REVIEW: The High School Life of a Fudanshi

The High School Life of a Fudanshi | 腐男子高校生活
Release: 2016

Ah, the elusive fudanshi – that is, men who like yaoi. Some say they are nothing but the stuff of myths. Sightings are rare, contained to cousin’s-friend’s-brothers and online message boards. Or so we thought, until one brave anime debuted to share their story. To bring solidarity to real fudanshi everywhere. To change the world forever.

That anime is The High School Life of a Fudanshi, which chronicles the everyday happenings of male BL-lover Ryō Sakaguchi. This very solid premise for an anime runs  a full 12 episodes (though, as a teeny microscopic little footnote, each episode is only 4 minutes long, and that includes the end credits song.)

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It’s a series about BL, but is it gay?

IS IT GAY? 4/10

In case you’re not following along, fudanshi ( 腐男子) is a play off the word fujoshi (腐女子). The fu (腐) means “rotten”, and fujoshi, or “rotten girl”, is slang for ladies who like gay male romance – namely BL, which is a whole sub-genre of female-targeted male/male romance so well-established in Japan that bookstores frequently have marked BL sections. In turn, guys who like BL are fudanshi.

That being said, is this series gay? Technically, no. Ish. No-ish. At least in Sakaguchi’s case, who, he’ll have you know, is completely heterosexual, despite being nuts about gay comics. Not that it isn’t riffed all the time, with his friends assuming his Kinsey score is non-zero. But while he doesn’t necessarily show much interest in female classmates, he’s not really interested in the male ones, either. He’s only awkward foray into 3D humans goes astray when a girl he had been crushing on from a distance is revealed to be a male classmate cross-dressing. (Said classmate is allegedly gay, though may identify as transgender or gender fluid, for what that’s worth.)

But tune your expectations to queerbaiting instead of on-screen gay kiss. Queerbaiting, after all, is the whole damn point.

THE HIGH SCHOOL LIFE IN BRIEF

Sakaguchi goes doki doki for male-male romance. Now, you may have read this scenario in a BL manga or twenty: cute uke comes to terms with his homoerotic yearnings via yaoi comics before finding the IRL dude of his dreams (meta, so meta). That’s not Sakaguchi. He’s tall, plain, not particularly charming, and identifies as completely heterosexual.

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Not that Sakaguchi is “in the closet”, or at least he doesn’t put much effort in trying to be. He loudly laments to his classmate Nakamura that he wishes he could meet other dudes who liked BL, since he’s confined to fanboying online. Nakamura takes Sakaguchi’s habit of snapping creeper photos of other male students being affectionate together and then whining about how this doesn’t mean he’s gay remarkably in stride.

Sakaguchi happens to glance at female classmate Nishihara’s smartphone and notices that she’s following a BL doujinshi artist that he also follows. He reveals himself as a fudanshi, which cements the foundation of a fu-fabulous fu-friendship. She even invites him to go to a comic convention with her, where he had always been too embarrassed to go alone. Shame is an antagonist quickly put to its grave.

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Sakaguchi, Nakamura, and Nishihara meet a number of eccentric classmates, including two not-quite-couples that act gay but don’t seem to actually have a relationship, and even another fudanshi who draws and sells his own BL comics (though rather than excited, Sakaguchi just ends up being jealous that the guy is better looking and more popular with women than he is).

Rather than plot-driven, the series is mostly just a series of goofy scenarios that involve Sakaguchi or other classmates accidentally imitating BL tropes, and Sakaguchi and Nishihara shopping for, arguing about, and nerding out over yaoi while Nakamura watches confused from the sidelines.

BL AND SEXUALITY

Sakaguchi declares his heterosexuality on a number of occasions. The series leaves some room for skepticism on that note, but to be sure, Sakaguchi never shows sexual interest in other guys when he is the partner in question. True, he doesn’t really show much interest in women, either – though in the Valentine’s Day episode he claims to want a girlfriend, Nakamura is confounded that he and Nishihara, who are ostensibly soulmates, don’t take their friendship to the next level. At any rate, let’s trust Sakaguchi for now. He’s straight, and he likes gay romance.

