Rotten use patterns: What entertainment theories can do for the study of boys' love

Björn-Ole Kamm

Heidelberg University, Heidelberg, Germany

[0.1] Abstract—Focusing on the often neglected individual modes of consumption and ascriptions of meaning, I propose a theoretical and conceptual framework for the analysis of the diversity of the use and appropriation of the boys' love (BL) genre. Within the framework of theories of media gratification, I bring together key elements of BL fandom, such as playing with masculinities, and central concepts of entertainment research. To assess these concepts' appropriateness and to do justice to the transnational phenomenon that BL has become, I also consider qualitative interviews conducted in Japan and Germany. The gratifications sought and gained by BL fans (fujoshi and fudanshi, rotten girls and boys) vary, including the physiological (arousal), the social (exchange, belonging), the cognitive (parasocial interaction), and the aesthetic (immersion). My empirical findings highlight the diversity of BL use, while my conceptual framework additionally works as a reference for a comparison of these use patterns and other media preferences as well as global trends of media consumption.

[0.2] Keywords—Entertainment; Fujoshi; Media gratification; Media use patterns; Need fulfillment; Qualitative interview

Kamm, Björn-Ole. 2013. "Rotten Use Patterns: What Entertainment Theories Can Do for the Study of Boys' Love." In "Transnational Boys' Love Fan Studies," edited by Kazumi Nagaike and Katsuhiko Suganuma, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 12.

1. Introduction

[1.1] In this article I review theories of media gratification and entertainment to propose a conceptual framework for the analysis of the use and consumption (de Certeau 1984) of the so-called boys' love genre, stories about male-male relationships in manga, novels, and games, usually aimed at a female audience. The narratives included in this genre range from explicit, detailed depictions of sexual encounters between men, to accounts of romantic affairs, to stories of very close friendships. Earlier discussions of the genre and its fans concentrated on women's reasons for engaging with narratives that lack female protagonists and focus on men only. Some explanations pathologized the readers and their sexuality (Ueno 1989; Nakajima 1995), and others charged them with homophobia and a need to elevate themselves within a hierarchical society at the expense of homosexual men (Satō [1992] 1994). Implicitly assuming that all consumers read and interpret the genre in the same manner, many studies and critical appraisals continue to search for a single cause or motive, such as escapism or some essential trait of Japanese society (Yamada 2007 is a recent example). This perspective is surprising, given that one major subgenre of BL consists of derivative works similar to slash fiction (note 1). Its authors, who are usually not professional writers, borrow (appropriate) characters from mainstream manga or games, redefine homosocial relationships into homosexual ones (Azuma 2009), and self-publish their stories in the form of fanzines, called dōjinshi. As one commercial text is often the basis for many different adaptations, these derivative works can be seen as the physical documentation of individual (or at times concerted) consumption and interpretation processes, if nothing else (note 2).

[1.2] Like Tanigawa (1993) and Lunsing (2006), I was therefore dissatisfied with the pathologizing and homogenous explanations of the genre, the overemphasis on Japaneseness or particularities of Japan's society as causes, and the exclusive focus on female readers in this discourse (men also consume these stories; see Yoshimoto 2008). Within the more recent discussions of the genre in Japan, however, a new position has emerged, one highlighting the genre's tayōsei, that is, its diversity (Kaneda 2004; Nagakubo 2005; Yoshinaga 2007; Azuma 2009). The proponents of this position, mostly young Japanese female scholars but also some male ones, critique the methodology of earlier studies, such as their offering general propositions on the basis of an analysis of only a few well-known titles and their exclusive focus on female readers (Mizoguchi 2003; Y. Fujimoto 2007; Yoshimoto 2008). In addressing some of these problems, they also began to concentrate on modes of reception and appropriation, the agency of the consumers, and how they make the contents of BL manga and novels their own.

[1.3] This shift from asking the problematic question "why" to asking "how" mirrors developments during the 1970s within the field of media use research. A growing disenchantment with media effects theories led to a new interactive perspective on media use and to new concepts and models that understand media preference (such as for a particular genre) as arising from societal, biographical, and situational contexts and not from an essential personality trait. The same change is apparent within the discourse on boys' love.

