This is something I have personally been wanting to write since 2012, but in all honesty, my writing skills were not at a point where I was confident that I could get across with my thoughts and feelings on the subject.
In a way you see, this will be an essay from my personal point of view of the yaoi genre from a long time fan’s perspective. I feel however I have to explain myself as a person for my point of view to get across. This is also an introduction into the next couple of reviews I will be posting here, so think of it as a segway into my thoughts and feelings on a genre that for the most part I think is misunderstood from those outside its fandom. I will not deny that there are certain beliefs outsiders have on those within the fandom that was and to a certain extent still are true but at times can get blown way out of proportion to the point for myself at least that has been insulting.
I have always been a lover of character-driven stories and this for me comes from my love of reading. As a child in primary school, I remember reading Goosebumps books and the Animorphs series and enjoying them immensely because I loved the characters in the stories. Later as a teenager, I started reading classic literature with books like ‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ and ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ (which is still today my all-time favorite novel) as well as reading anything I could find by Stephen King.
It was in my teenage years that I also became obsessed with a television show that looking back now I probably should not have been watching at the age I was, but the characters of the series just sucked me in, their drama was my drama. I laughed along with the characters, I was on the edge of my seat when something major happened to the characters. The show was Queer as Folk, and I instantly fell in love with all the characters in the show. I enjoyed the melodrama of the series and the taboo nature of the subject matter within the story, they talked about things like homophobia, drugs, addiction, and aids. These were all things I had never seen in any sort of media before and my young brain sucked it all in like a curious sponge watching something she probably wasn’t supposed to be.
It was also around this time that I discovered fan fiction and though I did not actively seek out male on male stories I eventually found them within the Pokemon, Dragonball Z and Ultimate Muscle fandom. It wasn’t until later that I would learn the word yaoi and what it entailed and like many I just assumed when I found out what hentai was that yaoi was just a sub-genre of that. I will admit I thought that for a long time and I think there are a lot of people out there that probably think that today as well. As a word yes that is what it is porn, but as a fandom, it encompasses so much more.
There was a moment that changed this perspective for me and drew me into the fandom even deeper. I was browsing an anime forum which I had been a member of for a while (it was within this forum that I gained the nickname Mistress of Yaoi because I was able to find yaoi fanfiction for other users who were looking for certain pairings) that I learned of an anime being subbed online and posted on YouTube called Gravitation. After the first episode I was hooked on the characters and from that point on I was waiting each week for the next episode to come online so I could watch it. Gravitation was the first anime I actively sought out to watch online and when I learned much time later that it had an English release here in Australia I could not wait to get the series and watch it dubbed. To be young and naive, anyone within the anime/yaoi community knows the infamy of that dub, it was an early Right Stuff dub so yeah if you have not seen it you can probably imagine what it is like. Not that I have anything against Right Stuff but that’s something to write about another time.
I started watching more anime of the yaoi genre on YouTube (this was, of course, a time before Crunchyroll and before the whole YouTube copyright saga) and found other titles of the yaoi genre over the years including Zetsuai/Bronze, Haru Wo Daiteita, Fuyu no Semi, Okane ga Nai, Earthian, Loveless and of course the original Ai no Kusabi anime adaptation just to name a few. I enjoyed all these stories but I was not blind either to how bad some of them were plot-wise many filled with giant gaping plot holes if you had not read the source material, something that can be very jarring to a newcomer to a series. There is also sadly a lot of anime in the genre that ends with the ‘read the manga to get the rest’ plot.
Haru wo Daiteita’s plot jumps all over the place and can be very confusing unless you have read the manga, especially the second episode which leaves you with major plot points completely missing. Another example of major plot points missing comes with the anime adaptation of Love Pistols (a manga series that I adore) the anime tried to put too much plot within the two-episode series and skimmed over important plot points just telling you barely enough to know what is going on. Okane Ga Nai, on the other hand, is an anime that yes finishes the story within the series, but sadly has an ending that is so open like it’s hinting at something more but to get that more you have to read the manga. (Of which I eventually did do)
When a person mentions yaoi the first thing that comes to the mind of many people within and outside the fandom is the idea of two attractive males fucking each other and a lot of yaoi stories are exactly this, there is enough plot to get character A and B together and then yaoi goodness, anime examples of this include Level C and Sensitive Pornograph. There are many theories out there as to why women like myself like these kinds of stories and believe me I have heard them all even the insulting ones.
I do not doubt that there are fans out there that get some kind of sexual gratification from reading and watching these stories but this is not always the case. How do I know this? Because I am one of the viewers that do not get that kind of gratification from yaoi. For someone like myself it all started out as simply morbid curiosity and to a certain extent, it still is. There is also the sheer hilarity of how bad and unrealistic some of these scenes can be or how some scenes can just make your heart melt with pure emotion. (This more than likely explains my own personal obsession the last few years of Transformers Yaoi, well that and the fun that can come perverting something so… not sexy would not be completely right but that’s perhaps something I will write about later on down the line.)
Yaoi is such a broad genre when one thinks about it, we at one point called the softer side of things Shonen Ai but that kind of all changed after the release of Boku no Pico and the word became attached to shota-yaoi. I personally find it ironic the softer stuff is referred to as Boys Love or BL these days considering the English translation of Shonen Ai. You will find all sorts of stories within the genre. Coming of age stories like those in Loveless and Gravitation to a certain extent, to stories of fighting the status quo like in Ai no Kusabi and Fuyu no Semi. There’s also porn if that’s what you are looking for though just look up Sensitive Pornograph and if you are lucky you might find the uncensored version.