Yuri, Yaoi, and Sasameki Koto Suck

ssk3

Normally I would wait for more than two episodes to come out before I pass this kind of judgement, but like everything else this season Sasameki Koto is so hopelessly wrapped in cliches that its fate is a foregone conclusion.

My esteemed colleague E Minor already pointed out some similarity in character designs, but appearances don’t tell the whole story of how hackneyed and lame the show’s characters are. Murasame may look like Fumi, but actually she’s an even more familiar character, the tall boyish student athlete who “would be popular at a girls school”. Wow how compelling, it’s the same stereotype that appears in every other yuri series ever.

ssk7

Her relationship with Ushio is even more boring if you’ve ever seen Candy Boy, at least these two aren’t sisters I guess. Combine with the ultra-generic setting and story to produce a snoozefest for anyone who doesn’t drool over cartoon sapphism (‘ultra-generic’ is a term I find myself using a lot this season).

Sasameki Koto typifies the problems with yuri and yaoi as genres. Quite a few people seem to believe that the portrayals  of homosexuality these series offer are somehow progressive or empowering; they are emphatically wrong.  For one thing, the whole concept of seme and uke, tachi and neko, is a reproduction of traditional heterosexual gender roles. In every single yaoi or yuri work I’ve ever seen or read it is made absolutely clear to the audience that one member of the relationship wears the pants. It’s built directly into their character designs, the sporty butch tachi and the frail, limp-wristed uke. 2DT defends this practice in real life as an inevitable consequence of centuries (likely millennia) of gender programming, but yaoi and yuri are fiction. If they’re as empowering as their proponents say they are, why can’t they offer us a vision of what a truly empowering relationship between equals would be like?

ssk2

The gender roles are so prominent that the only real difference between a yaoi/yuri story and a normal romance, is that the characters are gay, and there’s something downright insidious about the whole idea of genres being based on the sexuality of the characters. If these stories dealt with the discrimination faced by homosexuals in society it would be one thing, but almost always the issue of LGBTQ rights is marginalized or outright ignored. Often a disproportionate percentage of the student body (these shows always are set in schools) is also gay, and the characters are always accepted by their peers after coming out.  The real focus is always on the homosexual relationship, which generally plays out the same way a heterosexual relationship in a shojou story might, except gay.

What this amounts to is the fetishization of homosexuality. Why else watch a yaoi or yuri show if you think all sexualities deserve equal rights and are not gay yourself? The draw of these shows to their heterosexual audience is the dirty thrill of forbidden love, not a desire to see normal, healthy relationships between people they relate to. There’s a term for entertainment that focuses on an oppressed segment of society without actually sympathizing with it: blaxploitation.

The whole concept of LGBTQ rights is that people of all sexualities should be treated equally. Holding up gays as objects of lust might be a little better than displaying them as objects of derision, but it is not the same as really accepting them as fellow human beings.

Are there exceptions to the rule? Of course. I’m not a big fan of Aoi Hana or Horou Musuko, but they do put the spotlight on the real problems of confusion and discrimination instead of just milking the characters’ sexuality for all it’s worth. And there are other series out there where the homosexuality of the characters isn’t the central focus of the story. And as 2DT pointed out, at some point we have to realize that the ideals we have for gender relations are not going to be realized in our time, and acting as though we don’t suffer from some amount of preconceptions is silly. But we should aspire to better, and the vast majority of yaoi and yuri are just reinforcing deeply-ingrained prejudices about sexuality in a new way.

Advertisements

24 Replies to “Yuri, Yaoi, and Sasameki Koto Suck”

  1. I think your opinion on Sasameki Koto speaks more about you than about Sasameki Koto. I don’t see how any of the characters in the show reinforces anything about stereotypes besides that it relies on the viewer’s familiarity with stereotypes to subtly deconstructs some of them.

    Furthermore, you should ask yourself what is yuri… It’s not simply homosexuality. It’s as much as it is Japanese as it is universal, and without understanding the context of yuri in its cultural confines I think you’ll continue to find yourself disappointed with yuri anime and manga.

    1. “Takes one to know one” is probably the dumbest response I could have asked for.

      The athletic girl wanting to be “cute” for her crush is not deconstruction. She’s still obviously playing a more masculine role. Or is there double secret deconstruction going on that’s just too subtle for me?

      Wait I take that first part back, “it’s just their culture” is the dumbest response I could have asked for. Gay rights is a universal problem, everyone deserves to be treated the same no matter who they have sex with, even in Japan. I don’t doubt yuri will continue to disappoint me though, good call.

