Utter Nonsense the Fifth, or Fun With Hate Mail and What I mean by "Yuri"

August 23rd, 2007

Recently, I’ve gotten a lot of comments and emails in which people accuse me of being a moron, stupid, retarded, etc. I really enjoy these, because inevitably, they are poorly spelled, with minimal to no punctuation. As an added bonus, they are also often ranting and incoherent.

In other words, they are pure art.

In most cases the writers are angry with me for something they decided I said, even if I never said it. Scott Adams writes a lot about this particular type of cognitive dissonance on his Dilbert Blog. All of what he wrote applies here, so I won’t attempt to restate what he has already said so well. The bottom line is, 80 times out of 100, those negative comments are yelling at me for something I didn’t say.

Another 19 times out of the 100, I am being yelled out for not acknowledging some couple that the writer feels personally invested in. (Like the person who has carried resentment across three forums (that I know of) because I see Alita and Milano from Murder Princess as close friends who might, one day, become a couple, rather than as a couple right off the bat.)

To these people I say this – thank you for reading Okazu. My posts are only my personal opinions – and opinions about comics and cartoons, at that. I am flattered that my opinions spark such a strong response in you, but I also am a little worried that you care so much about what I think. Because they *are* after all, only fictitious, 2-dimensional, made up characters and stories.

That leaves the 1 out of 100 negative comment that doesn’t fall into one of the above categories. These usually have some other personal beef with me…i.e., I was mean to this person at some point. These arrive by email, are very long, very detailed and have no white space. I really don’t have anything to say to these people. We are both too biased to listen to the other side of the story. Nothing we can really do to fix that, can we? My response is most often to hit delete on these. I am mean, yes. This is well established. I’m meanest to my friends, but because they are my friends, they understand my humor and that I am meanest to those people I care about. If they are my close friends they are just as mean back and it makes me laugh. Because I don’t take myself seriously. (In fact, I so enjoy people being mean that I am seriously considering making a t-shirt out of the slam against me from the “why 4-chan hates Erica” thread, “Ugly dyke is ugly.” I thought that was hysterically funny.)

I am telling you this because these negative comments tie in to the topic of today’s post.

Today’s post is about *Yuri*. That is, today “we” are going to “discuss” the “definition” of the word “Yuri.” 1

Let me set the stage here – there is no definition of the word “Yuri” that will hold water. Language is fluid (no pun intended,) it always changes, and it is subject to the perceptions of the people who use it. So, no matter what Wikipedia says, or what I say, there is no one intractable, unchangeable definition. Of anything.

Here’s the Yuricon definition of Yuri. This definition is broad, to allow room for fans’ propensity to project “Yuri” onto characters they like:

Yuri can be used to describe any anime or manga series (or other thing, i.e., fan fiction, film, etc.) that shows intense emotional connection, romantic love or physical desire between women. Yuri is not a genre confined by the gender or age of the audience, but by the *perception* of the audience….

In short, yuri is any story with women in love (or lust) with other women.

So, using as an example, Shizuru and Natsuki from Mai HiME, by the Yuricon definition, they are a Yuri couple. It’s clear that a large majority of fans think that they are. This is why Yuricon’s “The List” often had characters listed who are not really gay, but are the object of the gay characters’ affection and obsession – because Fans see them as “a couple.”

This is not *my* definition of Yuri. This is the broadest definition I could come up with that would allow for inclusion of the widest possible range of characters and stories to be seen as “Yuri.” This was on purpose, because if I tried to limit “Yuri” to what I think it is, a lot of popular series and characters would have to be left out.

