Ep. 23: BL Metamorphosis

It’s an incredibly wholesome and sweet episode this week, as the gang read a heartwarming tale of a May/December friendship, based on somewhat un-wholesome manga! Yup, we’re talking about boys’ love (BL) and yaoi, thanks to the ‘gateway’ manga BL Metamorphosis, by Kaori Tsurutani. Spoilers: It’s really, really good.

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BL Metamorphosis Vol. 1 & 2
メタモルフォーゼの縁側, Hepburn: Metamorufōze no Engawa, lit. “Veranda of Metamorphosis”)
By Kaori Tsurutani
Translated by Jocelyne Allen
Adapted by Ysabet MacFarlane
Lettered by Ray Steeves
Published by Seven Seas Entertainment (Print/Digital)

Show notes written by Christopher Butcher, edited by Deb Aoki (just dropping this in here because writing about myself in the third person was getting weird!)

00:00: Before we get started!

This isn’t a BL manga, it’s a seinen (general interest for grown-ups) manga ABOUT BL manga. The other thing that you need to know is that BL manga is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. As a gay dude I’m in kind of a weird spot to explain this genre of manga that is about romance and sexual relationships between men, but primarily created by women for a female audience. There’s been a lot of back and forth about this over the years. I’m gonna try to just sidestep all of that and give a general overview here.

So shojo (girls’) manga in the early 70s started to feature stories about romances between male characters, inspired by European literature and other sources. Two ethereally beautiful boys at boarding school, tragic pasts, doomed romance, you know the score. The Heart of Thomas by Moto Hagio (published by Fantagraphics, but now painfully out of print) is a great example. A huge segment of fandom ate this up and started to produce their own stories, sometimes featuring these characters, sometimes all new stories, and self-published them as doujinshi (basically just Japanese for self-published comics). Because these weren’t running in shojo magazines, they could be a LOT sexier. The term yaoi was used mainly to describe self-published and sexier work (“yaoi” is short for YAma nashi, Ochi nashi, Imi nashi – “no climax, no point, no meaning”), but eventually grew to envelope the entire genre. It made its way to North America and publishers like Digital Manga Publishing/June Manga and Tokyopop (among others) dove in head first to start publishing. They did pretty well, there was a boom, a bust, and now we’re back to a sort of equilibrium with regular releases, both in print and in digital. 

‘Yaoi’ is the term in wider use because the term “boy’s love” does have some underage connotations, but for the most part, protagonists in these stories tend to be older, like high school age and up, especially for works in translation to English that veer to the sexier side of things, because of like, the law. But honestly, most BL, even with sex scenes, aren’t any more explicit than a lot of YA novels. It’s just about two dudes (which makes some people very nervous), and there are pictures.

Meanwhile, “BL” as a term has been picking up steam. Most Japanese bookstores I’ve visited that have manga have very large, branded “BL” sections. Perhaps that’s the ‘appropriate’ name for the genre to the general public? Either way, the genre is enormously popular in Japan (and throughout the world too). It’s a real sales driver for the whole industry–which is hilarious because publishing in Japan is a very conservative industry…! 

Anyway, this is a huge simplification of a massive, sprawling genre, with more words written about it than I’ll write in a lifetime. The Wikipedia article for yaoi/BL/etc. has been EXTENSIVELY edited and noted, probably because of the exact sort of online pissing matches and misinformation I hinted at above, and seems to be a very good overview of the material. I learned a lot reading it, and I already knew a lot, so it’s probably worth a look.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yaoi

1:28: That description from the back of the book:

“Ichinoi, a seventy-five-year-old woman living a peaceful life, unwittingly buys a boys’ love manga one day, and is fascinated by what she finds inside. When she returns to the bookstore to buy the next volume, the high school girl working there—Urara, a seasoned BL fan—notices a budding fangirl when she sees one. When Urara offers to help Ichinoi explore this whole new world of fiction, the two dive into the BL fandom together, and form an unlikely friendship along the way.”

