The Homoerotic Requirement


In the previous post, I noted that one of the baseline requirements for a boy boom in Japan (where “boy boom” is my flippant way of talking about foreign male star booms) is the presence of a homoerotic something. In the case of the first beautiful British boy boom, that requirement was fulfilled in no small part by the films Maurice, based on E.M. Forster’s novel of the same name and starring James Wilby, Hugh Grant, and Rupert Graves, as well as the earlier film Another Country (Marek Kanievska, 1984), starring Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, and Cary Elwes, released in Japan in 1985. Yet, the foregrounding of two films with narratives centering on male homosexuality in YNoB and its follow-up, Young Noblemen of Britain Part II, is hardly compelling evidence of a generalizable requirement for some kind of homoerotic element in the emergence of a foreign ‘boy boom’, so what other evidence is there to support this assertion?

In the 1998 book Mini-theater Style! (ミニシアター的!), Hiro Otaka writes:

It’s important to note that, beginning from around the 1988 release of Maurice, awareness of male dramas that foregrounded sexual relations drove mini-theater business… In the case of the 20-somethings who comprised the bulk of the working women [OLs] who thronged to see Maurice, there was a sense that they were bewitched by the film’s depictions of male beauty, yearning for a return to the charms of shojo manga… at the time of Maurice[‘s popularity], there probably was still a tendency to see drama about homosexuality [lit. male same-sex sexuality 男同士の性的なドラマ] in a special light. This probably came from the somewhat embarrassing hedonism of women’s pleasure in things like the beauty of white men. [Otaka, 43-4]

In the longer passage from which this is excerpted, Otaka is contrasting the popularity of Maurice with the subsequent popularity, a decade later, of Wong Kar-wai’s 1998 film, Happy Together. Like Maurice, Happy Together was also about the interpersonal ups and downs of three gay men, and like Maurice, it was one part of a broader male foreign star boom (the Hong Kong star boom that began concurrently with the first British boy boom). But where Maurice was a rather visually soft, pastoral film about gentlemanly white men, Happy Together featured Chinese actors Leslie Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, and Chang Chen in a far grittier Buenos Aires milieu.

As it happens, Otaka is writing very near the end of the 1990s Hong Kong male star boom, on the tails of a decade’s worth of cultural critique that equated Hong Kong film fandom in Japan with a broader Japanese ‘turn to Asia’. Which is to say, at the time Otaka was writing, it was critically acceptable to be a fan of Hong Kong films and stars, because such fandom wasn’t ‘only’ about pretty boys and feminine fantasies, unlike (he suggests) that of Maurice and similar films (indeed, he goes to pains here to note that by the time of Happy Together, men were also going to see gay-themed films, which seems for him to lend more legitimacy to broad mini-theater/LGBT film trends). This is an unsurprisingly masculinist perspective in which anxiety over the feminine pleasures is particularly strong, and it’s one that pointedly overlooks the intense popularity, just four years earlier, of Farewell, My Concubine (Chen Kaige, 1993) – a decidedly lush melodrama featuring the above-mentioned (and, by this time, wildly popular) Cheung in the role of homosexual Beijing Opera star Cheng Dieyi.

But leaving that aside for now, what I’m interested in here is Otaka’s interesting articulation of Maurice and shojo manga, and how this further informs the baseline requirement for a homoerotic something in the emergence of foreign boy booms in Japan. As it happens, this has been written about a bit already; the entire article, which I co-authored with Bertha Chin, is here, but I’d like to pull out one part of the piece that speaks directly to this issue. We’re talking here about homoeroticism in Harry Potter doujinshi, arguing that such works are less representative of a simple, gay-inflected Anglophilia than they wed one popular cultural context (the homoeroticism of certain kinds of shojo manga) to another popular cultural object that has clear affinities with that context:

Japanese doujinshi set within the Harry Potter universe… reveal an orientation that is neither Anglophilic, per se, nor homoerotic in the ‘traditional’ Japanese sense, but rather grounded in Japanese iterations of transnationally circulating narratives of European boarding school culture. Initial research of English and Japanese language fan works (fan fiction and doujinshi) based on Harry Potter suggests that while there are notable points of affinity between them, there remain critical differences that cannot be accounted for within a simple ‘national’ calculus. In contrast with English language slash fan fiction, in which the >two most popular Harry Potter pairings have been Harry/Draco (230k+ stories on; 4k+ stories on AO3) and Harry/Snape (200k+ stories on; 2.5k+ stories on AO3), and in which stories are broadly split between Hogwarts-era and post- Hogwarts timelines, a small sampling of thirty Harry Potter doujinshi suggests that the vast majority of stories take place within a Hogwarts-era context. Here, however, ‘Hogwarts-era’ refers both to the timeline of J. K. Rowlings’s books, as well as to the earlier, alluded-to timeline of Snape and the Marauders (James Potter, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew) over twenty years prior to the events of the books. Notably, the James/Snape pairing, which is all but non-existent in the English language fan fiction context, enjoys particular popularity among Japanese fans (Noppe, 2010: 119-121), thus begging the question of why such differences exist between seemingly congruent fandoms?

