First of all, I want to thank James Welker for giving me the opportunity to address his class – it was amazing. The questions were good, just as hard to answer as ever, and I thought I’d try and capture a few of my thoughts before they slip away.
As we talk about Yuri, the genre, we have to remember that until like 5 years ago, it wasn’t really anything like a “genre.” Yuri was – and often still is – a series of disparate ideas and elements that serve different purposes for different audiences. What we *now* consider to be the literary antecedents of Yuri (Yaneura no Nishoujo) or early Yuri manga (Shiroi Heya no Futari) was not being created to tell a Yuri story – and perhaps not really even a lesbian story. After Ito Bungaku coined the words Barazoku and Yurizoku, the word Yuri was immediately appropriated by people creating “lesbian porn” as well as being adopted by lesbians. When the word Yuri came to mean “lesbian porn” pretty much to the exclusion of anything else, it was mostly dropped by lesbians and got pushed to the background as “typical” background art indicating a “lesbian” scene. So women writing, drawing and creating for other women still weren’t creating “Yuri” as we know it.
Yuri elements mean different things in different series to audiences. The genre defines certain characteristics, but beyond that the token lesbian character will be perceived differently in a seinen manga and a shoujo manga. Just as what men looking for hentai art of characters in sexual positions mean by Yuri and what I mean by Yuri are two entirely different things.
It wasn’t until a very few years ago that stories that were uniquely “Yuri” were being published and they are – for the most part – romance stories, with little other genre influence at this point. That’s changing a bit and I look forward to that shifting as the genre matures.
Which brings me to something I had very much wanted to say, but forgot to squeeze it in:
Just because you regard something with profundity, does not mean that the creator meant it to be profound.
I can honestly say that watching Sailor Moon changed my life radically. I have thought, written, talked about it for many years and have parsed everything one can in that series. But…and this is an important but…it’s really just a kid’s cartoon. Takeuchi-sensei may have hit in the gold with this series, but do not suppose that she was seeking to change the world with it. That she *also* changed my world is an added bonus for both of us. I’m fairly certain it was not her intent. ^_^ Shoujo Kakumei Utena is another good example. I had the chance to interview the director once and learned something critical – that he assigned no actual meaning to any of the symbolism in the story. He did things entirely because they looked visually appealing. The train means what you want it to mean, the baseball game, the arrows, the cats…all of it means whatever *you* make it mean. That answer drives people crazy because they insist he had to have had something in his head, but what he was thinking was, “That’ll look cool.” ^_^
Andrew asked what tropes are we seeing in Yuri and how have they changed. Right now, the tropes in “Yuri” are more likely to be tropes related to the larger industry trends for that category of manga. Moe is reallllllly popular, so there is a lot of moe being drawn. It’s not a Yuri trope – it’s a “how can we sell this?” trope. If moe is hot, then we draw moe because people will buy it. The same goes for ambiguity. If we keep a vague possibility, no matter how thin, of Nanoha and Yuuno as a couple, then those people who like them together will buy it *too*. If Nanoha and Fate kiss, it might ruin that sliver of hope for the Yuuno fans, poor bastards. Yuri written for shoujo magazines are going to look like shoujo stories, rather than something uniquely “Yuri.”
One last thing (thank you Andrew for reminding me!) Let’s talk moe for a moment. Moe is, as I see it, a infantilization of female characters. By cute-ifying them, they are rendered as more youthful – and implicitly – more innocent. “Story A” does much the same to their emotions. By placing the story in explicitly “moe” years – i.e., the years just before and into puberty, the creators are saying that these stories do not reflect adult love or desire. They are childhood crushes. All of this renders the story “harmless.” These are not lesbians – women who will grow up without need of or desire for men, and whose lives will not be dependent upon a man for money or sex – these are little girls “playing” at romance. For male readers who might see actual lesbians as a potential threat (to their status as men in a male-dominated society, which means no matter how low they are perceived by other men, they can still feel superior to the most accomplished woman, and to any preconceived understanding that, in a heteronormative society, no matter who they are or what their hobbies, they can and will get married) all of these are tools that transform the threat into a delightful fantasy that can be enjoyed without any sense of unease. To sum up – any man reading these stories can relax and know that, no matter how passionate this same-sex relationship appears to be, they’ll grow up and get over it.
I think I’m running out of steam here, so I’m going to just finish up with – great questions folks, and it was a genuine pleasure to talk to you all. I hope we’ll get to do it again soon. ^_^