The other day, a man asked me frankly, “What’s so good about BL?” I suppose it’s difficult for men to understand. Even women in real relationships with men enjoy BL. It’s been nearly 50 years since the creation of the first BL works, but why were they created in the first place? Why is BL so popular? Today, we’ll be talking about this topic.
Many years ago, I attended a lecture by Yukari Fujimoto, a scholar of manga. She explained that BL originated from aesthetic boy (tanbi shounen, 耽美少年) stories, with Takemiya Keiko’s The Poem of Wind and Trees pioneering the genre. The Poem of Wind and Trees is considered Takemiya’s masterpiece and the quintessential BL title of the 1970’s. The protagonists are a handsome boy named Gilbert and a sincere boy named Serge. The two meet in the school gymnasium (all boys boarding schools are a common trope in shoujo manga), and the serious Serge is picked on by the delinquent Gilbert.
A tremendous number of girls were attracted to the character of Gilbert. An acquaintance of mine who was brought up in all girl’s schools once told me, “Gilbert was all that I could think about for three years.”
Gilbert even appeared on the cover of my high school anthology, even though I attended an all girl’s school. The girl who drew the cover must have been a huge fan. These kinds of instances are probably common. The concept of aesthetic boys is synonymous with Gilbert. Gilbert has even been used as a source of jokes in works such as Patarillo! (Mineo Maya) and What Did You Eat Yesterday? (Yoshinaga Fumi). If you’re familiar with the original story, you will find yourself laughing so hard your sides will be splitting.
On the other hand, The Poem of Wind and Trees is a serious story. At one point, Gilbert is beaten and raped by other students. He then abandons his delinquent lifestyle. Of this point, Fujimoto explained, “The readers of the story are sympathizing with Gilbert, but if he were a female character, his pain would be too realistic and difficult to bear.
This is the essence of BL. To put it simply, women are able to dissociate themselves and enjoy the story objectively through the depiction of love between men.
Many girls experience sexual harassment, such as being touched inappropriately or being verbally harassed, before they experience romance as an adult. They feel disgusted due to being treated like a slab of meat. They also have complicated feelings towards men who enjoy looking at naked women.
However, that’s not to say they are not interested in romantic and physical relationships. They want to connect with those whom they love. But the thought of that happening to themselves is terrifying (because the act of love involves inserting a foreign object into the body). BL allows readers to distance themselves and enjoy the story optimistically.
In many BL stories, both parties are straight and show signs of hesitation and opposition, saying things like “What? Stop that!” This kind of confusion is characteristic of women. But if it were a woman being pursued in the story, it would overlap with the female reader’s personal experiences and they would feel uncomfortable. Even in scenes depicting sex between a male and female in comics for teens, it feels as if there is a lot of care taken to depict the scene subtly.
Furthermore, there are some readers who enjoy works with forbidden love as a theme. That is to say, stories featuring two characters who cannot be in a relationship. These days, the term LGBT has permeated throughout Japan, and homosexuality has become less “forbidden”, but some readers still find this sense of immorality in BL stories irresistible. It’s certainly more difficult to use themes of forbidden love in stories featuring men and women.
Women are not allowed to enjoy sex to the same degree as men are able to. I once wrote an article about AV (adult videos), and the female editor told me, “I don’t like to make light of sex.” It seemed like she was uncomfortable with any topic related to sex, be it AV or otherwise.
Erotic novelist Mutsuki Kagerou says that the three rules of eroticism are “no pregnancy, no menstruation, and reaching a climax even if they are a virgin”. It seems that he tries to exclude unnecessary elements with the focus of making the erotic content as enjoyable as possible. However, these three rules are not realistic for most women. To many women, sex is not something that can be dissociated from things such as their life or work. So in the case of erotic novels drawn by women, there seems to be a pattern where scrupulous care is taken to establish the backgrounds of characters, only for something unexpected to happen in the end. The same was true of an AV scenario I wrote about recently.
It certainly seems that BL abides by Kagerou’s three rules of eroticism. Men do not get pregnant, nor do they menstruate (probably). Indeed, the best way for women to enjoy BL in a carefree manner is to do away with these unnecessary elements.
Source – なぜ女はBLが好き？ 男が知らない本質的な理由
place; rank; decimal place; counter for ghosts
stomach; Chinese “stomach” constellation (one of the 28 mansions)