October/November Reading List

Fake v. 1-5

  • Love Sanami Matoh’s fluid, expressive art–Ryo and Dee are quite charming, but the timeline of the series seems kind of jumbled, which makes it difficult to keep up with the emotional benchmarks in their relationship. This may be a result of the series being OOP and volumes being difficult to get ahold of. In any case, it desperately needs a license rescue! Also, *deep sigh* yes it is still copaganda. Dee’s loose-cannon recklessness in particular is framed as admirable, which just doesn’t fly, particularly from an American context.

Only the Ring Finger Knows 2

  • I still really like this series, but I can tell the go-to conflicts these two face are going to start to wear thin. They love each other, they get jealous, some drama happens with the rings, it’s fine. The introduction of Yuichi’s older brother at the end of this volume creates interesting new emotional stakes, though, and might liven things up a bit in the third volume.

Love Kids!!

  • This was pretty cute, but like the few other random titles I’ve grabbed off Renta, didn’t really stick with me. The main couple have a sweet relationship, our main character has a crush on his dad’s lover, there’s some angst but it works out with the power of love.

Ooku 4-5

  • Fumi Yoshinaga’s epic alternate history continues to be super compelling. The way she writes women–even sisters, mothers and daughters–as wholly unique individuals, strikingly different from each other and fully realized characters in their own right, is tremendously satisfying. And of course, the political drama of the court is incredibly fascinating.

Otherworld Barbara

  • UM WHOAAAAAH WHAT. SUPER COOL, SUPER TRIPPY. Setting up some incredibly fascinating themes surrounding dreams, reality, family and more. I just picked up volume 2 today and will have more complete thoughts on this series next month!

Bloom into You

  • So far I actually like the anime a little better? But it’s a tough call. Also I’m g a y.

Kiss Him Not Me 1

  • It’s fun! It’s funny! Its premise is absurd and kind of fatphobic! I really did enjoy this volume, though, seeing Junko poke fun at fujoshi through the perspective of a likable fujo protagonist knowing she’s a BL mangaka is just delightful. I would highly recommend this AnimeFeminist article: https://www.animefeminist.com/discourse-force-him-not-me/ although it primarily discusses events from later in the story than where I am, the patterns Amelia points out regarding Igarashi’s behavior are present and concerning from the word go, and this article takes a great critical eye to that aspect of the series.

Anime: Banana Fish, Bloom Into You, Honda-san, Tsurune, FMA/FMAB

  • I’m going to cover these all together instead of one at a time to save myself some headache. In order: gay, gay, fujoshi jokes, gay, NOT THE DOG!! For real though, Bloom Into You especially has me hooked–I’ve actually been keeping up with the anime as it comes out all season. It’s beautifully directed, the voice acting is deeply affecting, and Yuu’s complicated feelings surrounding her own ability to feel romantic love are really compelling. Pls protect Yuu!! Rewatching FMA has also been a really interesting experience–2003 and Brotherhood both have their merits, and watching them cover the same material is a really interesting study in adaptation. I’m looking forward to seeing how these seasonal shows wrap up and to reexperiencing the climax of FMA in both versions!

That’s all for November~ thank you all so much for your patience and understanding and check back in next month for more thoughts on whatever gay ass nonsense I read in December!

August Reading List

Hi everyone! This is the first of many posts where I’ll be reflecting on the BL/shojo/LGBT manga I have read or am currently reading. In the future, I’ll aim to post these lists at least twice a month and also track/discuss unlicensed manga I’m reading through scanlations. Definitely let me know if there are series you want to see me pick up–especially licensed works available through the library.

This list is not a collection of summaries or formal reviews, and it’s definitely not spoiler-free! That said, enjoy these thoughts and feelings and take from them what you will~

Thanks so much for all your support, and be sure to check out my Patreon if you want to help me pay my rent and keep writing!

Local Library
Go For It, Nakamura! (v. 1)

  • Fun! Feels quintessentially BL but also very modern
  • Inclusion of an unambiguously self-identified gay protagonist is a nice touch, makes for some excellent jokes and contributes to the modern sensibility of the book
  • The whole chapter about Nakamura picking up BL and becoming a fudanshi was incredibly charming, I loved it.