[1.4] Exchange between the fields of communication studies and manga studies remains limited. Most manga research ignores theories of media use, neither applying nor critiquing them. Similarly, communication research still focuses on television as the sole producer of symbols, ignoring media systems outside the North Atlantic sphere—or, more precisely, outside the United States. Consequently, it continues to rely on a Hollywoodesque "hedonistic principle" as the basis for theories of entertainment (note 3). Manga as an entertainment medium has been mostly ignored. The aim of this article is to address the weaknesses on both sides. In an attempt to foster a dialogue between communication studies and manga studies, I evaluate the uses and gratifications approach (UGA) and outline a conceptual framework for the analysis of boys' love and its diverse patterns of use. Following the UGA and attending to the genre's tayōsei, my framework also favors direct contact with the readers (and producers) instead of analyzing texts only.

[1.5] This article is based on five episodic narrative interviews I conducted in Japan (September to October 2007) and five in Germany (November 2007 to January 2008, and during October 2010) (note 4). Although boys' love has gained a foothold in most Asian, American, and European comic and animation markets, Germany has been established as a major importer. It was the first European country to which not only boys' love manga but also novels were introduced (JETRO 2006; "Bōizurabu-daitokushū" 2007). I interviewed German fans to do justice to the transnational aspect of the genre and to overcome the tendency to explain interest in boys' love as due to something inherent in Japanese consumers and producers.

[1.6] To assess the producers' own understanding of the genre, I also analyzed collections of interviews with boys' love authors and artists ("Fujoshi-manga taikei" 2007; "Sōtokushū—BL Studies" 2007; Yoshinaga 2007). I applied qualitative content analysis (Mayring 2000) to these collections and interviews, following assumptions similar to those of grounded theory (Glaser and Strauss 1999) (note 5). Although my interview sample was quite homogenous, consisting mostly of university students, the empirical findings still highlight a diversity of individual use patterns. By comparing my interviewees' propositions to concepts from entertainment and gratification research, however, we can build a theoretical framework that systematizes these use patterns and enables us to compare them to other media preferences.

[1.7] I begin by tracing the diversity of boys' love content and use, by providing a short overview of the genre and its broader reception. I then discuss in depth the three major concepts of my proposed framework: (1) boys' love as entertainment, (2) an active audience, and (3) rotten use patterns.

2. The boys' love genre and its rotten consumers

[2.1] Boys' love (bōizu rabu), or BL, is the most recent commercial variant of narratives focusing on romantic and sexual male-male relationships. BL began appearing in major bookstores in the 1990s and has estimated annual sales of 21.3 billion yen (approximately $270 million; Yano 2010), with one million readers in Japan (Mizoguchi 2008). Approximately 150 BL publications appear each month (Kaneda et al. 2007), including paperbacks as well as several literary and manga magazines. Manga in Japan are published in the form of weekly or monthly magazines, which generate great fidelity among readers. Japanese manga fans can be assured that new chapters of their favorite story will arrive on a regular basis—unlike fans of Franco-Belgian bandes dessinées, who might have to wait years between installments.

[2.2] Most male-male manga fiction in major German bookstores is commercial BL, licensed and distributed by publishers such as Carlsen and Egmont. Although complete data are not available, the most active manga fans in Germany—those attending conventions and replying to online questionnaires—appear to be female (Bouissou et al. 2010). Shōjo manga (girls' comics) sell better than manga geared toward a male audience (JETRO 2006), further indicating a large female fan base (note 6). Among both the imported shōjo manga and those produced by an increasing number of young German artists, the percentage of BL had risen to such a degree that by 2006 the term "boys' love hype" was commonly used by critics and commentators (Salzmann 2011, 87). One reason for this popularity might be that in the 1990s German magazines aimed at teen girls had featured androgynous male pop stars, perhaps priming the audience for BL (Malone 2010). In relative numbers, the proportion of BL manga for sale in Germany is larger than in Japan ("Bōizurabu-daitokushū" 2007).

[2.3] The expression "boys' love" has gained traction only recently in Germany, where a number of smaller BL-only publishing houses have begun to license, translate, and distribute male-male fanzines (Malone 2009, ¶24). Fans as well as publishers favored the Japanese terms shōnen ai (literally, boys' love) to denote romantic soft-core and yaoi to label sexually explicit, hardcore commercial works ("Shonen-Ai" 2009). One of my German interviewees told me that she had learned these meanings for the terms. The nomenclature in Japan remains contested, however, with younger readers accustomed to commercial boys' love (like most of my interviewees) using BL as an umbrella term for original commercial works and for both derivative and original fan-published ones. This terminology is also reflected in many recent publications on the topic in Japanese and English ("Fujoshi-manga taikei" 2007; "Sōtokushū—BL Studies" 2007; Levi, McHarry, and Pagliassotti 2010).

