‘Yaoi’ is a pejorative Japanese term for Boys’ Love (BL) illustrated stories created and consumed by straight women. The etymology of the word is described in the ‘Yaoi’ Wikipedia article as follows:
“Yaoi derives from two sources; in the early 1970s, shōjo manga magazines published tanbi (aesthetic) stories, also known as shōnen ai (boy love), featuring platonic relationships between young boys. The other influence began in the dōjinshi (fan fiction) markets of Japan in the late 1970s as yaoi, a sexualized parody of popular shōnen manga and anime stories. In the late 1970s, shōjo magazines devoted to the new genre began to appear; and, in the 1990s, the wasei-eigo term Boys’ Love or BL was invented for the genre, which replaced earlier terms such as tanbi, shōnen ai and Juné in Japanese usage.”
The article continues:
“The term yaoi is an acronym created in the late 1970s by Yasuko Sakata and Akiko Hatsu from the words Yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi (山[場]なし、落ちなし、意味なし) ‘No peak (climax), no fall (punch line/denouement), no meaning’. This phrase was first used as a ‘euphemism for the content’ and refers to how yaoi, as opposed to the ‘difficult to understand’ shōnen-ai being produced by the Year 24 Group female manga authors, focused on ‘the yummy parts’. The phrase also parodies a classical style of plot structure. Kubota Mitsuyoshi says that Osamu Tezuka used yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi to dismiss poor quality manga, and this was appropriated by the early yaoi authors. As of 1998, the term yaoi was considered ‘common knowledge to manga fans’. A joking alternative yaoi acronym among fujoshi (female yaoi fans) is Yamete, oshiri ga itai (やめて お尻が 痛い, ‘Stop, my ass hurts!’).”
In my earlier post titled “Is Toshihisa Saitou Bisexual?” I suggested that Yugi Yamada in “Close the Last Door” has effortlessly blended platonic and erotic forms of love as conceived in Western culture. However, it is clear that she also prioritizes Yaoi fictional forms over shōnen ai narratives. Saitou represents the limits of shōnen ai friendship, while Honda symbolizes the more realistic passions of the Yaoi genre.
Why should Yaoi be preferred over shōnen ai?
The older shōnen ai genre draws on the Japanese Buddhist aesthetic of Wabi Sabi, which favours the solitary, the melancholic, the impermanent and the imperfect over ideals of perfection. In the context of stories of love between young men, Wabi Sabi focuses on the ephemeral grace of Bishōnen – youths whose extraordinary yet perishable beauty transcends gender and social boundaries. Like the brief flowering of the cherry blossom (“sakura” in Japanese), the transcience of Bishōnen beauty reveals the pathos of things. This sense of mortality heightens the true love these youths discover in one another.
The Yaoi art of Yugi Yamada is filled with humour, the ordinariness of salaryman life, and hit or miss sexual experimentation. Saitou in “Close the Last Door” is the cute and sexy idol of Nagai, but he is hardly the Bishōnen ideal of most mangaka. Ms. Yamada builds on the foundations of shōnen ai forms by featuring attractive adult young men, but they are ordinary human beings, rather than angelic Bishōnen.
The Wabi Sabi quality in Yugi Yamada’s work flows from the sad fact of social disapproval of gay relationships, which have significant value although lacking in traditional meaning. Her characters are worthy of love, but society in general does not agree, throwing the uniqueness and beauty of their experiences into sharp relief. For example, the three Honda brothers (one is actually a cousin) are all gay, and two of them are a couple. Despite the social and personal burdens which that entails, and in the midst of persistent doubts and a few tears, they somehow find true love in their relationships.
While different from the ephemeral Wabi Sabi of shōnen ai narratives, the Yaoi relationships invented by Ms. Yamada are some of the best examples we have of realistic, heart-warming, Wabi Sabi gay love for the modern world.