      1. The reason why the atheletic girl wants to be cute is not because of societal pressure, which is the rub/social cliche. She wanted to be cute because the girl she likes only dig cute girls!

        If you didn’t even understand that, well, I’m just wasting my breathe here. Stupid troll is stupid.

        1. That’s why it’s not a deconstruction, it’s just a meaningless plot point. I’m all for subverting stereotypes but I don’t see it in Sasameki Koto and I strongly doubt that it’s because it’s too subtle for me.

      2. My point is just that–until you understand this “problem” you will continue to be dumbfounded by it. It’s not in defense of Sasameki Koto, it’s more to highlight the trollish nature of your post.

        Com’on, Sasameki Koto is hardly a top-tier story, no matter how you slice it. It has some good parts, and it has a bunch of flaws. A real critique analyzes the work on its terms, not merely “I don’t like it because my view of the world is xyz and this does not conform to that even if it has no reasons to do so.”

        1. Nothing about this is dumbfounding for me, and don’t accuse me of trolling just because you disagree with me.

          My view of the world is that no one should be discriminated against because of their sexuality, which I don’t see as being contentious, and I will criticize shit that doesn’t conform with it. If you want a critique of Sasameki Koto on its own terms I could write one, it’s bland and ugly and stultifying. But I’m more concerned with how it represents the failure of yaoi and yuri as genres to give truly equitable representation to non-heterosexuals.

        2. A real critique analyzes the work on its terms, not merely “I don’t like it because my view of the world is xyz and this does not conform to that even if it has no reasons to do so.”

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_the_Author

          In his essay, Barthes criticizes the method of reading and criticism that relies on aspects of the author’s identity — his or her political views, historical context, religion, ethnicity, psychology, or other biographical or personal attributes — to distill meaning from the author’s work.

          The essential meaning of a work depends on the impressions of the reader, rather than the “passions” or “tastes” of the writer; “a text’s unity lies not in its origins,” or its creator, “but in its destination,” or its audience.

          Every work is “eternally written here and now,” with each re-reading, because the “origin” of meaning lies exclusively in “language itself” and its impressions on the reader.

    2. Hmm… This wasn’t directed at me, but you’ve given me something new to write about. Or at least something to think about writing about. Cheers.

  2. I completely agree with this, but for some reason I find it more important that Sasameki Koto is just kind of boring. The tropes in this show have been used and reused to the point where they’re completely transparent, and in such a small genre with not a lot of works to begin with, it suggests that the well has run dry.

    On the other hand… “tachi and neko”? Are those direct equivalents to seme and uke? I’m well-acquainted with Boys Love and its tropes, but I never thought to give the same amount of exploration to yuri. How fascinating! I know this entry’s serious business, but it’s exciting to learn something new.

    1. Honestly I don’t see the tachi/neko terms nearly as often as I do seme/uke, but obviously those roles do exist, and it is on Wikipedia so it must be true. And yeah Sasameki Koto really is stale, I wish I had budgeted more space for that. Thanks for commenting, I have a feeling that positive responses are going to be the minority on this.

    2. Oh, man. I can’t believe I said “I completely agree,” and then in my post referencing this I shamelessly contradict myself. How embarrassing.

      Well, time mellows things, I guess. I’m still glad you wrote this.

  3. I’m can’t speak for the rest of the anime fandom, but I’ve long given up hope of ever seeing a realistic homosexual relationship in anime. As far as I’m concerned, I’m just here to see two hot girls get it on -_-;

    1. The thing is that treating lesbians as sex objects isn’t really far removed from treating them as sick deviants. So on one hand if you want to watch two hot people go at it more power to you, but on the other hand if you’re attracted specifically to lesbianism you’re dehumanizing gays by turning their lifestyle into a fetish. Obviously that’s not a distinction that I or anyone else can make for you, and it’s certainly not an enforceable moral edict or whatever, it’s just something to consider. And it’s why I think romance stories that focus on the sexuality of the participants without some kind of social commentary are basically shit.

  4. I don’t think yuri and yaoi writers ever intended to make the relationships realistic, but just to appeal to the fetish. I think I’ve only read 1 story categorized as yuri that has actually had people look down on that type of lifestyle seriously, but it still wasn’t realistic. Again, I think it’s gotten to the point where people just wanna see the same thing with different character designs.

    1. “The same thing with different character designs” would be a good way to describe every new show this season I think. And that has pretty much been my experience with yuri too, I was kind of hoping someone would bring some counterexamples but hasn’t happened so far.

