A Very Brief History of Yuri by Erica Friedman


Hello, Welcome to a [Very] Brief History of
“Yuri”, first presented at the Tokyo Comics Showcase, Volume 1 on May 3, 2016. When I
say “very brief,” I mean, we’ll cover 100 years in 6 slides. So, let’s begin. We will begin our “History of Yuri” with the
works of Yoshiya Nobuko-san. We begin with her, not because she was the first or only
person to write about desire between women, but because her stories standardized the way
we read and watch and speak of Yuri. It is because of her works, Yaneura no Nishojo and
Hana Monogatari, we have scenes – like a piano duet – that have become de rigueur in Yuri
manga and anime. Without Akitsu and Akiko in the attic room, we would not have had Utena
and Anshi in the tower at Ohtori. Without Yoshiya-sensei’s seeds, our garden would be
less full of flowers. Stories that ran in girls’ magazines of the
1930s, like Otome no Minato, centered the “S” relationship as a form of sisterhood beyond
blood ties and a deep, intense almost-romantic relationship that still is the core of many
“Yuri” stories. It is almost impossible to remove the big sister /little sister relationship
from modern Yuri and still have it make sense – because, in so much Yuri, there are no lesbians.
Sisterhood is still a common image. In the mid-20th century modern girls could
live happily within traditional S roles, as in Sakura Namiki, but women who loved women
were tragic, but noble figures. Being a Girl Prince meant that the Princess could not live
a happy life as a woman, something readers learned from Safire in Ribon no Kishi, and
her spiritual descendant Oscar from Rose of Versailles.
Simone in Shiroi Heya no Futari – the manga I consider to be the first truly “Yuri” manga
– and Claudine discovered that, even for a strong woman, the act of loving another woman
was, in and of itself, destructive. To love another woman as a woman, a woman could not
be a Prince, as Ermina found out in Paros no Ken. Something had to break under the pressure. “Modern girls” were becoming post-modern women
and gender and sexuality were being discussed – not in the same terms we use now, but for
the first time, people read stories of women who were strong… and queer. Magical Girls who rescued Princesses became
more common in the late 20th century. By the 1990s, Girl Princes are noble – and charming.
They combined masculinity and femininity in a new hybrid form. No one was being forced
to pass as a Prince anymore. They were heroes as themselves. We can look back to Sailor Uranus and Tenjou
Utena for subversions of the Magical Girl Heroine archetype. Utena wanted to do the
rescuing herself, while Haruka wanted only fulfil what she felt was a fate that burdened
her. Neither of them had any intention of waiting around for a prince to rescue them
– or living as a tragic Girl Prince themselves. In both Sailor Moon and Shoujo Kakumei Utena,
Magical Girl Princes lived lives that were bound by fate from the beginning, but unlike
their predecessors, they could escape the prisons of their fate and ride off to a happy
future – in a car…or in the form of a car. In the late 20th century, girls not only made
their place as the hero of the story – some of them got the girl in the end. In the early 2000s, the light novel series
Maria-sama ga Miteru almost immediately gave birth to new versions of the old “S” stories.
While Marimite itself was neither sexualized nor a true fantasy series, in series that
came after it, private schools become fantasy worlds where men are forbidden and Takarazuka
Top Star couples rule schools named after non-existent saints, with arcane titles and
rituals. In these fantasy schools for male readers,
old rules still applied – women would cease to love women when they graduated, unless
they actively defied tradition. It is in stories for girls that women find salvation in their
love – for example Satou Sei, having experienced a tragic lesbian love, grows from the experience
and finds herself stronger and more mature for having loved and lost. In Yuri for male readers, we find the giant
robots and rape and horse races of Kannazuki no Miko and Strawberry Panic!. In Yuri for
girls, such as Blue Friends and Nobara no Mori no Otometachi, relationships between
girls heal past hurts and allow them, like Sei, to grow. These grandchildren of “S” continue
to be popular in Yuri for all audiences. There is power in the fantasy of a woman’s world
– and “peeping through the gauze curtain” of that world continues to be a popular erotic
theme. The new popularity of “Yuri” creates – for
the first time – a market for Yuri manga magazines. Starting with the launch of Yuri Shimai in
2003, followed by Yuri Hime magazine in 2005, this new trend peaked in 2014 with 3 Yuri
magazines being published at once – Comic Yuri Hime, Pure Yuri Anthology Hirari and
Tsubomi. For the first time, manga artists that had been drawing doujinshi for years
finally found a home for their stories – and new artists who had never lived in a world
without Yuri, were able to find an avenue to publication. Although not all the magazines have survived
financially, many of the authors have gone on to publish Yuri elsewhere. And new anthologies
keep being created. They fill an important need for both creators and readers. Some Yuri
artists are going straight to online publication with series. We haven’t yet seen a successful
online Yuri publication, but I don’t think that’s too far off. As I said at the beginning, while “Yuri” frequently
tells stories of girls in love, there is very little lesbian identity in Yuri. Stories that
focus on “first love” and school years rarely move past recognition of feelings as “love”
or maybe, sometimes, coming out as “liking girls”. More rarely, there stories about adult
women making a life together. But in recent years, there have been more out lesbians telling
their own stories. Even back in the 1990s, there were stories
of “lesbian” life, like Moonlight Flowers, even if the word “lesbian” isn’t specifically
used, there’s identity as a woman who loves/lives with another woman. Sometimes a “Yuri” story
can be very honest about women loving women, like Fu~Fu, which premiered in Comic Yuri
Hime S, which was targeted to the male Yuri audience. It is with a new generation of out lesbian
creators that lesbian lives are finally truly being seen in Yuri. Nakamura-sensei here with
us today, told a raw and emotional story of a lesbian and the woman she killed for in
GUNJO, and Takemiya Jin-sensei often features out lesbian characters and even uses lesbian
slang in her “Yuri” manga. One of the most amazing current trends is
the very personal non-fiction comic essays by and about lesbians, which tell real stories
about real people and their real lesbian lives. Here in the present, we have both fiction
and non-fiction that finally merges lesbian voices and “Yuri.” What the future will hold is unknown, but
I expect it will be very interesting and I will blog about it at Okazu! Thank you very
much and do visit us at Yuricon and Okazu.

