YuruYuri is Not Lesbian

Because, apparently, this sort of thing still needs clarification.

I wish I could say I was surprised that there are still people out there who think yuri = lesbian and BL = gay. I’m not; its a very common misconception. However, the fact that an outlet like ANN which, y’know, has people working full-time on this stuff still has people opening their mouths and saying stupid, ignorant things is a bit disappointing. But, I guess that’d be expecting the site to behave like a serious organization, wouldn’t it? Obviously asking too much!

If you follow that link and scroll down, you’ll find a review of episode one of YuruYuri. Let’s ignore the fact that the show is alleged to be more “cutesy” than “sleazy” despite the plethora of panty jokes involving underaged girls. Or that the show is given a three out of five rating even as it is, at best, a third-rate slice of life crapfest barely distinguishable from the parade of these shows we’ve endured as of late. Instead, let’s focus on something very basic: the notion that “yuri” means “lesbian”.

No, actually, is doesn’t. Yuri features homosexual actions, BUT yuri does not mean lesbian. The characters in yuri often aren’t even lesbian themselves, the set-up generally ducking the question entirely with a “if it’s you, it’s okay” explanation or just flat-out refusing to engage on the topic at all. There are absolutely exceptions, but much like how some rectangles are squares but not all squares are rectangles, not all yuri is lesbian. In fact, most of it is not. The same applies to BL, although the divisions between content intended for a non-gay audience (BL) versus a gay audience (bara) are much stronger. Yuri, meanwhile, has begun to encompass some works that are closer to and actually lesbian, such as one finds with the quietly delightful Fu~Fu or the adult-starring Octave. However, the fact remains that things like Strawberry Panic and Shoujo Sect far outstrip the aforementioned examples in prevalence.

So, to review: Candy Boy – not lesbian. Sekai-ichi – not gay.

For further clarification, and before someone says “but that girl is kissing that girl, so they must be lesbians, and so this must be for lesbians”… once upon a time at Anime Boston in April I attended a fantastic panel about LGBT anime and manga. They started off by explaining carefully that yuri and BL are not gay. They pointed out that content does not equal audience, utilizing Chi’s Sweet Home. Is Chi’s Sweet Home meant for adorable little kittens? Nope. Is yuri and BL meant for lesbians and gays? Nope.

I would also point out that in yuri especially the characters are high schoolers in a single-sex environment, which plays into the “lesbian until graduation” trope. Having the girls involved with other girls also means that audiences can enjoy “illicit” moments between the girls without having to worry about them having been “sullied”, since we all know that the only sex that counts is sex which involves a penis.

Moving along in Mr. Martin’s review, there is the equation of “yuri” with “sleaze”. While I would agree that a lot of yuri is sleaze, not all of it is, and to allege that it is is to demonstrate a serious lack of knowledge. But more problematic is that the review has equated “yuri” with “lesbian” and now “yuri” with “sleaze”, which serves to equate “lesbian” with “sleaze”, whether intentional or not (and I would lean toward interpreting this as an unintentional faux paus).

Lesbianism is not sleazy. It is not a performance for the titillation of others. It is not something for one to gawk at in confusion. Lesbianism is a sexual and emotional orientation, an identity, a community. The same all applies to male homosexuality as well. Loving someone is not sleazy. Watching something like YuruYuri because of its “lesbian” content, however, is.

And, really, this gets to the heart of the entire matter – yuri and BL are largely meant as performances for the sexual quirks of  mainstream, heterosexual audiences. They are not written with the idea that a gay man will read it and find commonality in it. They are not written with the idea that a lesbian woman will find it interesting to watch. They are meant to thrill heterosexual audiences and nothing more.

So, please, stop pretending that the genre have anything to do with LGBT themes. There may be some gay diamonds in the rough, but there’s a whole lot more rough than anything else.

(As an aside, I would also note that the moral judgment of female enjo kosai participants in the KamiMemo review was also fairly distasteful, although I can’t quite summon the energy necessary to begin the depressing task of explaining why it is paternalistic to differentiate morally between motivations for enjo kosai, particularly when one has never met a girl who participates in the practice.)

