Last week we looked at the lack of animation that is aimed at women. There is also one genre of anime, mentioned some time ago in this column that’s aimed at women, that we do not have in the west, which is yaoi – male homoerotic / homoromantic fiction for women.
Hard-core yaoi fans (aka “fujoshi” – literally “rotten women”), also celebrate their own “Yaoi Day”. The word “yaoi” sounds like the Japanese for the numbers 8-0-1 (“ya-o-i”) and as Japan, like the USA, dates with the month before the day, it is normally celebrated on August 1st. However, as this Wednesday is 8th January, it seems only right for us in Britain look at a yaoi now.
Ai no Kusabi originally began as a novel, written by Rieko Yoshihara back in the 1980s. So far two attempts at animating as an Original Video Anime (OVA) it have been made, the first was not a strictly faithful adaptation and was made between 1992-94. A second, more accurate version began in 2012 and has had four of a planned twelve episodes released so far. Ai no Kusabi is noted for several reasons: it is considered one of the best yaoi ever written, featuring not just the homoerotic theme (which at times contains scenes that could be considered very controversial in Britain) but also setting it in a dystopian sci-fi world. Also, more trivially, the title is seemingly impossible to translate satisfactory into English. Most go with “The Space Between”, but it’s not entirely perfect.
It is set in the far future on the planet Amoi, which is ruled by an AI computer called Jupiter. The planet’s “Elites” reside in the capital of Tanagura, whose genetically engineered people rule in a class is system ordered by hair colour, with blondes at the top and black haired at the bottom. Around Tanagura are various cities states, including Midas, a pleasure quarter covering just about every sinful pleasure you can think of. Lastly there is Ceres, where a long time ago the people rebelled and wanted independence. They got it, but soon discovered that with no-one willing to help them they were soon forgotten about. Thus Ceres became a slum removed from the map.
One resident of Ceres is a teenage gang leader known as “Riki the Black”, due to his black hair, eyes and attire. One day he and some friends sneak into Midas where he bumps into one of the blonde Elites, Iason Mink. Later on they meet again and their relationship becomes more physical. Riki eventually tries to leave his gang and become a courier. However, he soon discovers that Iason wants what most people consider to be some “mongrel” to be his “pet”. Riki hates this and constantly tries to resist Iason’s advances. Riki however then comes to discover that Iason is actually taking big risks in keeping him. Most “pets” are discarded after a year, but Iason wants to keep him longer, and thus the relationship grows more.
The plot of Ai no Kusabi is highly developed. Possibly the fact it is based on a novel rather than a manga helps as it allows the writer to fully envision the location without being restricted to a limited number of pages. Rieko Yoshihara uses the sci-fi setting to bring the Amoi to life, as well as using it to create some special elements to heighten the erotic aspect. For example, the “pets” are usually marked in some way, such as an earring. However, Iason forces Riki to wear a ring around his… well I am unsure if I am allowed to mention where it is placed, but you can probably guess. Not only that, but this ring has… certain functions.
Some parts of the story may also shock. One of these occurs after Riki and Iason have sex for the first time. Later on when Riki applies for his courier job, the man interviewing him asks Riki his age. In the original novel he states he is: “Almost sixteen”. After reading that it is understand if you start to panic about this book’s content. However, it should be stressed that content seems to be illegal (as is evidenced by any bookshop that stocks “Lolita”, whose title character is even younger), in this world the age of consent is thirteen, and later on in the novel Riki states that the one sexual activity he finds unforgivable is underage sex. This however does not stop those releasing the anime version from being over-cautious. In the English release when Riki is asked his age the subtitles claim he says, “Eighteen”.
The original novel, whose last volume was published in English only recently, makes for compelling reading. It is certainly better than other sexy, slightly kinky and rather awful novels that come to mind. Whether you are a woman, are gay, or someone else altogether, it still makes for a great read. Hopefully the rest of the series will be animated soon.
The Ai no Kusabi novels are released in eight parts by Digital Manga Publishing. The 2012 OVA anime is only released in Region 1 by Anime Works.