The History of BL Manga: 1970s Origins 🎓 BL University

Welcome to the Boys’ Love University course The History of BL Manga: 1970s Origins !

This is an informal book club to read and discuss the manga included in the corresponding Natively list. We don’t have a set reading schedule, so you can choose which books you want to read and when. If you have suggestions for other items to be added to the list, or wish to be added as a collaborator, leave a comment below.

Syllabus

This course will explore the earliest examples of BL that appear in shoujo manga; this will provide you with a solid understanding of how the BL genre originated, and serve as a useful foundation for examining how it developed in the following decades.

This course doesn’t have exams; instead we would like to hear your thoughts about what you have read. This can be as simple as whether or not you enjoyed the story and why, or more complex ruminations on the intertextuality between the works in the list.

Questions for consideration
  • How is the romance depicted?
  • How does it differ from heterosexual romances of the same period?
  • Is the romance depicted as primarily emotional or physical?
  • How does it relate to the contemporary society’s views of LGBTQ+ issues?
  • How does the setting affect the type of story told?
  • How does it compare to other BL works of the same time period?
  • What was the inspiration for the story?
  • What message was the work trying to convey?
Further Reading

Relevant books, articles, blog posts, lists, etc. Feel free to recommend any other sources you find useful!

Discussion Guidelines

  • Spoilers should always be hidden using spoiler blur or details tool.
  • When discussing a specific section, please mention where you are in the book, ideally by chapter so people reading different versions have a clear point of reference.
  • If you have a question about grammar, vocab, cultural things, etc - ask! That’s a welcome part of the discussion too, and other readers will be happy to help.

Student Enrollment

BLU offers flexible learning depending on your interests.

Student Type Description
Full-time You plan to read all the books in the reading list
Part-time You plan to read at least one book in the reading list
Auditing You’re just here for the discussion
Please select your preferred student type:
  • Full-time student :books:
  • Part-time student :open_book:
  • Auditing student :notebook:
0 voters
5 Likes

Planning to read the whole list (just the first volume for series), but who knows how long that will take! :rofl:

竹宮惠子作品集 サンルームにて | L24?? is first up!

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This is such a cute idea bibliothecary! I love the theming and everything! Are the books in the reading list ordered by published date?

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Yes, although I did go by MU’s data, so it might not be completely accurate. :sweat_smile:

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Nice, nice. Well, just let me know when student fees are due; I’ll have to go take a loan out for sure. :face_holding_back_tears:

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Ahh @bibliothecary this is adorable! I’m in way too many bookclubs already, but I’m definitely here for the discussion :popcorn:, and who knows, you might suck me into the coursework as well :rofl:

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You’re welcome to join whenever you have the time! :smile:

There are a few oneshots that would be easy enough to dip into - I might edit the item descriptions to make it more clear how long each work is. :slightly_smiling_face:

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I’m probably a lot more likely to read a one shot with the club (just in case I like the first volume and then have MORE manga to read :scream:)

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I’ve been quite bad with book clubs recently, so I don’t think I can promise commitment to another one, but that sounds great.

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Okay, so I’ve just finished the title oneshot 竹宮惠子作品集 サンルームにて | L24?? and I am reeling. :melting_face:

I’m still processing my thoughts about it, but I’ll leave a description of the story below for now (so I don’t forget :sweat_smile:); it’s full of spoilers, so don’t unhide unless you’re fine with that.

Detailed plot description for サンルームにて

The opening scene has one boy standing over the body of another, holding a knife. He seems overcome with emotion, unsure of what’s real, and whether he is full of love or hate.

Serge, a Romani child, is visiting his “castle”: the sunroom of a vacant mansion. There, he meets a beautiful brother and sister for the first time - the siblings’ parents have just bought the house, and Serge, disappointed, accepts that he won’t be able to visit his secret hideout again. However the boy, Édouard, encourages him to keep visiting just as he used to. As Serge runs off, Édouard reflects on his lonliness, and seems happy to have met Serge.

The townfolk gossip about how Serge can’t make friends due to the colour of his skin, the children in his class bully him, and his teacher is overly-strict with him alone. Édouard, who has joined Serge’s class as a new student, witnesses the unfair treatment, and just as Serge is about to face another punishment, Édouard faints. As Serge carries him home, Édouard reveals that it was merely a trick to leave school early. His younger sister Angèle, who is accompanying them, is shocked at first, but the three end up heading back to the sunroom and playing together. Their imaginative games often feature Édouard as the hero, with Serge and Angèle playing supporting roles.