Shounen manga, which is primarily written by and targeted to a young male audience, has its own conventions and definition of Yuri. Yuri, in shounen manga and anime, is usually one fetish in a longer list of fetishes that are laid on rather thickly for the titillation of the reading/viewing audience. In shounen manga, lesbian characters are usually physically attractive, often with unrealistic proportions. Characters who are not in any way “lesbian,” are often shown engaging in “skinship” (any number of touching, grooming, washing behaviors which can easily be interpreted as sexual.) This does not in any way mean that the characters engaged in the skinship *are* lesbian…they are often straight characters engaged in quasi-lesbian play for, again, the titillation of the viewer. There is no emotional connection, no desire to be together, no “love” as we might say. It’s “play,” plain and simple. This kind of skinship – whether it be breast groping in the bath or splash art of the two characters draped suggestively across one another, or faux-kisses (in order to pass air, medicine or any other ridiculous reason) is not an indication of feelings of love. But – and this is the important thing – most fans can’t tell the difference. Some of the folks on the Yuricon Mailing List call this kind of thing “Yuri service,” since the lack of ability to differentiate the “Newtype Effect” (two scantily clad straight female characters draped suggestively across one another to imply a sexual/emotional relationship that otherwise never appears in the series) is one of the key qualities of the otaku/fanboy.

Although I have not yet reviewed it here, a perfect example of this is Venus Versus Virus. In the manga, the “clues” to Lucia and Sumire being “a couple” come in the form of the following: suggestive splash art; a misunderstanding about why Sumire needs to stay near Lucia; and the perfectly natural reaction of Sumire launching herself into Lucia’s arms after a traumatic event. None of these in any way shows *any* actual feelings of lesbian love or desire. In later volumes I have no doubt that they are continued to be shown touching in ways that are easily open to interpretation. I cannot see any sign of them being in love with one another. Perhaps they will grow to care for one another. But they are clearly being set up in a way that opens up the description “Yuri” to be applied by people who have less rigorous criteria than I. In general, I call this “Shounen Yuri.” When a couple is interpreted as Yuri, but I can’t feel anything like what I feel for my wife coming from them – they don’t want to live together, love one another, be together forever, but people call them “Yuri” anyway. This is Yuri as a fetish.

As an example, someone posted the other day on the Yuricon Mailing List about the Yuri implications in The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi since Haruhi is always undressing and molesting Mikuru. There are NO Yuri implications of any kind in that series, especially not between Haruhi and Mikuru. This is service. This is two completely, obviously, straight women, being shown doing things that can be interpreted as sexual for the titillation of the audience. It is nothing more. But, as I mentioned earlier, many people can’t tell the difference. I can see that both Mikuru and Haruhi who are both *obviously* interested in Kyon, are straight. It seems so apparent to me that I was frankly boggled that anyone ever should even for a second see “Yuri” there, when all that is there is skinship for the service of viewers. (I can only imagine that it is people like that that buy “Girls Gone Wild” DVDs and see the behaviors of the obviously straight girls kissing and think “lesbian.” Maybe we just need another word for women like that. Well, I can think of a few, but none of them are nice, so I’ll move on.)

Not all Shounen Yuri is crap. For example – Fate and Nanoha in StrikerS. From them, I clearly get the ” live together, love one another, be together forever” vibe. And they have the big pluffy bed, so it’s a done deal in my opinion.

Shoujo Yuri is, in many ways even more problematic than Shounen Yuri. Because the assumption is that men get off on lesbians, the “Yuri” characters in shounen series often act in an overtly (frequently pervy) ways that indicates their like of other girls. In Shoujo, because the emphasis is so often on romance, and because of the tropes of shoujo anime and manga, there’s often a gender-bendy component to one of the characters and the love, while obvious to anyone looking for it, can easily be explained away by anyone determined to do so. In part, this is due to the understood reluctance with which Japanese people use the phrase “I love you” and their preference for ambiguity in interpersonal relationships.

In Sailor Moon Haruka passes as a man several times, and in the manga is said to have the heart of a man, which some people have interpreted as her either being a transgender individual or the reincarnation of a man. There is no way to “prove” that this is not true, except that the author has said that Haruka is 100% woman and she and Michiru are lovers. This ambiguity carried through to Utena where, because there is no overt confession of love between Anshi and Utena – and even in the movie where they kiss passionately – it is easy enough to call this relationship “shinyuu” and “akogare,” relegating it to that sort-of space between real sexual relations (which are always with a man) and fantasy relations (which can be ambiguous.)

