Canola Confession – On Yaoi

A confession; I use to read yaoi. I mean that in the most stereotypical way possible. Mid-teens (14-ish for me), was given freedom on the internet a bit, and I was consuming a lot of manga that were male dominated shonen stories. I feel like that’s a fairly normal rabbit hole female fans, specifically straight female fans, tend to find yaoi.

First it’s the fan fictions, for me it was fanfiction.net before they got censored. Then it moved into fanart, especially in my peak deviantart days. Until I stumbled across the translated doujinshi, a topic I still have more opinions on (another day I promise), and finally actual yaoi. Like original story, formally published yaoi.

For a teenager, it was a showcasing of sexual deviation and it was dirty. Two people of the same gender aren’t supposed to fall in love, thanks heteronormativity and lack of LGBTA+ representation, so it’s naughty. It’s a sexy, dirty secret that was fun to read. Fun to consume like brainless popcorn on weekends and late nights between study sessions.

Until I grew up, i.e. age 18 realizing that a lot of yaoi… wasn’t good. It’s not that it’s two men are in love with each other, that’s perfectly fine. But yaoi back in the day was incredibly problematic.

For one, it’s fetish material. Yaoi is not gay representation. Yaoi is not LGBTQA+ representation. Yaoi does not talk about the issues gay men, specifically gay men in Japan actually face. It’s written largely by women, for women’s consumption. And that’s fine. Just don’t try to make the argument that it’s gay representation because it is not.

Yaoi back in the mid-2000’s had very heavy handed in being twisted and problematic. Characters would be raped, and then fall in love with their rapist. Characters never asked for consent. If they did it was a tactic for the manipulative partner to get what they wanted (usually non-con or dub-con kink sex). Condoms didn’t exist. Relationship details were completely ignored, and the ‘relationship’ would be entirely sexual. The types of sex these character would have would be extreme forms of BDSM, specific kinks and fetishes. It was exploitative, wholly fetish material.

Let me be clear; there’s nothing wrong with kink sex. However, always pairing kinks without consent, protection, or with rape, even as fantasy, is not okay. It’s incredibly damaging to those who engage in kink sex in a healthy and consenting manner. It makes talking about kink, or fetishes even more difficult for those who want to explore them in a healthy manner. Not to mention that anyone whose been in a relationship built entirely on sexual gratification are typically not safe, satisfactory or positive relationships.

Moving on a lot of these stories were poorly written. Every plot point was written to include a sex scene or set up the next chapter for one. The circumstances for these two characters to interact were usually trite at best. The conflict was so paper thin that it’s laughable. In fact I think it was a secret gag to make the most unrealistic and wild scenarios just to gain notoriety, my conspiracy nothing more. Not to mention, the art qualify was… very memeable debatable.

For awhile, if you read enough yaoi you’d get burned out. The plots, characters, premises were all recycled. I got bored reading office worker to sex friend yaoi #472896. For me it was the awakening of the truly problematic parts of this sub-genre, that I decided to stop reading. I started to look for other genres to get my heart racing (hello actual representation, realizing I wasn’t straight and josei series), and largely left the yaoi consumption side of being a female fan of anime and manga.

So, it’s been close to about five years since I’ve ever really read a yaoi story. Sure living in Japan and frequenting bookstores when I can, I’ve seen then newer titles and been… surprised. Largely by the art, since it’s improved by scores. The features look well balanced, and the newer character actually look like individuals. They feature a diverse set of body types and faces, which is an incredible improvement from the days of the color-swapped looking guys from the early 2000’s titles. The cover art for many of these is gorgeous and striking that I’ve been tempted to pick up copies. However, money and the side-eying if there would be furigana or not (the answer; usually not), and remembering the problematic troupes and stories, I have abstained.

But hey in the age of the internet and more yaoi titles being officially translated, and with an abundance of extra time on my hands; why not take a peak at some titles?

So I did. And wow.

There’s still a lot of problematic trashy titles.

But also, damn. Some yaoi titles have actually committed to… being better then just yaoi. In particular, I’ve read two titles that managed to break the prior notions I had about yaoi. They were, “Rouge” by Komachi Katsura, and then “Jackass!” by Scarlet Beriko.

It’s time to mention that I’ll talking about some titles with spoilers for context. So you have been warned.

