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Exploring Yaoi: In-Depth Interview with The Yaoi Shelf Hosts

We recently caught up with the awesome hosts of The Yaoi Shelf, AuthorCarola and AichiYume. We chatted all things yaoi, shonen ai, and boy's love, digging into tropes and media criticism along the way. It was just like pulling up a comfy chair and diving into a great book. So come on, let's revisit this fun convo and get lost in The Yaoi Shelf together.

The Yaoi Shelf

1. Could you both tell us how you got into Yaoi and why you decided to share this interest through a podcast?


Carola: I got into BL half a lifetime ago, and though I can’t pinpoint the exact moment, it was definitely through fandom. When I got into Naruto, and fell headfirst into SasuNaru that was when the floodgates opened and I started consuming and creating BL content. Through Livejournal I found communities for original BL works, manga translations etc. and I was officially hooked!


As for the podcast aspect, it was sort of a fluke on my part? Amanda and I were brought together through a panel we did at Casacon, and after that she invited me to join her on The Yaoishelf. Because I love screeching about BL and fictional characters with friends and others who are just as obsessed as me, I couldn’t resist the offer!


Amanda: I got into BL as almost a natural part of being a fangirl and fanfic writer. I fell into it with Gravitation and SasuNaru around 16 years old. Of course I felt like I was home immediately. I wrote fanfic, roleplayed, cosplayed, did fandubs and read excessive amounts of shonen ai and yaoi. Now I almost exclusively write BL content when I’m not writing non-fiction!


As far as the podcast, yep! Carola is right. We were paired together for a panel and we just clicked. My previous co-host decided to leave the show and I had to fill that void very quickly and Carola was the first person that came to mind. She’s an amazing addition to the show and I’m so lucky to have her as my other half!

2. What does 'The Yaoi Shelf' mean to you and what should it mean to your listeners?


Carola: For me, TYS is a way to gush endlessly about my passion, rant about the bad and the ugly, and laugh until my face hurts with Amanda and our listeners. It means a lot that we get to have this platform to explore and uplift the genre, and gaining valuable insights and skills (such as how to actually speak into your mic, lol) along the way! To the listeners I guess it’s all individual, but as long as it is something that makes them smile and makes them feel like they’re not the only ones who like/dislike a certain trope, or has had a certain kind of experience, that makes me happy! If nothing else, I want listeners to take pride in their interests and enjoy BL to the fullest!


Amanda: The show got its name from the one or two shelves that used to be at the now closed bookstore Borders that had shonen ai and yaoi. Back then, it was a popular hangout to sit and talk about what we were reading and generally just be fujin together. I wanted to take that concept and make it into a podcast: a safe space for fujin to think critically, learn about new series and overall love what they love.


For me personally, it’s a couple of hours with one of my best friends where I get to smile and laugh and share my passion with others.

3. What, in your opinion, sets Yaoi, Shonen Ai, and Boy's Love apart from other types of manga and anime?


Carola: I guess at first glance: the subject matter, focusing on MLM relations. But the cool thing about manga/anime is that it encompasses such a wide variation of genres and sub-genres for all types of audiences, and that includes within the BL genre as well. So within that space of gay subject matter, you can have pure tooth-rotting fluff, but also slice of life, or dark, twisted stories, and protagonists who can be anything from detectives to school boys to mafia. In many ways, BL transcends genre, but it also has specific conventions and frameworks that exclusively apply to BL.


Amanda: To me it’s always been that yaoi means a Japanese homoerotic comic book that shows explicit sexual acts. Shonen ai similarly is a Japanese comic book but doesn’t show any of the lewd stuff and boy’s love is a catch all sort of like mlm romance for the stuff that doesn’t fit neatly into the above categories. My definitions are much looser now but of course were set in stone due to how rigid fandom in the early 2000s was.

4. You mention discussing tropes in your podcast. Could you provide examples of the most common tropes you've encountered in Yaoi and how they impact the genre?

Carola: I want to start by saying that all media has tropes, and that that’s not a bad thing! However, some of the recurring tropes we tend to talk about include internalized homophobia, non-con and rigid stereotypes, which are often used to argue against the genre on a whole, and labeling it as bad representation, or even toxic. To those who are unfamiliar with the genre that can paint an adverse picture and squick people away from it entirely. But like I said before, BL can be so versatile! And tropes are often subverted or reinvented as well! I think it’s important to remember that tropes aren’t bad – we all have our favorites – and many of them have had a huge impact on shaping the genre; be that the tragic schoolboy love stories, or the inherent taboos of “but… you’re a man!”


Amanda: Just as Carola said, all media has tropes and BL tropes of course have their roots in shoujo manga. When people express frustration in BL and yaoi, I’m quick to ask if they have the same issues in other manga and it’s typically all the tropes that are from the old shojo roots of boy’s love manga. BL is full of tropes both good, bad and somewhat questionable and they are the foundation of the entire genre.