Even Sei from Maria-sama ga Miteru, who is rarely heard speaking in a masculine fashion, or wearing men’s clothes in the course of the series, is still obviously perceived as being butch. And, although it is apparent from her relationships with Shiori, Shizuka and Kei, there is once again no “proof” that Sei is gay in the text. Other than that she fell in love with Shiori, rejected literature which showed or labeled same-sex relationships as perverse, found Shizuka “charming” as she kissed her and obviously likes Kei. And that Eriko’s father, for no other reason that because she is clearly butch even in that old-fashioned school uniform, calls her “Sei-kun” where he calls Youko “Youko-chan.”

Where the service, the fetish play, for the male audience has the lesbian characters looking especially feminine and acting masculine and pervy, for the female audience the Yuri fetishes are to have the lesbian character look more masculine and act more feminine. Sure, they may talk like a boy, but their behaviors are the perfect male ideal as seen by a 14-year old girl. Haruka, Utena, and even Sei can be likened to a Takarazuka Top Star. (In fact, in “Rainy Blue” Yumi directly compares Sei to a Top Star, despite the lack of any overt cross-dressing.)

Which brings me to a main point here – Yuri in anime and manga is so often cloaked in ambiguity that it’s a joke to try and define it.

Ambiguity sells a series to a wider audience. Why isn’t the relationship in Noir between Mirielle and Kirika made more obvious? Because, if it was, then those people who do NOT want to see them have a relationship will be alienated.

It’s very apparent to me that Fate and Nanoha are quite married. But if we see them kissing in bed, then the Yuuno x Nanoha ‘shippers might abandon the series. The goal for any anime or manga series is to generate sales. The wider an audience a series reaches, the better. This is why Yuri is implied or claimed in so many series, even when it’s really not there at all. Because if one person buys a DVD or a figurine or a manga because they like Yuri, then the company gains another sale. Duh.

In Japan “Yuri” still means women having sex drawn by men for men, despite the growing number of women who draw lesbian narratives. Because those women variably call them “bian” or “onna-doushi” or “onna x onna” or any number of words or phrases, there’s no one coherent genre name in Japan for the stuff lesbians draw for themselves. When I was trying to bring all that stuff over here, as well as the more conventional shounen and shoujo stuff, I quite purposely lumped it all under the label Yuri, so it was at least accessible and vaguely understandable to the average western fan. Plus, I wanted to promote what I saw as “real” Yuri to an audience used primarily to fetish-Yuri.

Which brings me to *my* definition of Yuri.

This is what *I* am thinking when I read/watch any series. This is what *I* want to see in manga and anime:

Yuri is any representation of two women or girls actually in love and/or desire with one another, or any one single girl or woman who is in love with and/or who desires another woman. In other words – Yuri, to me, is any story that reflects *lesbian* experience. Not straight girls draped over one another, or set up to look gay.

In other words, when I look at the Shizuru and Natsuki of Mai HiME, I do NOT see a Yuri couple. I see Shizuru as a probable lesbian, and I see Natsuki – who clearly and coherently states that she does not have that kind of interest in Shizuru, but does care about her a lot – as a straight friend who cares about her a lot. In Mai Otome, however, I can easily see them as an established couple.

What *I* want to see is Yuri that shows two women in love with one another. Preferably two women who already know that they are lesbians. Because I am much less interested in coming out stories and first love stories than I am in love stories between women who know who they are. This is why I often write post-series stories in my fanfic, and stories about out, adult lesbians in my original work.