  5. It’s a fair point that many yuri anime (especially the ones that go beyond subtext) are set in all-girls schools. Some feature butch-femme couples and some do not. Some are “yuri as service” and some are not.
    If you look at the manga side of things, there is a much broader spectrum of works. Not everything is sempai-kouhai or tachi-neko (actually, that tends to come up rather often in works about the women-loving women community; see, for example, the autobiographical manga Honey & Honey). You’re just as likely to see two non-butch girls together as you are a butch-femme couple, though as with any relationship, there can be other power dynamics involved, and you can label them tachi-neko if you like: sempai-kouhai, teacher-student, experienced-newbie, bossy-accommodating.
    You may find these works of particular interest: http://www.lililicious.net/doc.php?id=category#queer
    as well as works from ALC Publishing.

    1. I probably shouldn’t have painted yuri with such a broad brush, I don’t doubt that there are exceptional works. And obviously I can hardly judge real life relationships or works describing them. Gender dynamics in practice are far removed from theory. I may just check out that link when I get a chance.

      However this show in particular and ‘mainstream’ yuri in general promotes the most backwards kind of thinking about homosexuality. Too often one girl or the other is given so many stereotypically masculine traits that she just becomes ‘a boy in a girl’s body’ (I believe I’ve seen that precise description in the text more than once), or there is some extenuating circumstance that gives her an aversion to boys as if homosexuality could not possibly be a biological trait. It’s not just ignorant, it’s downright exploitative, and the heterosexual audience that’s looking for a dirty little thrill licks it up.

      Sorry if I’m throwing out the legitimate queer fiction baby with the bathwater, but as yuri creeps into more and more shows it feels like it’s getting further away from a sensitive portrayal of homosexuality, and that bugs me.

  6. As someone who has read the manga, I find many of your criticisms here off base. Social commentary in the series does exist, and the tachi-neko designations you’ve complained about don’t nearly represent the actual dynamic of the two main characters.

    I do think the anime is disastrously poor though, and unfortunately in a way which remains more or less true to the source material.

  7. Why is it ‘boyish’ if a woman enjoys sports and all that? I’m supposed to tell the women on my co-ed team that they’re just trying to be tachi’s and gain ‘masculine’ traits? Why is it not ‘womanly’ if someone doesn’t enjoy dresses and makeup and all that?

    It’s not an attempt to copy men and gain ‘masculine traits’ as you put it. It’s about not being caught up in the stereotype of being a ‘woman’. To me, doing sports and whatever is normal, but it’s been restricted from women until the turn of the century because of men’s views on it. There’s nothing gender specific about it. What is ‘gender specific’ anyways besides what society deems is normal? It’s commentary like this that keeps that feeding girls the stereotype of remaining a ‘frail, limp-wristed uke’.

    A show like this isn’t an attempt at ’empowerment’, whatever that means. It’s an attempt at normalization. Shows/mangas that exploit yaoi/yuri are the ones that focus on the smut part, completely taking out the nuances of a relationship for sexual gratification. *Those* are the ones that keep the stereotype of gay relationships being ‘just about sex’.

    An anime/manga like this that shows some level of detail to the actual relationship is a good thing, because it’s an attempt to show that gay relationships *are* like heterosexual ones in that there’s feelings and love involved. Above all, it’s one of the few, it’s an ice breaker, and it isn’t negatively portraying anyone. Stereotypical lesbian couple in this anime? What’s non-stereotypical about 90% of the hetero works out there that have the usual boy-save-the-day thing?

    1. Not responding to your other criticisms because I didn’t write this article but…

      What’s non-stereotypical about 90% of the hetero works out there that have the usual boy-save-the-day thing?

      Who are you disputing? When did we ever make this claim?

    2. As far as I’m concerned gender is a social construct and people should be free to do whatever they want, but don’t pretend there isn’t a stigma associated with athletic women in popular perception. It’s not about my personal views; it’s about what’s being insinuated by the way these fictional characters are portrayed.

      Yuri isn’t about normalization, or it wouldn’t be its own genre with its own fanbase and its own conventions and its own page on tvtropes. Instead it’s a kind of ‘separate-but-equal’ romance, which is inherently not equal at all. If you don’t know what empowerment means, google it.

      And at no point did I defend yaoi/yuri smut or the 90% of hetero works where the boy saves the day. In fact most of the posts on this blog attack those series. I’m not really sure you read the article to be honest, it seems like you got through a couple paragraphs and then slammed the page down key to go pound out an angry comment. Thanks for bumping a two month old article with your big gay anime strawman shit though.

Comments are closed.