The Shipping News: Bara, Naruto/Sasuke and... 00Q?

Hi, AE! It's Aja, back for week 7 of The Shipping News and loving every minute of it. Thanks to all our readers for making this such an exciting column so far!

We've got a lot to cover this week, including feedback from readers, which is the best thing ever! thanks, guys!—so let's hop to it!

Slash News Roundup

  • Teen Wolf show runner Jeff Davis tweeted his love forSterek fanart this week--specifically this gorgeous artwork by silvermittt at DeviantArt, which seems to invert religious imagery like St. Sebastian (yes, we did just link you to fuckyeahstsebastian) and the Pietà:
  • Source: art by silvermittt

    "I'm still just sitting here, completely dumbfounded," said the artist when she learned about Davis' tweets describing the portrait as "amazing." But really, given Davis' track record with the Teen Wolf fandom so far, we're hardly even surprised.

  • Geeze. First Vice, now Slate. Ever since Tumblr's Storyboard magazine wrote a highly pejorative series on the One Direction fandom earlier this year, they've had it rough in the media. As a reporter, I've had my say about the unwieldy, downright self-destructive preponderance of tinhatting in the Larry fandom—the number of people who insist, against the repeated protestations of the band members themselves, that Louis and Harry must, absolutely must, be gay and are prevented from admitting it only by some massive evil conspiracy. But to see Slate questioning whether the fandom will "stay gay" now that one fan has published a novel makes me want to grab a keyboard and go write some Larry slash out of sheer pique.
  • Louis Tomlinson and Harry Stiles of One Direction

    (photo: Phillip Massey/Getty)

    The idea espoused in Slate's frankly weird take on 1D fan Emily Baker's publishing success is that since her book is about a bunch of straight band members and the super-duper-special fan they fall in love with, all the Larry slashers will stop writing slash and go write het fic instead. Ugh. For the umpteenth time, fanfiction is not a set of training wheels. Fanfic authors write fanfic out of love, not because they haven't figured out how to get published yet. And what's more, Larry shipping specifically tends to take the form of gifs and headcanons more than fanfic, because to Larry fans, what they do is separate from slashing or creating a fictional scenario. To many of them, it's just a celebration of reality.

    Clearly, in the minds of Larry slashers, Harry and Louis aren't going to stop being gay and in love just because some fangirl gets a publishing deal. Why should they stop celebrating?

  • y!Gallery, one of the few fanart archives that allow free posting of yaoi and male/male fanart without a lot of restrictions, ran into a kerfuffle this week when it tried to amend its TOS in a way that suggested het erotica would also be sanctioned on the servers. Users protested, and the TOS was eventually restored to its original wording, which states that "male characters must be the focus of all works submitted to the gallery." Cool. What's not so cool: y!Gallery has been known to delete art if it's deemed too feminine--even if the male character is transgender. In their own words: "if it looks like a woman, do not post it." Says the forum for posting yaoi, i.e. the most feminine male/male art there is. Guess I'll be sticking to Tumblr and Pixiv.
  • Misha Collins

  • How much do we love actual troll Misha Collins schooling his interviewers on the subject of Destiel (transcript), the Supernatural ship in which he plays the angelic half of OTP Dean/Castiel? We love that he corrects the guy who generalizes that straight women write fanfic. "Mostly," says Misha. "Most homoerotic slash fiction about two male characters is written by heterosexual women. Not to school you. ...I don't pretend to be able to explain it." He also acknowledged that the show tips its hat to the slashers. Please, Misha, like we didn't already know that from the Hug Felt 'Round the World. (Or at least 'round Tumblr).

  • Despite the Miami New Times calling that scene from Skyfall "a scene of James Bond slash-fiction brought to life," Daniel Craig cat-and-moused them on the subject of his character's sexuality in the film, exactly as Bond himself does in the scene in question:
  • As they try to shock and disorient each other, James Bond implies that somewhere in his past, he had a homosexual encounter. This had to be during the Roger Moore years, right?