I Hear the Sunspot (v. 1)

  • Gentle, tender romance
  • Thoughtful portrayal of disability; at times Taichi’s role in the narrative toes the line between advocacy and saviorism, but the inclusion of a girl who wants to date Kohei in order to fulfill a shallow fantasy about caring for a helpless ‘other’ helps bring that into contrast and emphasize how Taichi’s protectiveness of Kohei comes from an appreciation and respect for his dignity and humanity, rather than a paternalistic denial of it
  • Gave me heart palpitations

Continue reading

Love, Sex, and Power in Fruits Basket

I wrote about Akito Sohma’s internal and interpersonal struggle with power in Fruits Basket, and how her story shows us what healing looks like for AnimeFeminist! This piece was in the works for a long time, and I’m incredibly grateful to my editor and the AniFem staff for their hard work in helping it come together. I hope you all enjoy!

Experiencing abuse from a young age, lacking a healthy vision of how to love and be loved, can resonate through a victim’s life for years, even decades. This is explored thoughtfully and compassionately in the classic shoujo manga Fruits Basket.

The series tells the story of the Sohmas, a family cursed to transform into animals of the Chinese zodiac when embraced by a member of the other sex. Not only does it grapple with a legacy of abuse, but it also raises profound questions about the nature of love and power and explores the role sex plays in both. These themes come through particularly clearly in the head of the family and “God” of the Zodiac, Akito.

Click here to read the full post!

Feminist Fujoshi and Fanthropological: A fan’s-eye view of BL fans

Hey everyone! The Nickscast, the guys behind the podcast Fanthropological were kind enough to bring me on to talk about my experiences with BL fandom; we had a great time talking about the politics, peculiarities, and personal significance of BL and BL fans. You can find the episode on fanthropological.com and your favorite podcatcher!

Also, we forgot to bring it up on the recording, but if, like the Nicks, you’re new to BL and not sure where to start, check out Khursten Santos’ BL Manga Starter Kit on her blog Otaku Champloo. It really showcases the diversity of BL manga and suggests some series that are personal favorites of mine. Also check out the 100% Consensual BL List hosted right here on FeministFujoshi! You can find TheNickcast on twitch, twitter, and their website. If you liked what you heard here, be sure to go show them some appreciation!

2018 Boys’ Love Anime Announcements

Via AnimeNewsNetwork:

Yarichin Bitch-bu

TOHO began streaming a promotional video on Saturday revealing an anime adaptation of Tanaka Ogeretsu’s boys love Yarichin Bitch-bu (Playboy Bitch Club) manga. The anime’s “first episode” will be an original anime DVD (OAD) that will bundle with a limited edition version of the manga’s third compiled book volume on September 21.

Ten Count

The wraparound jacket band on the sixth and final volume of Rihito Takarai’s Ten Count boys-love manga revealed on Monday that the manga is getting an anime adaptation.

Dakaretai Otoko 1-i ni Odosarete Imasu

Aniplex opened a website on Sunday to announce that Hashigo Sakurabi’s Dakaretai Otoko 1-i ni Odosarete Imasu. (The Most Huggable Man Has Threatened Me) manga is getting a television anime adaptation that will premiere this year.

Clearly it’s an exciting time for BL anime adaptations! Still, although we could get adaptations that toss the bring out the best in both series while minimizing their flaws, I’m pretty apprehensive about Yarichin and Ten Count in particular. I would love to see the anime throw out the consent issues in Yarichin while maintaining the manga’s irreverent, unashamedly explicit tone, and for the troubling romanticism of Ten Count to be forgone in favor of something darker and more intentional in its depiction of a relationship based in manipulation and unequal power. It’s also possible that these adaptations will be perfectly faithful to the flaws of their source material–we’ll just have to see!

