Books / Reviews

'Boys Love Manga and Beyond' defends shifting sexual identities in Japanese media

by J.J. Howard

Special To The Japan Times

The academics contributing to “Boys Love Manga and Beyond” come to the defense of the genre known as “boys love,” which first appeared in Japanese manga — involving male-male romantic and sexual relationships — but has now expanded into animation and games.

Boys Love Manga
and Beyond, by Edited by Mark McLelland, Kazumi
Nagaike, Katsuhiko Suganuma
and James Welker
304 pages.
University Press of Mississippi, Nonfiction.

Produced primarily by and for females, it has come under increasing attack over the past two decades, initially by gay male activists and later due to changes in government legislation that restricted its availability to minors in Tokyo.

A number of the essays take a dry approach, presenting the historical lineage of the genre — which can be traced back to texts such as “The Tale of Genji” — and meticulously outlining its many subgenres. Remaining chapters, however, present lively discussion that addresses the producers and consumers of boys love media in Japan.

Rio Otomo draws on feminist psychoanalysis to claim the genre is a space — away from the constrictive reality of social norms — for liberated female (and male) readers to identify with passive (feminine) or active (masculine) characters, shifting their perspectives fluidly. Other authors similarly argue for the necessity of such media in allowing readers to challenge fixed identities and provide alternative ways to navigate desire.

In addition, Kazuko Suzuki examines the cover art of key boys love texts, and Tomoko Aoyama makes great use of images in her discussion of cooking in gender-conscious works by manga artist Fumi Yoshinaga. Nevertheless, the tendency to dive into discourse about manga, but omit contextual images, narrows the target audience. (J.J. Howard)