The conundrum of fudanshi as an institution is twofold: one, the romance is targeted for the stereotypical female sensibilities, and two, it exclusively involves a gender that most men, presuming heterosexuality, would not find much interest in.

Sakaguchi explains that the joy of reading BL is admiring the romantic happiness of others. While marketed as a girly sentiment in romance genres worldwide, Sakaguchi is demonstrating an important point: men can like romance, too. Some people crave the bubbly feeling of joy at the concept of two people forging a real and raw connection, and cultivating romance together even through hardship (whether internal or external). There’s certainly nothing objectively weird about men liking this, too, once you strip it of the stereotypes. Real men wear pink, etc.

Of course, Sakaguchi isn’t just reading shoujo-style romance. He’s specifically reading BL. More than that, it’s not really just the enjoyment of romance, but sexuality. Sakaguchi alludes to trying to buy 18+ BL erotica, and that he “already feels like an adult inside”. That leads to the second half of the fudanshi conundrum: sexual interest.

Fudanshi doesn’t try to get Freudian on us. No psychoanalysis on why a straight guy might enjoy male/male erotica. Frankly, I’m glad it didn’t. Why a straight man or straight woman, or gay man or lesbian, might like hardcore yaoi could come from a totally different place – but on the other hand, maybe not. Sexuality is what it is, and people enjoy things in pornography that they wouldn’t enjoy in real life all the time. The world of romantic fantasy, at the end of the day, isn’t planet Earth.

TROPES AND TRIBULATIONS

While the topic matter may be fascinating, Fudanshi’s not exactly an ambitious project. The episodes, limited to a string of gags within an approximately 180-second period should make that pretty obvious. The animation is weak, the design is bleh. That’s fine; it didn’t set out to be anything more.

Nor does the series have anything particularly meaningful to contribute to the portrayal of real LGBT identities within the context of anime. Does it have to? No way. But on occasion, it gets uncomfortably close. The character of Shiratori, for instance, is an allegedly gay cross-dressing student president of the cooking club who occasionally sexually gropes the other students. This plugs into negative and comedic Japanese stereotypes of gay people, who still to this day are often equated with being transgender. It’s not clear what Shiratori’s actual gender identity is, with this in mind – is he gender fluid, a role-playing cross-dresser, or a trans woman? More likely, Shiratori is just supposed to be funny and perverted. In Fudanshi‘s defense, the character seems to be well-liked and popular, and the other students consider him a particularly attractive person who “combines the strengths of both men and women”. Specifically, this has earned him the obsessive love of fellow male classmate Ueda – who, by the way, also isn’t gay.

But it’s not really a series worth dissecting much. The Shiratori and Ueda non-couple exists deliberately as a parody and subversion of BL tropes, just as the relationship between other non-gay couple Keiichi and Ryo. Daigo, the other fudanshi in the series, isn’t indicated to be gay or otherwise, but unlike Sakaguchi, looks like a stereotypical BL character. These scenarios exist only for Sakaguchi to view through a gay-tinted lens, and to him, the resulting visual is sometimes sensual, sometimes irritating, and mostly a begrudging combination of both.

FINAL REMARKS

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The High School Life of a Fudanshi is pure whiplash comedy: short, stupid, and sexual. But even with a wink, nudge, and dick joke, the series affectionately prods at the phenomenon of fantasizing about raunchy romances that don’t necessarily align with your real-world interests, as well as the concept of men actually, heaven forbid, enjoying a genre that is traditionally dominated by women.

It is well-served by its short episodes, which allows the humor to be too fast-paced to overthink for real artistry. The gags are dumb and amusing, sometimes amounting only to a sly giggle at the observation of dudes accidentally acting gay. The Sekai wa Boy Meets Boy ending theme song, performed by Sakaguchi’s own Japanese voice actor, is an additional delight.

It’s funny. It really is, if you’re not taking it too seriously. If the humor doesn’t vibe with you, you’ll find it trite and offensive. But as for me, I, too, am rotten.

WHERE TO WATCH IT (LEGALLY): Crunchyroll

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