From the publisher’s website

02:24: I think “Easing You Into Boy’s Love” is the title of a Boy’s Love manga… ¬‿¬

06:20: I also sold books in a bookstore for a long time, and always tried to give good recommendations, and also felt weird sometimes about becoming friends with customers because it’s a weird thing to navigate! Could totally relate to that aspect of this story, even though I don’t think I talked about that during the podcast. I am glad to have a bunch of friends that I’ve made through the bookstore though. 🙂

7:00: Also somewhere in here, David mentions a bunch of his pals, which is super sweet, but the name I recognized was comic creator Emma Rios. I really dig her stuff and she’s super nice, check out her collected editions at the Image Comics website. She also illustrated a few short stories that DAVID HIMSELF WROTE! You can go check out David’s collected writings here.

David’s book cover illustrated by Emma Rios!

08:00: Not vampire hunters, but I couldn’t really think of a lot of senior-citizen-characters in either western comics or in manga that weren’t “wise ancient one” types. I kinda think that Bridgette in Kieron Gillen and Dan Morris’ Once and Future from Boom Studios is maybe like, the closest you get, although she’s literally a wise old ancient one. I dunno, Magneto before he was de-aged? Anyway, it’s pretty fresh ground. Speaking of which, check out Gillen and Morris’ Once and Future, I quite liked the first volume.

10:00: The scene Chip is referring to here is when our lead character’s adult daughter comes to visit her mom, and stumbles across the beginnings of her BL collection, which is just a few volumes on a shelf next to the TV. It’s handled really sensitively and smartly, cutting back and forth from the daughter discovering and reacting, and the sort of contentment on the face of her mom as she’s cooking. She ultimately decides not to bring it up, pretty clearly just happy that her mom has something. It’s so subtle, and so smart, and good, and frankly this whole series is absolutely full of moments like this. 

11:00: It’s true, there is smuttier BL, but she takes it in stride. She’s in her 70s, she’s lived through a lot. But I think her very first reaction, where we get a real “Oh My” moment from her, and that’s the biggest reaction you get, just surprise. It’s super nice. We come back to these scenes a little later… 😉

12:20: The whole sequence with them visiting their first comic event is so amazing. I won’t spoil it here, but that ‘bonus’ manga page with them talking about their purchases sitting at a cafe really brings me back. Love the ‘author notes’ in BL Metamorphosis, which is just… more manga. 🙂

13:45: Speaking of which, the two titles that Ichinoi mentions having enjoyed previously are much older titles, Rose of Versailles (available now from Udon Entertainment) and Aim for the Ace!

Rose of Versailles by Ryoko Ikeda is a title we mentioned a lot this year on the podcast actually, an absolutely classic series. It tells the story of the interactions between Marie Antoniette, Queen of France, and Oscar Francois de Jarjayes, the commander of the Royal Guard. Big emotions, big events, a mix of fantasy and fact, it’s one of the biggest-selling and most important shojo manga of all time. After being tragically unavailable in English since its inception, UDON Entertainment published it in 5 stunning volumes now available wherever books are sold.

Meanwhile, Aim for the Ace! is a shojo tennis manga created by Sumika Tamamoto. It tells the story of Hiromi Oka, a high school tennis player who dreams of stardom, while overcoming her nervousness and finding romance. It’s an incredibly popular series, never translated to English, but like Rose of Versailles was mega-popular as a manga in the mid-to-late 1970s, and various animated and film adaptations kept the popularity high through to the present day.

14:30: Exquisite.

15:00: I don’t think we’ll ever be able to use those transitions without giggling.

16:40: The manga event in the first and second volume is J-GARDEN, a huge manga and doujinshi event all centered around works that were published in, or are in tribute to the popular BL manga magazine Juné (pronounced juu-nay). Premiering in 1978 and running until early 2013, it was a pioneering manga magazine that accepted unsolicited BL-themed manuscripts, inspired by the success of of star shojo manga artists showcasing BL themes in their work. Even though Juné the magazine has folded, the J-GARDEN event still continues to this day (COVID-19 permitting…). The next, the 50th event (already rescheduled once because of COVID) will take place on October 10th. For more info head to https://www.jgarden.jp/.

Fun fact: English manga publisher DMP licensed the name Juné back in the early 2010s, and continue to publish manga under that brand in English to this day. They have no other relationship to the Japanese publisher, so far as I’m aware. 

