Language and Yaoi

 photo f5877de7-59ba-4f5f-93e1-b5894b82ec51_zpsc0846d03.jpg
Free! episode 4; available on Crunchyroll


I find human language to be a fascinating thing. In college, despite having studied linguistics, I didn’t really understand or care much about it. But in becoming a fan of anime and manga it is almost impossible to avoid giving consideration to the ways languages as different as English and Japanese can fuel one another.

For all of English’s faults (redundant vocabulary, inconsistent spelling and pronunciation rules), one thing it does very well is in its ability and more importantly willingness to not only borrow words from other languages, but make those words its own. In Pacific Rim the world didn’t have a sufficient word to describe the giant monsters now attacking it, so it convincingly adopted the Japanese word “kaiju” (and less convincingly the German “jaeger” for the giant mechas it then created). This is what English does. Other languages do this too, of course, but I will be focusing on English here. If a word does not exist in English to properly describe something and does exist in another language, rather than creating a new word in its own language, it more than willingly adopts the foreign word into the lexicon.

In particular we see this with food, the universal language of culture. “Sushi” is not just a Japanese word, it means something in English. As it happens, it means the same thing in English that it does in Japanese. This is not always the case, however.

It would be easy to dismiss the changing of a word’s meaning from one language to another as a mistake or a cultural political-incorrectness, but consider the word “anime.” In Japan this word describes animation as a whole (and itself comes from a foreign source), whether foreign or domestic. In the rest of the world it means “animation from Japan,” or as I attempted to argue a few entries ago, a specific style of animation. This is what it means to make a foreign word part of the vocabulary of a language. It can mean the same thing, but it doesn’t have to. More importantly it needs to mean something on which the speakers of that language as a whole agree.

This is all, however, complicated by the existence of the internet: a global forum within which people of different language origins can interact with one another. Not only that, they can also break off from the larger whole into separate communities, creating their own lexicons and idioms. These places in the case of popular culture are called fandoms and they can change and borrow words from the languages of their members and the source material of their media in a microcosm of the way that a larger language system or country might do it.

So, let’s talk about the subject of this entry, the word “yaoi” and to a lesser degree the terms “BL” and “shounen-ai.”

In the US, stories of male homosexual romance have their own unique, separate and concurrent history from the same type of stories produced in Japan. They didn’t begin to converge, really, until the internet age, and even now still exist as somewhat separate communities, even if they share many of the same members. This is important to note, specifically because both began around the same time (the 1970s) and in mostly the same ways (fan-created works of existing properties), however they only share limited lexicon, even today.

In the US fandom these fan-created works are called “slash.” In the Japanese fandom these fan-created works became known as “yaoi.” I will refrain from too much history lesson by avoiding an explanation of why these words were chosen; there is a wealth of information readily available online already. “Slash” is actually a term that is used outside of Western fiction, also used to describe pairings in Japanese properties by Western fans, but it is rare that the term “yaoi” will be used outside the context of Japanese works or Western-created fan works of Japanese properties. There is a very deliberate cultural distinction being made. Because there is already an English term to describe this concept, the Japanese term is used in a distinctive context within its fandom group.

However, that is not the most interesting aspect of the English use of the term “yaoi.” While in Japan the terms “yaoi,” “BL” and “shounen-ai” refer to specific types of content, in the US they have come to refer, arguably incorrectly, to degrees of sexual explicitness.

Let me step back and make clear these distinctions. I know I said I would try to avoid the history lesson, but for the sake of the argument I am making, I need to elaborate. I’ve already explained the definition of “yaoi,” but “BL” and “shounen-ai” have their own origins and meanings. “Shounen-ai” as a concept and term came first. It was used to describe a now-out-of-fashion genre of fiction within which pre-pubsecent and pubescent boys (shounen) had too-close platonic love (ai) relationships with one another. Close to the point of suggesting there was more to their relationship than simple friendship, but given their age and associated purity no overt sexual attraction. The closest concept to this in Western popular culture might be the “bromance,” but “bromance” is not constrained by the purity of youth as “shounen-ai” was. The popularity of the genre eventually waned and was replaced by romantic teen and adult romance, but the term, which literally translates as “boy(s)-love,” fell out of use for much the same reason that its English translation might be considered uncomfortable to us: it conjures up images of child predation. The genre that would replace “shounen-ai” would come to be known by the initials of its English translation, “BL.” This is now the official term used by publishers, not fan-creators, to describe original works published professionally. This is a fascinating idea: Japan using a foreign term to describe a concept to make it less uncomfortable for its consumers. It literally took the English translation of a concept for which it already had a term available and applied it to a new genre of fiction in order to make it more palatable.