“Things We Forever Pursue”: Excerpt from Comic Natalie on Akimi Yoshida

Hey everyone! Comic Natalie ran a really interesting article promoting a book about Akimi Yoshida’s work and creative influences over the course of her career, which was released around December 25th in Japan for the 40th anniversary of Yoshida’s debut as a mangaka. Based on what I can muddle out from google translate, it looks super cool, and features answers to fan questions, dialogues between Yoshida and other prominent Japanese artists and critics, and more! The article itself runs a couple of interview excerpts from the book, and I found this bit from a 1994 conversation Yoshida had with Kaoru Kurimoto (AKA Azusa Nakajima) especially neat:

Yoshida: “California Story” is based on Yutaka Mizutani and Kenichi Hagihara’s “Battered Angel,” isn’t it? “Midnight Cowboy” knew without saying that. It was the influence of the American New Cinema of the 1970’s that first inspired me to draw things.
Nakajima: Is that not just the origin of “California Story,” but the origin of Akimi Yoshida herself?
Yoshida: All origins.
Nakajima: That’s it (laugh)
Yoshida: In this case, I will do my best. Because of this, when relationships between men appear in my drawings, physical relationships are not absolute. That is the origin, so I can not imagine.
Nakajima: Surely.
Yoshida: A kiss or something comes out but it does not contain any homosexual physical relationship…
Nakajima: Because the image is of Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman.
Yoshida: Yeah. So it does not lead to bed. In other words, it seems that the baby chick looked first at what she saw as a parent.
Nakajima: “Imprinting,” right?
Yoshida: That’s why it is something that I will pursue forever.

It’s super intriguing and illuminating to me that Yoshida was so strongly influenced by American New Wave cinema–one of the most striking things about Banana Fish is how much texture and character New York City has as an environment! It also shows us how she was able to imagine possibilities beyond the heteronormativity of her influences while still being constrained by them; she was able to write deeply intimate, and even romantic, relationships between men, but these relationships were still ultimately non-sexual and distanced from “homosexuality.”

Please take this translation with a huge grain of salt, as I really just lightly edited google’s translation, and can’t guarantee that it’s super accurate or reliable–I absolutely welcome any corrections! That said, I hope this is an interesting, informative little highlight, and really encourage everyone to check out the article and the book for more information about a genuinely fantastic mangaka.

Transnational Readings of Yaoi Fan Culture: Feminism, Fujoshi, and Globalization [Excerpt]

Here is an excerpt of an essay I wrote for a Women’s Studies course on transnational cultural movements during my last year of college (2015/2016); I had a lot of fun researching the history of BL cultures in Japan and the West, and then interviewing self-identified BL fans I had connected with through my college anime club and FeministFujoshi. Here’s a dropbox link to the full essay! Enjoy, everyone.

