Monday, March 31, 2008

Yuri: Girls Love and Identity

There are a number of theories people have to explain what we paint. A professor told me she heard that "We all paint what we think are the conditions during the big bang." Another artist said "We paint to replace all the things we hate in the world." But here's what I've been contemplating: What if all the work we do is really about our first love?

It would be an eerily accurate theory in the case of the work I do.

First, a briefing about "Yuri."

Yuri (or shoujo-ai) refers to any variation of girl's relationships in manga or animé. It can be sisterly love, romantic love, or sexual love. Often many of the above.

Yuri is literature with content about females, created by females for females to enjoy (in contrast to its more popular sibling, Yaoi, which is content about males, but also created by females for females to enjoy.) The content's relationship to the author and viewer is different. Nowadays, there's a lot of Yuri created by males for males (its only a natural progression) but that's not the Yuri we're going to talk about.

That said, this is going to be a wierd Freudian post about my past relationships and how they stuck with me. And animé. Just so you know.

My first love was a girl. She was my best friend from grade 2 until grade 9, and I thought we would be together forever. A cliché "ha, why would we ever get married? We have each other!"
But she had some emotional problems, which I tended to blame on her family, that ended our relationship in a messy separation. Said separation affected me for the rest of my life. Did I mention that this girl introduced me to animé? Yeah, that.

I felt an extraordinary guilt throughout my high school years because part of me thought I had failed her. I hadn't been able to fix her emotional problems, so the logical step was to keep trying to fix the emotional shortcomings of every girl I could get close to. My repeated attachments to needy girls led to my assumption that I was a lesbian, which proved untrue after I got to college. It also led to repeated heartache and stress.

Animé is jam-packed with both the lesbian role models that I desired in high school, as well as the innocent and unreserved grade-school female relationships that resonated with my middle school days. I have an eternal allegiance to Haruka Tenoh, also known as Sailor Uranus, from the Sailor Moon series. She is a transvestite, with a female partner. She is tough, with a low voice, and does the things that boys do. Revolutionary Girl Utena took over where Uranus left off, adding multiple layers to the "girl acting out the male role," by overlapping the insecurities, changes in adolescence, and layers of sexuality to the main character. Also loss, deciet, obsession, and confusion. Utena was more than an icon, she was a biography.

The other half of it is the stuff that isn't so heavy: The school age love between little girls who are best friends. The younger ones may see this in Cardcaptor Sakura, which is genius, I think, because it also addresses loss (the friend in love looks on quietly as the other moves on to have a boyfriend.) But the roots are in Shiroi Heya no Futari and later expanded on in the genre-stronghold Maria Sama ga Miteru.

What brought Yuri in to my studio as a considerable topic was a show I recently started watching called Gakuen Alice. The main characters are, in fact, elementary-grade girls who have an unbreakable bond of friendship. Yuri isn't the main content: it's about a magic school of sorts, and conspiracy, and angst, but the handling of the Yuri content is so refreshing because it isn't your standard "come to terms with your feelings, confess, yay now we're gay," story. It is assumed already that they're bonded for life, and then the rest of the story goes on after that. The same goes for two young boys in the series, who are shown to have a "dream" regarding them living happily ever after on a farm far away from everyone. Sigh.

I'm happily taken by a male now (It was harder to tell my parents I wasn't actually a lesbian than it was coming out in the first place) but that whole experience is still a part of me. The stories that move me the most are of girls who are best friends who have to separate. There is something very special about it. About realities. Heartache. Growing up. Very much a part of my identity.

The "girl team" has always popped in and out of my work. It manifests itself in a number of ways and comes down to this: there is something uniquely beautiful about two women or girls who can love and rely on one another unconditionally. I know it.

After The identity series, I'm considering doing a body of work about pairs of young girls and animé. I've been looking into Takashi Murakami's studio, Kai Kai Kiki Co., and how those artist's personal histories are informing their animé-themed work. The trick for me is, their work is informed by animé in Japanese culture; my work will be informed by animé in American culture. Very different.

Question: I've always wondered. Does Yuri, as a medium, affect Japanese Society? Do these great stories about butch, tough, or even simply audible women inspire anyone? Has Yuri effected your identity as a woman or girl?

Visit Okazu: Here
A great source for terminology, history, and literature about Yuri and Yuri awareness in America.

Top: Mikan and Hotaru from Gakuen Alice (Magazine scan)
Bottom: Kori Michele, photo from "A Storyboard?" Installation


Anonymous said...

“Question: I've always wondered. Does Yuri, as a medium, affect Japanese Society? Do these great stories about butch, tough, or even simply audible women inspire anyone? Has Yuri affected your identity as a woman or girl?”

< also, a bit of a ramble >

First I’ll say that a ‘concept’ as a ‘medium’ is intriguing. It defies the traditional thought and logic of what we suppose a ’medium’ to be. But I digress.

If your art is, under your theory, based on first love, that puts me in a somewhat similar and very interesting spot. My first loves were cartoons and comic books, which, while I was growing up, were filled with male leads and strong, masculine role models and sidekicks. All for one and one for all. Willing to lay one’s life on the line for a companion. Working together toward a common goal or dream—usually having something to do with a peaceful life [in the country?].

Therefore, I presume, my first love was man and the complex relationships man can have with men.

Conversely, YOUR generation has been raised with MORE females in popular media doing MORE things—similar to the testosterone dominated days of yore: All for one and one for all. Willing to lay one’s life on the line for a companion. Working together toward a common goal or dream—usually having something to do with a peaceful life…

See a pattern?

Thinking about this, do YOU think something that has slowly been granted more limelight [female relationships], as it were, would influence the culture it’s being extolled upon? Not being familiar with the day-to-day of Japan, but rather living life in the United States, I would venture a guess that yes, YURI [and YAOI] most likely affects society. Just like being gay—only fictitious.

Inspiration is relative, but yuri as a concept is certainly starting to leave its mark! As the year progresses, more and more girls’ love can be found and obtained in our market. Seven Seas publishing is releasing a series of girls’ love books under the umbrella ‘Strawberry’ [like Tokyopo and ‘Blu’]. Import magazines are becoming easier to get on eBay and other auction/sales sites. Also of note, ‘Yuri Hime’[like ‘BexBoy’] and ‘Yuri Hime S’ [‘BexBoy Gold’] are the only 'truly' yuri [as in, not man-made porn] manga magazines currently running on a big publishing scale in Japan. ‘Yuri Monogatari’ [insert any title here!] is an anthology that gathers lesbian manga from around the world—including Europe Asia and Africa!

See a pattern…?

Yuri is, essential, the new YAOI. And I think the people who are growing up with it as an option will most CERTAINLY be influenced & inspired by it.

I know this was a bit of a non-cohesive ramble that may not have engaged you in the sense you may have wanted to be entertained in, but it’s what I wanted to say. ^_^

And if you have the chance, go watch ‘Simoune’. A society where EVERYONE is born female and, after reaching 16, must decide what gender they want to be? Not too shabby. ~_^

gold said...

now, i'm worry about my girlfriend because she like to read yaoi nad yuri and i don't know exactly what yaoi and yuri are.i just know yaoi(mean boy x boy) and yuri( girls x girls)
question: are almost audience of yuri lesbian or bisexsual?
why do girls like to read it?

Kori Michele said...


Not quite sure why you've come here for those answers, but I assure you that someone does not need to be gay/bisexual in order to enjoy yaoi or yuri. Its just another genre and the situations inherent in the genre can be enjoyed by anyone.