Series: Kirai ja nai kedo [I don’t hate you, but…]; Koi ja nai kedo [It’s not love, but…]; as well as the rest of the Warui ko/koto [naughty boy/being naughty] universe by Sakuraga Mei (2006-ongoing)
Yukimura, Yukimura…I have only read this series once or twice, but his character design is like a summons to all my foolish blood.
Yes, the character design for Yukimura Shuji is so intense for this fan she has to misquote Joyce to put the full effect out there. In case it’s not obvious why, let me break it down.
#A) Megane (glasses): He is a glasses character. Yes. This is actually a thing. I mean, come on. Look at those frames on that face. And listen carefully…can you hear the “click” sfx from his pushing them back into place? Kyaaaa! o>.<o
#B) Elusive power: Yukimura is the student council VP of his high school (check out that pin on his collar). According to pop-lore, the position of second in command is one where you have to be able to do everything first in command does, but also act as his follow-man. He is often the strategist, the brains, the one who realizes the vision of the leader and keeps everyone else in line. The
figure—aloof, proud, and feared—often earns the epithet “demon.” He feeds the all-too-common fan girl fantasy: who will be the one to melt his icy heart?
#C) Irresistible man effect: Like Fei Long from Viewfinder, Yukimura has struggled with his pretty features since childhood, fending off molesters (male, usually of the middle age salaryman persuasion) and propositions from pedophiles (also male, etc.). Yes, it is an unfortunate situation, but it is also a common plot device designed to bolster the legendary sex appeal of a given character. How this legend usually goes: “It’s as if he exudes some sort of secret pheromone that drives everyone wild. So who is the real criminal, here, huh?” A slippery slope of mangled metaphors if I’ve ever heard one…
# D) Agency: The childhood anger and resentment which brew in him lead to him becoming a super delinquent (leader of school gang, but, really, more like a posse) in junior high. Badass beautiful mantra 1: become badass to save your own ass.
# E) Secret past: Well, since he reformed himself, that whole delinquent stage thing is something he keeps on the DL.
# F) Secret move: it’s a secret. (j/k. please read on for more)
In this high school romance, Yukimura is paired with his childhood friend, Shinonome Ryuichi, who has looked up to and harbored a one-sided love for Yukimura since moving in next door. He followed Yukimura around during their delinquent years, but since shedding that past identity, Yukimura has been giving Shinonome the cold shoulder. Amused by Yukimura’s “upstanding VP” act and also hurt by his abandonment, Shinonome can’t help teasing him. Even though a year his junior, he insists on calling Yukimura “Yuki-chan” (a nickname denoting closeness, long association, or the superior age/social status of the speaker) and takes every opportunity to remind Yuki of his unsavory past. Despite being annoyed, Yuki can’t seem to hate Shinonome. In fact, in certain moments, it seems to be quite the opposite. Sakuraga Mei thus summarizes their relationship:
Tsundere ukes need an excuse to be with the ones they love. If their semesare savvy and desperate (they usually are), they will furnish that excuse for them. In this case, Shinonome threatens to reveal a photo from their junior high days in order to solicit “5 minutes of play” per day with Yukimura. These 5 minutes open up the door to further coercion and form the foundation of their physical relationship, which, in turn, leads to the budding of a more or less official (barring tsundere denial of) romantic relationship.
The dynamic of tsundere relationships serves certain narrative functions. As tvtropes.org so accurately points out, it is a situation bursting with dramatic and comedic potential. One reason for this is that the over-eager advances of the
seme + the self-denying refusal of the uke = volatile sexual tension. Note how in the panels to the right, the uke’s violent denial combines with his unself-conscious seductive qualities, sending up a batch of mixed signals that simultaneously frustrate, amuse, and arouse the seme. (Thosewho choose to pursue
tsundere tend to have a sado- masochistic streak.) The pay-off that comes when the characters finally get together is also more pleasurable due to this tension, the intensification and release of which is usually found in both scenes of “domestic violence” (Yuki –> Shinonome; again, see above) and scenes that depict categorically non-consensual or dubiously-consensual sex acts (Shinonome –> Yuki).