Fujoshi is a Japanese word meaning “rotten girl,” frequently used to describe female fans of yaoi: Japanese fanworks created primarily by women for women that depict men in same-gender intimate relationships (Galbraith, 2011, p. 212; McHarry, 2003). Both the terms yaoi and fujoshi first appeared in fan communities and have been (and often continue to be) used in playful self-mockery (McLelland, 2015, p.55, p. 169). Yaoi is also referred to as “Boys Love” although this term is more often used to refer to commercial products—most notably comics, but also novels, audio dramas, and games—rather than fanworks (McLelland, 2015, p. 5). For the sake of clarity, as well to highlight the fact that many fan artists go on to participate in the commercial BL industry and many artists within the industry still create fanworks (Lees, 2006), in this essay I will use “Boys Love” and its abbreviation “BL” as an umbrella term for both commercially-produced works and fan-produced works. Fujoshi represent not only a subculture, but almost inarguably a mainstream audience within Japan, with the BL industry grossing approximately 21.3 billion yen per year (Yano, 2010), and since the early-to-mid 2000s there have been an increasing amount of young people in the West becoming fans of this genre, creating thriving new subcultures. In this essay I will examine how these young people are reading and creating BL differently and similarly to the original Japanese fanbase—how they have transported and transformed this subculture.
While fan translations of From Eroica With Love, a 1979 shojo manga with (loosely defined) BL themes, circulated through amateur press associations in the US as early as the 1980s and the Aestheticism Boys Love fanzine began in 1996 with its companion website coming online the year after, events which suggest significant BL fan cultures were already developing, the first Yaoi-Con was not hosted until 2001, with the first BL original video animation, Kizuna, released on DVD the year after (Pagliassotti, 2015). Interestingly enough, Kizuna was released through Ariztical Entertainment’s Culture Q Connection line of LGBT films, with the company currently describing it as “the first gay male Anime [sic] to be released on DVD in the US” on their website (Aritzical, n.d.). This release of Kizuna as media specifically for gay men demonstrates how different cultural understandings of homosexuality in the US and Japan influenced the reception of this material in these different societies. Mark McHarry touches on this in his article “Yaoi: Redrawing Male Love” in which he quotes Mark McLelland saying that “The traditional understanding of homosexuality as a particular style or ‘Way’ of enjoying sex is still faintly discernible in certain media texts which speak of homosexuality as a ‘hobby’ [shumi] or a kind of ‘play’ [asobi/purei]” (as cited in McHarry 2003). Where Western understandings of homosexuality currently emphasize a largely fixed identity which is an intrinsic and integral part of the individual self, Japanese traditions of same-gender intimacy, such as nanshoku, or sexually intimate mentor relationships between adult men and adolescent boys, leave a lingering perspective which conceptualizes same-gender eroticism in terms of behavior and free-floating desire.
The racialized and gendered implications—as well as transnationality—of BL as a cultural phenomenon are evident even from its beginnings; Tomoko Aoyama, in her essay “Male Homosexuality as Treated by Japanese Women Writers” discusses how many female Japanese writers depicting same-gender intimacy in the 60s and 70s drew from Western influences, using Moto Hagio’s early manga “November Gymnasium” and its more developed manifestation, Heart of Thomas as one example of early BL manga’s frequent use of Western settings and characters, or Western influences when set in Japan (within the context of a wider body of Japanese literature written by women), and its purpose and effects. She writes, “The setting of a German gymnasium [in Heart of Thomas] works, because it is fictitious….The choice of young boys rather than young girls, and a German gymnasium rather than a Japanese school would appear to have been made…to avoid the ‘sticky’ restrictions of realism” (Aoyama, 1988, p. 188-189). Here, she emphasizes the additional distance that a Western setting and characters—in combination with the use of boys rather than girls in the narrative—creates between the story and its author and audience, thereby allowing for “free artistic expression,” (Aoyama, 1988, p. 189) for the author to explore different, often darker themes such as death, incest and more without being held back by the discomfort of personal vulnerability; because these comics did not depict Japanese women, they created a space for their authors, and arguably their readers as well, to explore issues that affected or interested them as Japanese women more confidently.

It also worked to create a kind of Occidentalism—reproducing an idea of “the West” that is unmarked, assumed to be coherent and stable. Toshio Miyake’s analysis of Axis Powers Hetalia, an amateur Japanese gag comic depicting nations anthropomorphized as young men provides a useful lens through which to look at the use of Western settings in early shounen’ai manga that Aoyama describes; Miyake discusses the way in which the overrepresentation of Euro-American nations in the text of Hetalia, as well as the popular character pairings in dojinishi, produce unquestioned representations of existing hierarchical geopolitical relationships, thereby reinforcing key logics of Occidentalism (Miyake, 2013, para. 4.3-4.6). Although Heart of Thomas and works like it do not literally represent anthropomorphized nation-states, their highly romantic, aesthetic depictions of setting and character that tie wealth, philosophy and romance to the West certainly carry occidental implications. Aoyama describes one novella, Koibito-tachi no mori (translated to Lovers’ Forest): “Though this story…is set in Japan, European flavor is apparent…characters are treated almost as part of the extremely gorgeous and occidental props” (Aoyama, 1988, 192). Although Lovers’ Forest was a novella that preceded early BL comics, and Aoyama states that there is no evidence of direct influence, the parallels between this and early BL works such as Heart of Thomas remain clear: use of Western settings, characters and philosophies that emphasize romanticism and intellectualism.