So, the next time I say that your favorite couple isn’t a couple it’s probably because, while I absolutely DO see the same things you see, I have chosen to interpret them as the set-ups they are and the fetish/sales tactic that they represent. And just because I say something at Episode 5, doesn’t mean I’ll say the same thing at episode 13 or 26. (I can think of at least a dozen series and even more characters, I’ve radically altered my opinions on as I watched them. lol)

In the end, it’s all just our personal opinions on what “Yuri” is.

Feel free to call me names, but just remember, your anger isn’t likely to change my perception of a fictitious, 2-dimensional character. But it will pretty thoroughly change my perception of you. :-)

1″We” as in “I”
“Discuss” as in “you can comment in the comments field”
“Definition” as in “Whatever comes to my mind”
“Yuri” as in “female characters that like other female characters in anime and manga.”

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23 Responses

  1. Hafl says:

    I’m going to try and post a coherent reply to this post, because it is very interesting.

    I mostly agree with what was being said on topic of Shounen and LFB Yuri though my definition is different. I see Shounen Yuri as Yuri present in anime/manga with shounen qualities or written for male audience. It can still have deep and worthwhile relationships and (hopefully) mutual feelings of love between two women, but it conforms to conventions and tropes of shounen genre (like Nanoha StrikerS). On the other side , there is LFB Yuri, which is as stated played as titilation, joke or both.

    On topic of Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, I can say that Haruhi herself said something along the lines of bringing Mikuru into SOS Brigade for purposes of moe, which can be roughly equated to service. Still, there is the fact, that if I remember correctly, Haruhi said something like: “As long as the person is interesting, it does not matter whether they’re a man or woman.” Which leaves possibility of Haruhi being engaged in Yuri relationship. Then again, she is as was said very obviously interested in Kyon. (And they’re such a fun couple, that it would be pity to break them up.)

    I don’t have anything to say about Shoujo Yuri, because I either agree completely or I don’t think I can bring up an argument, that would be solid enough.

    About the definition of Yuri. I’m going to contest it, since I mostly agree, except that I probably have different criteria for deciding what is Yuri and what is not.

    Also, you can count me as success in defining Yuri for english speaking audience, because in the past I have been a much bigger LFB than I’m now. Or you can say it’s me growing up, but that wouldn’t be as much of an ego boost.

    And this took much longer to think up and type than I had first thought.

  2. neo_hrtgdv says:

    I really liked this, well, essay. We often take many things for granted and many times we suspend disbelief, we forget the companies are actually trying to make money with their series.

    Erica I really liked this post and if you allow it, I’d like to have someone at the Hispanic Yuri Community translate it, goddess knows most western Yuri fans need it, and in all honestly since English is very widely known all over the world English sites like Okazu and Yuricon are the closest source we get.

    So thanks for your thoughts, believe me many of us take a great interest in them even if we don’t always agree ^-^

  3. Hafl, thanks for your comments! You’re right about what Haruhi said, but her actual affections lie distinctly with Kyon.

    neo – thank you too, and yes of course you can translate this (I have to email Laura-sama back, too she asked me days ago) for CoYuHi.

    People are always welcome to disagree with me! I like a good, well-thought out argument, and I have, absolutely, changed my opinions based on a good point. Or because the sky changed color, or because I was in a better mood the second time I watched a thing than the first. LOL

  4. joleeqh says:

    an enlightening entry, thanks Erica!

  5. warpshadow says:

    When I read about your desire to see honest Yuri between adult women in anime I could think of replying with a sarcastic “good luck.” The medium has enough trouble with having action shows starring adults to expect a realistic romance between adult members of a sexual minority. Still this is no reason to not push for quality behind the moe.

  6. Koalina says:

    ****Why isn’t the relationship in Noir between Mirielle and Kirika made more obvious?****

    they have a strong- but sometimes awful platonic love…i think.

  7. Nancy C. C. says:

    Amazing! This is the kind of text I was looking for, I kept wondering what was al that about straight girls gone wild,now I can make my friends read and try to understand a bit better and stop calling me a pervert ¬¬.

    Absolutely fantastic!