Oh weird, checking out their site, it looks like J-Garden takes place at Tokyo Big Sight now, the same location as Comitia and Comiket, rather than in Ikebukuro as depicted in the manga. So the whole bit about Big Sight being too much of an excursion, like in volume 3, wouldn’t be a plot point anymore. I guess everything’s different these days because of the virus. Anyway, you can find out more about J-Garden from this article posted on boys love manga site Futekiya’s blog https://futekiya.com/a-bl-fans-guide-to-j-garden/ 

Comiket, which I mention is the biggest (and most exhausting?) comic event in the world takes place at Tokyo Big Sight, probably attracts a million people over 3-4 days (the official numbers are way, way low) — COVID permitting, of course. **sigh** Each day features a completely different set of exhibitors, and many exhibitors sell out of their wares in the first few hours. Even if you can’t read Japanese, if you’re a hardcore comic or manga fan, you should definitely put Comiket on your bucket list…! [Deb]: The official Comiket website has a visitor’s guide in English for overseas visitors in case you’re curious.

19:00: This is not only a great gag, but an incredibly relatable moment. I’ve definitely done this, going to events. So nice.

20:30: As David mentions, and as we go back to a couple of times, the realization that Ichinoi may not live to see the end of the series, and her quick mental math, is utterly awesome. Kudos to the manga-ka for making these next two pages the last in one chapter, and the first in the next chapter, to double-dip on an utterly excellent gag.

21:30: A butsudan is a Buddhist altar, or shrine, which is kept in temples and homes. Like Deb says, families keep photos or memorabilia of the deceased there, talk/pray to them, and make small offerings. 

22:45: That moment that Deb and David mention where Ichinoi is like “please draw faster” is an amazing punchline to the “how much time do I have left” bits.

25:00: Fujoshi, or “rotten girls”, is the term that is used to describe BL and yaoi fans, both by themselves as a ‘reclaimed’ word, and by others as a pejorative. The male equivalent is fudanshi, as Deb mentions in a minute. It’s mostly self-used these days, and not too pejorative exactly.

27:00: Mandarake started buying and selling gay manga in a big way about 3 or 4 years ago, and that coincided with them partnering with several prominent gay manga creators (including Gengoroh Tagame!) to create original merch as well. It was very affirming to see, as previously the vast-swaths of published gay manga were unrepresented at the biggest used book chain in Japan! 🙂

For example, they have this very tasteful printed cloth illustrated by Tagame-sensei, suitable for hanging in your hallway.

SorryNotSorry

29:30: I was hedging a bit, but I will say that there are absolutely men who read yaoi and BL, hopefully I didn’t suggest otherwise. But at least so far as those who are ‘out’ about it, that number is smaller, and more-or-less exclusively gay men… but not always. I can say that even in the Japanese gay community, some of the gay folks I’ve talked to are very secretive about reading BL. 🙂

32:20: BL Metamorphosis won the 22nd Japan Media Arts Award, was nominated twice for the Manga Taisho Award, and was a top pick amongst Japanese manga critics in Kono Manga ga Sugoi, the annual ranking of cool manga! In short, people really, really liked this one. It’s very much a manga for people who like manga.

33:00: It’s true! Here’s a photo that I found on the website BeDeTheque.

35:00: Good for you, Sakura-kun! I think what Ichinoi gets out of these manga is so interesting, so different than what Urara gets out of them. It’s really deftly handled, and Ichinoi’s frustrations with some of the conventions of BL start to come out in future volumes… 😉

36:00: That’s specifically “most TRADITIONAL-style Japanese Houses.” Sorry to generalize! There are lots and lots of kinds of apartments and houses in Japan, and not all of them have porches/engawa. But you can see what I’m talking on about the cover of volume 1.

40:00: The QR code joke is the best.

So utterly charming…! 🙂

41:20: Good stories like these is why our episodes are getting longer. 😉 Also: Dear friends who have helped me sell comics at events: Thank you. <3 <3 <3

45:00: Yoshinoya instead of Ichinoi. Goddamit, Christopher. Goddamit.
Apologies, Tsurutani-sensei.

Yoshinoya, Japanese Beef Bowl Restaurant. Despite having gone to Japan many times, I’ve only been to Yoshinoya once, with David actually.