In a more modern context, there is still a clear emphasis on the romantic appeal and sexual dominance of the West in BL manga. Kazuhiko Nagaike’s article “Elegant Caucasians, Amorous Arabs, and Invisible Others: Signs and Images of Foreigners in Japanese BL Manga” examines representation of racial others, particularly White people and Arabs in monthly magazines that serialize BL manga; Nagaike discusses the racial implications of the large presence of White (or mixed-with-White) and Arab characters in BL, particularly the ways in which they are consistently portrayed as sexually dominant—as the seme in, to quote Miyake, “the boys’ love/yaoi code of seme (active, stronger, penetrating character) and uke (passive, weaker, receiving character) pairings” (Miyake, 2013, para. 4.5; Nagaike, 2009, para. 9). Nagaike argues that this parallels larger sociopolitical ideas regarding the feminine East in opposition to the masculine West, framing White characters as “superior others” in BL works (2009, para. 15-16). In contrast, Arab characters, also primarily represented as seme, are inscribed as “symbols of eroticism by means of Orientalistic images of harems and polygamy” (Nagaike 2009, para. 20), certainly masculine, but still depicted in a mysterious, largely unchanging and feminized vision of the Middle East. This reaffirmation of Western dominance and representations of Orientalist ideas of Arabs in BL texts (not to mention the conspicuous absence and negative depictions of non-Japanese Asian characters and Black characters) demonstrate women’s romantic fantasies’ complex entanglement with racism, something which is especially critical to examine in the context of BL’s globalization: as Western fans read their own fantasies and desires into works depicting Japanese women’s fantasies and desires, problematic racial dynamics are reinterpreted through a more globally dominant perspective, and this creates new points of fan engagement and complications surrounding representation and power in BL fan cultures.
My own original research—personal interviews conducted over a period of approximately a week—also deals heavily with…transnationality and its implicit, part-and-parcel transformations of the source material….I found significant similarities to—as well as significant differences from—scholarship on BL fan culture both in Japan and the West, and will compare anecdotes and experiences related to me in these interviews to Patrick Galbraith’s essays “Fantasy Play and Transgressive Intimacy” and its slightly revised version, “Moe Talk” dealing with fujoshi culture and practices in Japan. I found Galbraith’s assertion that “How female fans of BL in Japan talk to one another…is not only pleasurable, but also productive of new ways of interacting with the world of everyday reality” (McLelland, 2015, p. 153) also very applicable to the BL fans I interviewed—one interviewee recounted to me a game she played with her friends very similar to Hachi, Tomo and Megumi’s “moebanashi,” or “moe talk,” sessions, which she termed “AU [alternate universe] where,” in which she created couplings or scenarios involving her friends—and, on occasion, strangers—playfully reimagining the world around her in terms of potential relationships and fantastic escapades which allowed her to engage with her everyday surroundings in new ways (A. Caliguiri, personal communication, March 13th 2015). However, one of my interviewees expressed a perspective directly counter to that of Tomo, Megumi and Hachi, stating that she did not identify as a fujoshi specifically because she associated it with “those girls who make everything into yaoi”—she went on to concede that she did occasionally find herself coupling characters from series that were not already BL, but stated that this only happened when there was a significant amount of subtext or connection between the characters, joking, “I don’t make everything into yaoi, I make yaoi into yaoi” (S. McKinney, personal communication, March 12 2015). The homosociality of BL fan culture was also apparent to me in my interviews—in the communication cited above, I spoke to two friends at once, and witnessed a great deal of physical affection between my correspondents. Additionally, toward the end of our time together we all began to exchange BL titles and authors we enjoyed, creating a kind of temporary and temporal intimacy through these texts reminiscent of Galbraith’s “surface intimacy” (Galbraith 2011, p. 214, 216; S. McKinney & E. Patel, personal communication, March 12 2015).

A few of my interviewees had actually experienced some degree of contact with Japanese fans, and frequently described the people they had encountered as more “mellow,” with one correspondent explaining, “Like you know how a lot of kids here go through a weeaboo [fanatic, often racist to some degree] phase thats [sic] more teenagers being obnoxious?? That didn’t really happen according to my [Japanese] friends” (S. Young, personal communication, March 8 2015). Another interviewee who had studied abroad in Japan expressed that an interest in BL was “less of a big deal” for Japanese fans, and that he felt interest in BL was more stigmatized in the US, with Japanese fans better understanding that BL fans could have other interests (M. Clogston, personal communication, March 14 2015). In contrast to this perspective, when I asked another interviewee if they had any contact with Japanese BL fandom, they related their experience of seeing the well-known Japanese cosplayer Reika at Yaoi-Con 2014, where, when she was asked if she knew any differences between Japanese and American BL fans, she said Japanese fans had vicious “ship wars” or fights over preferred yaoi couplings, and asked if that was common in America. The audience responded with a resounding affirmative and according to my correspondent, Reika replied, “well, I guess there’s no difference, then” (R. Wang, March 13 2015).