Neither tsundere nor non-con (singularly, but even more so in combination with one another) are strangers to BL, or romance for that matter. The fact that they are common tropes in the genre essentially mean they are tried and true formulas performed by fictional characters to our delight and entertainment. In this case, I think they can also speak effectively to the more fundamental anime/manga theme of how one can overcome (or sustain) life’s damage (physical, spiritual, psychological) by learning to be with others.
Much like popular BL title Tyrant Falls in Love (Takanaga Hinako, 2004-2012) and recent shojo hit Youko x Boku SS (Fujiwara Cocoa, 2009-ongoing), the It’s not… series works by psychologizing the pathology of tsunderes via revelation of past traumatic experiences.
So goes Yuki’s trauma:
While obviously meant to be comical and ridiculous, this plot device reveals the tsundere character to be born out of an overdeveloped sense of self-preservation. In order to protect himself, Yuki re-invents himself first as the awe-inspiring delinquent, then as the “demon” VP, in both cases predictably seeking a capacity for self-assertion from forms of strength and authority sanctioned by masculinist institutions (i.e. patriarchy). He self-consciously “hides” his feminine face behind long bangs and glasses when he decides to become a model student. He asserts his dominance and daily intimidation on the basis of seniority and masculine pride. This is especially so when it comes to Shinonome, the one person who challenges his otherwise “flawless” disciplinary measures.
For such a threatening figure, Yuki reserves a special death move:
Yuki’s self-transformation is a stark reminder that the misogyny so often criticized in yaoi/BL is actually less about the hatred of other women/female characters than it is about internalized self-hate expressed as femmephobia. It dwells negatively on the physical and behavioral tendencies that might code one as feminine or feminized because these characteristics are known to subject a person to all kinds of whackness, including but not limited to unfair expectations, misrepresentation, limited life choices, and violation.
Yuki’s entrapment via socialized gender norms pits him against a series of incommensurables: how can he sustain his self-preservation if he lets Shinonome (i.e. his own feelings for Shinonome) challenge the order and discipline on which it is based? How can he maintain an illusion of invincibility against his early traumatic humiliations if he lets himself be taken by another man? It would seem tsundere dilemmas are not just cute (insert stern look for all guilty semes); their condition of general discomfort speaks to some fundamental struggles with sexuality, desire, and power. (How does one embody oneself and one’s sexuality without being endangered or violated by others? How does one empower oneself without compromising one’s desires? How does one acknowledge one’s own desire without relinquishing power?)
Yuki’s provisional answer is to absolve all personal responsibility in the matter. He holds onto Shinonome’s empty threats as a pretext for allowing Shinonome to “have his way with him” in a move that is ultimately more non-intentional than it is non-consensual (yes, yes. the whole “it’s not like I’m doing this because I like you” thing). Ironically, this choice, far from resolving any contradiction, only points to larger paradoxes that haunt attempts to navigate between self-hate and self-empowerment. In choosing an unsustainable form of self-preservation, Yuki ends up reinforcing the uke = submissive paradigm by rejecting (relinquishing agency over)—instead of choosing to claim (or not)—his own sexual position.
Yuki’s trust in Shinonome, despite their long acquaintance, remains tenuous at best in this realm. While already knowing that physical intimacy with Shinonome brings him pleasure, he really has not prepared himself with any idea of how Shinonome might behave “when serious” or how to accommodate a potential change in attitude on his own part. His move is all desperation and as Yuki ultimately loses any say over how (and how far) things go, Sakuraga alerts us to the fact that he is quite aware of the dangerous line he’s treading. His internal narration (indicated by floating and boxed text) keeps up with Shinonome’s coercion in their mutually enacted performance of the blackmail game. “Who’s more deceitful?” he asks himself at the conclusion of the scene, “the one who’s trying to sweet talk me with his ridiculous logic or the one who’s [already] bought his completely unconvincing words? ” For the audience, the implications of these words are clear: Yuki needs no reason to forgive Shinonome. On some fundamental level, he already understands that he wants him, too.