As they see Serge off, Angèle is annoyed that they’re walking so far, and questions why Édouard is so close to Serge (his arm is around him). Suddenly she slips and falls off a bridge into the icy water below. Serge rushes to rescue her, while Édouard worries about Serge’s safety. Back at the mansion, Angèle is tucked up in bed, and Édouard is towelling Serge off when he abruptly kisses Serge then runs off. Angèle stirs from her slumber, thanking Serge and asking him for a kiss, saying she won’t lose to her brother. Édouard, who witnesses this exchange, is enraged.

Later, Édouard is in the sunroom examining the Christmas present he plans to give Serge: a knife. Angèle accuses him of acting strangely; he used to always be by her side, but now it’s like he has forgotten her and only thinks of Serge, like a lover would do. Serge comes over to play, but Angèle storms off - Édouard says she has tired of their games, as girls grow up quickly, and he also shares what his sister said about them acting like lovers. Édouard claims to be hot, and says he wants to undress, and Serge finds himself fantasising about them being naked together. Suddenly Angèle knocks at the window, asking Serge to play with her outside. Flustered by Édouard’s advances, he rushes out to join her, hugging her while silently begging for help. Édouard watches them from the sunroom.

One day, Édouard invites Serge over to the house properly and introduces him to his mother. Édouard wants to talk to Serge alone, but Angèle insists on joining them. The boys place a large mirror on the floor of Édouard’s room, who proceeds to strip, shocking the others. He walks on the mirror, saying it’s like walking on ice, then smirking, asks his sister if she can do the same. Upset, she leaves, and Serge tells Édouard to apologise to his sister before following her out. Édouard lies on the mirror, trembling with cold; he has opened the window and snow is blowing into the room. He wonders if Serge hates him now, even though Édouard loves him. He takes out the knife he was planning to give to Serge, and uses it to shatter the mirror.

A few days pass. Angèle tells Serge that Édouard has caught pneumonia, and has been calling Serge’s name all night. She reveals that their mother is angry and blames Serge. He begs Angèle to tell him where to find Édouard, and after he rushes off, she collapses in tears. Serge sneaks into Édouard’s room and they embrace, but they are discovered, and Serge is thrown out of the mansion. Distraught, he goes to the sunroom… Where a bright-eyed Édouard is waiting for him. Édouard hands him the knife, and as they kiss, Édouard forces Serge to stab him. Édouard collapses, Serge lying on the floor of the sunroom next to him.

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Ooh, can’t wait till I get there. I’m going to go through the entire book, mostly so I can write a nice review on it, so I’ll have to wait to read your thoughts.

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I’m probably just going to read the oneshots on the list and leave the rest of the volumes until a later time, but it will be interesting to hear how the other stories compare to the BL ones. :slightly_smiling_face:

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this is an interesting corner you made here!!

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Thoughts on サンルームにて: Part I

These are notes about things I noticed; they’re not particularly organised or coherent (apologies :sweat_smile:).

  • As before, everything hidden should be considered spoilers; don’t open unless you’re cool with that :sunglasses:
  • The main characters will be referred to by their initials, because I’m lazy :laughing:
  • Although this was later adapted into 風と木の詩 (series) | L24??, I won’t be drawing comparisons until I read the later work (I have read an English fan translation, but it was several years ago and I don’t trust my memory :sweat_drops:)
Character Names

Note: We see E write “Serge”, so we can be sure of his name. As for E and A, I looked for French names that sounded right. In the plot description I used Édouard, but it may be Etoile.source

Serge: “Coming from the Latin name Sergius, it translates to “servant” or “guardian,” celebrating baby’s potential to be a strong protector for the people they love.” source

  • S saves A from drowning in the river
  • S (and A) take the role of helper (or servant) while playing with E
  • S goes against his name by (kind of) stabbing E

Édouard: The name Edouard is primarily a male name of French origin that means Wealthy Guardian.source

  • This seems the more likely of the two possible names, given its meaning and that it’s a boy’s name
  • E is from a wealthy family, and he protects S from punishment by pretending to faint