In turn this same idea would later be appropriated by its Western fandom when those works made their cross over to the West. Instead of using the term “BL,” which might cause that same discomfort to the native speakers of its language of origin, Westerners appropriated the older, foreign term “shounen-ai” to describe these light, simple stories of gay romance, and “yaoi” to describe the heavier, more mature offerings coming out of Japan. The meanings of the two terms changed when they became adopted by their users in another language, but why distinguish them in this way?

As English speakers we already had a word for “slash” and we could use it just fine to describe fan-created works, wherever they originated. What we lacked were terms to describe the very unique nature of male homosexual romance coming from Japan. Japanese and Western fiction created predominantly by women and for women might have evolved concurrently, but they approached the subject differently. BL as a genre has a unique set of cliches, tropes and cultural influences that are very different from works created by Westerners. In particular, there seemed to be an almost jarring difference between works written for girls (shojo) and works aimed at an adult readership (josei). Some stories were light and never moved beyond confessions of love or chaste kissing, but others were more sexually explicit and/or mature in their subject matter. While the audience for both of these types of stories might have been the same in Japan in many cases, in the US it was less conceivable to market a certain degree of sexual explicitness to minors. In order to distinguish the stuff teens could read from the stuff that would be slapped with 18+ and M ratings, two terms were needed. The two ultimately chosen were “shonen-ai” and “yaoi.”

But culture does not exist in a vacuum. We have come to know the original meanings of these words and often on the internet and among English language publishers both definitions are used by people when choosing the terms. It can actually become quite confusing to determine which meaning what person is ascribing to content, but in general either meaning can be used in any context because the words have become so ubiqitous in fandom. Whenever one hears the terms “slash,” “yaoi,” “BL,” “shounen-ai,” “boys love,” “gay romance,” or others, it all conjures the same idea: content made predominantly by female creators, for predominantly female consumers concentrated around the romantic relationships of male characters.

That’s the whole function of language: to transmit ideas through words.

Spoiler Unfriendly

(begins at 1:21)

The debate, or rather polarizing backlash, over spoilers is one of the most divisive issues in fandom. I understand the basic desire to not have the mystery or magic of entertainment removed before the experience is over, but the extreme to which some people take the notion of having something prematurely exposed is baffling.

I personally love spoilers. I find the wondering a distraction from the experience of the story, but maybe that is a convenient excuse and I’ve simply inherited my father’s impatience and my mother’s obsessive-compulsiveness. In either case, I am often found to be flipping through the pages of a book to find out how it ends or what is and where will come the big reveal, so I can go back and enjoy the full read without the constant anxiety over what could possibly be ahead. I scour internet reviews, Wikipedia articles and summary websites looking for everything I can find out about a new movie or TV show, so I can decide, after knowing the plot and what people thought of it, whether or not I want to devote my limited financial resources and free time to consuming it.

But other people don’t feel the same way I do, and nor do I believe they should. There is nothing wrong with appreciating magic for its wonder, or not wanting that magic ruined by having the underlying trick exposed. Escape from the harshness in reality is a common desire for people, and media culture has created a safe place to explore such flights of fancy. Spoilers are an extension of this sense of wonder. People want to have the experience in the order it is presented to them, learning and devising each new piece of information as it becomes available in the work itself.