    As for Mari-sama I think even if Sei is ,well not gay,out of all the girls,would be the one clearly towards that path,or so I think.

    Keep up writting ^.-

    At’n Nancy.

  8. Tina says:

    It seems so apparent to me that I was frankly boggled that anyone ever should even for a second see “Yuri” there, when all that is there is skinship for the service of viewers. I got a ‘what are your thoughts on Yuri’ questioned once at GGY, and they started asking me about PWP hentai titles for men…I made entry saying ‘the women on woman action in most hentai is not for men, and so to me–it’s not Yuri’…it was linked to at Simon Jones Icarus blog, and it made one fan particularly irate with me–so angry she had to make two posts. :/ I thought yaoi fans were tenacious.

  9. punistation says:

    Implied erotica is the best kind, same sex or otherwise. Can you imagine an anime series where there’s no ambiguity, no “are they/aren’t they?” drama? Meh!

    My Yuri Goggles have saved otherwise uninteresting series, and fuel my online ravings… and I’d have it no other way.

  10. joleeqh: Thanks!

    warpshadow: That is *exactly* why I started ALC Publishing. Our books are, as I interpret it, 100% Yuri. Our stories repesent lesbian life and love, not Yuri as a fetish. It’s an uphill battle, but one I am totally behind. (And the fact that Yuri is now seen here in the US as being ‘for women” means I won the first round, so I see no reason that I can’t win the next. ;-)

    Koalina: exactly my point. Yuri fans (inclusing myself) think that they have are lovers. But the ambiguity is set up specifically so we can all think we’re right.

    nancy: thanks for the kind words. I have also wondered for years why people watch those videos and, instead of finding them disgusting, find them sexually appealing. Now I know.

    And, btw – I think Sei is definitely, positively gay. I think that she didn’t know it herself until Shizuka came along, but by the time she meets Kei, she knows. (That’s why I think she isn’t hitting on Kei at all – because she actually likes her for real.)

    tina: rock on! I said the same thing at Yuricon in Tokyo – I can’t see that porn for men has anything to do with the word “lesbian.” So that I define Yuri as anime/manga that I like, because it’s easier than explaining that my gaydar is exceptionally good. :-)

    punistation: I don’t mind ambiguity, except where it makes lesbians out of straight girls by dressing them in bathing suits and having them grope one another. Call me crazy, but yes, I *can* imagine a series that is overtly lesbian, like SnB, and it seems like a cool idea to me. LOL

  11. Fuyumi says:

    I just wanted to say I really enjoyed this post, and I think hafl‘s points about Shounen Yuri in their comment are excellent.

    P.S. Venus Versus Virus really just needs to go away. I flinch whenever someone mentions it as a “great Yuri series” – ouch.

  12. Adam says:

    I dare you to outfit all the staff at Yurisai with “Ugly Dyke Is Ugly” t-shirts and/or badges. (If not, we may have to arrange a shrine, tastefully decorated in 4chan flames and Megami centrefolds.)

    Of course, it occurs to me that Real Yuri and LFB Yuri can sometimes (rarely) meet one another halfway. Also, the first volume of Iono-sama Fanatics just turned up at my door. These two things are in no way related.

    Meanwhile, I have to agree with warpshadow: maturely-handled relationships of any kind are something we could do with seeing a lot more of. Even if they’re subtext, they’re still heaps better than fanservice.

  13. Adam –

    If you come to Yurisai, I promise to make you an “Ugly dyke is ugly” shirt. :-)

    I agree that they can meet each other halfway, and sometimes intersect closer to one side, or the other – Hayate x Blade leans towards the LFB side, and is nonetheless quite wonderful.

  14. Anonymous says:

    alright, i’m a little behind on this, but
    eriko’s dad calls sei “sei-kun”? that’s ADORABLE.

    – lill.

  15. punistation says:

    Of course, even the most hardened Yuri commentator needs a bite of RE: CUTIE HONEY every now n’ then. ^__^

    Not one single moment of actual dykatastic hoohah, merely an overload of titilation jokes… but combined with Yuri Goggles, the show becomes MAXIMUM AWESOME.

