When your day job is translating Boys’ Love manga, you get to see a laht of BL. You see the many, many insane scenarios dreamed up by BL authors and you wonder just who is into this uke/seme pairing, whether you want to or not. Like the one where the uke was a municipal tax collector and the seme was his adopted brother. (That one both squicked me out and bored me to tears. A tax agent? Really?) Or the one where the seme is a muscle-bound pervy play on a children’s story and the uke is his fawning acolyte. (This one was very, very funny.)
So when my eye happened upon the anothology Dame BL, I grabbed it immediately. After all I’ve seen, I found it hard to believe that there were actually any BL stories or pairings that were off-limits. After reading the whole thing cover to cover, I can now say with some authority, yes, yes, there are limits to what is acceptable in BL. For instance, if your story is set in a Nazi concentration camp. Yeah. That’s in here. (And surprisingly well done too, by ZIN.)
The whole thing starts off with the very strong “Be Here to Love Me” by Haruko Kumota. Our hero has a serious foot fetish and spends much of his free time browsing the sexy foot pictures on the blog of a woman named Uraeri. But it turns out, of course, that she is no woman at all, but his feminine coworker. Let the sexing begin! But actually, this piece is interesting because of how it addresses gender identity and sexuality in general. When you are a man, but you’re built like a woman and constantly mistaken for one, how do you identify your own sexuality?
I’m not just projecting. The feminine character in fact spends some time explaining that it was through his blog that he was able to come to terms with his sexuality and his body. The story is also playful and fun as hell, not to mention the smooth lines and minimal backgrounds keeping you focussed on what’s important, these two guys figuring themselves and each other out.
The other stand-out in this collection for me was “Natsu no Saigo ni Yosete” (Closer at Summer’s End) by Machie Uematsu. This story definitely reminded me of the est em story “en el parque” since it also features an older gay couple and that is the only other BL story I know on that subject. But unlike est em’s outing into this very limited genre, the couple here are at the end, with one man on his death bed. Yeah, it is basically sad as hell. It’s also beautifully written, with art to match, and continues to bounce around in my head even now.
There’s also a story in which the uke is an inanimate object, a story with a guy making out with a robot, and one story that is more bara (gay manga) than BL. So yes, these artists are indeed pushing what is acceptable in the world of BL. There is a lot of dame in these pages.
But not every story was so obviously off-limits, so I was glad for the page at the end explaining just what about that particular story made an editor somewhere say “No way”. Like est em’s piece about a Muay Thai fighter throwing matches. I enjoyed reading it, filled as it is with her striking art and well-conceived characters, but it seemed well within the boundaries of the acceptable. But the explanation at the end notes that she had never drawn anything about Muay Thai. I don’t know if I really buy that as truly dame (not allowed).
Mixed in with the various stories of things that are not allowed in the world of BL were manga essays depicting the author’s own thoughts on the world of BL and their experiences with dame BL. I particularly liked Sachiko Takeuchi’s musings on all the things she could draw that any sane editor would shoot down. Such as pairing a mortician and a newly arrived corpse. I love that she notes that it could be the mortician’s lover recently deceased and arriving on his table or it could just be a random corpse. True love. I also love Delico Psyche’s essay exploring the idea of BL with a trans man and all the reasons her editors shot her down.
There were a couple of pieces in here that left me indifferent, including the last piece about bicycle racing. But for the most part, I was delighted and entertained by how much fun these artists were obviously having, drawing whatever they wanted without the constraints of what is going to be acceptable to run in one of the BL magazines. And maybe my tastes just run more toward the unacceptable when it comes to BL. Does that make me a super fujoshi?