However, the problem lies with the expectation that everyone is somehow required to be complicit in the desire to remain within illusion to the very end. “Spoiler Free” reviews now require that anything more than a restatement of the premise or blurb from the publisher’s PR or Marketing departments with a letter grade tacked onto the end be deemed fatal to the fan experience. There seem to be three kinds of readers of reviews on the internet these days: the ones who haven’t consumed a property and want to know what others thought of it before they consume it themselves, the ones who have consumed a property and want to know what others thought of it after they have consumed it, and the ones who don’t want anyone to know anything about what happens until everyone has consumed it. Setting aside debate about an inclination in the second group to troll reviews for having differing opinions from their own, what the last group is even doing reading reviews in the first place is what I find confusing. It is frankly insulting for reviewers to be asked to wait for everyone to know about something before talking about it in detail when an obvious alternative is available.

If you are going to be that sensitive to information about something that piques your interest, it’s probably better that you simply not read reviews on sites you know will probably reveal more of the plot than you are comfortable knowing. Just go to Rotten Tomatoes or Amazon and look at the average viewer/customer rating and decide from there. If you want to be a part of the conversation, as many do, of the newest big thing, either consume it first, or be prepared to be spoiled to at least some degree. It is the price to be paid for participation in the conversation.

But not all the backlash about spoilers comes from the newest properties. The line between something that is too new versus something that everyone has had ample time to consume before it is acceptable to talk about it, all plot reveals included, is a subject of great debate. Is it in years, decades, or is it as some on the extreme side believe, never? It is this “never” category, a vocal minority one can only hope, that seems to be causing much of the current issues we have with conversations about spoilers. I won’t supplant my own opinion of where this line should fall, but in an internet age where the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones is Tweeted about even before the episode’s initial airing, if you don’t want to be spoiled, you should probably stay off the internet until you watch it yourself. It is wholly selfish to sit back and expect everyone else to curb their enthusiasm to suit a desire to be surprised at a self-chosen time.

When I write my reviews, I give little regard to spoilers. In fact, I find a sub-genre like BL, which I review almost exclusively, to be the kind of trope-filled content that requires knowing exactly how much of the same you are in for when you pick up a book or put in a DVD (or click on an online reader, player or download). How well something is executed and not what combination of well-worn premise, characterization and plotting is the important thing to take away from a review of BL, or at least that is how I feel about it. If you don’t like that, please feel free to not read my reviews. The great thing about the internet is that there are plenty of other places you can go for information about things you might want to consume, some more spoiler-friendly than others.

To bookend this entry, I leave you with this.


Videos embedded from YouTube, not uploaded by me.

The Semantics of Style

There’s something that has been bothering me for a few years now. It’s utterly semantic, and therefore only a somewhat relevant topic, but I feel like discussing it, so here we go.

People have a tendency to mistakenly label anime and manga. I’m not talking about people who regard them as “genres” or occasionally lump them together as if they are the exact same thing. I’m actually talking about the people who call them “mediums.” I know it is an effort to correct the misidentification of anime and manga as genres, but it is still inaccurate. They are not “mediums.” Animation is a “medium.” Comics are a “medium.” anime and manga are “styles” of animation and comics respectively. They are not a separate thing. Here’s how I see it; there are four basic categories of media: format, medium, style, genre.

Format

The format is the method of consumption. This can be film (movie), TV, DVD/BluRay, streaming, newsprint, magazine/anthology, graphic novel/tankoban, live (stage), etc. The format has little to do with the content, it is simply the means the content is conveyed.

Medium

The medium is a division of media types. For TV, film, etc. it would be the difference between a documentary program and a work of fiction. But this is also a division between live-action and other forms of media, like animation. The medium still doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with content, but it is an aesthetic identifier. A medium can exist in any number of formats.

Style

A style, then, is a form that a medium takes. For animation it would be the type of animation, and there are many: 2D, CG, stop-motion/claymation, rotoscope, etc. Anime would fall in this category. It is a type of animation marked by its industry-wide use of particular character designs, tropes, etc. I would also put something like “Pixar” or “Disney” in the realm of style. While one might argue that certain types of animation are mediums unto themselves, CG for example, if you say “Pixar” you are conjuring up a specific type of CG animation. If you say “Disney” it likewise conjures up a very specific style of animation. If CG is defined as a medium, CG anime, for example, would still be a style.