[2.4] However, older readers and authors, who became interested in the genre in the 1980s, prefer yaoi as a general term. The word is an acronym for yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi ("no climax, no punch line, no meaning"), emphasizing that many fan-published stories focused on sexual depictions of two men, without much of a narrative. Amateur yaoi was the strongest BL subgenre before larger publishers became interested in its fan base. The word connoted pornography, however, so they preferred to use "boys' love" instead (Mizoguchi 2003). Still, there are amateur works dealing with romance only, and commercial series emphasizing sexual depictions. These variations in content within the larger genre make generalizations difficult, especially when researchers aim to understand the media gratifications that its consumers seek. Consequently, generalizations about consumer behavior appear arbitrary, particularly when bishōnen (beautiful boys) manga from the 1970s are added to the mix. These manga have been described as the predecessors of yaoi and BL, principally by having inspired the amateur authors of the 1980s. They offered a range of themes (such as coming of age and sexual abuse) for which the love between the young male protagonists (thus, shōnen ai) was a vehicle (note 7).

[2.5] Understanding the motives of one consumer does not enable us to understand the behavior of all consumers. For instance, consider a 19-year-old who daily reads a score of Web comics that depict the sexual intercourse of cute male 20-somethings, who are actually taken from yet another manga. She might (like my interviewee Ai) (note 8) consider works like Hagio Moto's 3,000-page A Cruel God Reigns, a shōnen ai archetype, to be classics of the genre of boys' love (note 9). But she still might not read them regularly, and analyzing them will not tell us much about her use of short online manga, which focus on sex only.

[2.6] Analyzing media texts is important, but it is only one of several steps that lead us to understand why humans use a specific medium or genre. The great extent to which critical interpretations of BL have differed becomes apparent when we contrast psychoanalytic readings of the shōnen ai classics with the intentions of the authors or the interpretations of readers. For example, in keeping with Freudian psychodynamic theory, Matsui (1993) views these classics as symbols of the female drive for the phallus. Yet some readers see their own experiences of child abuse reflected in the texts, regardless of the author's intentions, and may use the manga as a means to deal with these experiences (Hagio 2005). To gain a better understanding of readers' use of a specific medium or genre, investigators must assess how they use and interpret the texts (McQuail 1994).

[2.7] My interviewees engage mostly with recent titles (amateur and commercial), and I did not investigate how they had used BL texts in the past. As a result, the classics of the genre are not discussed here. Throughout this article, I adopt the language of my Japanese informants, using boys' love or BL as an umbrella term. This usage does not mean that I ignored the contents of what the interviewees read and wrote. Specificity is too often disregarded, but it is necessary (Noppe 2011, ¶7). Using an umbrella term as an abstraction, however, is an indispensable way of connecting my analysis with other studies and a means by which my interviewees make sense of the plethora of different materials. As I use the term here, BL means narratives—commercial and dōjinshi—that portray male-male relationships (considered in the broadest sense) and share a number of characteristics, especially in playing with masculinities. I will describe these further when focusing on the entertainment value of these stories.

[2.8] This playing, which can be found in the rewriting of camaraderie (or antagonism) between male characters into homosexual narratives and encounters, is what the most active users of BL self-deprecatingly describe as rotten. By using such a label, the Japanese fans of BL reclaimed the term fujoshi (rotten girls) that had been coined by the mass media to describe them, much as the label queer was reappropriated by gay and bisexual people (Butler 1997). Fujoshi is written by replacing the kanji for "lady" with the homonymous character for "rotten." This pun is echoed in other labels used for different segments of the user population: kifujin are matured fujoshi, and shufu are rotten housewives, while fudanshi are male readers of BL. These terms highlight that the readership is neither entirely female nor entirely high school kids.

[2.9] The female readership has been a major focus of the mass media in Japan since the mid-2000s. This exaggerated media interest, visible in news reports, novels, manga, and TV series, ridiculed readership at times but mainly focused on their buying power as consumers. One reason given for this so-called fujoshi boom was an apparent decline in the male otaku market (Kaneda et al. 2007; Hardach 2008) (note 10). Following the mass media exposure, academic discourse on the readers of BL and the genre itself also bloomed—at times repeating old explanations. In various special issues of literary magazines, BL writers and artists state that they like BL because it is fun: "tada tanoshii kara" (Kaneda and Miura 2007, 13). I also encountered this explanation during my interviews. This simple explanation is often ignored or belittled by critics and researchers, who assume that the consumption of BL must be motivated by hidden reasons, such as problems with sexuality. We must take seriously the intrinsic motivation of enjoyment to begin to understand the consumption and production of BL. But what makes BL fun?

