I've mentioned in past articles the shonen ai, or "boys' love" genre of shojo manga, in which young men are portayed as lovers. (It's also known as bishonen or yaoi.) Several people have remarked to me on the similarities between shonen ai and "slash," a genre popular among some North American women in which fans produce their own fiction and art portraying such male duos as Kirk and Spock as lovers. (Thus the "slash": Kirk/Spock, Starsky/Hutch, etc.) The similarities really are striking (differences in scale aside), and seem to indicate a fantasy shared by some North American and Japanese women.
Most of what I know about slash comes from reading and from chatting (via e-mail) with Arin Komins, a slash fan at the U. of Chicago who is working on a master's thesis in psychological anthropology on—ta-dum!—the shonen ai genre. (And you thought I was the only one!) It seems a tenuous link has been formed between slash and shonen ai in the form of a widely-circulated fan translation of From Eroica With Love, by Yasuko Aoike. (I mentioned her popularity in North America in the January issue.) Slash fans are an obvious audience for shonen ai, and I hope the word spreads through that community quickly.
Another obvious audience for this genre is gay men, with whom it is popular in Japan. But I would like to think there are plenty of straight men out there who, like me, believe you don't have to be gay (or a straight woman, or a lesbian) to enjoy a good gay love story. I've already heard from one such man, but I've also heard from several who, after telling me how much they enjoyed "Promise" and looked forward to more shojo in English, made a point of telling me they wouldn't be interested in a same-sex love story (as if I, of all people, would find their interest in shojo cause to question their "manhood").
The bottom line is this is a fascinating genre, and I would hope it finds a broad English-language audience. Drop me a line—via e-mail or by "snail mail" c/o Viz—and let me know what you think. If enough people show interest, we may look forward to a shonen ai story in a future Flower Comics release.
©Matt Thorn 2004