Etoile: Etoile, also spelled Étoile, is a girl’s name that simply means “star” in French.source

  • That this is usually a girl’s name makes me doubt this is where E’s name comes from, although the mangaka may not have known this
  • The meaning could fit, as S comments on E’s eyes shining like stars, and the iconography appears throughout the story

Angèle: From the Greek word angelos , meaning “messenger” and used to describe a heavenly being with wings or a messenger from God.source

  • A is the one to tell S about E’s illness and tell him the way to the sickroom
  • Could possibly also refer to the heavenly beauty she (and E) possess
Personalities

Serge: He doesn’t hold back his emotions (visibly excited to have found a new friend) and doesn’t let the racism/bullying he experiences affect him. Friendly and outgoing, puts himself in danger to help others (when A falls in the icy river).

Édouard: More reserved than S, but accepts and befriends him quickly. He doesn’t have the prejudices his mother and the other townsfolk have towards S. In their games, he is the natural leader. Is willing to harm himself and emotionally manipulate others to get what he wants (making himself ill to gain S’s affection).

Angèle: Greatly admires her older brother, and like him, quickly befriends S. Feels left out when it seems like the boys are growing closer to each other. Although she feels jealous of them, she is kind: she helps S see E when he’s ill.

Vive la France
  • The mangaka was inspired by French media such as Les amitiés particulières (This Special Friendship), a film about the (emotionally) intimate relationship between two schoolboys.
  • A country on the other side of the world from Japan, with a very different culture - it possibly seemed like a fairytale setting, where stories like this one are easier to imagine taking place.
  • European settings were popular in shoujo manga during this time.
  • The local racial tensions (unlikely to be familiar to Japanese readers) are incorporated into the story: E is a beautiful (white) boy, S is of Romani descent who is shunned and abused.
  • There aren’t specific details (that I remember) pertaining to the French location, except for the character names and E calling his mother maman.
Winter Wonderland
  • The story takes place during winter, in the run up to Christmas (E plans to give S a knife as a Christmas present)
  • Winter is associated with beauty: the pure white snow, sparkling ice, clear night skies filled with twinkling stars; it also signifies death (or dormancy) in nature
  • There is added danger (A slipping on the snow/ice and falling into the river, E getting pneumonia)
Romeo & Juliet
  • Both tragic love stories, with the characters unable to be together, and so they choose death
  • Juliet stabs herself with Romeo’s knife; similarly S stabs E with the knife E gave him
  • E and S are from very different social backgrounds and there are obstacles preventing them from being together (E is accepted by the townsfolk, but S is shunned; E’s mother dislikes S and blames him for E’s illness, family members literally drag S away from E’s deathbed)
  • Les amitiés particulières (one of the influences) also embodies the tragic romance narrative of Romeo & Juliet
The Sunroom
  • A place specifically designed to trap light and warmth
  • The children use it as a place to play, away from their parents and the outside world in general (we never see anyone else except S, E, and A in there)
  • At dramatic moments (the first/last scenes), it resembles a church
  • S refers to it as a secret hideout, his “castle”, and E’s sunroom
  • Most of the story is set in and around the sunroom, particularly significant scenes (first/last scenes, their first meeting, their childlike make-believe games, E’s attempts at seduction and S’s fantasising, A telling S about E’s illness)
  • It is used for the children’s games, but when S starts fantasising about E, he flees to escape - the sunroom seems to be a powerful place for imagination, and E is the master (elf prince, seducer), S even refers to it as E’s sunroom.
The Little Prince

E seems to take on the natural role of leader:

  • E invites S to come back to the sunroom during their first meeting (without asking his parents’ permission)
  • E is A’s older brother, she naturally looks up to him and obeys him (for the most part)
  • While playing, E is the magical fairy/elf, while S and A are just helpers
  • E is the one who actively pursues S (and S refers to E’s seduction techniques as “magic”, throwing back to their childish games)
  • E is the one to suggest what they do, and S and A follow along (his trick to get out of school, their games, accompanying S home, the mirror/naked scene)
  • He wants his own way, no matter the cost (making himself ill)
Damsel in Distress

There are a quite a few scenes of needing help and being rescued:

  • E and S save each other from loneliness
  • S saves A from drowning; later S wants A to save him from himself (and his fantasies about E)
  • E wants S to save him by making himself ill
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Glass, mirrors, ice - reflections, windows, dividers, connectors…