3. BL as entertainment

[3.1] Within the field of media entertainment research, a number of concepts have been used to categorize individual experiences associated with the enjoyment or entertainment value of the media. Having analyzed my interviews and the published ones I read, I grouped common BL themes, such as asking "What if these two characters of that manga fell in love, or did some other interesting thing?" into broader categories (e.g., "playing with the protagonists"). I compared these categories to other accounts of user activity (such as "playing with masculinities"; S. Fujimoto 2007; Kayama 2007) and to the concepts of entertainment research. The resulting list is not exclusive, and not every BL title demonstrates the same themes. As the genre and its subgenres evolve, users' behavior and their estimation of the entertainment value of the products also change. Nevertheless, this systematization helps to lift BL studies out of its theoretical, psychoanalytic niche and its focus on hidden meanings.

[3.2] Incorporating general psychological principles of entertainment can be helpful in understanding the variety of consumer behavior. Most people aim for a level of cognitive and affective activation that they find pleasant (Zillmann 1988). In this sense, the cognitive-affective construct "entertainment" is the outcome of positively evaluated (media) experiences. Constant shock can be as unpleasant and boring as an eternal apple-pie world, and this is true of the unknown as well as the familiar (Früh 2003).

[3.3] Because BL is a wide genre, it allows for both consistency and variety. All of my interviewees see male couplings as the defining element of the genre. The diegetic backbone of amateur works and later commercial works has been what is called the seme-uke order. Typically, one character is drafted as the passive bottom, the uke, and the other as the active, dominant top, the seme. During the early yaoi period, this order helped to quickly indicate the power relations between the characters in short dōjinshi. Most of my interviewees appreciate the sense of familiarity and the joyful feeling of genre competence they gain when they recognize characters as seme or uke.

[3.4] The same theme, however, is a moment for surprise and diversity as well. The order has often been envisioned as a replica of the heterosexual order and as fixed, but in fact it is not necessarily static. Even if character A is the uke in his relationship with character B, he can be the seme in his relationship with C (Watanabe 2007). Both the uke and the seme incorporate both masculine and feminine traits (Nagakubo 2005), and both character types have a great variety of subcategories. This allows for many different kinds of stories as well as character development, ensuring variety, conflict, and suspense. Conflict is one of the major aspects of BL, and all my interviewees enjoyed it. Most conflicts, from their perspective, arise from the tensions created by the characters' love for each other, especially because contemporary BL narratives increasingly take place in real-world settings in which homosexuality is not the norm. Often tension results from one protagonist identifying as hetero but still falling in love with a man (Mizoguchi 2000). Despite having very different opinions on how explicit BL should be, the Japanese interviewee Suiko and the German Salome enjoy this tension because they see it as a real-world phenomenon. Salome was 23 at the time of the interview, a graduate student majoring in Japanese studies and a professional dancer. Twenty-year-old Suiko was majoring in history. Both preferred realistic settings (note 11). Both want to immerse themselves in the story and the characters. According to them, this becomes difficult when a story's setting is too fantastic, such as a world where everybody is gay. Suiko added that male homosexuality alone gives her a thrill of the unknown, as it is far removed from her own experience.

[3.5] Self-determination is another major aspect of entertainment. Users of entertainment media can find complete self-expression and break taboos. Entertainment enables them to safely explore risky situations and release themselves from role stress (Früh 2003), because they are in control and do not have to fear real-world consequences of their thoughts and fantasies. It is important to note that enjoyment of fantasies "does not suggest that the fantasizer wants to act out these fantasies" (Shigematsu 1999, 143).

[3.6] BL offers fantasies of BDSM, anal intercourse, rape, and other mostly tabooed activities. Users can stop the encounter at any time, whenever they reach their threshold for entertainment or satisfaction. For Suiko this threshold is relatively low, and she prefers tamer, more romance-oriented stories. A second interviewee, 20-year-old Kaoru, who studies international relations, does not care about sex at all. "I'm not so much into the pictures and couldn't care less about the sex," she says. "For me the story matters most." In contrast, Salome, mentioned earlier, and Misato, a female 19-year-old history major, enjoy hardcore titles. "If there's no sex, why bother reading it?" asked Misato. Despite these differences, all my interviewees find enough reading material within the larger scope of BL.