Genre

Genres transcend all forms of media. They exist in all types of fiction in particular. These are the easily recognizable: comedy, drama, sci-fi, fantasy, horror etc. Sub-genres also exist, like “dark comedy.” There are genres that exist only within specific styles, like in anime and manga, “mecha,” “shonen” and “shojo” are virtually unique to those styles. Likewise, sub-genres within a style’s genres are often unique as well: “BL” and “magical girl” are often sub-genres of shojo (though occasionally you see “magical girl” used within other genres, like in Madoka Magica).

The most notable result that can be derived from defining anime and manga as styles and not mediums is the way that products from outside of Japan can now be identified by them. There has been great resistance in the past to defining products from outside of Japan as anime style, simply because they came from somewhere else, but the influence of anime style on animation, particularly in recent years, cannot be denied.

If anime is a style of animation it shouldn’t matter from where it originates, only that it utilizes those specific criteria that define something within the style. If anime is seen as a medium unto itself, and something separate from other kinds of animation, the resistance to defining content that uses the style outside of Japan is far greater. In terms of the ubiquitousness that anime and manga style have found themselves in the last ten years, it really is time to change the way we define them. They no longer belong only to Japan or to anime and manga fans around the world.

The Five Follies of Fandom

I’ve often been described by people as someone who wears her heart on her sleeve. It is never meant as a compliment and I understand this well. I don’t revel in my shortcomings, but I have always seen myself as an earnest person who tries to view the world fairly. However, I’ve spent most of my years since college mired inside manga and anime fandom, too far entrenched to be able to see clearly what was going on around me. In fact, throughout my life on the internet I’ve moved from one internet community to another, tripping over my own immaturity, elitism and subjective view of the world, whether it was popular music communities, gaming communities or, in my post-college life, anime and manga fandom. In these constant and inevitable shifts, and while I slowly grew as a person in maturity and worldview, I only ever saw my former flaws from the lens of hindsight. Such is life.

My problem is, as it is probably with most people, particularly on the internet, that I don’t want to expose my vulnerabilities, the things that I like and have an interest in, to those who might mock me for them. I would cope with this fear in different ways. Sometimes encapsulating myself only within communities of like-minded people, shutting out all dissent. Sometimes turning my frustrations into spite, refusing to admit to anyone what I liked. And sometimes pretending myself more high-minded than I really am, suggesting my tastes are an objective view of the world. As someone who strives to live by my own standards of decency, I can’t look at these faults and not hold myself accountable, especially if I expect to hold anyone else to them.

I recently succumbed to an ongoing bout of fandom burnout. Not anime or manga burnout: Fandom Burnout. It started innocently enough, checking in with one of the many manga communities I frequent. This one focuses on BL, though not exclusively related to it. The mostly female population were bandwagoning on the disgust they felt over the covers, and subsequently content, of some hentai manga titles now being carried by a prominent English BL manga publisher. I was struck with the hypocrisy of the viewpoint. As if somehow masturbation fodder written for women about incomprehensibly unrealistic gay romances was somehow not the same kind of thing as incomprehensibly unrealistic porn written for men.

I escaped into the manga blogging community, and while mostly encouraged by the generally less knee-jerk over-sensitivity, was also struck by the overwhelming feeling that the manga blogging community is a giant circle-jerk of women (and men) stroking each other’s egos and those of the publishers with which most of them have seemingly social (and occasionally professional) relationships. I began to question just how “unbiased” you could really be in this kind of environment.

And I don’t want to suggest “unbiased” is something you can have in reviewing. I’ll be the first one to tell you that a review by its nature is subjective: an unbiased review is a summary. What I mean by “unbiased” in this context is being separated from your subject enough to give an informed opinion of it that is not colored by your relationship to it outside of your consumption of it. That is the core of the reason Cherry Blossom Reviews began in the first place. A small group of us sat around talking about this very subject and decided to do something about it.