  • The sunroom itself is primarily made of glass windows, to trap light and warmth - it acts as a cosy refuge for the children, away from the harsh realities of life (parents’ prying eyes, bullying, racism)
  • Due to the story taking place during winter, there is a lot of ice - beautiful, bright, sparkling, but also dangerous (the children crack the frozen puddles by jumping on them playfully, A slips and falls into the icy river)
  • The mirror E places on his bedroom floor is just like ice, he says - cold and reflective (his shattering of the mirror also resembles the danger of ice, and harks back to happier times of jumping in frozen puddles)

I noticed a lot of contrasts and duality in the work:

Rich and Poor
  • E (and A) are from a wealthy family who bought the mansion, they wear fancy clothes
  • S is the son of a fortune-teller (a poor background, though not stated explicitly)
  • The sunroom is owned by E & A’s family, S is merely a trespasser
Insider and Outsider
  • E is immediately accepted as one of their own in school
  • S is bullied in school and and gossiped about in town
Male and Female
  • Both E and A vie for S’s affection and attention
  • E makes a point of doing something A can’t (stripping naked in mixed company)
Danger and Safety
  • E is the dangerous choice for a lover; A is the safe choice
  • S risks his life to save A; E risks his life to gain S’s attention and affection
  • E is safe because of his ethnicity and wealth; being Romani is dangerous for S (physical “punishment”, verbal abuse)
  • S fantasising about E is “unsafe”; he seeks safety in A’s embrace
  • E only worries for S’s safety, not his sister’s when she falls in the river
Child and Adult
  • E and A fight over S like children fighting over a toy
  • The children play make-believe in the sunroom; later the boys awaken to more adult emotions
  • A is the child wanting attention from E and S, whereas the boys are older and have different expectations/feelings towards each other
Reality and Fantasy
  • The opening/ending scenes seem to be S’s illusion, whereas the middle is the “real” E
  • The children spend time in the sunroom playing make-believe; later their time together is more serious as they struggle with their feelings
  • S fantasises about being naked with E; later E strips naked
  • S refers to E’s allure as “magic”
Happiness and Despair
  • The nature of love is a rollercoaster of emotions
  • S & E’s elation at finding a friend, despair of being separated (physically by parents, later by death)
Kindness and Cruelty
  • E’s invitation for S to visit the sunroom again is kind; his later manipulation (making himself ill) is cruel
  • A’s kindness at helping S see E when he is ill, even though it upsets her
  • The children bullying S, compared to E befriending him
Friends and Lovers
  • The contention between A and E regarding S; A wishes to be friends with her brother and S, while E wants to be lovers with S and exclude A
Beauty and Ugliness
  • S is in awe of the beauty of E and A; the townsfolk consider S’s skin colour ugly/bad
  • The beauty of the setting (French countryside, fancy mansion, beautiful children, nice clothes) and weather (winter snow, ice, stars) contrasting with ugly emotions and actions (racism, bullying, jealousy, illness, emotional manipulation, death)
Life and Death
  • The first and last scenes are of death, the middle is full of life and complicated emotions
  • The contrast between E when he is running and laughing with S and A when they leave school early and the scenes when he is on his (possible) deathbed
  • The story opens with death, when it is usually the end of a story
  • The story takes place in winter, which signifies death (or dormancy) in nature

More still to come… :laughing:

4 Likes

Thoughts on サンルームにて: Part II

The Knife
  • An unusual gift E wants to gift S as a Christmas present
  • Rather than something practical, such as a pocket knife might be, this is an ornamental gift: it is fairly large, and exquisitely decorated - it’s not really made to be used.
  • In the end, E gifts it to S… or does he? The E at the end seems to be S’s illusion, so how did S get the knife? It doesn’t seem like Christmas has passed, and we haven’t witnessed E give S the knife, although he shows it to A. How would S know about the knife unless he was given it by E (or A)?
  • It is an object that is both beautiful and dangerous, which in a way reflects how E is seen by S, and how their feelings towards each other could be interpreted.
  • It is also used by E to shatter the mirror, perhaps signifying his distress or anger that his feelings aren’t reciprocated by S, as though his emotions, as fragile as glass or a sheet of ice, might shatter.
Mona Lisa Smile
  • In the final panel, E is smiling gently - his love has finally been accepted by S.
  • In the opening scene, S asks E why he is smiling: is this to throw the reader off, so they believe S killed E in a fit of rage over something E was laughing about?
  • Although we can just make out E’s smile in the opening scene, in the end it is much clearer, and gives a feeling of contentment in contrast to the confusing beginning.
  • Although S expresses his emotions clearly and doesn’t hold back, E is more reserved. We see a variety of expressions from S, but E’s expressions are much more subtle.
The house as a character
  • We don’t see S’s living quarters, but we can assume they are modest
  • The mansion itself is grand and imposing, with enormous rooms, sweeping staircases, and ornate décor; the ornamental gates and high railings that surround the property serve as another symbol of wealth and exclusivity.
  • The sunroom, by contrast, is smaller and more intimate, at least when it is being used for play; in dramatic moments it suddenly seems much larger, as though it physically represents how the characters feel dwarfed by the situation and their own emotions.
  • The mangaka utilises the sunroom’s lighting to make scenes more dramatic: the skylight in particular acts as an almost heavenly light, illuminating those standing below it.
  • The sunroom seems to change in response to the children’s emotions: it can be a warm, bright, and welcoming playroom, then change into a church-like place when the boy’s feelings start to evolve.
Maman
  • The mother’s face isn’t shown. Other adults’ faces are shown, such as the townsfolk and the school teacher, so why is E’s (and A’s) mother’s face hidden?
  • E and A are described by S as being incredibly beautiful, so we can assume their mother is also a beauty.
  • Although we don’t see her face, we do get a glimpse of her expression when she looks at E and S going off together in the mansion, which A notices - she looks anxious, apprehensive, perhaps even upset.
  • Are we being spared the sight of a beauty wearing an ugly expression as a result of prejudice?
Romeo & Juliet (cont.)
  • S climbs up the balcony to see E, his Juliet, because like the tragic Shakespearian couple, they have to meet in secret due to the disapproval of the family.
Does the Dog Die?

No. But where does it go? A tiny mystery.

  • Perhaps signified that S wasn’t accepted by other children, and so his only friend was a stray dog
  • By having him talk to the dog, it serves as a method of informing readers of S’s thoughts when there’s no one else he can talk to
  • Now that S has new friends, he forgets the puppy…
Great and Small

Size, and the contrast between big and small, is something that pops up in several ways:

  • As adolescents, the boys haven’t developed the skills and experience to handle the enormity of the emotions they are experiencing
  • The children are often dwarfed by things and people around them: adults, the mansion, nature… This highlights their youth, but also their helplessness.
  • Dramatic moments have the sunroom - which usually feels cosy and intimate - turn into a grand church with arched windows that cast long shadows. It is as though it reacts the the emotions of the children, in an almost magical way.
  • The power of nature is displayed when A falls into the river - if S hadn’t saved her, she could have drowned. With a simple slip of her foot, she could have lost her life.
  • E’s small actions - undressing, opening a window - lead to huge (potentially fatal) consequences.
The End
  • It is suggested that E dies from pneumonia in bed, and the E that S sees in the sunroom is an illusion.
  • Does S die in the end? It appears at first glance that the violence is limited to (the illusion of) E, and that nothing happens to S, but the image of the two posed on the floor in the final panel may suggest otherwise.
  • The E in the sunroom is an illusion, so does S stab himself? Perhaps he feels such regret for E’s suffering that he feels he must punish himself using E’s gift, the knife.
  • The sunroom is a place of great significance to the children: it is where they first meet and spend time playing, E tries to seduce S there, A shares the news of E’s illness with S there, and the final scene of E dying takes place there.
  • Perhaps E doesn’t die - after all, the sunroom is a place where the children played make-believe, and it seems to have a magical quality about it. S’s illusion could be a manifestation of his own guilt about E’s suffering (both from unrequited love and pneumonia) and finally acceptance of his own feelings.
Commentary on Images

E and A wear ornate clothes: lots of layers, ruffles, embroidery, patterns, accessories. They wear multiple different outfits throughout the story. By contrast, S has far fewer outfits, and they are usually plain.

Maman has an elegant hairstyle and wears layers of ornate clothing. However, her expression is anxious and she fiddles her fingers nervously as she looks after her son and his new friend.