    "The scene you're talking about," Craig replied, handsomely and with a certain wistfulness as he locked eyes with us, "I think you'll find that they're just playing. They're f*cking with each other."

  • Yeah, yeah, we know. James Bond was just playing mind games, he could never really be gay. The idea of two boy band members in love is "bullshit," Sherlock could never be gay, Merlin/Arthur has intentional gay subtext but that's all it will ever be, Santa isn't real, and gay marriage will never become law through popular vote—oh, wait, that last bit actually did happen, so for once, just once, can't we actually have our slash cake and eat it, too????
  • No????

    Jeff Davis and Sterek, our hopes continue to rest with you.

    Artist: Tama/; cover illustration for issue #4 of G-men Comic Anthology

    Slash Dictionary: Bara.

    Previously in The Shipping News, the lovely Hannah defined yaoi for us. Here's a bit more info on yaoi and how it relates to another part of fandom culture—bara.

    In Japanese culture, male/male romance is so popular that themed restaurants, clubs, and "love hotels" devoted to recreating the aesthetic of erotic gay manga are a regular part of the landscape. Yaoi is written and drawn specifically to appeal to young female readers. In recent years, Japan has preferred the term "BL manga," which stands for "Boys Love" (no apostrophe), but in America, "yaoi" is still the most common descriptor.

    (Disclaimer: the last thing I want to do is generalize about Japanese culture, and we'd love to hear from actual members of Japanese culture on this subject!)

    Bara is the word for male/male manga that's written to appeal to gay men. What's the difference? Primarily it's in the way characters are portrayed and the kinds of tropes at work. Yaoi, especially erotic yaoi, tends to fit people into dominant and submissive roles called seme (dominant) and uke (submissive). These roles are nearly always tied to sexual positions as well as personality traits: the dominant seme tops the hell out of the submissive but always assumes a protective role over him. The submissive uke may be surly and resentful about being so thoroughly dominated, but that's not enough to stop them from enjoying it.

    Here's the way I understand it, as a longtime casual reader of manga, yaoi, and doujinshi. You can read yaoi as an extension of historical cultural pederasty like that practiced in ancient Greece. But the fact that it's targeted at young women and the fact that bara also exists for gay male audiences suggests things are a bit more complicated.

    One way that Japanese culture tends to view homosocial relationships for young men and women is as a kind of stepping stone or training ground for heterosexual relationships in adulthood. That's partly why so many examples of shoujo manga, stories of female relationships with strong yuri (female/female) overtones, end with the girls finding a boyfriend as a part of their coming of age. By the same token, when young women view examples of homosexuality as portrayed through yaoi, they see examples of male and female roles—the masculine seme coming to care for and protect the more feminine or androgynous uke, who learns to submit and be cared for. Young women, so the theory goes, can come to terms with their own sexuality by experiencing sexuality through the refracted lens of erotic gay manga.

    So yaoi, it seems to me, occupies a problematic and contradictory position within Japanese culture: by promoting queer male relationships, and by being virtually ubiquitous across the land, it arguably allows young gay men a way to explore their sexuality and recognize a (highly idealized, fantasized) version of themselves in print. However, the prevalence of yaoi also does little if anything to further the cause of equality in Japanese culture, because yaoi is seen as non-serious entertainment for adolescent girls, who are, in turn, treated via yaoi to depictions of extremely heteronormative tropes.

    Here's a perfect example of yaoi in action, courtesy of two of the hottest and most famous characters in yaoi—Asami and Takaba from Yamane Ayano's Finder series:

    (Source: chloechoco)

    The graceful, stylized poses, the significant size difference between them, the dominant/submissive body language, the respective vibes of power/authority and helplessness, the fact that this is basically the inside cover of a Harlequin novel but with dudes—these are all key components of yaoi.

