I am the most belated of book readers. I cannot and will not deny this. Even when I race out to the bookstore and pick up a book the day it is released, even if I then run home with it and dig in immediately, once I finish it, I’ll set it down on my desk with the best of intentions. I’m going to write about this one tomorrow! I’ll say to myself. And then tomorrow will come, and my hands will be super sore from a long day of typing out the translations that pay my rent, and I’ll look at the book on my desk and think, Okay, I will definitely get to that tomorrow. Yup! But the next day, just as I’m about to dig in and start writing ye olde thoughts, a friend will line me for drinks, and I will give that book a lick and a promise before racing down to my neighbourhood pub. Where I will no doubt talk about this book. And oh! What thoughts I’ll share with that friend!
And then I’ll get used to seeing the book on my desk, and it will stop being a thing I need to do something about; it will transform into a desk object, like the cup of pens or my computer speakers. Once this transformation occurs, the book can remain there indefinitely until the day comes when I realize I need to write about a book, but do not feel like writing about any of the books that have not yet turned into desk objects. This is when I will rediscover a book and bring it back from the land of objects into the land of books. This is what happened with the December issue of Bijutsu Techo, a special issue of the art magazine devoted to “untangling the expression of ‘relationality’”.
The ever-thoughtful Chris of TCAF directorial fame shoved this hot number into my hands soon after it came out, when we were both in Japan on Official TCAF Business (Kaigai Manga Festa! We’ll be there again this year. You should come hang out! It’s always a good time). And just looking at the cover made me squeal with delight. A sixteen page manga by Asumiko Nakamura! Interviews with Fumi Yoshinaga, Haruko Kumota, Gengoroh Tagame, and seven other amazing BL creators! Previously unpublished illustrations from est em, Koshino, and others! Not to mention the very fact of the magazine itself: an art magazine taking BL super seriously! It was enough to make any academically oriented fujoshi faint with certain anticipation. I was so excited to dig into it!
But times of Official TCAF Business are always very busy for me, so it was with great reluctance that I set this on the pile of unread books with a loving caress. And forgot about it. Until I got back to Canada. So then I really did devour it. I even live tweeted a lot of it. And of course, when I finished it, I was so excited to write about it. I had so many thoughts! So much BL proselytizing to do! But after a long day of translation, my hands were tired. And then the next day, my friend was in the neighbourhood and suggested we grab a drink. And then I got used to seeing the book on my desk and it became an object. And here we are, two months later, with me looking at the books I have read recently and not sure what I want to say about any of them. And then I saw it there, Bijutsu Techo. Your day has finally come, art magazine!
In addition to the aforementioned interviews and illustrations and general celebration of all things BL, there are some pretty great essays in here examining the form. “Shonen no Ki, Shojo no Ai” by Midori Matsui examines the “intersection of the Year 24 Group and BL manga”. Given the fairly broad nature of this thesis, the essay could have easily been twice as long as its six and a little bit pages. Matsui touches on all the key Year 24 Group moments when it comes to BL—Hagio’s Heart of Thomas, Takemiya’s Kaze to Ki no Uta—and offers brief backgrounds on both the origins of BL and just what the Year 24 Group is anyway. She then takes up a variety of BL and non-BL works in that context, with sections on dynamic sexuality in Akimi Yoshida’s work and modes of expression of real gay characters in the 2000s, plus a quick look at transgender characters in Machiko Kyo’s Cocoon.
An essay I could have lived without was the rather self-indulgent and self-justifying “Shumi no Kyodotai no Sotogawa de”, the introspective musings of Takemi Kuresawa on being a dude who doesn’t get BL manga but is pretty into shota and girls dressed as boys. Being a BL novice, he tries to enter the world of BL by relating it to his already established interest in dudes dressed as girls having sex with dudes. The whole (thankfully short) essay just seemed like a wink and a nod at dudes who don’t get BL, which felt out of place in a book that otherwise takes BL quite seriously and offers some pretty interesting analyses of the genre.
The issue also has the obligatory history of BL starting in the 1960s and reaching all the way up to the present day and the role of the Internet in BL these days, but I was pleasantly surprised by the brief overview of BL overseas. It’s only four pages, but it manages to touch on some pretty great stuff: a somewhat hilarious paragraph on slash in North America, a bit on BL in the Philippines where religion means the industry is stuck in semi-secret mode, a note on the rise of fudanshi (guys who are into BL), and a look at one of the few non-Japanese artists to make waves in the Japanese manga market, GuiltPleasure.
The editors also present a list of twenty BL manga you’ll want to read if you’re just starting out in the genre, a list that has significant overlap with my own list of recommendations for new fujoshi. Classics like Love Pistols are included, of course, but they mostly focus on newer works. I was pleased to see several of the books I’ve translated featured here, like The Night Beyond the Tricorner Window and Blue Morning, along with personal favourites equus and 10Dance. Also the funniest BL I’ve ever translated The Incredible Kintaro. If you are just starting out in BL, you really could not go wrong with this very solid list.
Despite the fact that this is the BL special issue, just under half of the magazine’s almost three hundred pages is Bijutsu Techo’s usual reviews of art shows and round-up of essays on other arty things. These are an interesting read too, but you know I only care about the BL. Fujoshi 4 lyfe!