This panel perfectly displays the difference between E and S’s social positions: E and his mother wearing fancy clothes, S in plain clothes, a small figure between the two, hesitant to approach (perhaps fearing the woman’s reaction, since he is used to being scorned and ridiculed for his skin colour; it may also be due to feeling intimidated at meeting someone so obviously upper-class).

The mother’s position is closer to the viewer, making her a larger figure taking up a greater portion of the panel, the bold patterns on her dress drawing even more attention, and the bustle - an item of fashion that wouldn’t be practical for a working woman - is another symbol of her status.

There are flowers blooming on the left, even though it’s winter. Knowledge of horticulture and the effort of tending to plants that bloom in the colder months is another sign of wealth and the luxury of time (and money) to spend on hobbies. They may have even been imported from distant lands, as was a hobby of the Victorian-era upper classes.

The (Ionic or Corinthian) column is a point of architectural interest that in the modern era signifies a certain level of wealth and status, rather than serving a merely practical function. It also acts as a symbol of respect and appreciation for ancient Greek culture - hailed as the progenitor of much modern European culture and education - and implies a certain familiarity with ancient Greek culture (particularly history, philosophy, politics, and perhaps the language), which would be a staple of the education of the upper classes at the time. (This raises a question for me about why E and A attend the regular school rather than a private school or being tutored - I expect it’s just because it makes the story easier rather than having any significance to the story).

Perhaps the mangaka was interested in architecture and/or Greek history; perhaps it was merely something she noticed on houses belonging to the rich. Whether she knew the significance or not, the connotations are evident.

The railings in the background signify the size of the estate, and the need to keep unwanted visitors (riff raff) out, and of course the wealth and privilege that is required to live in a place with such precautions. Maybe they also symbolise that S feeling trapped, his small figure being sized up by someone his superior, in social standing, wealth, and age. E has convinced him to visit the mansion for the first time, rather than playing as usual in the sunroom, and he appears somewhat apprehensive, even reluctant.

The mother even greeting the children as they come home from school could be construed as a sign of wealth: a lady of leisure can do so, while perhaps S’s mother may have to work all day and into the night to earn money for the family.

I feel like I should comment on the only thing left out so far: the bushes. They are snow-covered and don’t need tending to, but come the warmer months there may be a gardener who tends to them - another sign of wealth. Not particularly convincing, admittedly, but there you go.

Examples of the mansion’s exterior and interior. We only see parts, and never the whole house, but it is portrayed as palatial: its silhouette resembles a fairytale German castle, it has enormous windows, a stone balcony with balustrading, and of course, a sunroom.

The interior is similarly impressive: the rooms are large, ornately decorated, and furnished with items which seem almost comically large compared to the children.

The skylight in the sunroom provides dramatic lighting during key moments. The sunbeams spilling in directly from overhead gives the scene a feeling of being watched over or blessed by the heavens.

The sunroom often resembles a church during dramatic scenes, particularly the shape of the windows: normally they are portrayed as rectangular, but in key moments they change to arched windows resembling those in churches.

There is often a dramatic contrast between light and dark in these scenes that isn’t found in other scenes that take place in the sunroom: light streams in, illuminating the figure(s) and casting dark shadows. This light can be seen as a holy blessing, or perhaps an awakening or realisation, depending on the context of the scene. Often a flurry of snow can be seen outside, magnifying the brilliance and brightness of the light. Sometimes the final leaves of autumn are blown on the breeze, giving a sense of movement, freshness, and immediacy.

The final scene of S and E lying together on the floor of the sunroom, the looming shadows between the windows stretching across the floor, up the steps and onto the ornately decorated doors conjures the image of pitiful people begging for help on the steps of a church, or seeking refuge in the safety of a church. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but it has something to do with the way the shadows interact with the steps and doors, which until this point had been white (and not particularly eye-catching).

Is heaven blessing their love? Forgiving them for what society at the time would deem a “sin”? Comforting them with the warm glow of the sunlight? Or does the light signal S’s clarity and acceptance of his feelings for E? It could be interpreted many ways.

I feel like I’m just scratching the surface with these observations, I need to get to the heart of the story. :melting_face:

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Thoughts on サンルームにて: Part III

Some in-depth thoughts this time. :slightly_smiling_face:

Romance, or Passionate Friendship?