[3.7] This controlled loss of control (Früh 2003) can allow readers to experience competence and identity building. Even feeling negative microemotions (Früh 2003), such as fear, shock, or sorrow, while consuming can lead to a positive macroemotion (enjoyment or entertainment) because users feel competent at coping with negative emotions or pleased at reaching a story's conclusion, possibly a happy ending, after having endured the negative content (Bartsch et al. 2006). Many older BL stories followed this schema (Mizoguchi 2003). For example, in some BL narratives both characters decide to end their lives to make their love eternal, as it has no place in this world (Pagliassotti 2010). Sharing the protagonists' emotions not only allows a moment of aesthetic immersion but may lead to a confirmation of the reader's own gender role ("the empathizing female"; Oliver 1993).

[3.8] Relationships between males are the genre's defining element, and those who produce BL especially enjoy playing with the characters and their masculinities. The main theme of many BL stories, especially the dōjinshi, can be summarized as "What if?" "What if those two got together?" "What if the seme raped the uke? How would the uke feel?" This playing and empathizing with media characters has been called parasocial interaction (Horton and Wohl 1956), and it appears to be at the heart of the appeal of many BL narratives and to motivate many authors as well as some fujoshi. "Before I write a first draft of a story, I experiment with many different character arrangements, for example, to see who fits and who doesn't. Writing a complete story is fun, too, but I think I get the most out of this experimenting, by immersing myself in the characters' thoughts," said Ai. Some of my interviewees like to cast not only fictional characters, but other media personalities, such as politicians, in seme and uke roles, seeing them through not pink but yaoi glasses, the yaoi-megane (Y. Fujimoto 2007; Kaneda 2007).

[3.9] Parasocial interaction refers to thoughts and behavior oriented toward media figures, and it occurs whenever humans are part of the media text (Hartmann et al. 2005). It may include dimensions of perception and cognition, such as an attempt to follow a character's train of thought, or musing on whether an actor fits the character's role (or, in BL terms, on whether a character is the uke or the seme). Displays of affection are also part of this interaction with media figures, such as empathizing or commiserating with a character, sharing in the character's joy, or, along with that character, gloating over and hating another.

[3.10] The processes of parasocial interaction and identification are interconnected and usually alternate. Parasocial interaction can be a motive for media use, but, like escapism, it is also a mode of reception and part of the quality of the entertainment experience. Parasocial interaction happens with any media or genre, but with BL it takes center stage and includes realistic social aspects. The many disputes among BL users about which character of a given series should be seen as the uke and which one as the seme demonstrate the extensive presence of this interaction (Nishikawa 2007). The Kenkōji Kōjiken ronsō (Ken-Koji Koji-Ken dispute), concerning the protagonists of Captain Tsubasa (Takahashi 1981), is the most famous of these debates. Today these disputes are also documented on Internet forums. The Japanese interviewees and two of the Germans described many similar discussions they had had with friends and other fans.

[3.11] This evidence suggests that even those fans who do not write their own dōjinshi are hardly passive consumers. Media contents cannot be treated as fixed stimuli but are open to interpretation by the audience (Aida 2005). The recipient of a media message ascribes meanings to it relatively independent of its content. These interpretation processes—a first level of appropriation, so to speak—are understood as audience activity in communication research. This activity is not limited to choosing media content. It also includes the process of attributing meaning to a text by interacting with it.

4. Active audience

[4.1] The uses and gratifications approach (UGA; Blumler and Katz 1974) has become the standard perspective on audience research since the 1960s, as scholars have become increasingly disenchanted with the earlier theory of mass communications that held that media simply inject their intended meanings into their recipients, as if with a hypodermic needle. The UGA is not concerned with the effect of the media on people, but focuses instead on what people do with the media. The first definitions of the UGA emphasized the active audience and the need to explore audience orientations on the audience members' own terms (Katz, Blumler, and Gurevitch 1974). Early UGA research limited the concept of audience activity to the decision-making process, for example, deciding which movie to watch or manga to read. This approach was based on the premise that people are aware of their needs and the media content that will best fulfill those needs.

[4.2] Instead of assuming that the world is completely knowable and individuals have access to all the information they need to make decisions, as rational choice theories imply, later conceptualizations of the UGA were more consistent with symbolic interactionism (Blumer 1969). Interactionists assume that the (life) world is "created by processes of defining situations and interpreting actions and objects…[and] that these definitions and interpretations are to be seen as neither natural nor permanent, but socially constructed and provisional instead" (Westerik et al. 2006). Humans process their world symbolically, because they act toward objects according to the meanings they ascribe to those objects. These meanings are based on experiences, on earlier interactions with these objects, and on interactions with other humans. Such interactions are recursive and framed by changing contexts, resulting in corresponding changes in the meanings.