And then I had a sudden and terrifying moment of ennui. It happened when my brand new computer’s hard drive crashed, mere weeks into the writing of my first reviews for the group. I had 5 or 6 articles, ideas for articles and reviews in the pipes that were all lost in an instant (I have backup drives but hadn’t thought I would need them on a computer that new, a mistake I will not make again). I found myself completely uninterested in rewriting and recollecting those thoughts. Sure, other things going on in my real life had a compounding effect on this, but I discovered that I just couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t involve myself in fandom. It made me too angry and upset. I needed to walk away and reboot my feelings, give it some distance and hope it would pass. It didn’t pass. It is nearly a year later and I am finally ready to even talk about what I am feeling at all.

So, let’s talk about it, about the pretense, disparagement, wank, possessiveness and silence. No walls, no excuses, no excluding myself of involvement in any of it.

BL Licensing Wishlist

Convention season is upon us, and what better way to spend it than by thinking about all the lovely stories of boys falling in love with other boys we want to read in English? I know that licensing is a long-term project, and any and all recommendations and suggestions I might make won’t see any kind of real results for another year yet, if they weren’t already in the works from a year ago or more. However, I still want to make my case for these wonderful titles. I have listed here a total of ten titles I want to own in English in ascending order of desire. I want each of them in print, but I know “digital only” is becoming an increasingly tempting format for release, as it bears none of the printing and inventory risks of actual books.

Now, I know everyone reading this probably knows I read most of these as scanlations (okay, all of them), and I don’t want to have a debate about the merits or follies of scanlations in this post, so let’s leave that for another time.


 

10. Hari no Hana [玻璃の花]
by Fusanosuke Inariya (Taiyo Tosho)

What I really want is for Inariya to draw faster so we can get the third volume of Maiden Rose collected into a tankoban that can be licensed already. This title, translated as Quartz Flower, isn’t even long enough to be collected in a tankoban itself yet, but if we can get a second series licensed in English by this mangaka, I’ll be happy. The premise is a departure from Inariya’s usual WWII fetish yaoi, as it takes place in a fantasy feudal-era Japan. There are sexy monks, evil plots and demons, and a lot of action. A winning combination, if you ask me.

Taiyo Tosho has a licensing agreement with Digital Manga. Their licensed titles to DMP were even at one time branded on the spines of the English releases. In addition, Inariya’s Maiden Rose is already licensed to DMP’s June, so DMP would be the best place to start for anyone who wanted to suggest this title be licensed to an English publisher.

 

9. Toiki Yori mo Yasashii [吐息よりも優しい]
by Masara Minase (Frontier Works)
1 Volume

I’m actually getting a little sick of Minase’s short-form BL. Nothing of hers stands out very much and most stories wrap up without much real character development. It feels like an endless stream of interchangeable semes and ukes to the point of not being able to distinguish one pairing from another, or remember their names after five minutes. The recently released in English, Ambiguous Relationship (June) drives this home. There are only a handful of her titles that I could say otherwise about, and this is one of them. I also like Minase’s Take Over Zone, but as a complete story with a chance to be licensed, I think this has a better one. The title translates as Even More Gentle Than a Breath, and is about a young man, Masato, who has spent two years searching for a man with whom he had a one night stand. He discovers the man, Kazaoka, is an author and gets a part time job at an establishment he frequents to get closer to him. What I like about this title is the emotional tension created in layers of deception. Kazaoka is wary of getting close to people because when he became famous as an author people started taking advantage of him. Masato is deceiving him about their past and the fact that he knows Kazaoka is an author because he is afraid of being rejected. Minase actually took the time and care to develop these characters and their feelings, and the resulting story is a good counterpoint to her attractive and clean artistic style.

Many of the titles Frontier Works has licensed in English were to now-defunct publishers. They did license Words of Devotion to June quite a while ago, so that might be a good place to try.

