Archive for the History of Yuri Category


A Survey of Lesbianism and Mental Instability in Yuri

August 28th, 2017

We’ve looked at Yuri’s roots in lesbian social movements and Japanese girls’ literature, but there’s an aspect of our history we haven’t addressed.  Today we’re going to take a look at some series in which lesbianism is linked, either directly or indirectly, with an unstable mental state. There will be spoilers ahead, but mostly for 40 year-old series, so I don’t feel bad. Thanks to my wife and Erin Subramanian for their contributions to this essay!

I. Introduction

When Japan was opened to the west, the Japanese people adopted and adapted western fashion and technology quickly. The Japanese government, having found themselves thrust on the world stage, sent young people around the world to learn the science, technology and culture of countries with which they would now be dealing. (Not always with appropriate preparation, but some of those students returned to make significant contributions to Japanese education and culture, notably Yamakawa Sutematsu and Nagai Shige, the subjects of Janice P. Nimura’s book Daughters of the Samurai. 2016, New York: W.W. Norton.)

By the 1920s, Sigmund Freud was writing obsessively about human sexual development. His writings on the pathology of homosexuality strongly affected Japanese theories of psychiatry, as they did psychiatry in other countries. For Freud, female homosexuality was a pathological manifestation of masculinity, which he discussed in detail in a paper “The Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman,” (Freud, S. (1920). “A Case of Homosexuality in a Woman”. The Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. 1974, New York: Hogarth Press.and was always the fault of the father, although his own daughter, Anna Freud, was herself, quite probably a lesbian. This idea was adopted by psychiatrists around the world and has been remarkably resistant to change. It was the basis upon which homosexuality was made a criminal behavior and entered into Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders in the USA, and the International Statistical Classification of Disease and Related Health Problems used in Japan.

The shift from folklore to science in Japan was fast and furious. Japanese schools adopted western curricula, dress and customs, while scientists and medical professionals caught up with current western knowledge. Psychology and psychiatry bloomed and quickly pushed folk beliefs to the perimeter of life. A good example of the flattening of folk belief from worldview into concepts such as sublimation and projection can be found in Kyogoku Natsukhiko’s Kyogokudo novels, which are set in the mid-20th century and follow “atheist onmyouji,” Akihiko “Kyogokudo” Chūzenji. In The Summer of the Ubume, (姑獲鳥の夏1994, Tokyo: Kodansha. Translated into English in 2009, New York: Vertical. ), the erudite protagonist has cause to launch into dense, extended monologues on the emotional and psychological void caused by overturning of folk knowledge – which is accessible to everyone – and replacing it with scientific knowledge – which is accessible only to the few who are able to study it. In these murder mysteries, modern psychology is intertwined with and used to explain youkai lore. The second of Kyogoku’s books, Moryou no Hako (魍魎の匣, 1995, Tokyo: Kodansha.) a lesbian relationship between two high school girls become mixed up with the plot of a serial killer who is the “goblin” of the title. (This novel was made into an anime series in 2008 with animation by Madhouse, in which the Kyogukodo character is free to expound his theories of religion, philosophy and psychology.)

In Western literature of the 20th century, lesbians were portrayed as emotionally unstable, predatory, unhealthily obsessed by sex, and violent. An entire genre of literature that we now call Lesbian Pulp Fiction was based around this idea that attraction to another woman was a descent into madness and violence, ending in death or prison. The back cover of Intimate Story of a Lesbian, (1965, New York: Imperial.) “as told to Doris Hanson” says,

“Lesbianism,” she told Miss Hanson, “at first repulsed me. But, like a disease, it grew to possess me, completely”… “Brought out” by a jealous, domineering woman executive, Maria was sponsored in a career….[which led her into] a world of sexual excess…. Maria’s intimate story of life in the hidden society of women without men may horrify and shock….It could only have been written by one who lived and became….

THE VICTIM OF ITS HORRORS

This kind of hyperbolic language shifted as the century wore on.  The “Third Sex,” used as a term for homosexuality from movies and books in the mid-20th century, stuck around through the 1970s, when lesbians stood up politically and refused to be shoved back into the closet. (In fact, the phrase “come out of the closet” as a gay rights slogan was coined by Lesbian Pulp author Artemis Smith.)  