First I want to talk about “Rouge”. The series is a typical yankee story, with the exception of it being about two boys falling in love. In fact it feels wrong to call this series a yaoi, because there’s a distinct lack of sex scenes. Don’t get me wrong they’re still there, but not every chapter, and not every single event is leading up to sex surprisingly.

In fact, “Rouge”, actually talks about relationships and sex and taking it slow. Nagato, the blonde, has very strong feelings towards Ai, a rather feminine appearing peer. Nagato is actually incredibly bewildered by the notion that he wants Ai, romantically. Ai of course is completely uninterested and regularly resists Nagato’s advances. Instead of the the normal troupe, that Nagato would just take advantage of Ai and the steamy sex would ensue; Nagato resists. He verbalizes his desires to Ai, and tells him that he’ll wait for Ai to want him back. My dudes, when I read that I was blown away. They’re actually talking about mutually reincorporated feelings. What a concept.

Of course, this is not without it’s tragedy. Ai was sexually assaulted by his upperclassmen, and was pretty much considered the ‘toilet’ of these seniors. Nagato had been vocal againest his peers circulating these rumors, often becoming upset at the mere mention. These were just rumors, but Ai confirms them to Nagato as a way to get him to stop pursing him. Nagato is surprised, but then recognizes that he’ll take it even slower for Ai. This leads into a latter conversation, when the two of them are comfortable, about what Ai experienced.

Ai says that despite having done ‘this’ many times, that he was still inexperianced. In fact Ai is completely uncomfortable with being gratified during intercourse. So Nagato encourages Ai to also be satisfied since sex is between two people. Saying “We need to let you finish”. To which Ai retorts with, “I don’t need to come!”.

Nagato response being, “then it isn’t sex”. Which is a pretty powerful statement to make given Ai’s circumstances. It indirectly acknowledges that what Ai was forced to do wasn’t sex. There was no consent, there was no satisfaction for Ai, and it was not okay. It’s not a perfect response, don’t get me wrong. I wish Ai’s experiance was called exactly what it was verses being labeled, ‘not sex’. But But I’ll take what I can get. It’s a step in the right direction.

“Rouge” does a lot of things right for Ai, acknowleding that he’s not dirty or unworthy given what happened to him. Similarly, Nagato isn’t strange nor does he develop abusive tendencies when he comes into his feelings for Ai. They both take their time and as slowly as four chapters can take it, develop their relationship.

I’ve recently come to find out there was a prequel, “Aka to Kuro” about Yamato, and Yukito, two other characters in the series. Additionally there’s a sequel, “La Vie en Rose”, which continues the story of Nagato and Ai. So I’m hoping I’ll have the chance to read that soon.

The second title, is “Jackass!” or “Jackass! Who said it was okay to touch?”, which was available in English by SuBLime back in 2017. The story is of Keisuke Hara, a rough around the edges average dude, and his very handsome best friend Masayuki Shinoda. Thanks to Keisuke’s sister, he ends up changing into his gym uniform, with his sister’s pantyhose around his leg. Masayuki notices Keisuke’s trouble, and helps get him out of class to avoid embarrassment. While Keisuke thinks everything is all well and good, but Masayuki isn’t quite ready to let Keisuke change and laugh it off. Turns out Masayuki has a pantyhose fetish, and biggest plot twist ever; Keisuke happens to have his dream legs to go with his fetish.

So, “Jackass!” starts on the right, but also the wrong foot. Again, I don’t like immediately adding a kink to potential homosexual attraction. It just comes off as very fetish-y relationship verses a healthy relationship. In fact, Masayuki disclosing this fetish to Keisuke actually becomes a later plot point as to why you can’t and shouldn’t use someone’s kink as manipulation into a relationship. Keisuke is a piece of shit for lording it over Masayuki, but also gets his ass handed to him verbally by his gay and out cousin, Katsumi. Keisuke also learns the hard way that manipulating feelings through kink never works out.

In addition, “Jackass!” takes a lot of time to point out any sort of manipulation isn’t good. Whether it is manipulating someone based on a fetish, or having blackmail on a classmate about their romantic partner. Even to the extreme of manipulating a non-outed peer with sexual exploration, and later blackmail get it’s talking points. The latter two of these manipulations done by our love him but hate him, Katsumi.