In its most homoerotic iteration, Harry Potter reflects nothing so much as the fantasies – and nightmares – of British public school pederasty and fagging, and this plays out both in English language fan fiction and in yaoi doujinshi through stories of non-consensual and forbidden sex that draw on the characters’ complex canonical backstories. Secret relationships, cruel pranks designed to cut to the emotional quick, and fleeting moments of empathy and understanding between ostensible enemies form the broad backdrop of such stories, which seem to draw as much from the schoolyard Anglophilia of such films as Another Country (Marek Kanievska, 1984) and Maurice (James Ivory, 1987) as the Harry Potter series itself. At the same time, Hogwarts-era Harry Potter doujinshi, as Sharalyn Orbaugh writes, equally exhibit many of the tropes of yaoi manga (2012: 179-180), and it is here that we can locate at least one critical difference between English language slash fan fiction and Japanese yaoi doujinshi within the broader context of Harry Potter fandom. Specifically, while both Harry Potter fan fiction and doujinshi share a common familiarity with the above-mentioned tropes of boarding school sexual liaisons, in the Japanese context these specifically derive from certain seminal works of early commercial yaoi manga.

One such example is Moto Hagio’s 1974-5 serialised manga, Toma no shinzo (Heart of Thomas), set in a German boy’s boarding school and centring on the Sturm und Drang of (male) adolescent romance, which itself was penned after Hagio saw Jean Delannoy’s 1964 French boarding school romance, Les Amités particulières (Thorn, 2007: n.p.). Here, the European boy’s boarding school is the ideal setting for a story that is, first and foremost, focussed on the kinds of ‘boy’s love’ relationships that were just beginning to gain traction within the commercial manga market at the time that Toma no shinzo was being published. In the same way, Harry Potter doujinshi use Hogwarts as the backdrop for stories that have played out between teenaged boys in the Japanese popular cultural context through countless commercial and amateur manga that draw from such early works. Harry Potter’s preponderance of pivotal male characters, and particularly their wide- ranging interpersonal melodrama, aligns the story so closely with pre-existing manga narratives of homoerotic adolescent angst that amateur artists frequently slip into ‘Japanese’ versions of Hogwarts, complete with attractive, ‘emo’ Snape (a frequent feature of Marauder-era doujinshi) and Japanese Pocky snacks (KCP, 2011: 26). In this sense, what we find in Harry Potter yaoi doujinshi is less an Anglophilic fetishisation of public school tropes than a mélange of texts ranging from the European art cinematic to the Japanese feminine popular cultural that, together, form the backdrop against which the Harry Potter novels resonate with Japanese fans engaged in transformative fan practices.  [Chin & Morimoto, 102-3]

Which is all to say, this homoeroticism not only is a key component of a certain strain of women’s popular culture in Japan, but it’s closely linked (like the first beautiful British boy boom itself) to popular cultural and industrial influences from outside Japan. That is, it’s not a uniquely Japanese phenomenon; yet, it’s a uniquely Japanese iteration of a host of broader transcultural phenomena – as are all transcultural fandoms. The first beautiful British boy boom (or the Hong Kong star boom, or the Korean Wave, or the second – present-day – British boy boom) doesn’t begin in 1988, so much as it emerges in 1988 from a host of influences: French film, shojo manga, and so on. We could probably even find a place for the all-women Takarazuka revue in there, particularly insofar as Takarazuka fandom is, in many ways, the model for modern celebrity fandom in Japan (homoerotic appeal inclusive).

**It should be noted that, just because a certain homoerotic element seems critical to foreign boy booms, this does not mean that all fans of foreign boom stars are interested in it. In the same way that slash =/= all fan fiction – while still comprising a substantial part of it – so too does homoeroticism =/= foreign star fandom in Japan. It seems always to be there, but to greater or lesser degrees depending on key texts and stars.

Chin, Bertha and Lori Hitchcock Morimoto. ‘Towards a Theory of Transcultural Fandom,’ Participations: Journal of Audience and Reception Studies 10.1 (May 2013): 92-108.

Noppe, Nele. ‘James loves Severus, but only in Japan. Harry Potter in Japanese and English-language fanwork’, in Kaoru Oshima and Yutaka Yabuta (eds.), Japanese Studies between EU and Japan, Osaka: NPC Corporation 2010, pp. 119-140.

Ōtaka, Hirō. Mini shiatā teki: eiga ga motto motto suki ni naru hon (Mini-theater style: a book to make you love movies more]. Tokyo: Wēbu shuppan, 1998.

Thorn, Matt. ‘Hagio Moto: The Comics Journal Interview’, 2007 [WWW document] URL [visited 15/11/12]

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