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my question, answered

As for my question yesterday, it was at least partially answered by the new issue of Wired last night, when I read the response of a 16-year-old Japanese girl to a question about bishounen characters in a girl's romance videogame. I am paraphrasing but she said something like this: "They're not gay!! Their love is pure! They don't have SEX!" O-kaaay...I can't say I get the mindset, but it was an interesting window into how those characters are being perceived.


Well, if they're never shown having sex...

I wouldn't be so quick to judge how bishounen characters are judged based on the comments of a sixteen-year-old girl in Wired Magazine.

My significant other is heavily into bishounen (although more of the fan-fiction variety than the Tokyopop variety) and so I've spent a good deal of time around bishounen fans. Most of them seemed to be women in their twenties who had would probably have gotten pissed off at the whole "They're not gay!! Their love is pure! They don't have SEX!" crap.

As it was explained to me (and I hope I get this right; I'm not a bishounen fan, having the same problem with them as Dirk Deppey)... For a lot of these women, the interest in bishounen was a reaction to traditional romances and the way that people, specifically men and women, interact in them. Most of the women I've met who read/write bishounen stories don't like reading about men and women falling in love because it's done so badly in mainstream media. By having men fall in love, it seems to short-circuit the sexism usually present in stories (or that's the theory). So, in a way, the mens' love is viewed as being "more pure" because it's not a part of the standard romance novel fare where the woman falls in love with the man who rapes her or the romantic comedy convention where the woman falls in love with the man who treats her like crap.

So why men falling in love with men? I'm not sure. Partly, it's a turn-on (which is why most of the bishounen fans I've met are especially fond of the fact that the men have sex with each other, contrary to the Wired teen), and partly, it's a bit of wish-fulfillment (the gay men in bishounen stories being quite unlike the mainstream culture's perception of straight men as boorish, stupid, and emotionally detached).

Again, though: this is all second-hand, a view of why some women really like bishounen stories as it's been described to me, someone who is not a fan of bishounen stories.

(Incidentally, I was under the impression that "bishounen" referred simply to men who were attractive in a femmy, almost androgynous way rather than to gay men exclusively. I've heard Spike and Vicious, of "Cowboy Bebop" fame, described as bishounen while neither of them is gay.)

PDP: thanks for the comments! I can see that point of view -- although are you talking about western fans? Because I'm actually more curious about the Japanese perspective, not the 2nd-hand western view (and I'm not counting western-made bishounen work, which I'm sure is out there although I haven't seen it).

In both cases, I think you are right, the removal of sexism from the relationship allows it to be portrayed differently...

And yeah, I was under the same impression as you, that "bishounen" just meant semi-femme good looking guys...although maybe in Asia that really is what they mean?

Anyway...trying to pin genres on manga is tricky at best! Like not all girl's comics really are stereotypical "shoujo"...where am I going with this? No idea!! I'm tired...but thanks for the input!!