5. As you analyze and discuss these genres, what themes or issues do you feel are most significant or recurrent?


Amanda: One I see a lot is the questioning of sexuality. Sometimes it really does take one exceptionally beautiful person to suddenly have you questioning every choice you’ve previously made. In boy’s love it’s usually played for laughs but sometimes that questioning can be tortuous and difficult; part of me almost appreciates the levity of approaching it like it’s just a funny nervous thing when in real life it can be quite scary.


Carola: Yeah, like Amanda said. So many of us have figured out ourselves through consuming fiction, such as BL. Although it’s often portrayed as silly, the experience of figuring out you’re not as straight as you thought, is familiar to a lot of us. I also think communication is a big deal. While a lot of series are notorious for characters not communicating, we also frequently see how couples learn to communicate over the course of the story.

6. What has been your most controversial episode or topic so far, and how did you handle it?


Amanda: Hands down the Pro-Ship vs. Anti-Ship episode with Aeri. The discourse is already very heated and we knew the risk we were taking on making such a strong stance. Fortunately, save for a few dislikes on the video, our audience and those that have come in searching for the video were mostly kind and eloquent.


Carola: Oh yeah, that one was a potential fuel to an already raging fire. There is also the episode on Problematic Content featuring Peachie. It’s a topic that comes up time and time again, so we decided to dedicate a whole episode to it. But fortunately, our audience are mostly mature and level headed people, who understand the nuances, and don’t stir up hate.

7. How do you balance fun and entertainment with serious media criticism in your podcast?


Amanda: I think I have to give a lot of credit to how brilliant Carola and I are together. We tend to just naturally be able to balance a good amount of humor and actual criticism just by the nature of being us!


Carola: I second that! We can be pretty unhinged, which leads to a lot of laughs, but both of us are critical by nature, and enjoy discussing and dissecting the topics that come up and series we read. As we’ve mentioned, we’ve also had guests who study BL/Manga, and frequently refer to studies and papers we’ve read.

8. Can you recall a particular moment or episode that had a profound impact on you or your audience?

Amanda: I think having Dr. Thomas Baudinette was a turning point for the show and the audience. We had a serious academic telling us that the fan sins we were guilty of as teens are not something to continue to beat ourselves up over and he gave one of the clearest and most concise discussions on the absolute nonsense that is the modern discourse around BL and fetishization.


Carola: Oh absolutely. We can quote academics and papers all we want, but having someone like Dr. Baudinette on, and explaining in such concise words was a game changer. I also want to touch upon the Fujin to Queer Pipeline episode, which seemed to resonate with a lot of our listeners. That was the reason we did the episode in the first place, but I think it’s comforting in many ways to hear that you’re not alone in figuring yourself out through fiction, and hearing about the experiences of others.


9.What have you learned from your audience's feedback and interaction?


Amanda: I think the biggest thing I learned is that we can do both as far as balancing like genuine comedy and pretty serious topics. I've also learned from audience interactions that like we are very, very lucky that our audience is not very vitriolic. They're very very kind to us, and you know even if there are disagreements it's always respectful and kind and I'm always so inspired by the people that listen and say how much at this podcast means to them and how important it is and how much that they feel like they needed this show when they were younger.



Carola: Amanda puts it really really well! When I was brought onto the podcast I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s been such a good experience, in part because we have such a great audience. During our lives in particular we get to interact directly, and everyone’s so respectful and open to discussion with us and each other. No drama, just people being level headed and making good points. And like Amanda said, when people tell us what the podcast means to them, that feels really special. Not only that people like listening to us ramble, but that they find community in our little corner of the internet.

10. Have you had any guests on your show? If so, who was your favorite and why?


Carola: We have had some amazing guests on the show so far, and all of them have brought great insight and experience. But if I have to mention just one, Dr. Thomas Baudinette was an absolute dream come true to get to talk to! In Amanda’s words, he’s an absolute academic superstar, and we’re so lucky to have had him on the show! Definitely one of our greatest episodes. We’re also about to welcome Dr. James Welker in our upcoming June episode, which is going to be great!


Amanda: Just as Carola said, we’ve had several fantastic guests on the show! And the good news is, we’re planning on having even more on the show. When the show first started I was almost afraid to be overshadowed by a guest *laughs* which to anyone who watches the show knows I have this big personality that is so perfectly matched by Carola and all of our guests. I’m excited that as we grow as a show, more and more people want to be part of it.