Homosexuality was famously removed from the 7th editon of the DSM-II by the American Psychiatric Association in 1973 (1974, American Psychiatric Association.) In Japan , the classification of homosexuality as a disease lasted a few decades longer. “… “homosexuality” was removed by the World Health Organization from the list of “mental disorders” in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems 10th revision published in 1993 (which was adopted by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare the following year).” (Japan: Human Rights in Law and Discrimination against LGBT People in Japan, 2017 Amnesty International.) By 1995, homosexuality was no longer considered a disease in Japan, but it’s taken a few more decades for manga artists to notice.

The idea that lesbianism is a pathology, as posited by Freud, lingers in popular media where lesbianism also functions as a fetish for readers. Manga and anime are pop culture media, but frequently published and produced to fit within socially conservative framework (whether to sell to the widest possible market or to cater to a specific demographic or just to protect one’s own industry from government intrusion,) which means that these 20th century associations linger on well into the 21st century. “Everyone knows” that lesbians are predatory, or emotionally unstable, although it’s been shown that with the simple addition of laws that put gay relationships on a more stable footing, suicide and depression decrease

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2. Survey of Emotionally Unstable Lesbians in Yuri, 1938-2017

Over-intense emotional desire is portrayed as negative in girl’s literature as early as the 1930’s. In Kawabara Yasunari and Nakazato Tsuneko’s Otome no Minato, (乙女の港, 1938, Tokyo: Jitsugyo no Nihonsha.) Kastuko desires to be Michiko’s onee-sama to the point of breaking her up with Youko. It takes a crisis in which Youko is Katsuko’s savior to get her to back off.  This behavior is reflected fully in the relationships in 1957 manga Sakura no Namiki, (さくら並木) by Takahashi Makoto. (2006, Tokyo: Shogakukan Creative.)

Possessive jealousy is as far as these relationships go until Yamagishi Ryhoko’s 1973 manga, Shiroi Heya no Futari (白い部屋のふたり, 1971, Tokyo: Shueisha.) In this story, which I consider to be the first Yuri manga, Simone is presented to us as high strung, violent, and tempestuous. Having been abandoned by uncaring family, her mental instability is associated with her passionate nature and presented as part of a whole. Simone falls in love with Resine because she is unstable and emotional and is, we are meant to understand, looking for affection anywhere she can find it.

This theme is repeated again in Maya no Sourestu (摩耶の葬列, 1972, Tokyo: Shueisha.) by Ichijou Yukari in 1972. In this story, Reina is spoiled, but neglected by her father, and Maya is part of  a family whose history is filled with lies and desire for revenge on Resine’s family. Even should they find a way out of this labyrinth, it turns out that they are half sisters. One must die so the other may marry a man she cannot love. Put a pin in this story, we’ll come back to it.

In Riyoko Ikeda’s 1975 work, Oniisama e  (おにいさまへ, 1975, Tokyo: Shueisha.)  Rei, known as Saint-Juste, is emotionally abused by her beautiful and influential half-sister, Fukiko. Fukiko’s emotional abuse occasionally turns physical, and Rei takes to drugs for solace or anesthesia. Her conflicted feelings about Fukiko  are surfaced when the protagonist Nanako becomes involved. Fukiko attempts to manipulate Nanako, but is unsuccessful, which gives Rei the emotional wherewithal to reject Fukiko. Ultimately, Rei turns her attention to Nanako and, we might expect, recovery and health, but is killed in a tragic and pointless accident. This is a key work, not only because the anime is a masterwork in and of itself, but because Rei turns away from a wholly unhealthy relationship with her exceptional half-sister towards the wholesome influence of the protagonist and is seeking a healthier friendship (or, maybe, even, romance) with her before her death.

