Raito BL e Yokoso: Ownsha (ed.)

ライトBLWe’re still celebrating all the wonder and magic that is men loving men for the voyeuristic entertainment of women, in case you were wondering. And if you missed them, you have a chance to win some swag featuring said men. And winning swag means you won’t have to embarrass yourself buying lady porn in a bookstore! Clearly, you have no reason not to throw your hat in the ring.

But perhaps you are scratching your head at all of this. BL? What is this Boys’ Love? And who are these fujoshi? Why is August 1st so damned special to these crazy people? Perhaps you started banging your head against your desk at this point. And it can be confusing to the uninitiated. BL is a sprawling industry/subculture now: games, novels, manga, CDs! And then all the tiny divisions within each of those divisions! And what if you want to get to the roots of this phenomenon? There is just so much!

Thankfully, someone realized that there had to be a better way and put together Raito BL e Yokoso (Welcome to Light BL), a fairly thorough overview of the state of BL as of October 2012 (it took me a while to get to this one, sorry). Now if you’ve ever wondered about any aspect of BL, you can get some answers without ever having to talk to a frenzied fan (as long as you can read Japanese).

The collection kicks off with a general overview of BL as a genre and the objective of the book, which is basically to show people what they’re missing with BL. A lot of BL artists these days are doing non-BL work, like est em, Asumiko Nakamura, and Aniya Yuiji, and  developing non-BL followings. The idea is that if you’re a fan of their more mainstream stuff, you’re probably looking for more of their work to read and that search is going to bring you to BL at some point. So the goal here is to ease you into this freaky world of man-love and make you comfortable walking into that corner of the bookstore with all the sexy man-on-man covers.

After the introduction are in-depth and interesting interviews with crossover artists est em and Tomoko Yamashita, both of whom discuss what it is about BL that attracts them and why they keep working in the genre even after being published in more mainstream genres. These interviews are followed by a lighthearted conversation between Aniya Yuiji and Haruko Kumota, both BL artists who have been finding more mainstream success. (I actually came across Yuiji through her mainstream work before discovering she also did BL stuff. I think that means I fail as a fujoshi.)

But the most interesting part of the interview section was the conversation with foodie Ricca Fukuda. A BL fan from before the word BL was coined, from way back in the days before any BL magazines existed, she talks about how she fell in love with man-man action because of a line in an essay by yaoi pioneer Keiko Takemiya, and how she kept her love of boys to herself because BL actually used to be something you kept in the closet. (And still is for a lot of women, as evinced by the “bookcase for show” entry in the BL glossary at the end of the book.)

I’ve read a lot about the history of BL, but this was the first time I’d seen that history from the perspective of someone who actually came up in it. You also get to see this in the roundtable between four women working in the publishing industry who happen to be dedicated BL fans. Two of the women are in their forties, which means that like Fukuda, they came up before the Internet, before access to BL was anywhere near easy, while one of the women is in her twenties and came to BL after happening upon some slash fiction online (an experience that seems to be common to younger women, judging from the interviews with fans I’ve done myself). The last woman is in her thirties and ends up being an interesting middle point, relating to both side of the spectrum. I intended to basically skim this section because who cares about some anonymous women talking about BL, but it turned out to be a very insightful and engaging discussion.

After interviews and insights is a guide to the latest BL, and this is actually the part of the collection that I thought was weakest. The editors limited themselves to works published between July 2011 and September 2012, meaning that, although they do take up a number of interesting authors like Sakae Kusama, they’re instantly dating the book. After all, I didn’t pick this book up until now, almost a year after their cut-off. So these books are definitely not the “latest” at this point. I would’ve preferred to see a mix of titles, the top titles of the last few years plus a few key titles from BL history. After all, a lot of the classic pre-BL stories are still in print, and given the book’s mission to introduce people to BL, some kind of historical grounding like this would’ve been a nice addition.

The last few sections of the book include a glossary for all the standard BL terms (a boon to translator me; this one goes on the reference book shelf!), a section pointing out trends in BL and lovers of BL (my favourite was how BL lovers start shipping characters in every other genre), and the awesome “Nioi-kei Book Guide”. Nioi-kei is such a great word, I want to hug and take it on a date to the movies. Here, it basically means “smells like BL” and is used to talk about works that were not intended to be BL, but could totally be BL. The examples given  include Japanese lit classics like Kokoro by Natsume Soseki and Run, Melos! by Osamu Dazai but don’t stop there. Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is a no-brainer, but one that particularly made me giggle was Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin. Reading the nioi-kei section made me want to go back and re-read every book I’ve ever read for subversive suggestions of man-love.

To be honest, though, I’m not sure how much this book is going to succeed in its goal of bringing the undecided into the BL fold. I picked it up because I’m already interested in the genre and wanted to read the interviews with Yamashita and em. I can’t imagine shelling out 1200 yen to learn about a genre I was ambivalent about. Still, despite its failings, I’m glad the editors took the time to put this together. It added a depth to my understanding of BL that I didn’t even realize was lacking.

PS. Now that you are all hepped up about BL, go enter my giveaway (details at the bottom of the page)! You have until tomorrow night!!


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