Marco Pellitteri discusses the spread of anime and manga throughout Europe, particularly Italy, writing, “I have recast the term [transculture] as transacculturation…to emphasize the process of cultural growth in a positive, or at least neutral, sense” (Pellitteri, 2011, p. 214). This process of transacculturation is happening with Boys Love media on a far larger, more global stage than ever before, with a growing body of scholarship exploring its many manifestations and implications, and fans exploring BL more and sometimes even in more conscious, complex ways. While researching I was overwhelmed by the amount of enthusiasm I was met with from fans of anime and manga and BL itself—nearly all the people I interviewed and several people I did not interview expressed a desire to read the finished version of this essay, and members of Davis Anime Club suggested I present on this topic at an upcoming anime convention. Transnational Boys Love fan cultures display complex negotiations of power, interpretation, and imagination that are always in play and always changing, but there are also incredible amounts of joy and excitement in these cultures: people are reconfiguring desire through politics of race and gender and nationality, people want to know more and more and more; like Hachi said of The Great Wave of Kanagawa reinterpreted through a yaoi lens: “‘This is so great! I never thought such a thing.’…Tomo commented that the person had gone ‘too far’…but this was delivered as a positive assessment, demonstrating well that play is the exultation of getting carried away” (Galbraith 2011, p. 226).

The Subversive Use of BL Tropes in Dogs and Swallows

Gido Amagakure is best known for his long-running seinen manga Sweetness and Lightning, but he’s actually explored a wide variety of genres–including BL. In his one-volume title Dogs and Swallows (or 犬とつばめ), high school student Kaede Yamada is reunited with and–this is BL, after all–falls in love with his childhood playmate Taiju Noro as he attempts to come to terms with the death of his older sibling, Asahi Yamada. Throughout the volume, Amagakure brings his trademark sensitivity to themes of grief and gently subversive portrayals of masculinity to the table while deftly utilizing classic–even cliché–BL tropes. To be clear, I’m not arguing that these tropes are narratively justified in that they “make sense in the story,” but rather that Amagakure intentionally and carefully uses these tropes to further develop Dogs and Swallows’ central themes.

First is the issue of consent; the prevalence of disrespect for others’ sexual boundaries in BL is a constant frustration for fans who find the normalization of sexual assault distasteful. Thankfully Amagakure’s characters are never actively cruel to one another, and the manga is featured on the 100% Consensual BL List! However, in instances such as Noro kissing Kaede without his consent, or Kaede protesting of pain during sex, Amagakure makes these communication problems significant thematic threads that run throughout the whole narrative, affecting Kaede’s and Noro’s character arcs. When Noro springs a kiss on Kaede in the middle of the volume, it’s largely played off as a light-hearted, comedic moment, but it also indicates that the romantic connection between the two is still immature (and, when information about Kaede’s relationship with his abusive father is revealed, suggests that he remains emotionally guarded with Kaede.) In contrast, when Noro and Kaede have sex at the end of the volume, the focus is on the two finally communicating, serving as the culmination of both characters’ development: Noro outright asks for what he wants, thereby making himself emotionally vulnerable, where Kaede, who has been consistently depicted as self-centered and lacking awareness of others, chooses to compromise.

The actual sex in this scene is beside the point–in fact, Kaede ends up getting too light-headed for the couple to continue. What’s truly significant is the emotional intimacy gained by their communication in this context. Amagakure’s depiction and framing of these interactions is by no means perfect, but it is used purposefully and sensitively, gently guiding its principal male characters toward a healthier relationship to their emotions and better communication with each other.