 

8. Gerbera [ガーベラ]
by Makoto Tateno (Shuueisha)
1 Volume

My token Tateno wishlist item, this particular title is not one of my all-time favorites, but I’d love to have it in English all the same. Many, if not most, of Tateno’s BL titles (and some of her shojo as well) have already been licensed in English. She is a prolific, and for those who enjoy her artistic style, like myself, a consistently enjoyable creator. Gerbera is a traditional YA BL manga, on the light side, even for Tateno, who isn’t known for seriously explicit sex scenes to begin with, but its overall a much safer license choice than Myuuzu Gakuen de Aou, a series wrought with underaged rape-fantasy (even in its attached one-shots). In the story, high school student Ei has a crush on his friend Yuuji. When the girl Yuuji confesses to rejects him because she has a crush on Ei (who in turn rejects her), it causes a rift between them. The book focuses on the development of a teenaged friendship into something more. Ei’s feelings are clear from the beginning, but it is in watching Yuuji’s feelings of rejection and jealousy transform into an understanding of his romantic feelings for his friend, as his friend quietly suffers in seemingly unrequited love, that is the emotional porn in this title. It’s a subtle yet beautiful coming-of-age story.

As Shuueisha is a parent company to Viz, this title is most likely to get a license by SuBLime, if anyone.


 

(mangaka name orders listed in Given first, Family second)
Images taken from Manga Updates

The Case for Manga Blogging

I follow manga blogs. I read ANN reviews. I follow communities on LiveJournal and syndicated feeds and follow a few Twitter accounts to keep up with news, reviews and commentary. I’m not writing this because I am a manga blogger or reviewer, I’m doing it as a reader, to make a case for manga bloggers, because I can see, sometimes subtly, somtimes overtly, their desperation to know that what they’re doing is actually making a difference: that it actually has a point. But more importantly, I want to express what I feel that point actually is, because a lot of people have this sort of expectation of what reviewing is supposed to be that simply doesn’t fit with how it is used by myself specifically, but I should think by many others as well. Maybe I’m throwing my hat into a ring that has enough hats in it already, but I do think there is a value in trying.

Why do I read reviews?

In the last few years my disposable income has shrunk by more than half. I spent an entire summer (and a little more) unemployed, eating away at my savings while scraping together enough money to afford a long-in-coming vacation. I have more than one hobby. Many manga readers are also anime fans, myself included, and anime is more expensive (per purchase, anyway) and just as time-consuming as equal-lengthed manga. I also play video games, study martial arts, listen to popular music and buy Domo merchandise like some crazed drug addict. Basically, first and foremost, I simply don’t have the time or money to be out there browsing shrinking anime and manga aisles trying to find things on my own and taking financial risks in doing so.

And believe me, I used to impulse buy all the time (back when I had more money and the economy didn’t suck). I didn’t know what I’d like, so I’d browse, pick something up and run with it (or not if I ended up not liking it). But so many of the titles I was collecting ended in the last couple years (Fruits Basket, Hellsing, Death Note, xxxholic) and the opened slots have been harder to fill these days. Between titles on hold or caught up in Japan (Nana), on (indefinite) hiatus with US Publishers in this terrible economy or lost completely to the shuttering of US imprints (Hotel Africa, I Hate You More Than Anyone) and even just titles on ridiculously slow release schedules it’s painful to wait between volumes (Claymore), there’s just a void where a usual monthly allowance of manga buys and reads used to go.

I know there are plenty of places to find information about titles you might like to buy. Hell, Amazon has a whole page tailored to recommending titles to you based on your purchases, browsing history and ratings of other titles. But it’s the opinions of others that make the most difference. The problem is, as a thirty-something single woman not living in the center of the universe, my options for like-minded peers, ones that even like manga to begin with, are severly limited. So, as I’m sure many manga fans do, I turn to the internet. Online communities are a great place to start. They’ll get you in on the ground floor of whatever is the biggest, hottest title right-this-very-minute. For new fans looking for their niche, this is where you want to be, where you want to talk to other manga fans and get ideas. But I’m not a new manga fan anymore, I found my niche, and I go to my online communities to gab about older titles that I already own, not the next new thing. Sure, sometimes someone is reading something new, something I haven’t read myself yet, and I get interested, but to be honest, I find that my taste in manga and most other people’s taste in manga only coincide in the very few titles that we already share in common and the roundabout conversation that spawns new recommendations is sometimes simply more time-consuming than I care to deal with some days. I want to find out if a title is right for me in 500 words or less and I can’t always rely on my fellow fandomers’ opinions or recommendations because it is too mired within the small niche community of which I am also a part. Just because my friend liked a title doesn’t mean I necessarily will as well. It’s really only a jumping-off point for more research before I commit to buy and that’s where the reviews come in handy.

