Thoughts on the Future of Yuri, 2017 Edition

April 30th, 2017

It has been my pleasure and honor to read. watch, write and speak about lesbian-themed Japanese animation and comics for 15 years now. And during that time, I have watched the creators and readers and viewers of Yuri – the “we” and “us” of this blog – promote and support this genre through gestation and into birth. 

I’ve written at length over the years about the history of Yuri. How we got here, from the literary roots of “S” stories of the early 20th century Japan, to mid-century exploration of sexuality and gender by the Year 24 Group.  In addition, in 2013, I wrote a short Yuri Needs List. In the years since that list, we haven’t quite gained any of the elements that I had hoped for, but in some ways we’ve gained something more critical – validity as a genre. Bookstores in America and Japan are starting to recognize Yuri as a genre within the medium of manga, although there is much left yet to do. Publishers are willing to  invest in Yuri because now there is a market for it. 

It is true that publishers (and, often, creators and readers) find it simpler to squeeze a genre into well-established and comfortable tropes. For Yuri, this obviously means stories set in school, where pressures of coming out, living together, political invisibility and lack of social and political clout and rights are simply nonexistent. It’s worth noting that none of the popular Yuri best-sellers available in English this year challenge these tropes. It is also worth noting, as fellow writer and Yuri fan Sean Gaffney (of A Case Suitable for Treatment) noted, that “the default for Yuri manga in NA has become ‘good if predictable’ rather than ‘not awful pandering’.” 

Another thing we’ve accomplished is that , as I write in my essay Yuri – A Genre Without Borders, Yuri has gone global. Anthologies explicitly labeled “Yuri” are commonplace, as tropes, artistic cues and manga style art has traveled past Japan’s borders.

Now, as we move past Yuri’s infancy, it’s worth taking a look at what we want for the future. ^_^ The list this year is short, but intense. I’ll count down in order of urgency.

 

3) More Diversity in Yuri

You may be looking at the header here somewhat quizzically. More diverse? Manga is already a priori works by what in the west are considered people of color, isn’t it? Well, yes, but also no. Because Yuri manga made by Japanese creators are created for and sold to a Japanese audience, it’s no more “diverse” there than primarily white mainstream comics are here in America. It would be nice (but non-critical) to see non-Japanese characters in Yuri. There are foreign lesbians living and working in Japan.

Even more importantly, when I say “diversity, I mean it would be nice to see diversity of lifestyle. We’ve had series published in Japan that discuss being lesbian parents, such as  Okaasan Futari Itemo Iikana!? (お母さん二人いてもいいかな!?), and Higashi  Koyuki and Masahara Hiroko’s Futari no Mama kara, Kimi-tachi he (ふたりのママから、きみたちへ), or Fujima Shion’s Yurinin (ゆりにん) but none have been translated.  Alternative families are a thing world-wide and no less inside the lesbian community than outside. It’s time.

And, lastly, I still await a really good Yuri series about older couples. This is inevitable, as the current crop of Yuri artists are going to age…and some of them are going to draw from their experiences dating or being in a relationship as an older lesbian. But I want it now. 

 

2) Lesbians

In the 1920s in Japan, it was a radical act for two girls to decide to live together, rather than submit to family pressure to marry. In the intervening years, Yuri manga still tended to be focused on hothouse environments of school. The underlying assumption was often that, upon graduation, the girls will move into adult life, become wives and mothers and remember this childhood love fondly. The situation is better now than it was, even just a few years back.  After Fumi came out in Aoi Hana in 2011, I assumed we’d see a veritable waterfall of coming out in Yuri, but…so far it remains a trickle. Even in Yuri series running in the one all-Yuri monthly manga magazine. there’s a lot of same-sex like and love without lesbian identity. That said, there is a shift happening. You can see it in manga being published by Yuri artists for themselves in either print or online and in work by the few out lesbian Yuri artists, like Takemiya Jin and Nakamuya Kiyo.  There’s been a visible shift in the past decade as stories about lesbians and by lesbians and for lesbians pull closer to and overlap with Yuri manga, giving Yuri readers a chance to understand the Japanese lesbian community. 