11. How do you choose which works to discuss on your podcast, and do you take suggestions from your audience?


Carola: It depends. Sometimes we just discuss whatever works come to mind mid-conversation, while other times we’ll make lists of our favorite or relevant works within a sub-genre, or a broader topic. Sometimes we dedicate entire episodes to a specific series or author, because we have so much to say about them, because well, we’re nerds like that. Lol. Sometimes the audience will suggest titles or creators for us to check out, especially during our livestreams, and we’re always happy to get recommendations! We’re also very open to suggestions for topics to talk about, or content to make in general!


Amanda: A lot of it is a mix of Carola and I talking and planning and the other part is listening to the world outside of our little fujin bubble. A lot of it is responding to trends and what we see. Sometimes entire topic ideas spin out from a conversation we’re having during an episode. Sometimes we just get brilliant ideas and think we want to talk about something!

12. How does your background as an author, AuthorCarola, influence your perspectives in the podcast?


Me becoming an author is directly tied to my love for BL and fandom, and the experiences I’ve gained through being so involved with those for such a long time, including having a background in fanfic, so it’s something I’d say goes both ways. Ultimately, I’m just a huge nerd.


Being both a fan and a creator, I experience both sides. I know how passionate and dedicated fans are, and how important it is to uplift fanworks and not write it off and claim it’s ‘less than’ or ‘not real art’, because these are incredibly hardworking, dedicated people! I think for the most part on the podcast, I let my own rabid fangirl out to play more often than not, lol.


But of course, we do talk about a lot of more serious topics on the podcast as well, particularly the discussion surrounding ‘problematic content’ and ‘good vs bad representation’. I feel like I’m repeating myself endlessly, but as an author it’s so important to express how we aren’t our characters. A character’s moral standing, choices or actions don’t necessarily (or usually not at all) reflect the author’s opinions. When we write, we’re telling a story, about people who have flaws and make mistakes, that’s what makes them interesting. It doesn’t mean the author indulges or approves of that behavior. In the same way that enjoying such content doesn’t mean that the reader would go out and copy those actions. There is such a thing as writing what you know – in my case, confused, gay and depressed characters – but if you just write the same thing over and over, it’s not very fulfilling. Fiction gives us the space to explore all kinds of narratives and perspectives, and being aware of that makes the process of creating (and consuming) a lot more interesting! As both a fan and an author I follow my personal taste in fiction, but I’m still not entirely uncritical, and that’s the perspective that I look at most discourse with.

13. Similarly, AichiYume, how does your background inform your discussions on the show?


By day I’m a social media manager and media critic so every part of what I do directly impacts how I approach topics on the show! I started writing professionally in 2014 and had already established myself as a blogger! I’m a double major in English and Communications from a small private university so I probably bring a little too much trivia and head knowledge with me to the show.


While I’m not a published author, like Carola, I have been writing fanfic consistently since I was about 12 years old and have returned to the art form so I am still very much in the BL fandom space as a creator and writer.


So yeah, I use almost all parts of my day job in marketing and social media and my background in media criticism and love of the BL space into every aspect of the show!

14. Are there any misconceptions about Yaoi, Shonen Ai, or Boy's Love that you've tried to dispel through your podcast?


Carola: Oh, there’s a lot. There are a lot of misconceptions and nasty rumors flying around about BL and fujin, especially female creators and readers, and especially in today’s climate. We spend a lot of time on the podcast talking about current discourse, or just drama, and why there are so many skewered perspectives going around. Typically, a lot of it is centered on claims about who is “allowed” to consume or create BL, and the inherent misogyny (esp. misogynoir) and erasure of trans/non-binary fans or creators. We talk about the concept of fetishization a lot. And I personally tend to get very strung up in terminology, because so many misconceptions come from things getting lost in translation, misappropriated or otherwise twisted because people use the wrong terms or throw words around without knowing what they mean.


Amanda: I think one of the biggest things I’ve wanted to dispel with the show is that fujin are this band of just rabid cis-het women who are getting off on cute boys kissing. While sure, there are those fans in the fandom but increasingly fujin as queer, they are POC, they are so much more than just girls going crazy for cute fictional boys.

15. What is your ultimate goal or mission with The Yaoi Shelf podcast?


Carola: I think for me, I just want TYS to be a safe space for our listeners to enjoy. I want the podcast to be something that brings people joy, maybe some fun new reads or facts and I guess just a feeling of community.


Amanda: I joked earlier when talking to Carola about this question and said world domination but I think on a serious note I do want a form of that. I want this to be the go-to podcast for thoughtful discussion, analysis and community for fujin of all creeds and races. I want this to be the digital version of that yaoi shelf we all used to congregate around in the early 2000s. So yeah, I do want world domination, but only so I can bring as many fujin together.