Katsumi badly plays into the predatory, pretty-boy gay stereotype. Katsumi love bombs their school nurse, Aramaki, with one-sided feelings. Which is already icky because it’s a student-teacher romance. What doesn’t help is that Katsumi admits, “Sensei wasn’t even gay to start with”. Which is just a rather disgusting sub-plot that was realistically but so uncomfortably addressed within this series. It does come off as glamorizing student-teacher relationships, making my enjoyment significantly less. Thank god it’s just a sub-plot. And Aramaki as a character actually makes appropreicate adult choices.

What manages to keep this series in my recommendations is Keisuke and Masayuki’s relationship. They’re real friends first before this… situation occurs. Keisuke isn’t disgusted by Masayuki’s kink, nor is he repulsed by his own attraction. The same with Masayuki, he largely goes with the flow of the situation rather then over analyzing it. It helps that Keisuke can lean on Katsumi, despite his faults, for feeling validated in his attraction.

There’s some unclear motives with Masayuki. He seems to attract men and women as friends, but not quite as lovers. Yet, Masayuki does end up saying in response to if he’s into men as well, “Not at all. That’s why I’m so confused! And Keisuke of all people! But…”. He then reflects a bit more before continuing, “I think I’d be okay with this. I think I’d be okay with you”.

There’s the acknowledgement that it never occurred to Masayuki he could be attracted to men, but he doesn’t seem to be off-put by the sudden attraction to Keisuke or his legs. In fact in a way, Masayuki seems to regard this as being preferable since he knows Keisuke more then his previous relationships. Of course, being two teenage boys with hormones, with typical block-headed antics, the couple take the time to sort out their feelings, where they want and see the relationship going in the future.

Another positive, is that it’s made clear that Masayuki has indeed had sex before with various women. Thus, before Keisuke and Masayuki engage in sex, Masayuki instructs Keisuke to fish out a condom from his pants. It might come off as a bit telling about Masayuki and having a condom ready. Yet, I’m more excited that having a condom was shown, and well even made a little sexy to use one.

I want to give some beautiful conclusion about these two series, and how much yaoi has improved since I last read it. I will admit neither “Rouge” nor “Jackass!” are perfect series by a long shot. In comparison to their much earlier contemporaries, the progress in portraying more realistic and more reasonable expectations for the genre rather then just gratifying smut. (Don’t get me wrong the occasional gratifying smut is good, just in excess that was seen earlier was, well, excessive.) I’m not going to necessarily recommend these two titles, as I’m unsure of availability but if you do come across them, give them a perusal. At the very least, these two titles gives me a bit more hope for yaoi.


9 comments

  1. I’m personally really glad you decided to give yaoi a second chance! I hope you get a chance to look at some of Scarlet Beriko’s other works because she’s one of my favorite storytellers in the genre right now. Theres another series that I think would be right up your alley but I cant remember the name of it or the mangaka for the life of me. 😔

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s been surprising to see the changes so I’m hoping to see more titles like these! I’m absolutely in love with Scarlet Beriko’s art so I’m planning on trying to read more titles ASAP!

      Oh no! I hate when that happens. If you remember it by chance please send it my way! In the meantime do you have any other titles to recommend?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’d say the Classmates series by Asumiko Nakamura is a generally good rec, but Our Dining Table by Mita Ori is one I’d suggest as a more lighthearted shonen-ai work. Most of what I own is more on the raunchy end of the spectrum since I needed those for some academic work but I’d be more than glad to trade off recommendations when I come across ones I think you would be interested in! 😁

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve heard about Classmates which gets nothing but positive press so I’ll put it on my ptr list! I think I’ve heard about Our Dining Table before… I feel like someone reviewed that sometime lol. But I’ll put that on the list too!

        Raunchy is okay in my book. Although I am incredibly curious now that you’ve mentioned it being for academic purposes?? And yes!! Please send series my way and I’m more then happy (when I read more) to send you some too!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I found this a very fascinating read as a long term fujoshi who began their journey in the fandom back in the early 2000s and I will admit that yes it is fetish material and a lot, and I mean a lot of it is problematic but it is a trend I am seeing decrease very slowly over the last few years. It is a genre that will always be a fetish and problematic because that is what it is, it will never be an accurate portrayal of gay men but it is not meant to be that and it does not represent it as so, which is why I am ok with it even with all its problems, its an escape for me that I will never stop enjoying.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m really glad that you read it! I really appreicate a much longer and consistent fan insight since I’m so sporadic when I read. I am glad that the more troublesome stuff is decreasing. As long as the reader’s enjoy it (and know it’s just fiction!) I say it’s all good in my book!

      Liked by 1 person

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