In 1978 manga Claudine…!  (クローディーヌ…!, 1978, Tokyo: Shueisha.) by Riyoko Ikeda, we are presented with the “case” of Claudine, a woman who dresses as a man and falls in love with women. This manga can with completely validity be read as a story of a transgender man or of a masculine lesbian. Because Ikeda’s portrayal is not as fully formed as we in the 21st century might desire, Claudine’s expressed wish to be a man, can be accepted at face value or also mean that they wish the privilege of a man, that is to love women and wear men’s clothes. In either case, Claudine’s story is told to us as a “case” from the perspective of their psychiatrist who is treating Claudine for depression and suicidal thoughts.  When Claudine has, yet again, been abandoned by a lover who wants a more “normal” life, Claudine commits suicide. This story is forward-thinking in the sense that the psychiatrist suggests that Claudine was not the sick one here, but that society is at fault.

Applause (アプローズ) (1981-2, Tokyo: Shueisha) by Ariyoshi Kyouko is an epic story which traces the relationship of two young women, Shara and Junaque from a private girl’s school in Belgium to Broadway in New York City. In the beginning arc it is Junaque who admits her feelings of love and desire to Shara, but is rejected. Junaque, consumed by rejection and fear of her “inverted” nature, marries a man she cannot love, and dives into an increasingly troubled life as an alcoholic and emotionally unstable adult. Shara meets Junaque (now called Shelle) once again as an adult and their affair starts right back up. Unlike Shelle, however, Shara is unwilling to hide her love, causing the two of them to have a tempestuous on-again-off-again affair that ultimately ends ambiguously, with either their death or escape, depending on the reader’s need.

By 1993, Fujimura Mari presents another example of the emotional instability that accompanies a lesbian relationship  in Futtemo Haretemo (降っても晴れっても) (1993, Tokyo: Shueisha). Nagi and Hiro are two classmates who develop a deep, almost obsessive, definitely possessive, attraction between them. Nagi and Hiro’s relationship is dysfunctional and they often act in ways that are harmful to themselves and the other. Suicide and violence are a palpable presence in this story, linked directly with the relationship. At the end they are presented as happy and whole when they meet after years, having married men and moved on with their lives. This was a low point in presentation of lesbian love in shoujo manga, inextricably linking mental unwellness and lesbian desire, which could be “fixed” by heterosexuality.

In Haruno Nanae’s Pieta  (ピエタ) (2000, Tokyo: Shueisha.) Rio is presented to us as a troubled teen, threatening to commit suicide. Her father and step-mother claim to have no idea why she’s like this, but readers can see that she’s the victim of vicious emotional abuse by her step-mother and disinterest by a neglectful father. Her psychiatrist worries that her family’s influence will impede her mental health. Sahoko, a classmate, who was herself troubled, and Rio develop a relationship that ultimately brings healing to both of them. With the help of their psychiatrists, who function as surrogate parents, they move in together. The romantic relationship between Rio and Sahoko is not presented as the cause of their mental instability nor because of it, but as the thing that helps them find wholeness and stability. This was not the first Yuri romance to have a happy ending, but it was a sea change in the presentation of mental unwellness linked with lesbianism. Here, being lesbian is what heals, rather than what hurts.

When Sun Publishing first put out Yuri Shimai (百合姉妹 2003, Tokyo: Sun Publishing) magazine, the first Yuri-focused manga magazine in 2003, they included works from classic and well-known Yuri manga artists, including Kita Konno, creator of Himitsu no Kaidan (秘密の階段. 1995, Tokyo: Kaiseisha.)  Her stories for Yuri Shimai and it’s successor Yuri Hime, (百合姫 2005-present, Tokyo: Ichisjinsha.) , now published monthly as Comic Yuri Hime  (コミック百合姫), tended to focus on incestuous and abusive relationships. “Under the Rose”, later reprinted in Yuri Hime Selection, (百合姫Selection, 2007, Tokyo: Ichijinsha.) was a good (bad) example of the kind of automatic integration of lesbianism with all the unhealthy things possible.

In 2004, the surprisingly influential Kannazuki no Miko (神無月の巫女, 2004, Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten.) debuted. In every version of Kaishaku’s series, accomplished, classical Japanese beauty, Chikane is conflicted from the beginning between her fate as a lunar priestess and her affection and desire for her partner, solar priestess Himeko. In the anime, her emotional instability is directly linked to her physical desire for Himeko, while in the manga, Chikane rapes Himeko to, ostensibly, make Himeko not trust her. In both cases, it’s her desire for Himeko that causes the emotional conflict. 