Comments 14

  • Thanks for sharing! This was really informative.

  • Now with the option of Japanese subtiles.日本語字幕付きはプレゼンテーションに追加された。

  • Wow, thanks for this! It seems that yuri is on somewhat of an upswing, which I find to be very, very encouraging =)

  • Very nice and very interesting. Good job~

  • so this is a "very brief" history of yuri, is there a longer more in depth one somewhere?

  • Erica Frieman: The subtitling was VERY much needed. Thank you!

  • yuri is laivu, yuri is laifu

  • とても勉強になりました。素晴らしい動画。

  • Growing up deep in the closet, yuri was my outlet to cope and even now when I'm out and about it has become my greatest passion. This video was a very interesting watch for me, I'll be sure to share it with some of my friends who come to me wanting to get into yuri. Thank you so much for doing this Ms. Friedman; I really admire the work you put in for this medium. You're a real trailblazer! ^.^

  • Thank you for posting this. 😀

  • Claudine wasn't Yuri though. He was a transgender man.

  • I was curious as to what your assessment is of Kobayashi san no dragon maid? It is probably my favorite yuri manga and recent anime but it suffers from the same problem of not outright stating they are lesbians. Its a very non-sexual story (at least the main characters. There is plenty of sexualizations outside of them)

  • The prize for this brevity is sadly the regrettable absence of some very important topics. For example an in depth discussion of the male audience and the male gaze. Additionally the connection to the social reality of the consuming countries is missing (mainly Japan and maybe increasingly to America and Europe).

    BUT I've read in another comment below that youre currently writing a detailed history of Yuri. Im curious. =)
    Because youre right. The research to this topic is in the early stages. Although there were some interesting contributions in recent years like the german "Japanische Populärkultur und Gender" (2016) by Michiko Mae (ed) or the english "Mangatopia" (2011) by Timothy Perper and Martha Cornog (eds).

    Sorry for my bad english. 🙂

  • yo where's Citrus, Sakura Trick, Akuma no Riddle, Aoi Hana, Girl Friends and, most importantly, my favorite manga Strawberry Shake Sweet. They're all gay and stick together (well maybe not in aoi hana but the megane girl is openly lesbian). There are exceptions. Also, you forgot how famous the damned yuri incest is.

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