  16. Anonymous says:

    We might disagree on many things(you appear to hate series I love, while I think some series you love are kinda disgusting. Taste, yay), but as far as Yuri in general goes, I cannot agree more with this rant. Pretty much how I see Yuri, and you worded it wonderfully.
    I thank you for this, it shows me that I am not alone with that opinion. It still boggles my mind how people can see skinship as Yuri. It just doesn’t compute.

    Btw, what in HxB leans towards the LFB crowd? o.O I’d have thought that they’d avoid mangas like that… weird.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Okay, you’ve got me with that one – SnB?

  18. Hayate x Blade is a manga that runs in Dengeki Daioh magazine, which is totally for LFBs. :-) It is also the magazine that runs Ichigo Mashimaro and Kashimashi. The intended audience is male and slightly pertatstic. H x B has one lesbian character, Jun, who is openly pervy, and a lot of LFB Yuri, and a lot of implied Yuri. It’s a great manga by a great artist who has been drawing slightly silly Yuri for a long time.

    SnBShoujoai ni Bouken…my book. The story of Yuricon’s mascot.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Ah. Thank you.

  20. Koalina says:

    Almost all the people think they are lovers, because ; how Bee Train defines the relationship between the two NOIR through the series? Chloe loves kirika ( in a totally romantic/sexual way )but kirika doesn`t. She loves Mireille, that`s obvious in the letter , but never says the magical words (she knows what and why is feeling like that, but don`t know how to call it ) . Mireille feel the same but try to deny it. They don`t kiss, hug, even touch casually *coughsexualtensioncough* , but really love each other.

    LoL what i try to say is that bee train has this TERRIBLE habit of put a beautiful relationship development and let it be like that FOREVER without “releasing all the sexual tension” LOL

    Examples : Mireille/Kirika , Madlax ,Subaru/Tsukasa…

    By the way ,i like your comments :) sorry for my english ,i`m latin.

  21. zlacker says:

    A most impressive blog =D

    I’m a avid fan of your blog but I have never once ventured to comment on your many reviews. However I felt compelled to comment on this entry as something struck me (ouch) while I was reading it.

    Do you not think that it is highly ironic that people who rant about your reviews still continue reading them? Apparently your views and perceptions, though they may not agree with it, are THAT interesting that they would go on reading them despite their proclamations of despising you. If they truly detested your reviews, the most commonsensical (couldn’t think of a better word) thing to do would be to blacklist you from their URL.

    Perhaps my interpretation of this whole issue is wrong (please do correct me or enlighten me if so =D) but to me, these people the epitome of irony and I find them as amusing as the fools (not necessarily the court jesters) in one of Shakespeare’s plays.

    Cheers!

  22. zlacker – thank you for the kind words – and yes, of course, the irony is not lost on me. :-)

    Also, as I pointed out, those people don’t read these kind of posts, they just read the posts about the series that they are obsessive about. Most are anonymous, so they may well not read more, but I gather than some do. And some carry their feelings for a long, long time.

    Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely understand who anyone could come to feel that strongly about a cartoon or comic…I just don’t really understand sending “You suck” mail about something so silly.

  23. patrique says:

    The thing with relationships between women is that they can be kept deliberately ambigious by the writers. In most stories, close relationships between men and women are likely to become “more” as time progresses, but between women you can keep things very vague with lots of shades of gray. Men are generally more likely to want to see something sexual happen between two female characters, where women are more inclined to see the romantic side of things (this is of course very black and white – I might be an exception myself). To cater to both populations, it’s best when writers let things be unsaid as much as possible.

    All in all, I think Yuri-elements in more “generic” stories are often used as plot-devices to give a story more emotional charge, in contrast with stories that are clearly about lesbian relationships. People always put their own wishes in a piece of art and manga/anime are no different.

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