At the same time, (not an accidental happenstance, as the Yuri-ish and genre-defining Light Novel series Maria-sama ga Miteru (マリア様がみてる) had increased interest once more in stories of girls in private schools, and the new Yuri manga magazines and anthologies were using that setting compulsively) the anime  Mai HiME (舞-HiME, 2004-5, Tokyo Sunrise.) was hitting the airwaves. In this series, Fujino Shizuru is shown to be obsessed with Kuga Natsuki. She’s not hiding her desire, but is also unable to come out and express herself. When she can no longer control herself and comes to Natsuki late at night, kissing, possibly assaulting, her, Shizuru is interrupted by fellow HiME. Shizuru completely loses her grip on sanity and is, clearly, shown to be an example of the pathology of lesbian desire.)

Honorable mention needs to go here to Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha (魔法少女リリカルなのは 2004, Tokyo, Geneon.),  the anime (and later, manga,) franchise that also began in 2004. In this ongoing narrative, the emotionally and physically abused Fate Testarossa, is rescued by Takamachi Nanoha. Fate and Nanoha remain friends during Fate’s incarceration, and, when she is released, they move in together. The two create an alternate family that grows in every subsequent series. Both Fate and Nanoha adopt children who have been rejected by their families. They are seen to share a bed, and once again we are given to believe that their relationship is the thing that is the most stable part of their lives.

Yet, at the same time, we’re presented with Yaya from Strawberry Panic! (ストロベリー・パニック!, 2003-2007, Tokyo: Mediaworks.) who is the first 21st century example we have of a character said to have been “neglected by her father” as both a stand-in for abuse, as her behavior maps to a sexually abused child, and also directly stated to be the cause of her lesbianism.  Yaya’s behavior is highly sexualized, possessive, obsessive and she borders on the edge of mental breakdown until her “love” for Hikari is subsumed in her desire to see Hikari’s relationship with Amane realized. The series supplies Yaya with a potential partner in a younger student but, notably, a student that has shown us a strong will and personality, so we may be confident that, if something develops, it will be consensual, thus indicating that Yaya has herself been made whole and functional.

In 2007, Nakamura Kiyo (writing as Nakamura Ching,) took a completely different tack with GUNJO (羣青, 2007-2012, Tokyo: Shogakukan), a true-crime-like story of a woman who had been overtly sexually abused by her father and husband, and the lesbian who killed the husband for her. In contrast to the traditional narrative elements in which the abuse (or “neglect”) are related to the lesbianism, the lesbian in this series walks away from a functional, happy life to help the abused and neglected school acquaintance. “Lesbian-san” (the characters are not named through most of the series) is not the abused person, but neither is she emotionally stable, as she and the overtly emotionally unstable “Megane-san” are on the run after a murder “Lesbian-san” has committed. 

By 2010, Lesbianism was much more rarely linked directly with mental instability. In Ebon Fumi’s Blue Friend (ブルーフレンド 2010-12, Tokyo: Shueisha.)  the premise begins with a well-worn trope of an emotionally troubled girl befriended by a popular girl, and the possessive, unhealthy relationship between, exacerbated by bullying at school. This relationship is something the two girls manage to shift from unhealthy and manipulative to a healthy friendship that is positive for both of them. Once again, we see a way through the instability to healing. After 7 years of a Yuri-focused manga magazine, readers were starting to see a more general shift in the narrative of the mentally unstable lesbian.

In 2011, we see a slightly different version again of the link between obsessive affection/desire and emotional instability in Puella Magi Madoka Magica (魔法少女まどか☆マギカ, 2011, Tokyo. Shaft.) In the serialized TV anime, we meet Homura after many repeated cycles of existence, in which her one desire is to save Madoka. This obsession with the other girl has warped her (as has her repeated failure to save Madoka.) Nonetheless, Madoka is able to break past Homura’s emotional armor and remind her why she’s doing this. Their mutual affection allows Madoka to break out of the cycle. This is rewritten in a subsequent movie, in which Homura’s obsession continues to affect her negatively until she becomes the thing Madoka must fight. Her sacrifice is the only way to end the continuing cycle…suicide is still the only way out for the obsessed lesbian.

