Manga and Queer Culture- A Perfect Match? Part 1

Closing my eyes, I focus on the booming, crackling voice heard over the sound systems which had been strategically placed around Town Hall. Surging waves of cheers and applause heavily laced every remark made by opposition leader Bill Shorten, pre-empting the reaction of his words with a slight raise in his tone.

“All I see is a community filled with love and support for one another…” he exclaims, his words cradling the crowd within the temporary auditorium we have created.

Eyes open, I am overcome by a symphony of colour, as placards printed with ‘Love is Love’ and ‘Vote Yes’ obstruct my view of the stage.

I had been standing at the station for no more than 10 minutes when the train came bounding seamlessly towards us on the tracks. Headphones in, blasting a Spotify playlist entitled ‘Love is Love’, I was more than ready to engage with the rally occurring in a few hours’ time. More and more people arrived just in time for the train doors to open, donned with rainbow flags, shirts and faces.

The symbol of the queer community was being worn so proudly and unapologetically, which solidified both my own resolve and excitement for the rally.

Leading up to the rally, I naturally ease my overwhelming anticipation by engaging with queer theory and representation- not that common? Ok, moving on.

I remember reading a HRC report titled ‘The Nail That Sticks Out Gets Hammered Down- LGBT Bullying and Exclusion in Japanese Schools.’

The opening narrative read as follows:

“In the world there are some weird people,” my high school health teacher said to introduce the lesson. Then she said sex between boys was the main cause of AIDS so we should stay away from homosexuals. That was the only time I heard about LGBT people from a teacher—except when I overheard them making gay jokes.

–Sachi N., 20, Nagoya, November 2015

Caught up in the cacophony of political debates, and social battles, I was completely blinded from my own privilege. In a country where we are campaigning for marriage equality, at least we have the representation to warrant a campaign.

Completely at a loss as to how Japanese society engages with queer culture, I took to google to find out. As someone who is a proponent of equality and representation, I was upset as to how little I knew about this side of the world. Enthralled by the litany of online sources on the topic, I took notice of a familiar, recurring word; manga.

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Source

But if manga were a destination, it would be the north pole and I would be the south. I knew nothing, and that only furthered my curiosity.

For those who are asking similar questions I did, manga are essentially Japanese comics which have their own specific drawing style. Manga lends itself to a variety of topics from historical narratives, fantasy, and superheroes. Although manga has a very specific and unique style, it is not so much a genre as it is a format.

Japanese youth can find themselves seriously lacking in accessible information on LGBT issues, so they turn to alternative, escapist, fantasy literature to enter a world where queer people exist openly. Both manga and its animated version, anime, are places where transgressive behaviour is allowed or lauded and they’ve long been places where gay love stories are portrayed.

Although manga has been revolutionary in providing an escape for LGBTQ+ youth seeking out alternative narratives to the ones that they routinely see, there was one key issue that became rather abruptly apparent.

Seated within the quiet section of the library, already a whole Reddit thread deep I stumble upon a new word; yaoi.  Apparently emblematic of quintessential queer manga, I click the link in a haste, eager to find out more.

With a page closed fast enough to warrant a Guinness World Record medal, it was apparent that overtly sexualised ‘boy love’ content was a firm part of queer manga.

This issue is something that I am curious to address.

Although shocking, I did not let this deter me. Surely the queer community was not packaged into a fictive recreation of a pubescent boys mind (?!). Before long, I stumbled across Wandering Son (2002) and Bokura no Hentai (2012).
The similarities between the two were endless- manga form, tackled concepts regarding trans* identity in Japan, and completely foreign to me.

Growing up, I was never introduced to comic book culture. The bridge between comics and manga was not all too long, but I had never accessed either side. The images, text, composition and flow were so unlike any book that i have ever read that at times I was forced to pause as i decided which text bubble I were to read next. If my initial motivation were to have not taken place, it would be safe to say that i would have never interacted with the medium.

However, there’s no denying the enormous popularity of manga – an industry valued at $5 billion in annual Japanese sales. The fact that it’s read widely at every level of Japanese society and that people have respect for their manga heroes makes it a really effective vehicle for delivering positive messages and giving LGBT issues substance and respect. In fact, manga and anime provide such accessible media for young people to explore an alternative world free of society’s prejudices that the Human Rights Watch has created its own manga series.

This style of queer expression, in a context that often subverts the ‘unordinary’, has positioned itself as a stark contrast to my own experiences. With regard to the queer representations that I am used to, its positioning within a culture that often shrouds it in stereotypes which are rejected, and even my own (non-existent) interactions with comic/manga culture, it is obvious that I am stepping into uncharted waters.

My digital artefact will aim to investigate the role and function that manga has in facilitating queer representation, culture and improving general queer ideologies within the country.

References:

Ashley, K 2015, An Introduction to Manga, Greek & Sundry, viewed 2 September 2017, http://geekandsundry.com/an-introduction-to-manga/

Nicolov, A, 2016, How Manga is Guiding Japan’s Youth on LGBT Issues, DAZED, viewed 2 September 2017, http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/32647/1/how-manga-is-guiding-japan-s-youth-on-lgbt-issues

Peterson, B 2015, Japan’s Trans-Friendly Comic Book Revolution, Foreign Policy, viewed 3 September 2017, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/09/30/manga-transgender-rights-japan-lgbt-anime-comics/

Utagawa, T 2016, Japan LGBT Manga 2016, Human Rights Watch, viewed 3 September 2017, https://www.hrw.org/video-photos/photo-essay/2016/05/04/japan-lgbt-manga-2016

Wilson, B 2003, “Boys’ Love,”Yaoi and Art Education: Issues of Power and Padegogy, Visual Cultural Research in Art and Education, viewed 3 September, 2017, https://www.csuchico.edu/~mtoku/vc/Articles/toku/Wil_Toku_BoysLove.html

2 comments

  1. You’re introduction really drew me into this! You really nailed the narrative aspect of this autoethnographic piece. You explained your own personal experiences and how it impacted your choice well. I had a quick read through this article (https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Trends/Thai-manga-starts-new-chapter-via-digital-platforms) and it’s about how manga has expanded into Thailand. They have apps and other digital platforms available for the spreading of manga. It shows just how powerful of a medium manga is, that it’s spread and been appropriated by other countries. I’m looking forward to seeing where your future research takes you!

    Like

  2. I’m happy you decided on this topic Kurt! Contextualising your relationship with this piece emphasised the importance of queer identity and its representation. I find that there is a lot to say about the influence of ‘yaoi’ genre. When I first stumbled upon it in manga, I was also a little bit shocked about how openly ‘boy love’ was drawn. I always assumed that due to it being popular within fandoms (and it’s often more than graphic nature) that there would not be such strong opinions of sexuality such as Sachi’s. By presenting these queer ideologies, it’s interesting to know your thoughts on this weighted conversation.

    Like

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