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18 Responses to YuruYuri is Not Lesbian

  1. tomphile says:

    It’s not a yuri anime so far but I’ve seen it classified as shoujo ai on some other sites.

    • A Day Without Me says:

      “Shoujo ai” is actually an interesting term. It’s largely fallen out of use, although it was very popular in the late 90’s/early to mid-00’s to use it to describe “lighter” yuri works. However, this usage is strictly Western; in Japan, the phrase refers to work of a pedophilic nature depicting young girls.

      Not strictly relevant, but an interesting evolution of language nonetheless.

  2. Yi says:

    “And, really, this gets to the heart of the entire matter – yuri and BL are largely meant as performances for the sexual quirks of mainstream, heterosexual audiences.”
    Yes.

    “No, actually, is doesn’t. Yuri features homosexual actions, BUT yuri does not mean lesbian. ”
    YES!! I’m usually pretty careful with the terms, and I would’ve expected ANN to be as well. But I suppose the vast majority of anime fans don’t care too much.

    “They are not written with the idea that a gay man will read it and find commonality in it. They are not written with the idea that a lesbian woman will find it interesting to watch. They are meant to thrill heterosexual audiences and nothing more.”
    True, some (if not most) yuri are written to thrill heterosexual audiences, and are exploitative in the sense that they portray stereotypes of what lesbian romances are like from a male’s point of view, it doesn’t necessarily mean that lesbian will not find it interesting. With that said, I doubt lesbians will find much commonality in something like Candy Boy or Strawberry Panic.

    “So, please, stop pretending that the genre have anything to do with LGBT themes.”
    ^ ^ Hopefully, works like Octave and Indigo Blue will one day become the flagship of yuri genre.

    Anyway, great post!

    • A Day Without Me says:

      I can’t decide which is the greater force – that most anime fans don’t care about the difference, or that they simply do not know that there is a difference in the first place. I’m tempted to come down on the side of the former, but feel as though I may be a bit overly harsh.

      As regards commonality and intent, as I tried to stress in the post, I wouldn’t contend that a lesbian or bisexual woman would never find an interest in or commonality with a yuri piece of work. However, the intent isn’t for them to either way.

      It’d be wicked cool is Octave got an anime…

      • treeofjessie says:

        “As regards commonality and intent, as I tried to stress in the post, I wouldn’t contend that a lesbian or bisexual woman would never find an interest in or commonality with a yuri piece of work.”

        when you’re starving, even table scraps start to look like a delicious feast…

  3. Ryan A says:

    This clarifies a heap of grey area I didn’t care to make up my mind on, especially with regards to BL. Actually, I find it hard to equate yuri and BL in terms of the sexual/romantic tactics found in the stories,* but it is pretty clear they are not exclusively targeting LGBT audiences. I’m not versed in BL, but reading this backs up my hunch that BL is generally “service”-media, though likely misrepresented in comparison to yuri (I’m sure quality BL stories exist, but I haven’t investigated).

    A little rage goes a long way. Cheers 🙂

    *BL seems to highlight the supposed “taboo” of it all, where yuri goes about same-sex relations, romantic or passive, in a more nonchalant way (which is actually more enjoyable imo).

    • A Day Without Me says:

      Glad that helped clear things up for you.

      As for highlighting of taboo versus nonchalance, I would disagree. It is more a matter of the age set its aimed at. Stuff for teenagers is more all into the taboo aspect, whereas works meant for the working age set tend to be more about nonchalance.

  4. pkgirl163 says:

    Thanks for writing this post.
    Some people even separate out f/f works with queer identity, putting them in the category “bian”: works from lesbian/queer magazines, for example, or autobiographical works like Takeuchi Sachiko’s “Honey & Honey.” As you noted, works like “Fu~Fu” and “Octave” blur the lines between these two categories (this isn’t a recent development, but with the current popularity of yuri works, we’re getting more that fall into this middle ground).

    • A Day Without Me says:

      Yes, I have heard of ‘bian’, thanks to the fantastic Okazu. It also seems that some stores in Japan are beginning to use the designator ‘GL’ (girls love) to also help differentiate yuri from queer women’s manga.