As the Yuri market has developed, and series more generally showed functional, happy lesbian relationships both in shoujo-manga fantasy spaces, such as Shirosawa Marimo’s  Nobara no Mori no Otome-tachi(野ばらの森の乙女たち 2010-11, Tokyo: Kodansha.) or GIRL FRIENDS by Morinaga Milk (ガールフレンズ 2006-2010, Tokyo: Futabsaha) and in more real world-settings, such as Sweet Blue Flowers by Shimura Takako (青い花 2004-13, Tokyo: Ohta Publishing.) or Nishi Uko’s very adult, very realistic, Collectors (コレクターズ 103-16, Tokyo: Hakusensha.), this use of “neglect” as cipher for abuse will come back as a plot complication. 

In 2012, Saburouta began serializing Citrus (シトラス  2012, Tokyo: Ichijinsha.) a story about two sisters by marriage who find themselves physically attracted to one another.  Mei, who reflects the classic Japanese beauty, and Yuzu, who represents the outgoing popular girl, gavotte around one another (and in and out of other complicated and often emotionally manipulative) relationships. Mei’s behavior, like Yaya’s, is much more consistent with a survivor of sexual abuse, but once again, we are told it’s because her father “neglected” her. We can be forgiven in this case for remembering the Freudian pathologizing of lesbianism as being the fault of the father. We equally remember Maya of Maya no Souretsu, whose desire for the “neglected” daughter of a man she loathed drove her to suicide.

We must end here with a mention of Kodama Naoko’s NTR: Netsuzou Trap (捏造トラップ 2014-present, Tokyo: Ichijinsha.) While the characters aren’t explicitly described as suffering abuse or “neglect,” it becomes apparent even to a casual reader or viewer, that Hotaru’s behavior can be traced back to abuse.  Kat Callahan of Anime Now says, “the series seems to deal with a very important issue: the cycle of abuse, and specifically, sexual abuse.”

Everything old is new again…and we’re still stuck with this ugly idea that women are lesbians because they were “neglected” by their father and that this neglect causes not only lesbianism, but manipulative, unhealthily obsessive pathological lesbianism.

Freud would be so pleased.

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Why We Call It “Yuri” on Anime Feminist

August 10th, 2017

In the 20 years I’ve been watching, reading, writing and speaking about stories of lesbians and lesbian relationships in anime and manga, a lot of things have changed. In the 1990s, western fans were coining phrases like “shoujo-ai” and “shounen-ai” to enforce what they saw as differences between pure” romance between girls and adult lesbian sex. The distinction was arbitrary, and more in line with western morals than Japanese standards. Those words have since been all but abandoned for being more related to pedophilia than woman or men in same-sex relationships. Likewise Juné, Yaoi, 801 have all come and gone and come back again to describe pretty boys in sexual and romantic relationships For the most part we’ve landed on “Boys Love” as the definitive (for now) genre term. 

Yesterday on Anime Feminist I discuss why we call our genre Yuri and not, say, the (seemingly obvious) analogous phrase “Girls Love.”  Even more importantly, I recall the roots of the term in lesbian culture, roots I and other lesbian creators and fans feel are critical to keeping the genre about us, telling our stories, as opposed to letting the stories be dictated by those who haven’t experienced them. 

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Take a look at Why We Call It Yuri on Anime Feminist – and thanks to the AF team for being so awesome and giving me space to tell my story! 

 

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How Lesbian Social and Political Activism Helped Give Birth to Yuri Manga

May 21st, 2017

This was originally presented at the Queers & Comics conference, on April 14th, 2017 as part of the “History of Queer Manga” panel.

Here on Okazu, we’ve gone over the history of Yuri in previous essays, tracing the tropes developed in literary roots of “S” stories of early 20th century Japan, to mid-century exploration of sexuality and gender by the Magnificent 49ers.

But it’s worth reminding ourselves that, in the late 20th century, sexual and gender revolutions occurred on a scale that had never previously been seen in the social and political spheres. Anti-war protests and feminism all became part of public discourse and media coverage in the late 1960s and early 1970s in Japan, just as they were doing in America. Communities of intention were built by feminists, by lesbians both inside and outside of feminist groups and by radical feminists and lesbian separatists, looking to create a new kind of society. Today I want to briefly discuss the place lesbian communications had in the birth of what, 30 years later, would become a new genre of Japanese media.

