Why we love… teh almost-yuri

With a new season of Maria-Sama ga Miteru (alternately marimite and The Virgin Mary Watches Over Us), it’s on everyone’s minds again.  I might have already entered the fracas once, but here we go again, this time not on the new season, or even the OP, but the show as a whole and why we love it so (if we do).

I have this theory about certain entertainments…  that they get their strength from weaknesses.

That’s suitably oblique to be quotable when I’m dead and famous, so I’ll explain myself now.  Some stories, be they movies, books, or something episodic, have holes in them.  These are different from the gaps Wolfgang Iser talks about — which are the same as Scott McCloud’s gutter (you know, the one all the blood runs in).  These holes are just spots where there isn’t something that should, by all rights, be there.  Sometimes it’s necessary to leave it out.  Even after all these years the X-Men comic can’t afford to give us every detail of the characters’ lives, so there are holes.  Sometimes it’s down to lack of sense — I hold this is why all the holes are present in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, but even great writers like Arthur Conan Doyle are guilty of it, and for the same reason (specifically, Watson’s old war wound kept moving because Doyle ended up disliking working on the Holmes stories, so he never bothered to look it up and didn’t remember).  These holes allow the audience, if they’re willing, to nestle in and build their own little world, like the miles of abandoned subway in some major cities that are inhabited now.  There’s a third type, but I’ll get to that in just a bit.

There’s a danger in this kind of enjoyment.  I know, you must be crying out at this point:  how can you, you, ever claim there’s a danger to enjoyment?  Aren’t you the populist?  Well yes.  But it can lead to perfectly happy people not enjoying themselves when things take a turn.  Despite how inadvisable it is (I tell me students generally not to do it unless they have some more evidence), I’ll use a personal example:  I have a friend who really liked Psych, the USA network comedy about a Holmesian detective who has to pose as a psychic to get any work.  This friend got so used to “fandom” entertainment that she never seemed to enjoy anything that didn’t have the holes required by such things as fanfiction or even simple speculation.  So she started writing Psych fanfiction, slashing the main character with his antagonist, a detective on the police force who loathes him.  Let’s never mind, for now, this inexplicable tendency to pair characters with people who genuinely hate them, and focus on what happened later.  Eventually the show sort-of capitulated the very obvious and very telegraphed interest between the main character and, gasp, a lady.  My friend nearly swore off the show because it had violated her speculations.  Now, I have all sorts of personal reservations about this sort of thing, but what’s relevent here is that it curtailed her enjoyment of something she could have merrily continued watching (I did, and it continued to be as funny into the next season).

Now I can get to the third type of hole:  the kind that’s there deliberately.  Marimite has these kinds of holes, it seems to me.  The setting is fairly friendly to yuri, as the stuff with Sei and her old flame illustrate.  However, it never comes through — and from what scuttlebutt I’ve heard about the latter novels, that’s basically true to the end.  It tantalizes the reader with pretty obvious yuri implications.  I’ve read (if “read” is the right term for my stumbling, dictionary-referencing actions) the first marimite novel in Japanese, and there’s a moment when Yumi starts breathing heavily and her heart pounds, while she blushes and has nearly all the other trademark signs of arousal, all while thinking of Sachiko.  She then wonders why she’s responding that way, doesn’t get it, and wanders off to be a cute raccoon somewhere else.  But nothing ever happens.  It seems a lot like my aforementioned holes to me, emptied-out spaces in which the audience can fill their own versions of events.  And they have. Marimite is one of the few things I still read fanfiction for (by the way, while I still do not “ship” anything, sometimes I do want to read Yumi x Touko stories, and where the fuck can I find more than, like, three of them?); the fanart and doujinshi runs fast and strong, like the Mississippi, from the fandom; communities, strangely well-mannered — like the show itself, I suppose, where walking slowly is preferred — have gathered to simply discuss the characters, their relative pairings, and then link to yummy fanfiction where skirts are raised and characters stutter “onee-sama” a lot, usually breathily).

So.  Marimite is, for lack of a better term, a kind of lesbian clit-tease.  That’s okay.  I enjoy filling in those spaces like everyone else.  There is one application of this post to the new season, though, that I’ve thought of.  This idea of all the spaces (you’ll notice I abandoned the term “holes.”  If you haven’t figured out why, I’ll tell you when you’re older) being filled runs into certain problems, much like Psych did in my above example.  People have this picture that, due to the text’s reliance on empty spaces, is very vibrant, basically the entertainment itself.  But as I’ve pointed out, the show never quite capitulates on the promises it seems to make.  Guys do enter the picture.  So the furor about guys showing up to act in the play might be an extension of this.  The picture most of us (me included) have doesn’t involve guys; it involves cute ladies having make-outs.

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  1. Nazarielle

     /  5 January 2009

    So Marimite is basically a giant 4 season yuri cock tease, is that what I’m getting out of this?

