Yuri, shoujo-ai, girl’s love, cute anime girls getting it on with each other – no matter what you want to call it, these names refer to entertainment that contains romantic and/or sexual relationships between women. Yuri first developed as a genre mainly targeted towards women, much in the same way that lesbian literature in other societies began growing as homosexuality became an issue in developed nations. However, it seems that a large volume of yuri being produced is now marketed towards male audiences rather than ones composed of females. Why is this?
At first, the answer may seem quite simple. Perhaps men simply enjoy entertainment with themes involving female same-sex couplings; after all, plenty of guys have been interested in “Sapphic erotica” (girl on girl pornography), so to say. But there’s an interesting fact about the consumers of lesbian-themed anime, manga, or novels that one should note: namely, that while pornography is purely sexual, non-erotic yuri still seems to draw customers, particularly male ones.
There several examples of how yuri can be used to target male audiences. First, yuri can serve as a supplement to the main story: one that may be originally designed for males, and uses lesbian undertones to attract even more fans. Just take a look at Akamatsu Ken’s Negima!. Not only do you have a ten year old in the ultimate harem situation, you also have two of his students in a blatantly obvious more-than-just-friends relationship. Second, yuri can serve as a secondary central theme along with the main theme. Titles such as My-HiME scream: “Think yuri damn it!” In these shows, the action and the yuri are very closely entwined.
In contrast to the first two, the third type of yuri that also attracts men is the kind of anime that is relatively close to pure shoujo. By “shoujo” I mean that much of the “action” in the story revolves around character progression. Anime such as Maria-sama ga Miteru and Strawberry Panic fall into this category. Termed “Class S” yuri, these series focus on the platonic relationships between girls, often utilizing the setting of a girls’ only school. For those males without an interest in this third type of yuri, it wouldn’t be surprising if you’re confused at why some men would like this kind of series. After all, this kind of yuri is clearly created for girls. But why do guys seem to be oddly attracted to these girls and their relationships with their sophisticatedly complex yet beautiful upper-classmen?
The reason for this, I propose, is that, underneath the crazed, obsessive outer behavior of otaku, there lies an attraction to themes of romance that seems to be more emotional than superficial. It’s almost as if fans of this type of yuri take to heart the somewhat more spiritual nature of the relationships involved in these stories. This means that the attraction yuri has over (some) men isn’t necessarily limited to something sexual. Otaku are consuming previously female-oriented material, and empathizing with the relationships that are being represented in anime, particularly if the couples in the shows have a relationship that borders romantic love and friendship. The theme here is the tension between romance and friendship, which is a universal theme that attracts more than the superficially-minded viewer.
Here, I point to Sasameki Koto for two particularly telling scenes that mimic the heart-rending situations any one of us could experience in our lives. In the first scene, we see Sumika gazing longingly at her best friend Kazama, who is in turn staring at a magazine of a cute girl who caught her interest, all of which occurs over a ten second long backdrop depicting the glowing orange of the late afternoon sun. The image is perfect – they’re sitting next to each other, just as friends would, but the viewer can easily feel the distance that Sumika must feel lies between herself and her object of affection. The fact that their eyes never meet expresses visually the sadness of one-sided love. What struck me about this scene was just how easily it could mean the same thing if the two characters were guy and girl, or even a guy and a guy.
Later, when we see Kazama and Sumika sleeping in the same room (as friends, of course), we see even more of this tension between friendship and love. Kazama, heartbroken by this point, seeks comfort in staying over at her best friend’s home. Here, the same tension between friendship and love is expressed through the bonds of trust: Kazama trusts Sumika enough to sleep next to her. As I was watching this particular scene, it dawned on me just how powerful this image was. Many, many years ago, I happened upon my mother watching some scene from some drama (I never asked the name) where a male and female character spent the night in the same bed, but as friends. At the time I innocently asked my mother: “Are those two boyfriend and girlfriend?” She replied, “No, they’re friends. The girl trusts the guy, so she’s not afraid to sleep next to him.” I immediately realized how this obscure subgenre of anime reflects on this same universal theme that I had barely understood as a child.
Perhaps all of what I have discussed here may seem a bit trivial to most anime fans, but it seems to me that this phenomenon reveals diversity in a fandom that is now thought of as largely being influenced by the moe boom. Of course, yuri anime can be moe-fied in the way other anime can, but the existence of male fans of Class S yuri anime seems, to me at least, to show that being an otaku is just a bit more than drooling over cute anime girls forming strangely talented bands or acting silly with one another. Consumers of anime, while often sensationalized by media and intellectuals alike as being particularly obsessive over superficial elements, reveal an interesting contrast in their behavior through their appreciation of certain types of yuri anime.