48:10: The number of times I’ve been that guy buying transgressive stuff in Japanese book stores and the staff are being… super chill… about it. Haha. Just one of the reasons I absolutely adore Skull-Face Bookseller Honda-San, a veiled autobiography of a bookstore worker having to deal with foreigners. Hard recommend. Available now from Yen Press.

49:15: Retail nerd gatekeeping is real. Sometimes staff, sometimes other customers, sometimes just the internet, but it’s always there.

50:00: We’re referencing the scene with the daughter again, up top. So good! Also a note: Mom’s getting into BL, her daughter married a foreigner and moved out of Japan, the whole book is about the gays… What a progressive manga! 🙂

52:00: Bishie Auction. So “bishie” is American otaku slang for bishonen, or “beautiful boy,” which is another way to describe BL protagonists. This auction is a real thing, btw. Here’s a photo of it from Yaoi Con 2010, by Andrew Evans. [Deb]: It somehow isn’t the same without the sound of women screaming or seeing the guys dance for the crowd. But I guess what happens in the YaoiCon hotel ballroom stays in the YaoiCon hotel ballroom. 😉

56:00: Okay, so I probably should have done this all up at the top, but here we are. Here’s a couple of quick terms explained for you.

Doujinshi: Self-published booklets in Japan, often comics or short stories, but not only that. These are usually printed in short runs of 50-500 copies, although popular authors can sell thousands.

Original Works / Fan Works: An “original” work is one that doesn’t use any existing/copyrighted material, and tells an original story. It might use real people, sometimes, though? A “fan work” or “tribute work” is one that uses existing characters/scenarios, and tells new stories with those characters. Most doujinshi fall into the “fan work” category.

J-Garden: Women-centric comics event where authors sell doujinshi of popular existing works from or inspired by Juné magazine, so mostly fan works.

Comiket: Short for “Comic Market.” The biggest comic event in the world, mostly selling fan works/tribute works. Three days, with different exhibitors each day. Hundreds of thousands of people attend. More than tons of exhibitors.

Comitia: Okay, this is the one we start mentioning at 56:00. This is like Comiket, but much smaller. Just one day, only in one exhibition hall, about an attendance of 50,000 people. Their number one rule is original manga _only_, no fan works. But also no restrictions on genre, audience, etc., so lots of BL manga, lots of actual gay manga, as well as hentai, and all kinds of different themes and styles. This is the event that Urara wants to exhibit at in volume 3/4. This is also the one that David mentions that he and I exhibited at. [Deb]: Online manga site Manga Planet has a guide to attending Comitia on their blog.

57:45: “Ahegao” is a term in Japanese pornography for an exaggerated facial expression of characters, usually females, during sex. Typically featuring rolling or crossed eyes, protruding tongue, reddened face, to show enjoyment or ecstasy. At least, that’s what Wikipedia says.

The ahegao-face shirt/hoodie became like, sort of a meme at anime events and conventions over the past few years, though it’s mostly died down because it’s kind of like walking around with sexual harassment on your shirt? Anyway, we’re all adults here (especially after that Tagame image), here’s what I’m talking about.

58:00: Fakku is manga’s official hentai publisher, and as such their booths tend to have more interesting exhibits than others. After a bit of an uproar the first year they exhibited at Anime Expo, they’ve moved to more of an ‘adults only’ closed-off booth situation. Here’s a photo of their booth from their official Twitter account, you’re just going to need to imagine what’s inside it.

1:02:21: Shout out to my pal Tory Woollcott! Excellent comic maker and also makes cool objects.

1:05:00: Since Chip mentions following Jocelyne Allen’s work, we should probably link her blog, where she talks extensively about books (including some that she translates). You can find her work at Brain vs. Book.


1:10:06: THE BREAK! After this time stamps are approximate, because of dynamic ad insertion.

American comics for folks who like BL Metamorphosis? Check out Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang’s IRL: In Real Life, published by First Second Books! No older characters unfortunately, but there’s a lot of similar themes there around the younger character, and I think they go together well.

Now it’s time for this week’s READER Q&A:

“What was a comic you have ever read and thought – yes, *this* is how comics ought to be.”

Erica Friedman

Good question that we all have a bit of trouble answering, because honestly tastes shift and change over time.

Chip chimes in with one that really affected him back in his highschool days, Kill Your Boyfriend, by Grant Morrison and Phillip Bond, published by DC/Vertigo. 