It’s somewhat predictable that, as soon as we do see more lesbians in Yuri, we’re going to have to wade through dozens of “coming out” narratives, in which we are inundated with stories of girls who realize they like that other girl and, by extension, girls. Personally, I’d like to skip right to the part where about half of Yuri manga is just about lesbian lives. Luckily for me, another positive trend is real-life lesbians creating comic essays about their lives, like Kabi Nagata’s My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, available in June from Seven Seas. These comic essays tell real-life stories from real Japanese lesbians, which helps with both Japanese lesbian visibility and the melding of Yuri manga and lesbian content. 

There’s a lot of room for good queer content to enrich Yuri manga and vice versa. My fingers are crossed.

 

1) A Sport Series

I am never giving up this dream.

For the last several years, I have made this my highest priority for a very simple reason – sports manga are a perfect environment for sexual tension. This past year in Japan, fans of BL were treated to an incredibly popular anime series called Yuri on Ice! that featured a same-sex romantic relationship in the world of men’s figure skating. I am impatiently awaiting a Yuri Yuri on Ice!.

Yuri has had one-shots and chapters and storylines a-plenty in which any number of captains of Softball, Ping Pong, Tennis, Track clubs fall for their teammates, coaches, co-captains or managers, but we just don’t have a series that digs down and has the blood and guts and oni coaches and heart-rending failures and soaring triumphs we require in a sports manga series. And we’ve had any number of blood and guts and demon coaches and heart-rending failures and soaring triumphs in sports manga series starring women in Japanese, but few of these have ever made into English and none have had that explicit romance we’re looking for. We need a smoking hot Yuri sports rivalry.

Softball, Ping Pong, Tennis, Track are all fine. Rugby would be nice. Or Motocross. That would be lovely

Swimming. Ice skating (although, thanks Yuri on Ice!, you’ve made *that* redundant and derivative for us.)

Martial Arts. Volleyball.  Horse-jumping. Anything. Just give me a damn Yuri sports series already! I will not stop asking for this.

This is my wish for our Yuri Future – a sports love-hate rivalry that burns the pages up for 12 volumes. Is that too much to ask?

For 15 years, I’ve watched this genre take tentative steps forward from stories in which characters left to get married or died, to being “together” and even going so far, these days to saying “I love you” and living together. Sometimes, even, to having a lesbian in the story.

I can hardly imagine what I’ll be asking for 15 years from now…but it had better not still be a sports series.

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12 Responses

  1. Wait, does Umamusume count as a sports story? Since the PV does indicate there’s yuri, and a TV series has been greenlit!

  2. Grisznak says:

    I totally agree with a sports. I’d be fantastic to have something like Kuroko’s Basket or Yuuri! On Ice with a yuri touch. The only thing I’d be afraid of is that such series would eventually turn into fanservice filled one, like most of these martial arts series.
    Horse jumping! Yay, it’d be totally awsome.

    As for me, my dream is to watch something like Honor Harrington or Space Battleship Yamato series, with a yuri touch. Even more impossible though.

  3. Will says:

    Oh gosh I know about a dozen queer women fans who would high five you for the sports comment. A prevalent reaction I saw from my lesbian and bi friends when Yuri On Ice when it first blew up huge was “I’d love if this led to a serious attempt at a sports story with girls in love.” They then proceeded to complain about how fanservicey many of the sports-related manga about girls tend to be.

  4. Stacy L says:

    Your list is the same as mine, especially skipping past the coming out narrative. I’d love to see combination sports/older women stories, like a series about two mature (40+) lesbian women practising martial arts who grow more attached as they compete. Or an older mixed race couple who train together, have a family.

    Also, series with multiple mature lesbian women who are friends, without necessarily being romantically involved with each other. Ooh! I know: A science-based story about two awesome scientists working together on a breakthrough discovery. I would LOVE to see that.

    More queer women in fiction who are as extraordinary as queer women are in real life. We’re not asking for miracles here.

  5. Roxie says:

    I’d even wonder if there’s a strong enough market for yuri sports series that’s longer than two volumes. Yuri on ice isn’t even that good of a sports series. Also the fact their target audience is fujoshi, which is the main base of all other popular male only sports shows. Honestly feels like a pipedream for it to ever become a staple.

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