In America, the oldest lesbian organization is known as the Daughters of Bilitis. Founded in 1955, the group was active through 1972. During that time, the founders collected many books and periodicals both about and by lesbians to assist them in their stated goals.  These publications included The Ladder, The Daughter of Bilitis’ own newsletter that included information, interviews, opinions, stories and news about lesbian life. Collections of these publications can be found at the Lesbian Herstory Archives in NYC and GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco, if you’re interested in taking a look.

1971 was, for our discussion today, a significant moment. As feminism grew in importance, the first known formal lesbian community was established in Japan, Wakakusa no Kai (Fresh Green Club). This name was meant to literally represent the fact that it was a “grassroots” organization. Wakakusa no Kai did not disband completely until the mid-80s. 

1971 also saw the creation of Japan’s first commercial gay magazine, Barazoku. By 1976 , the editor, Itou Bungaku, included a page for lesbians, which provided information on how to get in touch with lesbian groups and printed letters by lesbians looking to meet other women. This page was called “Yurizoku no Heya” the “Lily Tribe’s Room”. This is generally credited as the origin of the term “Yuri” in regards to lesbian-themed media. 

In the days before the Internet, the most common way a lesbian had to meet other woman like herself was to go to a gay bar that allowed lesbians or, perhaps, a lesbian party night at a gay bar. If she lived near enough to a big enough city, there might even be a lesbian bar. A Japanese lesbian would find, as her American counterpart might, flyers for lesbian events or groups. Letter columns and personal ads in magazines like Gekkou or Barazoku could function as a lifeline, especially for more provincial lesbians, for whom the big city was both literally and figuratively far away. But a lesbian life was a fantasy that few could embrace. Manga of this period that included lesbians at all, tended to show one partner leaving to be married or dying, leaving the other with unfulfilled longing that could never be resolved. This image shows a flyer from 1981 that advertises a “marriage meeting” for gay men and lesbians who wished to marry to fulfill familial obligations. 

As lesbian groups developed and grew, it made sense to create newsletters to communicate with and among members and non-member readers.  In 1976 Subarashi Onnatachi, the first lesbian feminist newsletter was begun. It only lasted one issue, but others publications arose: Hikari Guruma and Za Daiku  in 1978. By 1982, “Lesbian Communications” by groups like Regumi Studio and mini-magazines were popular in the lesbian community for sharing information, interviews, opinions, stories and news about lesbian life. 

These newsletters and mini-magazines, somewhat naturally led to the creation of the first lesbian magazines in Japan.

In 1995, Japan’s first lesbian magazine, Phryne premiered.

 

While Phryne only lasted 2 issues, editor Hagiwara Mami went on to create Anise magazine in 1997. Like Phryne, and the lesbian “communications” of the 1980s, these magazines included interviews with lesbians, guides to women’s bars and lesbian parties,  comics, fiction, reviews of media and even horoscopes. 

At the same time, LOUD (Lesbians of Unusual Drive) was created as a sex-positive organization. They took their communications online, to a lesbian-focused BBS and, eventually a blog. Inevitably, these media would still provide space for sharing event information, personal ads, comics and interviews, opinions, stories and news about lesbian life. 

Among the comics creators being published in these magazines and on these websites were names that would go on to put out self-published works at the increasingly popular comic markets being held in Tokyo and other Japanese cities. These doujinshi could be informative publications about gay life or fan works pairing up characters from popular anime or manga series. Even well-known novelists got their start in these magazines, in which chapters, that would later be collected, were originally published.

Lesbian newsletters had morphed from typed and mimeographed creations to slick publications with color photos, original art and stories, but the core concepts – stories and news about lesbian life – remained at the center.

These lesbian newsletters provided an environment that fostered creativity by and for lesbians, covered issues of immediate interest to lesbians and made it possible for young artists to create lesbian work long before the word “lesbian” was something one uttered in public. Some of these artists moved on to mainstream publishers and left their lesbian roots behind them in order to reach a broader audience. Other artists went on to build a following by creating parody comics of popular series and evolving over time to creating original art that was picked up by magazine publishers.  Many of the most popular names in Yuri manga got their start this way, using the  springboard of lesbian communications to launch a career.