    By contrast, bara is known as Men's Love. Bara is to yaoi what Tom of Finland is to Abercrombie and Fitch—and like Tom of Finland, bara evolved in the 60's and 70's, through an underground gay magazine of the same name. The men of yaoi are beautiful, with exaggeratedly stylized features; the men of bara are burly, muscular, often deliberately roughly drawn, and generally equal in physical size and stature. The men of yaoi are gangsters and businessmen, sophisticated, elite, and powerful; the men of bara are grounded, gritty, working class.

    Fanart of Chris Redfield from Resident Evil; Artist: Nick300

    Bara is often violent, realistic, and deliberately subversive, making the Seme/uke dynamic a reversal by having the dominant character be the smaller one. Bara, like yaoi, has a strong element of rape fantasy; in bara this often plays out as an exploration of consent issues and a negotiation of BDSM. There are no shoujo sparkles and soulmate bonds in bara.

    Both bara and yaoi have echoes in slash tropes. Slash fics with darker, more realistic themes, slash that explores various kinds of psychosexual kinks, and slash that focuses more on plot than eroticism, all have more in common with bara than yaoi. Although bara isn't common in English, it's growing in popularity. The Passion of Genorah Tagame, a bara collection based on the work of Tagame, is the first-ever English-licensed bara. Look for it in early 2013.

    Next page... Slash Pairing of the Week and Featured Fanfic

    Pairing of the Week: Naruto x Sasuke (SasuNaru or NaruSasu)


    Kishimoto Masashi's manga Naruto has become a cultural icon across the world. It's one of the most popular manga and anime series of all time, and its two lead male characters, Naruto and Sasuke, embody two of manga's most popular tropes. Naruto, with his dorky, carefree behavior and his huge smile, is the lively, energetic genki kid, while broody, dark loner Sasuke, with his tragic past and Pete Wentz hair, is the classic emo bishounen—the hot anime anti-hero we all can't help but love. Together, they not only are one of the most popular slash OTPS in anime, but also a great representation of just how damn slashy shounen sports manga can be.

    (Shippuden DVD cover; source)

    Naruto/Sasuke is very similar to Harry/Draco in terms of their parallel narratives, the rivalry they have, and the uneasy relationship they have to each other; but unlike Harry/Draco, the relationship between Sasuke/Naruto is the centerpiece of the storyline of Naruto, an epic ninja adventure that has unfolded over a long 15 years. In that time, from the first day they meet (when they accidentally kiss--don't ask), we've watched both characters grow from boys who trained together to young men determined to seek their own path and become the best samurai and master of their art they can be—with one exception: each other.

    Like another HP pairing, Dumbledore/Grindelwald, and like many epic hero/villain stories in comics, including another Shipping News featured ship, X-Men's Eric/Charles, it's clear that Naruto and Sasuke have a deep bond beneath their increasingly separate worldviews and goals. When Sasuke runs away from their training program to roll around in a barrel for a zillion eps (don't ask) and seek vengeance for the death of his family (long story), Naruto drops everything to try and bring him back. When they finally meet, after ages of searching, it's to fight. But when they do, this happens:

    And of course, neither of them can bear to hurt the other one, and although Sasuke has been off seeking vengeance for ages, Naruto misses him like crazy, and the entire story arc is bending towards one final climactic showdown between the two of them, at which point Sasuke will either reveal himself as the series' true villain or break down and let Naruto cart him back to their village so they can be magical samurai bros again. Except for when Naruto transforms into a naked girl. (Definitely don't ask.)

    Featured Fanfic: Motions in Time / After Mathematics

    Because Naruto is so popular there's loads of SasuNaru and lots of epic adventure fic. But I'm especially fond of a short fanfic series by ronsard, which takes a kind of modern approach to Naruto, Sasuke, and their female training partner Sakura. In the first fic, "Motions in Stilted Time," we're treated to Sakura's point of view after she and Sasuke begin a relationship that's doomed from the start due to a number of factors. While she and Sasuke each deal with their own sexual repression, Naruto comes out of the closet the way he does everything else—boldly. This is one of many fics in English-speaking anime fandom that explore certain cultural themes: societal pressure to have children, gender roles, and of course the struggle for self-acceptance that goes along with realizing you're queer.