[4.3] This discussion leads researchers into BL manga use, or media use in general, to a perspective that takes individual interpretations seriously but also considers the structures surrounding media use. Like any other action, media use is contextual and situational. For example, manga are read (used) differently in different locations: at home, on a train, or in a manga café. "I don't really read BL to become aroused but it has happened before, so I want to make sure that I can make use of that [arousal]. That's why I read BL at home," said Salome. Kaoru reads BL on the bus or at school because she has never been aroused by it, nor does she want to be. Additional contexts (e.g., societal and personal contexts, especially accessibility and availability) structure how BL is accessed.

[4.4] Figure 1 shows the contexts that frame media use and how former experiences feed back into expectations. These experiences and expectations form the basis of the decision-making process, resulting in ever-changing outcomes of interpretations and evaluations. If users evaluate a given media experience positively, because it fulfilled or exceeded their expectations, they are more likely to choose the same media again, and a use pattern may emerge. This process is conditional and uncertain, not a necessity. Because the interactions with media (and any other object) are recursive, the outcome (the use pattern) is also not achieved forever.

Figure 1. Process model for media use patterns (author's illustration based on Renckstorf and Wester 2004 and Kamm 2010). [View larger image.]

[4.5] After repeated experiences with BL, the interviewees in my study have learned what they can gain from it or, more precisely, from a specific range of titles and authors within the genre. A use pattern develops to such a degree that reading manga, commercial or amateur, sexually explicit or romantic, is not a "problematic issue" (figure 1) but a routine. When Misato comes home stressed after school, she knows that she can relax by rereading one of her favorite BL manga. There is no need for her to search for another way to find relief from stress. Because the time involved in the decision process decreases, use patterns can be seen as a form of media competency (Schweiger 2007).

[4.6] Consumers read BL differently. What one person gains from BL might be less important to another, or might not be a reason for yet another to read the genre at all. This holds true for any media or genre. For example, while most people associate the news with information about current events, many studies have shown that some watch the news to be entertained (Mangold 2000). Similarly, my informant Yoshiyuki, a 19-year-old male sociology undergraduate, was disgusted by BL until he encountered a dōjinshi written by a friend that appealed to him. "I like cute [kawaii] things…girls that look cute, of course, but also…how do you call it? Maybe psychological cuteness [shinriteki kawaisa]. That's why I sometimes read BL, too…A friend wrote a BL dōjinshi about the characters of an online game I played and she made one character into a hetare seme [wimpy seme]. He had this psychological cuteness…a realization that opened my eyes to BL. So if I like a title's description, I sometimes pick it up or borrow it." While BL did not become his favorite genre, his manga use pattern changed to include titles that fall into the category of male-male relationships.

5. Use patterns and user categories

[5.1] From its earliest conceptualizations, the UGA has been aiming at understanding media use from the perspective of the consumer. To achieve this aim, researchers must employ methodologies that assess consumers' motivations, attitudes, intentions, and behaviors toward a particular genre. However, practices like tachiyomi ("standing and reading," such as in a bookstore) and mawashiyomi (sharing manga and books with friends) make it impossible to obtain a representative sample of BL readers. Despite this limitation, interviewing consumers can provide valuable case studies that help us assess these psychological constructs.

[5.2] My sample consisted of mostly university students. Although it was largely homogenous, the sample nonetheless highlights the diversity of rotten use patterns, suggesting more than the four categories or use patterns I was able to derive from the data, which I describe below. Although the availability and variety of BL titles differ between Germany and Japan, none of the four patterns was limited to Japanese or German informants. The categories are defined by the kind of gratification gained from BL narratives or subgenres that appealed most to each informant. They are linked not only to the different degrees of pornographic content but also to the amount of community for which individual users aim. They reflect the way my interviewees used BL at the time of the interviews and should not be construed as evidence of personality types. I discuss only the most salient information from each interview here, because the full extent of the material is beyond the scope and aim of this article. As with Yoshiyuki above, I have tried to highlight important ruptures in the use patterns of some of my interviewees. The category names remain in their female form because only one participant was male. A single user can fall into more than one category (except for the "sporadic" category). Moreover, as stated above, use patterns can evolve and change.

[5.3] Salome and Misato read BL narratives with sexual content and consider the possibility of sexual arousal important. For this reason, their consumption (and production) of BL occurs almost exclusively at home. During the interviews, both confidently discussed their preferred reading habits and displayed no qualms in talking about their sexuality as it pertains to BL as well as to their real-world partners. The way they seek gratification, and their awareness of their own motivations, are similar to the desires and self-awareness of a gourmet. Therefore I call this type of BL user a connoisseuse.