    I know what you mean about when stories, shows, or movies fill in those spaces where we were only left to speculate, it can tend to ruin the enjoyment. And since you brought up Harry Potter, I’ll gladly use that example: I finally got around to reading them a few months before the 6th book was due for release. I was as crazy about it back then as I am about anime now, and unfortunately, decided to ship a couple (well, really, take a side) amidst the masses of crazy fanboys/girls. Unfortunately, my ship didn’t come true and it really ruined the 6th book for me. I didn’t read it again for a good half a year, until about a month before the 7th book was going to be released. Although, I’m glad I did take my leave of it for that long, it let me come back with a slightly clearer head.

    But I see what you’re getting at. When you’re so invested in a series, especially when it’s something with a huge fan base and lots of discussions, speculation, shipping, etc, it can be kinda bitter to be spoon fed an alternate version of what you thought of the world in which you were so invested.
    The perils of loving something too much, you could say.

    • Cuchlann

       /  5 January 2009

      That’s all true, but actually I tend to come out on the side of the original work. I never get so involved as to have a problem with what the text goes with, unless I view it as actively messed up — that is, the writer(s) made mistakes somewhere. I’m pretty easy-going, though, so usually that doesn’t happen. The Wheel of Time is one example where I think the gaps are just mistakes — some of them, anyway.

      So you’re right, obviously that does happen, but specifically I was trying to look at how the gaps actually draw in the audience, rather than what can happen if it goes in a different direction from the “fanon.” I possibly failed to emphasize that, though. Hm.

      • Nazarielle

         /  5 January 2009

        Ah, so you’re saying you love Marimite for the fact that it teases so ever pleasantly, but doesn’t try to fill in the gaps by pairing off characters?

        I can say personally, I love stories that really leave you guessing and don’t try to spoon feed you all the information. I really liked Chaos;Head for that for a while (until it lost its way), and True Tears as well. Trying to figure out the mysteries and feelings of characters is a really tough thing to do, but it also adds a certain enjoyment, if you will, to the series. Is that more of what you were focused on? The enjoyment of trying to careful fill in those (purposely or not) empty spaces?

      • That’s much closer to what I was thinking, yes. Possibly even the same thing, though not in the same terms — I am, of course, a literature nerd, so my terms are usually fucking weird. : )

      • Nazarielle

         /  5 January 2009

        Yeah, I’m… not so much a literature nerd, as you might be able to tell :p Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m posting really late (or early, depending on how you look at it), and I tend to ramble on without actually saying anything of consequence for a couple paragraphs. Oh and I also tend to just grab an idea, even if it’s not the main idea, and just run like holy hell with it until I’m spent.

        So, getting sorta back on topic, I guess you’re not quite happy with them introducing men to the 4th season? I’ve never seen any of the previous seasons, and I only watched half of the first episode of the 4th season before my attention span ran out and I went on to something else, but I take it there have only been women so far? And you’re worried that they’re going to fill in those spaces that are better off left empty, which will make Marimite lose some of its appeal? This kinda makes me wish I knew more about the series, but I have fuck all to go on, so I guess I’ll just leave it at that. I think my brain stopped functioning an hour ago anyway~

      • Large amounts of men have been introduced throughout Marimite’s seasons, from Eriko’s brothers to the season 3 debut of the Hanadera student council, and they never really detract from the innocent/ambiguous yuri that Marimite is known for.

        There’s one character who breaks the pleasant, feminine feel of the series but he does so almost intentionally. A member of the Hanadera student council, he introduces himself as a man whose hobby is weightlifting whose favorite foods are MEAT and PROTEIN all while flexing his pecs at the girls. It’s almost as if he accidentally stepped into the wrong show, but it just adds greater character variety to the series.

  2. “The Virgin Mary Watches Over Us” … I always hoped the official translation would be “The Virgin Mary is Watching You.” That damn statue always seemed more like a telescreen than a guardian angel.

    • It is a little disconcerting in the new OP. There the girls are, having fun, and the “camera” suddenly moves in to the statue. Fucking creepy…

  3. “sometimes I do want to read Yumi x Touko stories, and where the fuck can I find more than, like, three of them?”

    You found three? Hook me up with those. Only one comes to mind at the moment. Seriously. D:

    While I never actually fully participate in these holes that develop into fanworlds (though I do “reap the benefits” of them, I guess), I do totally understand the feelings that can go into them. In the case of Marimite, it is interesting how even though there isn’t a set resolution with any of the characters getting romantically together and such, the responses from fans are as strong or stronger than what I see for things like love triangles (which is why I feel a little hurt when people thumbs-down the Yumi-Touko souer end they seem to be going towards). It helps to be remember that there’s a difference between canon and fanon, and that canon is still the word of the law, no matter how much we want to change that.

