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Interview: Erica Friedman

Yuri Manga Publisher and Founder of YuriCon


Erica Friedman, yuri manga publisher and founder of YuriCon

Erica Friedman

© Erica Friedman

In shojo manga, girl meets boy. In shonen manga, boy meets girl and gets a nosebleed. In yaoi manga, it's boys in love with boys written by and for girls. So what's yuri manga?

Essentially it's about girls loving girls -- but there's much more to it than that. Perhaps no one is better equipped to explain the what, how and why of yuri manga than Erica Friedman.

Since 2000, Friedman has been a leading advocate for yuri manga and anime, introducing this once little-known genre to American audiences with ALC Publishing, her yuri manga publishing company, Yuricon, the only yuri-focused anime/manga convention, and her blog, Okazu, where she covers the latest yuri news and reviews from U.S., Japan and beyond.

So on the Japanese holiday of Girl's Day (March 3), it seemed like a perfect opportunity to talk with Friedman about girls love manga, the recent wave of new yuri manga titles from Seven Seas Manga, TokyoPop and ALC Publishing and her future plans for Yuricon.

Q: Let's start off with the basics: What is your definition of yuri manga? What does the word "yuri" mean?

EF: Not so basic, really. (laughs) Language is never static, so meanings change over time and yuri is an excellent example of this.

The word "yuri" means the lily flower in Japanese. In the 1970s, the editor of a magazine for gay men called Barazoku, named lesbians "Yurizoku," the "lily tribe," as an analogous term for "Barazoku," or the "rose tribe," a term for gay men.

As with so many things, pornographers adopted the term yuri to anything with lesbian content, so lesbians in Japan don't use "yuri" to define themselves. And "yuri" in anime and manga remained a term for lesbian porn for a long time.

In 2000, when I was starting up what would become Yuricon, fans of what is now called Boy's Love, created a term, "shoujo-ai" to separate romantic girls' love from explicit stories. I chose to use "yuri" for several reasons. One, it was originally used for lesbians, and I wanted to reclaim, if you will, the lesbian identity in yuri. Secondly, lily symbolism was well known and very common in anime and manga. It lent itself to a ready symbol for our genre. And it was a pretty word - after all, girls like flowers. (laughs) So, I began to spread the word, yuri as representative of the genre.

Over here in the west, that's what it is now called. In Japan, while fans and artists sometimes use yuri, publishers use "Girls' Love" in English, and lesbians still tend to avoid calling their work yuri although they are aware of the symbolism.

As for a definition, that's even harder. By definition, no definition is absolute. At Yuricon, we use the following definition:

Yuri can be used to describe any anime or manga series (or other thing, i.e., fan fiction, film, etc.) that shows intense emotional connection, romantic love or physical desire between women. Yuri is not a genre confined by the gender or age of the audience, but by the perception of the audience.
Recently, I've been thinking of Yuri as stories with lesbian content, but without lesbian identity.

Q: In Japan, yaoi manga is essentially about boys loving boys, written and drawn by female creators for female readers. By comparison, is yuri manga aimed at female or male readers, gay or straight, or all of the above? Is it mostly created by male or female artists/writers?

EF: I always laugh when I get this question. If you asked me five years ago, I'd have told you unequivocally that most yuri was created by men, for men. However, that has changed a lot recently.

Yuricon was founded in part to let the world know that yuri is written, read, watched and enjoyed by women as well. As a result of our influence, most people assume yuri is a woman's genre. I'm pretty pleased about that. Honestly, I'd say it's about half and half now. Our membership at Yuricon has always been half men, half women, and I see as many women drawing yuri as men these days.

Q: What is the biggest misconception about yuri manga?

EF: That a picture of two straight characters draped over one another half-dressed means that they are a yuri couple. (laughs)

When I first began talking about yuri, people wouldn't admit that some characters were a couple, even when the artist confirmed it. Now people won't stop pairing characters that are obviously uninterested in each other, because the splash art makes them look like girls in a "Gone Wild" video.

Q: Are there any popular anime/manga series that readers would be surprised to hear that it's considered to be a yuri story?

EF: Well, back in the day, trying to convince folks that Sailor Moon had a lesbian couple was hard. Nowadays, with the explosion of interest in yuri manga and anime, it's harder to convince folks that a series isn't yuri, if it has more than one female character in it.

Because everyone's definition of what yuri is will differ, the biggest questions tend to be around gender-identity stories. Kashimashi - Girl Meets Girl, for instance. Some fans don't consider that a yuri story because the lead character begins the series as a boy. Even after she becomes a girl, there are many people who don't see that as yuri.

Q: Are there different types of yuri manga?

EF: Well, you know... that distinction is really an American invention. The distinctions in Japan aren't based on content, but on audience. Who the story is intended for is more important that the content of the story, so books there are characterized by whether the intended audience is male or female, adult or child. And that's about it.

So, we can look at a lot of the most popular series and see that the intended audience (based on the magazine the stories run in) are men. And other popular series are intended for women. And, of course, there is manga drawn by lesbians. Each of these tend to have broad characteristics, but these are really more about the magazine they ruin in and the audience they expect to reach, than the yuri.

For instance, Strawberry Panic, is a popular yuri series. The intended audience is men, and it tends to reflect that in the characters. Maria-sama ga Miteru is a story for girls, and the lack of action reflects the tropes of that genre.

(More on Page 2)
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