And, in this way, these lesbian communications – these newsletters, magazines and doujinshi – made room for an entire generation of lesbian artists to openly draw the stories they wanted to read, about the characters they wanted to read about, and helped to eventually give birth to the Yuri genre.

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Yoshiya Nobuko’s Hana Monogatari, Part 2 (花物語 下)

April 6th, 2017

Today I award myself a Yuri History Achievement Badge. I have finished Yoshiya Nobuko’s Hana Monogatari, Part 2 (花物語 下).

So many dead girls.

Girls died from starvation, illness, train accident, ship sinking, and at least one threw herself off a tower. It would be creative if it were, say MURCIÉLAGO, but as it it wasn’t, it was actually a little distressing.

The second half of the series continues the trend we saw in the first half of the collection, as stories became longer and longer as the series went on. In some cases, it worked and others not so much. I will say this about Yoshiya-sensei’s writing – as she has more time/page count to spend on story, she never fell back into lazy writing. Characters get more developed and fleshed out and while large, overarching themes repeat, none of the stories are themselves repetitious.

This second half is notable for containing the fascinating, yet ultimately depressing, Yellow Rose (which has been wonderfully translated by Dr. Sarah Frederick and is available digitally. I recommend it highly and hope you’ll all consider picking it up  For a mere $2.99, you can read one of Nobuko’s best-known, and genuinely interesting stories.

Of the two stories that stick with me, most I have completely failed to remember which flowers they were attached to. ^_^; One, exceedingly long story, spoke of two sisters, one plain and of average intelligence and accomplishment who sacrifices everything to help her musically talented and attractive younger sister to thrive after they are orphaned. It was such a massive ball of misery that just kept dragging on. It never became hopeless, it just didn’t end, and then she died. Well, then. But her sister, at least, did thrive, and I suppose that made it all worth it. Somehow. 

My second-favorite tale was about a young woman who lived alone with her mother and younger sister who quits school to begin working. The description of the office workplace, with the female secretarial and typist pools working with the male staff was fabulous. It was if suddenly we were catapulted from the turn of the century into a 20th century background that we would instantly find recognizable. Men and women smoking in the office(!) and the young typist forming a strong affinity for the woman who ran the typist pool. It was all so 1930s urban. I could picture the clothes very clearly. ^_^ This stood out because, along with Yellow Rose, it portrayed a young woman becoming a professional typist as a kind of freedom and also as a kind of bondage.

Also very interestingly, the second half includes bullying at school – of the sniping behind one’s back kind – and a few stories which were built around betrayal.

If there was one theme, though, that kept repeating, it was the way in which young women interacted with the technologies of the day. From a steam train ride through a horrible frightening storm, to war-time telegraphs, to typing, this books is set firmly in the 20th century in a way that the first half just wasn’t. City vs country was another motif. A number of the stories contrasted urban vs rural. It was pretty obvious that Yoshiya-sensei herself favored the city, but that meant that she often had her characters defend the rural areas with vehemence.

Hana Monogatari was less inside it’s own head than the dense and self-absorbed Yaneura ni Nishojo. The short-story format gave Yoshiya-sensei a chance to really delve into creating different scenarios and the characters who would inhabit them. We spend enough to time with characters, to (in many cases, ) predict the character’s reactions. There’s less frivolity and phantasm in this half, but instead it is filled with a loving look at modern Japanese life in the 1930s through the eyes of young women who lived or died during that time.

Ratings:

Overall – 9

I’m pretty sure that, despite the privation and deaths, I enjoyed the collection as a whole. ^_^ But “Moyuruhana” from the first half still wins and I hope one day to read that in translation. 

 

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A [Very] Brief History of Yuri

May 22nd, 2016

Here are the full text and graphics I used in my presentation at the Tokyo Comics Showcase, Vol. 1, on May 3, 2016 as part of Tokyo Rainbow Pride. If you have 8 minutes, you can understand where Yuri came from and the why of what you’re looking at.

May 24 update: The video now has a choice of Japanese or English subtitles.  ^_^

If you’d like to use the text and/or graphics for a Yuri Panel of your own, please feel free to contact me!

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