David brings up three great titles. First up, it’s the 8-volume manga series that people keep requesting that we cover but we haven’t yet because 8 volumes would break Chip, and you really do need to read the whole thing, Pluto, by Naoki Urasawa, published by VIZ Media. Then it’s the hilarious gag manga City, by Keiichi Arawi, published by Vertical/Kodansha. Finally, he recommends a recent Mangasplaining read, Even Though We’re Adults, by Takako Shimura, published by Seven Seas.

Deb recommends the mind-blowing graphic album by Alejandro Jodorowski & Moebius, The Incal, published by Humanoids.

Then I share a little story about the dangers of reading for work instead of fun, and recommend two great books by Lynda Barry (but I got one of the titles wrong, whoops!). Those books are The Freddie Stories and One Hundred Demons, by Lynda Barry, published by Drawn & Quarterly. Also I should have asked David to bleep my swear here, like he bleeped Deb’s. Haha.

So yeah, there’s a whole bunch of good books to read! Enjoy!

That BL book that I read was My Summer of You by Nagisa Furuya, published by Kodansha, and I wanted to like it way more than I did. I’m just… over… stories where the only reason there’s a story is that characters refuse to talk to one another. So yeah it feels hella mid. Sorry. Anyway. There’s a preview at the link above, maybe you can see if my tastes are different than yours. Great book design though.

Meanwhile, we GO OFF about the work of manga creator est em, a BL manga creator whose work is almost entirely out of print in English, sadly, but has a really unique take on BL, with lithe, muscular figures. Everyone looks like a buff back-up dancer for a Madonna video. Heh. Here’s the cover of one of her more popular works, Age Called Blue, published in English by NETComics. [Deb] Maybe easier to find is Tableau Numero 20, published by SuBLime Manga. P.S. est em’s men are not THAT ripped. You can find some of that kinda thing in this and this. Ay chichuahua!

Finally, Deb brings up Offshore Lightning, by Nazuna Saito, coming in February 2022 from Drawn & Quarterly, a collection of insightful manga by a unique manga creator. You can read the excerpt that Deb refers to here.

Funnily enough, the 2021 Eisner winners HAVEN’T been announced as of today. I think we miscounted, because Comic-Con at home actually takes place July 23-25, and this episode is going live July 20th. Whoopsie! We’ll have to wait a week to see if Chip won or not…

And that’s the end of this episode, we hope you enjoyed it! You can find BL Metamorphosis and many of the other books mentioned above at a comic shop near you, via comicshoplocator.com. Thanks again to D.A.D.S. for their musical accompaniment this week, and we’ll see you again next time! Take care!

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5 Responses

  1. Erica Friedman says:

    I love Ikebukuro, and we stay there every time, too. ^_^

    Thanks for the answers folks. I really loved BL Metamorphosis, too, for all those reasons and am looking forward to you all talking about Volumes 3-5.

  2. Thehoennhippo says:

    Good episode! I really enjoyed volume 1 of BL Metamorphosis so I really ought to catch up, especially with it about to be over. I would be very interested in seeing an episode about an actual BL manga in the future, and it would also be interesting to hear more about gay male manga by gay men in the future as well. Hearing David talk about Pluto also made me want to hear an episode about that or maybe another Urasawa work. Lot’s to be excited about in the future. Looking forward to the all the episodes in the future!

  3. Miguel Corti says:

    So glad you recommended this because it’s not at all the type of manga I would have read unless someone put in front of my face first. I don’t know about you, but I kept hearing Jessica Tandy’s voice in my head for Ichinoi. Maybe because it has shades of Fried Green Tomatoes, or just simply Tsurutani draws her the way I picture a manga version of Jessica Tandy to look.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed how this manga was springboard for discussing what it means to be a fan and how fans interact with the target of their interest.

  4. David Austin says:

    Ikebukuro is super nice. Used to go there with friends to get Thai food and then drink at the Yebisu beer garden. We’d walk around just to check out the funky architecture.

  1. July 24, 2021

    […] Aoki hosted this week’s episode of Mangasplaining, as the team discussed Kaori Tsurutani’s BL Metamorphosis Volumes 1 and 2, and its gentle […]

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