Yuri

Japanese popular entertainment displays a fascination with gender ambiguity, perhaps understandably in a culture where gender roles are still quite strictly defined. Androgyny, transvestism and homosexuality are successfully marketed to a primarily straight audience in Japan.

"Yuri" is what Lesbian romance in Japanese comic books (manga) and animation (anime) are called. It literally means "lily"; lilies traditionally symbolize Lesbianism in Japanese culture. (Chrysanthemums symbolize gay male romance.) It ranges from quite innocent schoolgirl crushes (shoujo ai) to explicit erotica (hentai).


Shoujo Kakumei Utena (Revolutionary Girl Utena) is my own favorite yuri title. Utena's journey to find her own identity is like that of many Lipstick Lesbians. She cherishes the memory of a prince she met in childhood, but is uncertain whether she wishes to love him or to become him. She has a few flirtations with men who remind her of her prince, but through it all, her feelings for another girl, Anthy, are much stronger. And when she has to make a choice between having a prince and being a prince, she chooses to be a prince.


There is no ambiguity about Utena's classmate Juri, the "beautiful leopard". A part-time fashion model and undefeated captain of the ken-do team, she is deeply conflicted over her orientation and her infatuation with a heterosexual git named Shiori.

But one refreshing aspect of yuri is that much of it blithely ignores the complications of being gay and gets right to the fun stuff: romance. This is partly because Japan does not share the Western taboo on homosexuality. Homosexuals are still expected to marry and reproduce, as it is their duty to their families, but covert homosexual activity is tolerated as easily as extramarital heterosexual affairs.

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