16. How has the reception of your podcast influenced your approach to discussing Yaoi and related genres?


Amanda: I think honestly knowing the scale of how many people listen to the show does impact sometimes how I want to approach things but usually while we're recording I abandoned whatever restraint that I had and just go for what I was originally going to say. Like sometimes it's a really really daunting thing to imagine; Thousands of people listening to you. There's a certain level of responsibility there, isn't there? But at the same time, I'm also obligated to say what's on my mind and to educate and inform the audience in the way that I best see appropriate as well as, the way Carola sees appropriate.


Carola: Yeah, I’m used to doing presentations where everything is carefully timed and structured, so I’m sometimes concerned by how I come across in the podcast, where the format is so different, and we’re just chatting and getting carried away. I’m not always as eloquent as I want to be, and sometimes I miss my points entirely. But conversely, through talking with Amanda and our audience and guests, it does introduce perspectives I might not have thought about before, or influences I’m unfamiliar with. Learning from others in a different way, which is more interactive than reading books or articles for instance.

17. What advice would you give to someone who's new to these genres and wants to explore them?

Carola: ENJOY IT! Read what you want to read, and find your own flavor. Don’t let other people or trends police what content you get to enjoy, but prioritize your own interests and indulge! Not all content is for everyone, and that’s okay!


Amanda: Just try something new! If you don’t like it, put it down! It’s not as intense and high-stakes as some fujin make it sound!

18. Do you see any trends or changes in Yaoi, Shonen Ai, and Boy's Love that you think your listeners should be aware of?


Carola: I think definitely two major shifts are that the genre overlaps more with so-called mainstream media, in the way we see more BL aiming for a realistic portrayal of gay relationships/queer lives, subverting or altogether moving away from the conventions we’re used to. And likewise, we see more and more queer representation in mainstream manga/anime, creating an overlap. Yuri on Ice!! Is an example of a series that is often lumped in with BL, despite not actually being one.

The other shift is that as a genre, BL is getting more and more global, with content coming out from all over the world, Korea, China and Thailand being huge, but also other international releases, especially through indie publishing, webtoons etc. From what I notice in my local community, it seems like Danmei is the biggest influence on BL fans here. I’d say that there likely is some connection between the two, seeing as global and cultural influences affect trends and narratives. Another thing is the popularity of live actions series. I talk about this on the podcast a lot, but it seems like a lot of younger fans think of live action shows (especially Thai shows) when they talk about ‘Boys Love’.


Amanda: I think the big trend that I’m cautiously optimistic about is how some popular series really become mainstream. I love that big series like Given and Yuri On Ice!!! got lots of attention but I also think it’s important to go back to some of the older BLs out there. The new stuff is a great jumping off point but it shouldn’t be anyone’s end destination.

19. How do you keep up with the latest releases and developments in these genres, and how do you decide what to cover?

Carola: *sweats* A full calendar and an empty wallet, lol. We’re so lucky to live in a world where there is SO much content coming out, but realistically we’re not able to follow or cover every single thing. Between the two of us, we have a pretty wide spectrum of interests, so we tend to be up to date on different things. I think we largely try to cover topics that both of us have an interest and knowledge about, but often the overarching topic of the month is wide enough for us to cover different ground within that topic.

I also want to say that Amanda is very good at suggesting and picking these topics, or shaping our loose conversations into a broader theme. Some of the time our episodes build on previous discussions, and others come out of our private chat shenanigans.


Amanda: I am very selective with what I pick up because I know I have finite self space, attention economy and money. I do my research and try to watch what truly interests me but I’m the first one to admit that I am behind when it comes to a lot of the newer series!

20. Can you share some of your all-time favorite Yaoi and why they hold a special place for you?


Carola: Obviously I’m going to have to mention Gravitation here. The manga specifically, because it really doesn’t get enough credit, and I’ve made it my life mission to change that. We joke a lot about TYS being ‘The Gravitation Shelf’ because we never shut up about it, but honestly, it was such a formative series for so many of us. The music is iconic, and it really is a much deeper story than it might seem. I do a whole panel on this, and we did a dedicated episode to Gravitation, but the tldr version is that Gravitation was a first in so many young fujins lives, that the story is surprisingly good, and though some of it didn’t age well, other parts hold up surprisingly well!

I also want to bring up Ten Count, because it’s one of my all time favorite series. It’s angsty, spicy and absolutely gorgeously illustrated. I’m such a sucker for Takarai Rihito’s art, and I have the Ten Count Merch to prove it, haha! Also.. am I allowed to mention my own writing? I’ve kept some of these characters with me for so long, I can’t imagine who I’d be without them and the works they appear in. Their stories have taken me on this big gay adventure, and it’s pretty wild!


Amanda: I feel like Carola already covered the obvious favorite Gravitation so I’ll go with the second obvious favorite to those who listen to the show: Twittering Birds Never Fly. To me, the series is the perfect modern yaoi: it’s sexy, complex, angsty, emotional and mature and it’s just gorgeous and I can’t recommend it enough.

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