We now come to the last of what are traditionally seen as the four main genres created by anime and manga (I personally believe there are more but that is for another time).
This week we cover gay fiction. This has been around for a while in manga, but there are some more unorthodox branches. One of these is “shonen-ai”, which began in the 1970s and has stories that are homo-romantic, often covering relationships between younger teenage boys, often aimed at girls. However, in the 1980s another branch began, which featured more erotic stories with gay men, marketed at women. This became “yaoi”, also known as “boys’ love”, which we will be covering here. To get an idea of the content, the word “yaoi” comes from phrase “Yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi” – “No peak, no fall, no meaning”.
One of the longest running yaoi series is the comedy Junjo Romantica. The manga version has released 17 printed volumes since 2002 and an anime adaptation was broadcast in 2008.
The main arc of the story covers 18-year-old Misaki Takahashi, a college student who ends up being tutored by and moving in with 28-year-old author Akihiko Usami. Misaki discovers that Akihiko actually writes yaoi, has won awards for his writing and is gay himself. Akihiko also has a huge amount of cuddly toys in his bedroom and is seemingly hopeless at household tasks. As a result, Misaki ends up not only having to do his studies, but do all the cooking and cleaning in Akihiko’s luxury apartment.
Akihiko originally got to know Misaki via Misaki’s elder brother Takahiro, for whom he held an unrequited love. However, in the first episode we learn that Takahiro gets engaged to be married to a woman. As a result of this Akihiko begins to fall in love with Misaki. At first Misaki is hesitant, but eventually he does begin to embrace Akihiko and love flourishes, even if Misaki does get annoyed by some of Akihiko’s unorthodox behaviour.
As well as this, there are also two other story lines that follow in tandem. These are the “Junjo Egotist” story between cold literature professor Hiroki Kamijo and student Nowaki Kusama; and the “Junjo Terrorist” story between Hiroki’s co-worker Yo Miyagi and his ex-brother-in-law Shinobu Takatsuki.
Now it has to be said that with three different plot lines in the series it does get a bit confusing. Luckily there is little cross-referencing and each story is confined to their own episodes.
There is however quite a bit to be said in praise of the series. For starters it is rather funny. The main relationship between Misaki and Akihiko is the best one. Akihiko is the dominant partner in the relationship (the “seme” to use yaoi jargon) but he would be somewhat hopeless in live without the more submissive Misaki (the “uke”). You do feel sorry for Misaki, having to cope with all of Akihiko’s demands. Also, if you are a TV newspaper critic then you will be delighted to know that unlike the British sitcom Vicious, you do not hear any studio audience laughter at all (although I think those people are just being fussy).
The other more obvious appeal is the sex. There are gay sex scenes throughout the series. However, before you get over-excited, you do not see any penises or that sort of thing, as it is agreed by those in the anime industry that genitalia is censored. Most of the scenes consist of the emotion on the partners, interspersed with written captions expressing the character’s emotions. It fits the yaoi context perfectly. There is sex, no real beginning or end, and there is no real deep meaning for the scenes to be added. It is there to entertain, mainly the ladies, but if you are a gay man, bisexual or pansexual it is still fun.
The series has been released on DVD on Region 1 by the company Right Stuf. Sadly none of Right Stuf’s material is available in Region 2 at the moment, so Region 1 will have to do unless there is a pleasant change.