[5.4] Connoisseuses not only show active interest in sexual matters, but also tend to identify with, or at least feel affection for, the seme. "Hetare seme, I cannot get the appeal. I want a mean seme, who is sexy and strong," Misato explained, laughing. "I don't really care about the uke." In contrast, most of my other interviewees usually identify more with the uke.

[5.5] BL users who prefer an endearing uke and stories that depict feelings of belonging sometimes also want to connect with others. One reason for this desire might be that confirmation of one's gender role is part of building an identity (see ¶3.7). Because some of my interviewees enjoy going to conventions and see them as one of the most important ways in which they engage with BL, I categorized them as con girls. Exchanges with like-minded people as well as with favorite authors, and staying in touch after the cons are over, are at the center of their interest.

[5.6] "I am from the countryside, and there were not many conventions. At the university, a friend told me about the manga club, and now I spend so much time there, I even was elected club president this year. It happened by chance but it is very important to me, so I'm really stressed because, due to job hunting, I won't be able to come that often from now on," mourned Suiko when we broached this topic during the interview.

[5.7] Similarly, 24-year-old Lina, who is in training to be an administrative assistant, also emphasizes the importance of communication. She continues to read and write romantic BL narratives largely to connect with her close friends and people at conventions. She does not read "everything BL," as she once did, but concentrates on the "good" stories, saying that her friends are the best source of them. This statement is echoed by Misato, who prefers to read and write BL at home but who nevertheless does not want to miss the chance to talk to other dōjinshi authors at conventions.

[5.8] For other users, consumption, production, and follow-up communication occur mostly or even exclusively via the Internet. The net girls do not frown upon direct face-to-face contact with other users, but it is not their main interest, possibly because their participation in such contact might be limited by time constraints.

[5.9] "Since becoming a rōnin (note 12) and later a university student, I don't really have time to go to conventions. At home I can read and chat with others using my computer, or my mobile phone on the train. I don't read BL originals, just dōjinshi, because I can access those whenever and wherever I am through my phone, you know," explained Ai. She has attracted a small fan community through her Web site but makes sure that no minors can access her site, because it has some sexual content. She is mostly interested in the creation of couples, and her own stories are usually quite short.

[5.10] Unlike members of these three categories, some BL users treat it as only one genre among many that they like. They make up the sporadic category. This category is the most heterogeneous because it includes collectors who choose BL titles because of their artwork, for example, and readers who consume almost anything friends give them. Tachiyomi, when possible, is a common way of consumption. Some sporadics enjoy reading just to kill time and often cannot recall exactly what they have read. "Don't ask me for titles," explained Kaoru. "I love sports manga, the more realistic the better. My friends know that, and if they stumble on a good sports BL title they ask me if I want to read it. I enjoy it at the time but I don't really care to remember the title, because I usually never read a manga twice." Others may similarly engage with BL irregularly and read only what friends give them. Their points of access to the genre differ greatly and are usually connected to other, more dominant areas of interest, such as sports in Kaoru's case and cuteness in Yoshiyuki's.

[5.11] Use routines may change dramatically over time, as can be seen in Suiko's and Ai's cases. This observation highlights the implausibility of rational-choice theories. Even if people could easily identify their needs and knew the perfect way to meet them, the products to satisfy these needs are not always available or accessible. For example, a myriad of dōjinshi are available in Japan but are mostly inaccessible to readers abroad. After Salome had read all the BL stories that she could find in Germany and on the Internet, there was nothing new for her to enjoy. She wanted new, exciting stories that BL, as a genre, could no longer offer. Faced with this "problematic issue," she eventually switched to gay porn novels. In contrast, Suiko fears that when she graduates from university she may not have enough time for BL any longer and might also have to "graduate" from her hobby (note 13).

6. BL and beyond

[6.1] In sum, the models and concepts I have illustrated make it possible to systematize BL content according to the concepts of entertainment value and connected use patterns. Understanding the relationship of the gratifications people expect and gain from particular BL themes to concepts from the fields of communication, media, and entertainment research also helps to relate BL consumption to trends beyond BL. The proposed frame of reference allows for such integrative comparisons, but conclusions are subject to the specifics of a particular genre and its consumers, in this case BL and its rotten fans.