  5. jpmeyer says:

    “I wish I could say I was surprised that there are still people out there who think yuri = lesbian and BL = gay. I’m not; its a very common misconception.”

    Or to put it another way, compare say, Junjou Romantica with Kusomiso Technique and this becomes very apparent very quickly.

  6. Theron Martin says:

    With respect to the writer above, the misunderstandings about what yuri is apparently go both ways.

    I have never run across a serious anime fan who equates the kind of lesbian or pseudo-lesbian relationships seen in anime titles with true, real-life lesbians. The overwhelming majority of male viewers who watches such content in anime – and yes, it is aimed at male viewers, not lesbians – are watching it to be titillated, not because they seek insight into the lesbian mindset or want to get a better understanding of lesbianism. What generally gets called “yuri” within anime (at least in the U.S., anyway) is widely-understood to be romantic and/or physical relationships between two girls/women played up for male interests. Whether or not the characters involved are true lesbians is about as irrelevant as whether or not porn stars who engage in girl-girl scenes are true lesbians. If you equate lesbianism only with actions take between true lesbians then yes, you’re right that most yuri doesn’t qualify, but then you also have to insist that most girl-girl porn is being erroneously labeled “lesbian porn,” too – and good luck winning that battle, because most who watch such fare simply don’t care about the semantics. The same applies with yuri in anime. It has evolved into a shorthand term which describes certain expectations about the content, and whether those expectations truly align with lesbianism is, honestly, irrelevant.

    Concerning the comments about “lesbian” being equated with “sleazy” in the review: that’s reading wayyy too much into what was being said. The simple fact is that a lot of the yuri/lesbian content in anime *is* sleazy; see the above comments about titillating intent. The comment in the review is nothing more than a reference to the content not having gone that far.

    Now, if you want to disagree with the reviewer’s rating and consider YuruYuri to be third-rate trash, you’re certainly welcome to that opinion and I’m fully within my right to totally disagree with you. But before you go and disparage ANN in general, do be clear that there’s only a handful of people working “full-time” there and the reviewer is not one of them. (Yes, I’m sure that you didn’t mean that literally, but if you’re going to play with semantics to twist around what’s being said then so can I.)

    • A Day Without Me says:

      First off, your failure to define what exactly constitutes a “serious anime fan” undermines my attempts to respond to the contention that they do not equate lesbianism with yuri or vice versa. I suspect you mean folks more like yourself as opposed to, say, the guy who has seen thousands of shows but does not engage in analysis and academic-style discussion of the form. But I cannot know for sure.

      Either way, I hardly see why it is that relevant, quite frankly. First off, you mention that you have never run into any – this doesn’t mean that they do not exist. I would heartily recommend speaking with Ms. Friedman of Okazu on this front; she has been professionally and casually engaging with fans for about a decade on exactly this matter. Regardless, “serious” fans, in the conception I suggested you meant, are a mere fraction of the community, so I do not even understand why that tidbit matters at all.

      I’ll also note that I never contended that yuri should necessarily align with LGBT content. No, my argument was that one should not say that it does align with it or that it is it.

      Also, thank you, but I don’t need someone explaining to me what yuri is. I’ve been
      watching and reading the stuff for at least ten years.

      Whether I am reading into it too much or not isn’t what matters here; as I said in my own write-up, I doubt you meant for it to come off that way, but it did. You may understand the difference, but I sincerely doubt the majority of ANN readers do. Perhaps I am being unfair to them, but having spent so much time in the English-speaking anime fandom, I cannot help but think that I am not.

      As for ANN, I quite frankly don’t care how many employees it has, how many of them are full-time, how many of them are part-time, and how many are free-lance. An editor is an editor, and for something that is featured content pinned to the top of the page, they should do their job. ANN by dint of their paying people is a professional organization. This isn’t Charlie in the cellar doing his blog about Touhou and Shounen Jump.

  7. omo says:

    good luck tilting against that windmill.

    when it comes to this stuff, anime fans in the west just don’t have it right.

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