But what of Shinonome and his words? The scene is relatively verbose. After getting Yuki’s borderline minimal consent (a mock reprisal of the blackmail game), he begins with a standard narration of proceedings (“now I’m going to…”), some commentary about longstanding fantasies (“what I would have liked to do, but…”) and how good it feels (“so tight,” “incredible,” “better than I had ever imagined”), as well as words of comfort (“does it hurt? what if I do this?” *insert stroke sfx*). Through all these hackneyed lines and awkward, distracted want, Shinonome manages to perform in characteristic seme sex machine fashion while hardly breaking a sweat.
Yet, for all of Shinonome’s cool and calculated ministrations, we start to get a glimpse of his own, private desperation. (Note: I’m not sure this is calculated. As much as Sakuraga Mei claims Shinonome as her favorite character, I can’t help but think his behavior is a rather inconsistent projection of her fangirl fantasies. In other words, his character is complicated by cross-firing moe.) The first aspect of this is that the moe elements of Yuki’s character design reach a peak in this scene as every characteristic move he makes drives Shinonome to lose his composure (in a likewise meta-sense, his desire to possess Yuki runs parallel to the fangirl desire to see it happen). His many step plan of seduction is replaced with the singular goal of anal penetration (in the words of one critic, the bread and butter of the genre) and he markedly ignores Yuki’s pleas for him to stop. While he does have the presence of mind to try to comfort Yuki, he has no intention of stopping at what he wants. Instead, he starts to pour out all manner of confession and false rational (“it’s your fault for living next door to me”). Who is he trying to convince here? It is as if, in the face of his fantasy’s (premature) realization, it is all he can do to tether himself to the forward movement. (His uncertainty resurfaces after it’s all over.)
For a story that rests squarely on communication fail as relationship set-up, Sakuraga seems to follow the “sex as a site for revelations” thematic of BL by highlighting Shinonome and Yuki’s relative self-awareness here. One of the most striking moments in this scene is when Shinonome enters Yuki. Yuki expresses disbelief that he’s doing this with another man and Shinonome replies (as he gradually thrusts into him), “But it’s okay if it’s me, right? After all, this means something a bit different from all those guys who were only lusting after you.”
With all his bravado and seeming confidence in his ability to read Yuki (even here, there is the implication that the something different lies in the way Yuki feels about him and not the other way around), Shinonome is strangely cautious to avoid the most obvious and overused four-lettered that rights all wrongs committed in BL beds (hint: lurv). Instead, he chooses to understate both the difference between himself and the countless perverts, stalkers, and pedophiles that have traumatized Yuki in the past (in fact, he’s just managed to out-creep them all) and the exact “meaning” behind that “bit” of difference (the fact that he wants “more than”).
All the same, we are given enough clues throughout that articulate Shinonome’s “difference.” Aside from serving as a kind of whipping boy for Yuki’s fragile ego throughout the years, Shinonome positively sees him across the different stages of his life. He casts no judgment upon the various personas Yuki dons in his transformations and himself expresses no deference to the institutional sanctions Yuki clings to (he remains a delinquent and responds indifferently to Yuki’s fixation with masculine power…he also seems unfazed by the fact that the apparent love of his life is a pretty-looking guy).
These recurring images juxtaposing the couple’s past and present relationship, especially the one above representing Shinonome’s POV, suggest that an important bridge between Yuki’s past and present selves is the continuity of Shinonome’s strong feelings for him. As with many a seme, Shinonome love is unconditional and this unconditionality can constitute a provisionally powerful, if not intentional, “safe space” for all of Yuki’s selves and struggles (even as it comes with a creepy urge to monopolize it).
As Yuki grows into this “space,” Sakuraga Mei offers us this extra-narrative image
which resolves the present Yuki and his delinquent past via Shinonome’s gaze (and, interestingly, a touch of female yanki aesthetic), suggesting that Yukimura has always and ever been nothing less than totally beautiful, totally badass.
*All images belong to Sakuraga Mei. Scanlations are taken from a closed group and are being posted uncredited and without permission (as it is now impossible to contact them). If any related persons see this and find my use of their work unacceptable, please let me know.
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