Anyone who listens to me on the podcast or reads this blog knows I’m a huge fan of BL. But in the interest of fairness and expanding horizons, I’ve been trying to get into yuri. This project has been met with limited success; I tried reading Citrus and found both characters too unlikable to continue. I tried watching Sweet Blue Flowers and dropped it from boredom. So when I saw someone tweet excitedly about NTR Netsuzou Trap by Kodama Naoko, I thought I’d give it a try.
The manga begins with one girl (Hotaru) sliding her fingers up her friend’s (Yuma) skirt between her legs while their respective boyfriends are in front of them singing karaoke. I thought, “Well, these girls don’t waste any time!” but since I’d just read a BL with a guy’s ass in the air on the first page, I thought I shouldn’t rush to judgment.
But it didn’t really get any better from there. About halfway through I actually looked at the cover and went, “Wait, that’s their BOOBS?” But I reminded myself I’m often told that the glorious muscles on my anime boys are totally unrealistic so I figured I should accept totally unrealistic, really round and shiny and painfully-looking-pushed-together boobs also. And it’s not like I’m a noob; I don’t expect realism from drawn boobs. I don’t hate boobs of fantasy. I think I just couldn’t get past the awkward nature of the pose…but, I reminded myself, I’ve never smooshed my boobs against another girl’s and seen what they do (although just looking at that picture kind of makes them hurt) so, again, cut the manga a bit of slack.
I kept trying to look at the manga through a BL lens; yes, the plot was pretty basic and not very believable–but so are so many BL stories I love! Yes, the one character is the most oblivious, naive person in the world to the point of wanting to choke her–but so are so many BL characters! Yes, one character is frustratingly convoluted and sadistic and has yet to demonstrate any redeeming quality–but so are so many BL characters! So why can’t I like this story?!
When I first got into BL, my brother’s theory was that since I can’t relate to the majority of shojo heroines, BL was likely more relatable to me. I’m a tomboy and hung out with boys way more than girls so BL seemed like a no-brainer. I’ve read other theories that women enjoy BL because it’s the opposite-it’s unrelatable. Since it’s a relationship between two men, women can feel safe reading it because there is no female character to relate to and therefore no potential to feel uncomfortable from things that happen to her.
From there, I got lost. I tried relating to these girls but couldn’t. The first issue being if someone tried sliding their fingers between my legs while we’re all at karaoke, I’d probably break their hand. It became immediately obvious that oblivious and tolerant Yuma was not relatable to me. So then I thought, well, as embarrassing as it is to type out loud, in most BL my personality is more similar to the seme’s. So I thought maybe Hotaru was the key. But again, I have no desire to grab anyone’s crotch, especially when they act like they don’t want me to. It doesn’t matter what the crotch is composed of; it’s just rude. So I struck out with Hotaru as well. I was starting to think I just had no taste for yuri.
Exasperated with the end of the first volume of Netsuzou Trap, I moved on to Emma vol. 5 by Kaoru Mori which had also arrived that day. Volume 5 is a collection of short stories about a lot of the side characters from the Emma series, including Emma’s former employer. Her story takes place lounging in bed in the morning with her husband and looking at her nakedness I thought, “I could read a yuri with her in it. She’s beautiful and sensual and confident and intriguing.” Then I remembered the latest volume of A Bride’s Story by the same author with a chapter about the two avowed sisters (sister-wives) and went, “Yes, yes! I’d read a yuri about them! Their story is sooo good!”
That’s when I realized my dilemma about relatability was somewhat pointless. I’ve been through high school but I’ve never been a wife or German or had a dear avowed sister and a rich husband. So shouldn’t I be able to relate to those Netsuzou Trap girls way more than the women of Emma or A Bride’s Story?
So I came to the conclusion it’s not about relatability; it’s about a good story. Yes, okay, I’m way more tolerant of shabby stories in BL, especially if the characters are at least entertaining. But my favorite BL manga (and non-BL, for that matter) are the ones I feel have the best stories above all else. Their plots may not be especially complicated or intriguing, but they are endearing. They make me want to smile as I’m reading. I smiled reading Emma vol 5; I did not smile reading Netsuzou Trap.
So I guess the question is: will Kaoru Mori ever write a yuri? Do you have a yuri suggestion? What, do you think, is the best yuri has to offer?
As a disclaimer, I realize it’s all about preference. Under no circumstances am I suggesting that yuri mangaka need to write with me in mind or that the genre needs to change for me. I just know from reading BL that there are so many different, interesting stories out there that there’s “something for everyone” within the genre and I’m hoping to find that same thing exploring yuri.