The OF Blog: Yuiko Takamura, Caged Slave

Friday, August 13, 2010

Yuiko Takamura, Caged Slave

Although the old adage of "there is nothing new under the sun" might be true, there are certainly new things for someone to discover, even in reading.  I have read hundreds of histories and biographies.  I have read romances, Westerns, adventures, period pieces, SF, fantasy, magic realism, graphic novels, and even wordless picture books, all in several languages.  But until today, I had never dared to read a yaoi story.

Yes, I, a single heterosexual male, read a yaoi novel, a Japanese story involving male homosexual relationships that are mostly marketed to Japanese women.  Why?  It certainly was not in hopes of being turned on by this story.  Mostly, it was due to a dare and a curious desire to see if I could find anything of worth in a story so alien to my normal reading habits.  What I discovered was that female authors can often write as poorly-drawn male characters as many male authors do with female characters.

The story opens with Tsukasa Shinozaki, a "bottom" who is a secretary dir Dai Tech.  He is in a bad relationship with his boss, Konishi:

Now matter how hard Tsukasa tried, he just couldn't make himself feel any pleasure from anal sex.  His lover had tormented and bullied Tsukasa about it up until the day they had parted.

And yet Tsukasa had to admit that he had known from the beginning that this man, who had treated him so cruelly and unfeelingly, had felt no love for him.  Tsukasa's feeling has been true, but to his lover, he had been nothing more than an outlet for improper desires, a piece of ass that presented no risk of pregnancy and wouldn't pressure him for marriage. (pp. 9-10)
Ohhhkkkkayyyy.... As a male, this scene just felt so foreign to me.  Perhaps it's because I'm not Japanese and not an abused "passive" partner, but this read much more like an abused female character who had her gender changed to a male.  The tone, the desire for acceptance, all this feels very stereotypical, just with the gender reserved for the abused partner.  It may be that this is just an unhealthy relationship irrespective of the gender of its participants, but I just couldn't imagine most men reacting in such a fashion to being dumped.  Usually there's a bit more anger and violent emotions involved, or at least that's what my experiences, direct and indirect alike, have been.

Well, naturally, that "piece of ass" needs to be picked up and a mysterious dark-haired, rugged stranger picks up Tsukasa.  As I suspect is the case for these type of stories, there is a lot of hawt man-love on display, as the secret lover just shows Tsukasa how to have an orgasm and to enjoy anal sex.  Doubtless if this were a boy/girl scene, there would be many who'd want the literal blow-by-blow, but would probably shudder or make some other homophobic remark if explicit male/male love scenes were shown.  Takamura does not skimp on the explicitness, so here's a representative sample:

Tsukasa continued to cry out.  As the man finally plunged into his very depths, Tsukasa felt his hips begin to quiver.  He pushed himself up again and again, relishing the sweet friction.  A sensation he had never felt before was welling up in his member. (p. 20)
And yes, a good half or more of this novel involves Tsukasa and his lover (later revealed to be the grandson of the company President) alternating between lovemaking and Tsukasa pining for the affections of his lover.  Again, this is quite foreign to me, perhaps because I have yet to understand the Edward Cullen-ness of these type of relationships.  The only real plot tension comes in the possibility, introduced and then dismissed in the final 30 pages, that the lover, Takeshima, might abandon Tsukasa's "piece of ass" and marry the daughter of a powerful bank ally in order to cement a business alliance.  But of course, true love conquers all and the two are back together in the end.

Doubtless, yaoi is very formulaic for a purpose.  From what I've gathered, it is a sort of cathartic experience for the women that read them, being able to imagine males in some of the same relationship situations that they find themselves in.  Perhaps Tsukasa's situation (he is but a lowly company secretary, after all) mirrors theirs well, both professionally and romantically (minus perhaps the anal sex).  But from a prose level, this is a hideously written novel.  There is no elegance to the prose (and I doubt there were any to be found in the Japanese original) and the characterizations are very static.  The plot is pedestrian and the entire matter just left me feeling disengaged from the text.  Perhaps that's just as well, since I highly doubt males were meant to read these "boy love" stories.  But it certainly was a learning experience, one that I probably will not repeat, at least in regards to this genre of fiction.


E. L. Fay said...

Okay, I'll confess: I read a few yaoi mangas in college. I had an anime-loving friend and she heartily recommended them. My reaction: meh.

As a heterosexual female (though not Japanese) I guess I'm supposed to be in the target audience. Although granted, some of the couples were hot, I got very annoyed very quickly with the formulaic predictability and the unhealthy and even abusive relationship dynamics. I think you nailed it when you said that yaoi, despite centering on gay men, is actually about the dynamics between Japanese men and women. Yaoi relationships are rarely between equals – there's always one dominant partner and one submissive one. The action is almost always either fellatio (which straight women can do too) or anal sex in missionary position, which most resembles hetero intercourse. Overall, yaoi's portrayal of gay men is very stereotyped and I'd say it's really no different than girl-on-girl porn aimed at straight men.

I know I sound critical but I'm not really against yaoi per se. I just think it really needs start taking into account the fact that it's members of a majority group (straight women) appropriating the sexuality of an oppressed group (gay/bisexual men) for their own consumption.

Chad Hull said...

Wow, and I thought I was branching out reading poetry...

I think you've officially read everything under the sun; we need to find you a new hobby.

Charles said...

Does that mean we won't be seeing squirrel yaoi?

On a more serious note, yeah, it's a common trope in yaoi stories. The Japanese term is actually seme/uke (for the top/bottom sexual position, or as you pointed out, the dominant/submissive role).

Larry said...

Nah, I think I'll leave the squirrel yaoi to other, more well-versed hands. But I suppose this has been a learning experience for me, seeing how thinly disguised this subgenre of literature seems to be.

Dave Cesarano said...

You and E.L. Fay are correct when you state that yaoi is more about Japanese women's relationships with Japanese men than it is about gay relationships that are even remotely realistic. I think it is a mixture of psychological projection and revenge fantasies. In a sense, I think the female identifies with the "top" in order to experience feelings of empowerment and dominance, but also sympathizes with the "bottom," who is usually the more emotionally vulnerable partner. The result is that it is a very cathartic form of escapism for Japanese women, especially since Japanese men are generally aloof and stereotypically very close with their emotions.

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