How to Actually Use Manga Reviews

Now, just because I’ve grown too picky, possibly snobbish, in my manga tastes to rely on one group of opinions and that I know I need to find an “outside” opinion before I buy, doesn’t mean my work is done. Finding reviewers you can work from takes time and effort. The goal isn’t to find someone like-minded, or even opposite-minded. The goal is to find someone who can tell you enough about a title and what they thought of it to make an informed decision about purchasing it. Sure, it’s often easier to use someone you always agree or always disagree with, but the odds of actually finding such a reviewer are near zero. Instead, it is in the detail of the opinion that is the key. If a reviewer didn’t like a book because of a particular over-used manga cliche they have a pet-peeve about, compare that opinion to your own over the same issue. Do this piecemeal for all the little details until you have a good picture of the title and its relation to your tastes. It’s not about high art or literary criticism in most cases. Manga is a commercial medium. It is meant to be consumed and enjoyed, not necessarily appreciated for its intellectual value.

That’s not to say that literary criticism has no place, or that extensive discussion of titles in a more academic environment than your fandom community has no value, but if we’re just talking about reviews, to make an informed decision about purchases, you really don’t need more than this.

The Case for Manga Blogging

I work my ass off at a job that pretty much makes me miserable and like many others who escape into manga and other hobbies, I need these sources of escape– of entertainment– to relax and unwind after yet another day as a slave to the grind. Some nights I get home and all I want to do is watch the last 25 minutes of Bones (because it’s whatever weeknight it’s on and I forgot again, and House ended) and not think about anything. Some nights I get home and I want to chat with my fandom buddies about J-random Yaoi release that’s (hopefully, actually) coming out next week and oh, how excited we all are. Some nights I get home and I spend 3 hours trolling the internet to get the best pre-order price for some Domo merchandise that may or may not ever actually see release (still waiting for that color-changing mug…). But, some nights I want to think, and what I want to think about is not how depressing my job is, or how crappy the economy is, or any of the horrible things going on in other parts of the world. I don’t even want to think about fandom concerns, like the future of anime or piracy. On those nights I want to think, and not about literature I was forced to read in college that bored me to tears. I want to think about something I actually enjoy. I want to think about manga, and in more than a squealy fangirly way. Sure, it’s not “insert high-minded classic literary figure’s name here,” but it’s better than killing brain cells watching yet another crappy reality TV show involving bitter housewives verbally assaulting each other (seriously, turn that shit off).

Very few conversations within fandom focus in on a title in a way that can also be a step back and away from it, drawing comparisons, not only to other titles within its own genre, but to the world around us. Most introspection about how storytelling shapes our lives is done quietly and within us, often subconsciously. It is rare we are given an opportunity to have a discussion about it in a relaxed (usually) and open forum, where not only do we read what other people have to say about the subject, but we as the readers are invited to participate, and not just with each other, with the writer(s) as well. Manga is the right medium, blogging the right format and casual, friendly discussion the right mix of social engagement and intellectual challenge.

Some of the manga I have bought (or put on a wishlist and received as gifts) directly as a result of manga blogs, reviewers and discussions over the last several years: Nana, Hotel Africa, Butterflies Flowers, Emma, Eternal Sabbath, Dramacon, Black Bird, Akihabara@DEEP, Silver Diamond, Bride of the Water God, Solanin, Endless Comfort, Double Cast, Ooku, Afterschool Nightmare and Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei. I’m not saying I love all of these titles, or even that I’ve read all of them yet, but I would not have considered them at all had I not read about them in this form first.