    Regardless, the creators do know how to connected with their fans. :P

    • Ugh… Yeah. For whatever fucking reason, fanfiction.net hasn’t added a set of pairing drop-down menus to the Marimite section… because people read it for another reason?

      Should I assume the one you found was “Something to Believe?” I am, of course, left with only that one, and am forced to (lamely) say that I *have* read a few others. Somewhere.

      Well, wait, there is “Touko-chan in Wonderland”. Sort-of. It’s in there. Along with everything else… That one is definitely not safe for, well, anywhere. But definitely not for work, or work-like places.

      • That was the one I found. And I think I did read “Touko-chan in Wonderland”, but while that was fun, it wasn’t as “fulfilling” in the “D’AWWWW” sense. If that makes any sense. And that’s all I’ll say about fanfics as well. :P

      • No, makes sense. I think I’ve seen a few others, but apparently I didn’t save links. :p

    • Also, yes on all the other, important stuff you mentioned. : )

    • Mm goggles.

      My gf is good enough to have simply wondered, idly, why guys tend to like the yuri. I said it was analogous to girls liking the yaoi, but I don’t think she’s into the stuff.

  4. Understanding Comics has been required in two classes I’ve taken so far…haven’t touched it yet. I don’t think you’re referring to his notion of “closure”, though the two are related in ways.

    “Marimite is, for lack of a better term, a kind of lesbian clit-tease.”


    Perhaps this process is unconscious, but forgive me if I say that I generally don’t engage in “hole filling” (oh jeez) or fanfiction. Maybe I’m a passive viewer?

    • Somehow I doubt you’re passive. You could regard what we do — scholarly reading — as another kind of hole-filling, of course. It could be easily argued that none of the scholarly readings on any work are actually there, the writers just brought their own things to the table.

      But I know what you’re talking about. Some people do it less than others. I do it less than my friend in that example, but more than you.

      • I hereby proclaim scholarly writing, or any kind of textual analysis, fanfiction.

        I’d go into my thoughts on fanfiction/doujinshi but they’re kind of complex. Suffice to say that they’re all a commodified codification of someone’s fantasy about a character or set of characters in a work: if the fan-work’s author’s fantasy is to have Yumi and Touko share a deepening of their emotional bonds, then that’s what they like best. If said deepening of emotional bonds happens to involve lots of heavy breathing and fogged up windows, then that’s their prerogative as well. It’s fantasy, and exists outside the context of the work it’s based upon. Internal rule-bending isn’t inherently bad, but bad only when the reader doesn’t like the way the rule’s being bent.

        oh god help

      • I’m just saying, if you write fanfiction OGT, I’d read it. :P

      • I have real fiction! That I have not touched in years! Does that count?

      • It’s an interesting conundrum, really. Derridean theory illustrates that every text is individual, even if based on something else in the author’s mind. But readers of fanfiction only come to that text if they’re looking for something from the original. So fanfiction is a play between these two poles of theoretical reading. Fun stuff, I don’t have any answers about it. :D

      • Pontifus

         /  5 January 2009

        I hereby proclaim scholarly writing, or any kind of textual analysis, fanfiction.

        I really, really suspect this to be the case, or at least I suspect they’re far closer than any professor would deign to admit, but I don’t quite know how to articulate it yet. Nor have I been able to actually bring myself to experiment with fanfiction as an analytic technique (the bad Final Fantasy fics I wrote years ago don’t count…).

      • Well, entire branches of fanfiction are really just arguments that certain characters should get together, or that certain plot events mean certain things (which can be an example of argument A, sometimes). And Chabon cites “The Game,” the branch of Holmesian studies that act as though Holmes was real, to be the beginnings of fanfiction, and it’s really just a whimsical kind of scholarship.

      • Pontifus

         /  5 January 2009

        Chabon cites “The Game,”

        Oh shit, did Chabon just make us all lose the game?

        …Oh shit, did I just troll my own blog?

        And now, pertinence: a whimsical kind of scholarship, yes, but I wonder if it can’t be written with some kind of rigor. But don’t ask me how one would go about doing that.

      • lelangir

         /  5 January 2009

        ah, nice observation. Yeah, it’s very Barthesian, because technically everything is fanfiction – everything is inexplicably based off something else. I would try and quote Barthes off the top of my head but I haven’t Image Music Text at hand…

  5. “I have this theory about certain entertainments… that they get their strength from weaknesses. ”

    I hope I outlive you so I can misconstrue this quote to my own devious ends.

    Having heard this spiel before, nothing new here, but (tangent) I’m pretty certain The Eyre Affair had moments like this: characters, when not actively taking part in the drama of the book (which unfolded over and over and over again, as people kept reading the book) would go on excursions to other books and interact with other, similarly idle characters, or do things that they couldn’t do in the book proper with the other characters. This was for Jane Eyre, of course, but when you think about it, all books do kind of have that off-screen life of the characters who aren’t doing anything at the moment. Some are much more prominent, or else are constructed to deliberately leave those gaps in there, as you said, but in the space between the lines, the characters can do whatever the hell they want, hence fanfiction, doujinshi, etc. Who’s to say that Yumi and Touko don’t have intense yet quiet nights of mutual enjoyment?