Secondly, Amagakure uses his characters’–and in particular Kaede’s–heteronormative attitudes (the exclamation of “but we’re both boys!” in disbelieving protest is a well-trod cliché in BL) as crucial characterization that plays an integral role in setting up Kaede’s character arc. In the volume’s 2nd chapter, as Kaede and Noro are roughhousing on Kaede’s bed, Noro ends up hugging Kaede, who protests with the classic, “you said you liked girls!” However, Kaede’s protest is used deliberately and well in this context: Kaede is consistently characterized as somewhat oblivious and self-centered–in fact, this interaction is directly preceded by Noro specifically reflecting on these qualities, and, notably, Noro never expresses any hangups about gender in his attraction to Kaede. This frames the scene with an emphasis on Kaede’s flaws, rather than implying that the idea of romance between two boys is especially shocking or unbelievable.

Additionally, Amagakure gently challenges both the previously discussed “we’re both boys” trope and the BL genre’s fantastical utopias, where heteronormativity and homophobia are completely avoided; this can be seen in how Kaede is forced to confront his fears and questions about not only Asahi’s gender non-conformity, but his own vis a vis his relationship with Noro. When Kaede meets Shimaba, a former cram school student of Asahi’s, it’s revealed that Shimaba was in (unrequited) love with Asahi and had discovered their penchant for/”hobby” of wearing women’s clothing. Through his introduction and this reveal, Shimaba provides Kaede with an older, more mature outsider perspective, in particular demonstrating an easy understanding of and acceptance of difference that Kaede struggles to grant himself as well as his sibling.

As they talk about Asahi, Kaede asks, “Did nii-chan want to be a girl?” while thinking, “I could ask the same thing about myself…because I’ve been kissing Noro.” Obviously this line of questioning conflates gender and sexuality, but it also functions as an indication of Kaede’s character growth, from knee-jerk rejection of difference to rethinking the assumptions he has taken for granted about his own identity. Additionally, through the juxtaposition of Shimaba’s relaxed confidence with Kaede’s–and, to a lesser extent, Asahi’s–anxieties and uncertainties, Amagakure depicts gender non-conformity as something that can be unremarkable, while insisting on complicating the BL fantasy (or at least, incorporating human complexity into the fantasy.)

Although this particular trope may be common to anime and manga in general, as opposed to BL specifically, the beautiful, androgynous, crossdressing boy (in some incarnations referred to as ‘otokonoko’) is a well-known character trope. Interestingly, Asahi almost entirely averts this trope: they are a working adult rather than a teenager, are not depicted as particularly beautiful, and most importantly, struggle with and question their own identity. The narrative even explicitly asks–although it declines to actually answer–whether Asahi is transgender; through this, it engages directly and sensitively with Asahi’s struggle instead of making it into a joke or a bait-and-switch. The otokonoko can definitely be a fun character, but it’s genuinely refreshing and interesting that Amagakure chooses to avoid this more conventional depiction of amab gender non-conformity in favor of a representation with more depth and nuance.

Amagakure’s use of the tropes and hallmarks of the BL genre is purposeful and thoughtful; even the most basic requirement of the genre, romance between two boys, is explored and thematized in ways that could not be achieved in a story about heterosexual romance. In particular, falling in love with another boy forces Kaede to question and confront his identity, and ultimately his own deviance from gender norms helps him empathize with Asahi and gain closure surrounding his death. Asahi “finally smiling” in Kaede’s memory at the end of the volume feels earned because Kaede has struggled for it and grown from it.

To be clear, I’m definitely generalizing about BL here–it is a delightfully pulpy genre that is incredibly diverse and rapidly changing! There are other authors, potentially even many other authors, who are playing with, subverting, averting, and deconstructing what exactly a BL text can look like. This is also not to say Dogs and Swallows is without its flaws; Amagakure mostly either works a little harder to justify his use of tropes and clichés or implicitly challenges them only by averting them, as opposed to meditating explicitly on why these tropes are so common/useful and where they fall short/normalize harmful (or even simply complacent) attitudes toward consent etc. Despite all these caveats, I found Amagakure’s more intentional use of these tropes genuinely compelling. Kaede and Noro’s relationship is messy–Noro is pushy and guarded, Kaede is oblivious and self-centered–but their stark sincerity and Amagakure’s subtle, gentle take on the genre’s clichés and conventions make this an absolutely worthwhile read.