    In the sequel, "After Mathematics," the subtextual attraction Sasuke and Naruto share in the first fic gets dealt with head-on, as we're plunged into Sasuke's pov. Though a basic knowledge of canon could help, these fics are really about the process of coming out in a repressive culture, a subject anime fans write about with particular beauty, as you can see:

    In his mind, they were always lying side by side in the dust, the edges of broken pebbles cutting sharply into their skin and clothes, the red of their blood staining the fine white sand. There'd been fighting, he remembered, but that had ended too.

    Instead, there had only been the harsh, barking sound of liquid-filled breaths as they’d raced each other to see who'd draw in the next painful gulp of air (because everything between them was a competition, and dying was no exception). And Naruto, who had had the blade of Sasuke's Kusanagi sticking out of his upper back, a third of the sword's length buried in his unyielding flesh at that intricate little spot just above the heart (Sasuke had wondered then how many times he would miss, and how many more he would be able to blame on just a whim), had turned his head a quarter of an inch towards Sasuke and pulled his cracked lips back from sharp, sharp teeth in a victorious grin.

    Said, "I'm taking you back to Konoha if it kills me."

    And Sasuke, who hadn't known whether to love him or hate him then, had settled for a little of both. Or a lot. And that'd felt right, so very right somehow, like the way looking at Naruto had caused the lights behind his eyelids to spark crimson and made him miss the sun.

    Sasuke had decided then and there, spinning head be damned, that should he ever meet a girl who could make him feel like that, he was going to marry her.

    But by and by, such a girl had never come along. Kingdoms had been lost, dragons slain, princesses rescued from crumbling towers, and for awhile they had been teetering on the edge of a fairytale, all the sweetmeat spreading itself thinner and thinner until the coffers were all empty. In the end, there was nothing left but Naruto, who had fallen out of reach, and Sasuke, who was once again lost in darkness.

    This fic is potentially problematic in that it takes Sakura, a wonderful and strong female character, and has her sideline her own values for a while in order to make Sasuke happy; but it also attempts to give Sakura her own agency and autonomy in exploring her own sexual identity. It's a well-written example of a trope that happens a LOT in fandom where a heterosexual love triangle ends in two queer relationships.

    Next page... This week's Artist to Watch and Female Characters in Slash Fandom

    Artist to Watch

    So, I don't even feel guilty reccing an artist with only 3 public works of fanart, because they are all stunning and you will want to watch the artist, inksnax, for more. Check out this absolutely perfect piece of Troy/Abed fanart from Community, literally one of my favorite pieces of fanart ever:

    Art by inksnax; click the link for the full picture!

    The other two pieces of art she's shared with us so far are equally wonderful--the latest from just 2 weeks ago. Whatever she does next, I want it in my eyeballs.

    Tumblr Q&A: Female Characters In Slash fandom

    This week we have two great questions from readers on our tumblr about misogyny in slash fandom and the sidelining of female characters. Writes one reader, "I understand slash is about a male relationship, but the female characters that are important for the show’s dynamics or just have a close connection to the male characters (sister, best friend, etc) are sidelined to an outrageous degree. When they are given more of a central role to the plot, they seem to be turned into one dimensional or just bitchy people, no matter how great they are on the show." Another asks, "Could you discuss the problem of sexism/misogyny/general (mis)treatment of women within some parts of the slash culture?"

    I care a lot about this topic. I think fandom makes it all too easy to hate female characters from the moment we set foot in it by teaching us immediately to devalue Mary Sues (self-insert fics where an original female character is the most specialist character of all!) and elevate male characters and male relationships. When you combine that with the unconscious internalized misogyny of readers and writers, it can be a real problem. Women often get written as competitors, vying for the love of one half of a male/male pairing. Sometimes they're clingy, catty best friends, or loveless, emotionally frigid partners who can't give the man what he "deserves" the way another dude can. Often women are slut-shamed and presented as cheaters or as emotionally unfaithful in other ways.

