not the subjects of love. Given that both the artists and the readers are female, why is that? Why must the characters be male? Here are some of the common replies from those who like and enjoy yaoi.
First is the reply that they would rather have the male characters they like to be obtained by a male, than by another female. This is accurate to an extent. Although females who enjoy yaoi may like homosexuality, they are not necessarily homosexual themselves. The sexual preferences of females who enjoy yaoi are ultimately ordinary. If a male character that a female yaoi enthusiast likes enters a relationship with a female other than them, then that immediately means that their love for that character has been rejected. However, by pairing male characters together, the rejection is postponed. The other male character does not represent an opponent to her, or to other females. Romance before its fulfillment is a competition to win the love of a male, but if the male is gay, then that means that at least there was never any competition with other females, and the female in question can drop out from the competition. In this way, they can at least avoid complete rejection.
However, no matter how much one loves anime and manga characters (or celebrities, even), it is not possible to experience romance with a fictional (or equally distant) person, so the act of postponing rejection in this way is still somehow logically backwards. […]
There are women who are fond of gay men in the real world for similar reasons, and I personally find that view disrespectful. Some gay men are also uncomfortable with this view. However, both sides are mixing fantasy and reality. Yaoi is ultimately a fantasy made up of illusions created by females, and gay relationships in real life are completely different. […] That is why women who enjoy yaoi absolutely should not force their fantasies on real-life gay relationships, nor is it necessary for gay men to harm their fantasies. Real-life gay men are not a part of these fantasies. And though this is obvious, neither can these women be a part of real-life gay relationships. […]
“Why is it that woman who are not involved can enjoy love or sexual acts that take place between males?” Just by adding this “who are not involved” to the first question, you can probably see how ineffective that answer about “seeing the strength of their love” is, if not extremely frivolous and thoughtless. Considering that these women, including myself, actually have a strong and sincere passion for yaoi, it is a disproportionately flimsy answer. It feels like an excuse to me. To put it in an extreme way, using the strength of love as a reason suggests a rationalization or a kind of evasion. […]

What’s behind reading Yaoi?

As you see, Nobi deliberatively analyzes the reason why female readers want and need to read yaoi, and she does not give us an easy answer. It is because to think about why one like to read yaoi is equivalent to think who the one is and what kind of relationship the one wants to have or wants to avoid. Something yaoi readers might want to avoid is, according to Nobi, one’s one body, as you will read in the next section. The important question is, why do women try to avoid their bodies.
What is actually important here is considering the question of why these females do not want to be embraced in their own bodies. They have complexes, large or small, regarding sexual acts with their real bodies. They might have a powerful dislike of sex itself, and they might suffer from an extremely subtle depression. Sometimes, they are equally negative toward the fact that they have sexual desires of their own. This is exactly why they feel a sense of safety and comfort in sexual acts where a male body takes the place of their own bodies. What this suggests is not a kind of negligence or avoidance that simply seeks comfort from a safe place, but a more urgent feeling pushed out by some internal pressure.
However, this does not mean that all women who enjoy yaoi are incapable of sex. As mentioned previously, I would add that there are also many women who clearly distinguish reality for what it is. However, when pursuing something “even better” within fantasies separated from reality, they choose yaoi.

It is often said that female readers of yaoi want to see an “equal relationship” between the two characters. In reality, women can hardly achieve such a relationship. Moreover, some women feel uncomfortable with their bodies, because they are often objectified in society. Yaoi offers them a type of fantasy without those obstacles, in which readers are able to enjoy the love relationship between the two characters safely.

© Keio University
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