    The problem is always when, as you say, the spaces become more important than the content. But that, I think, might come more naturally than the inverse, especially watching something serially as it’s coming out. Watching a batch leads you read the story as the story, and nothing else–reading something serially leads you to construct your own fictions and hypotheses for what happens later in the interim. Watching the original Star Wars trilogy over three nights at the age of 10 left me with an appreciation for the trilogy as a unit (and even the official fanfiction novels that followed, at least until I got tired of them); when it was coming out, though, I’m told that there were large contingents of Star Wars fans who had constructed what they considered a far better backstory for Darth Vader/Anakin (and better looks, apparently, than the bald, scarred egg-head that popped out of the helmet) than what Lucas gave them in the time between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. It’s kind of similar to what happened with me and the non-existent prequel trilogy: I don’t even think I had a large constructed mythos of what happened to Anakin that made him Darth Vader in the past, or even a smallest inkling thereof, but I sure as hell know it wasn’t how Lucas said it happened. That’s probably an entirely different issue altogether, though.

    • Oh good. Well, you’re younger, so I guess statistically you will outlive me…

      Yeah, Fforde’s books all seem to traffic in that space between. Good call there. I really need to get around to reading Something Rotten soon…

      Star Wars is a pretty good example. Of course, Star Trek had the same thing; it’s often cited as the first thing with “fanfiction.” Which is bullshit, but it had the first fanfiction that had the earmarks of the “genre” today — not-so-good writing, amateur publication, circulation among fans as the primary intent. And I know from my first ex that Star Wars fanfiction is still going strong.

      Which version of Lucas’ backstory? ^_^ He summarized the whole backstory in all the years between the trilogy and the prequels, then finally filmed them, and there were differences. The main one is that he had said Vader was horribly scarred by falling into acid while fighting Obi-Wan, but in the movie it’s lava. They were in an industrial-complex sort of place originally, I believe. Given how the fight in Empire plays out that “scars” Luke in similar ways, I really think Lucas should have kept it that way, rather than doing a big outdoor fiery battle thing.

  6. Cuchlann

     /  5 January 2009

    @Pontifus: first, nested comments appear to only extend so far. Second, I don’t see why not. I haven’t read any Holmesian scholarship yet, only about it: in Chabon’s essay and the notes in my annotated Sherlock Holmes.

  7. Ahh, delayed gratification. Even better, coz there’s no gratification as such, eternally delayed. I haven’t seen Marimite but if it manages to keep your interest so long without any actual yuri consummation then that means the story itself must be darn good!

  8. Errorabbit

     /  8 January 2009

    While I’d probably agree with your statement of spaces or gaps, I’d say that’s actually a sort of sideeffect of marimite (and some comparable works). Or actually, just that, while it is indeed an intended hole there – but of course, judging author intentions is always hard – it is left out for other reasons.

    Namely that apparently, in japan, it is not uncommon to have very, very, very close relations between underage females that to any sort of outsider would appear romantic, and is indeed thought as a kind of “experimental” or more fittingly “adjusting” phase that is not unexpected but has nothing to say about the actual sexual orientation of the characters, which is absolutely expected to go back to heteresexual in the end.
    It is considered immature to dwell on these relations.

    As such, it is very necessary for this relationship not to be consummated sexually in nearly all works, since otherwise it would crash with the demographic, which is actually, underage straight girls, not young male adults, as could be expected.
    (Which is targeted by more explicit, right to the point hentai stuff, mostly because the majority of males is apparently uninterested in romance stories)
    Young male adults are definitely peripheral demographics, just how they are in case of magical girl nonsense, but not the target.

    However, maybe it’s all just humbug, since I took most of my information from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Class_S_(genre) and http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RomanticTwoGirlFriendship
    Eitherway, even if this doesnt apply to MariMite, it’s still more of a classic case of hinted-at homoeroticism, simply because such a thing is actually still not A-OK in nearly all of today’s cultures.
    Even Anime doesnt have a lot of homosexual relationships that are consummated outside of the specific genre that centers on them… …in which case it is nearly always used as a variant of the “Impossible Love” or “Unethical Love”, simply one step higher since most of the old conventions – love between members of different classes or warring factions or different race – are stale, not shocking, not as hard to overcome or not exotic enough.

    Yes, Anime has tons and tons of Bishounen. But barely anyone is actually gay, are they?
    A pity.
    But Japan is, after all, probably more repressed in that area than western culture.

    PS: As always, there are of course some works which are an exception.


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