    One of the most prominent ways slash fandom marginalizes women is by including them but making their characters all about the men. This is a pet peeve of mine because often a writer will do this, and the women will be written in a way that's witty and funny, and they'll receive all sorts or praise for it. But the thing is, if your female characters are only in a scene to comment on the progress of the male relationship, ask/advise a man about his relationship, or to be stand-ins for the audience as we flail over how adorable X/Y are together? That's still marginalization because you're writing female characters who are only there to amplify male experience.

    Another common criticism of slash fandom is that we like to pair off female characters who "threaten" our slash ships. I think that's a mixed criticism; it can be true, but on the other hand, in the case of, say, Gwen and Merlin from Merlin, lots of fans genuinely love Gwen and Morgana together and enjoy reading about them. If they also enjoy reading about Merlin and Arthur together, it shouldn't mean that Gwen/Morgana is an inferior ship by default. The issue, to me, is not that female characters often have to serve a narrative that's about getting two male characters together; it's how they serve the narrative. So in the Naruto fanfic featured this week, Sakura could have been written as an unfulfilled housewife totally ruined by Sasuke's emotional issues; instead she was someone in a nonfunctional marriage who was totally blindsided by the prospect of love in another place. She had her own story. And we got to see that story. That's really all it takes to elevate your female character from window dressing to 3-d character with agency and complexity.

    As women writing slash, it feels to me like we spend more time trying to get into the heads of the male characters we write about than we do the real women around us, much less female characters. One of the most common arguments for why girls in slash fandom don't write more about girls is that there just aren't as many strong, well-developed female characters to work with. Having now comfortably resided in Inception fandom for two years, where fans have generated thousands of fics around a couple (Arthur and Eames) with less than 5 minutes of total screen time together, this seems more and more like a flimsy excuse. Writing about girls is fun. Sometimes we just have to remind ourselves how fun it can be, by making the choice to include them in ways that give them choice and complexity, that don't just prop up the dudes.

    My friend eleveninches has a great blog post about different kinds of harmful sexist tropes to be aware of when writing slash, so I'll just end by linking to it and encouraging you all to be smart and have fun and fill your slash fics with women. They don't even have to come in binders!

    The Next Big Thing: Q/007 = 00Q

    Art by nephilim-phoenix

    One thing we haven't really talked about much yet here at AE is the concept of the Migratory Slash Fandom. That's because it's a controversial thing, and while lots of us agree that we can watch slash fandom hopping around from shipping one white dude pairing to the next, no one wants to admit to being part of it, so we haven't really gotten past arguing about whether it really exists to discussing whether it might be more complicated and nuanced than just everyone only wanting to write about white men fucking.

    What it can be, however, is predictable. As soon as the promos for Skyfall surfaced, everyone knew that Bond/Q would be the next big thing. Q, played by pasty Brit Ben Whishaw, known for BBC's The Hour, is close enough to the trope of "cute skinny nerd" that when paired with Daniel Craig's hunky Bond he fits a certain type of yaoi-influenced slash pairing: the older, earthier alpha-male and the hot twink. Think Previous iterations of this pairing dynamic have been John McClane/Matt Ferrell (Live Free, Die Hard) and Arthur/Eames (Inception). Maybe it's the combination of feature film + action scenes + banter that makes fans go for this kind of pairing based on little interaction. Whishaw is only in the movie for a couple of scenes, but it's enough to have spurred dozens of fanfics, a slew of fanart, an A Softer World meme, and a sizeable fandom presence, most created in the 2 days since the movie premiered in the US.

    That said, for anyone who wants to talk a walk on the dark side? There's this:


    Just saying.

    See you guys next week!

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