[6.2] BL users exhibit diverse use patterns, reflecting the diverse gratifications they seek to gain by consuming and appropriating the genre. Some like to read at home and enjoy sexual arousal (a physiological gratification), while others favor communicating with like-minded people (a social need). BL as a genre is extremely diverse, but it still offers enough consistency, in its male-only relationships, to generate a shared frame for the users' expectations and preferences. Even though particular preferences differ, the genre is able to house a plethora of stories to provide different gratifications. It is also highly accessible; accessibility is a variable that can be used in research going beyond BL.

[6.3] BL corners in bookstores have been seen as a safe haven for women, far away from the "male gaze," to buy erotic content. BL is thus highly accessible (Nagaike 2003). The same is true of pornography in general, because these days women can access it safely at home via the Internet (McKee, Albury, and Lumby 2008). Although contents, uses, and gratifications differ, the increased accessibility of sexually explicit material for women through the Internet can be interpreted as adding to a trend that was earlier observed in conjunction with some BL manga and ladies' comics (manga for a mature female audience; Shigematsu 1999; Pagliassotti 2010).

[6.4] Further ethnographic inquiries into accessibility and rotten use patterns, and additional assessments of psychological constructs such as attitudes, motivations, and needs, are still necessary to understand the diversity of user approaches to the BL genre. I consider the concepts and theories presented in this article a fruitful framework with which to juxtapose these endeavors and the existing textual analyses of the genre's content and studies of other trends.

7. Acknowledgments

[7.1] My field research was approved by the Institute for Japanese Studies at the University of Leipzig and was supported by a travel grant from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). I thank Jaqueline Berndt (Kyoto) for her insightful advice and constructive criticism during and after the research period. My gratitude also goes to Michael Cofrin (Heidelberg) for his help and advice in preparing this article.

8. Notes

1. Slash is fan fiction with a primary focus on pairing male characters and depicting their romantic or sexual relationships, e.g., Kirk and Spock from Star Trek (see Jenkins 1992).

2. Many amateurs collaborate in circles (sākuru) to share publication costs and skills, since one might be better at scripting the story while another might be the better artist.

3. In contrast, Oliver and Bartsch (2011) recently focused on enjoyment by introducing the concept of appreciation, similar to the aesthetic immersion I discuss here.

4. All five interviews in Japan and three of those in Germany were conducted face to face. The other two German interviews were conducted via video telephony. I contacted some interviewees directly, and others were referred to me by people I had already interviewed or other informants. At the time of the interviews, they were between 19 and 28. All of them knew that I was an investigator and allowed me to use the information I obtained in my research.

5. Unlike quantitative content analysis, qualitative content analysis builds its categories from the text. In several steps, propositions are extracted from the text (which in this case consists of interviews) and consolidated (see ¶3.1).

6. Although shōjo manga are geared toward female readers and shōnen (boys') manga toward male readers, the target audience usually does not perfectly match the actual audience. Most dōjinshi by female authors borrow characters from mainstream shōnen manga.

7. The first shōnen ai manga was created by Takemiya Keiko, a prolific member of a group called 24nen-gumi (the 24ers). The group was named after the birth year of most of its members, Shōwa 24 (1949). Inspired by art nouveau, Takemiya, Hagio Moto, Ikeda Riyoko, and other female manga artists revolutionized shōjo manga by initiating the use of stylistic devices like internal monologue and the flowery aesthetics that still characterize these manga today.

8. All names are changed for anonymity, with non-Japanese names given to the German interviewees. The translations of quotations are my own.

9. Hagio won the first Tezuka Osamu Culture Award Excellence prize for this manga. The main protagonist, Jeremy, was brutally abused by his stepfather, and he kills him and his mother by tampering with his stepfather's car. His stepbrother, Ian, later tries to become Jeremy's protector while fearing that he will himself become like his abusive father because of his own feelings for the younger boy.

10. Otaku is a contested term with several meanings, one of which is similar but not identical to the English term nerd in referring to the stereotype of the socially inept, obsessive, and usually male user of pop culture media. From the producers' perspective, the term "otaku market" refers to media such as comics, animation, and games, among other things.

11. Even though Suiko and Salome disagree about whether Ragawa Marimo's "New York, New York" (published in Hana to Yume from 1995 to 1998) is a BL story, both like it very much because it depicts real-life problems, such as the coming out of the protagonists.

12. The word rōnin originally meant a masterless samurai. Today, it usually refers to students who failed to be accepted by the university of their choice and are seeking another chance.

13. The verb sotsugyō suru, "to graduate," is often used to describe fans' losing interest in their hobby or object of desire for various reasons.

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