E’s desire to monopolise S is evident, particularly in the scene where he is walking S home, his arm around him, and A is trailing behind. However, he doesn’t begin to pursue him romantically until A comments that he is treating S as though he were his lover. Does A give a name to E’s feelings, allowing him to understand why he desires S so much? Or does E misinterpret his feeling due to her suggestion, and attempt to seduce S under the false impression that what he desires is indeed to be S’s lover?

It isn’t difficult to see this as a love story: E pursues S and tries to seduce him, E’s desire to expose his naked body to S, S’s fantasy of the two naked, the kisses, the similarities to the tragic romance of Romeo & Juliet, and the fact that the character’s refer to their feelings of love. In most of my observations, I’ve taken for granted that this is indeed a love story.

However, I think it’s also worth considering that the boys’ feelings could be that of friendship, misinterpreted due to their inexperience. Both are very lonely: although E plays with A, she is after all only his younger sister, and he muses that he doesn’t have any friends; S is an outcast with his peers. Neither has had a real friend before, and so their happiness and excitement at finally having a real friend is obvious.

While S is happy to play with A, E wishes to spend time alone with S; understandable since they are peers, and therefore will naturally have more in common with each other. It wouldn’t be surprising if they felt more at ease with those of their own age and gender, and wished to spend time together rather than with a younger girl.

After E and A quarrel, E lies to S, saying that A left because she no longer wanted to play childish games. He comments that girls mature quickly - while this is used to support his lie, it may also reflect his true thoughts: even though A is younger, she suggests that E’s behaviour is like that of a lover, something which apparently hadn’t occurred to E before, demonstrating her emotional maturity compared to E.

Due to E trying to monopolise S, A becomes upset: perhaps she too lacks other friends, so it must be upsetting to be left out. Not only is she losing S, her new friend, but she is also losing her brother: she complains to E that he used to always be by her side, but now is only interested in S. A sibling rivalry develops to “win” S, as though the two are children fighting over a beloved toy. In their desire to win, they latch onto the idea of becoming lovers with S, because they have learned from their parents and society that this is an exclusive bond between two people; successfully becoming lovers with S would mean they would have this exclusive bond, and win their childish fight with their sibling.

And so the competition between the two to seduce S can be viewed as being motivated by jealousy between siblings to have something to themselves rather than sharing. It doesn’t matter that the prize is a person rather than a toy; their desire to win is driven not by love, but by selfishness. Therefore the “romance” can be seen as merely a tactic that the siblings use in their game. Their emotional immaturity causes their initial rift (after all, they could decide that it’s best to all play together so no one is left out or feels hurt, as they had previously done happily before), and the idea of becoming lovers can be seen as similar to children playing house, as they lack the maturity to understand their own feelings or really understand what a romantic relationship involves.

A feels that she has a natural advantage since she is a girl - heterosexual relationships are the norm for the society she lives in, so she is confident that S will choose her. Compared to E’s attempts at seduction, her pursuit of S is somewhat mild; she calls him out to play after E’s failed attempt at seduction, and asks for a kiss after being rescued by S (which she doesn’t seem to receive - it is possible that S kisses her while we only see E’s angry reaction). Is this due to her confidence that S will naturally choose her, since she is a girl and a heterosexual relationship is “normal”? Or is it that she knows her feelings aren’t those of love and romantic desire?

E, by contrast, is more daring and extreme: he tells S directly about A’s comments on them seeming like lovers, steals kisses, caresses S’s thigh, expressing his desire to be naked, strips in front of S, and in a last-ditch attempt at winning S’s affection, makes himself extremely ill. Is this boldness driven by romantic desire, or merely a desire to win? It is obvious that he likes S a lot, but since he has never had a friend before (and presumably has never had romantic interest in others, either), it’s entirely possible that he lacks the experience and emotional intelligence to understand his own feelings.

While A feels she has an advantage by being a girl, E tries to turn the tide in his favour by stripping naked. A is angry, saying it’s different for girls, which is true - girls and women are held to different standards than men (both then and now) when it comes to nudity. While same-sex nudity may be acceptable in certain circumstances such as changing clothes for gym at school or bathing together, nudity in mixed company could be considered scandalous, particularly for women and girls (even today, in many places exposed breasts are considered highly sexual, even obscene - even when not in a sexual context, such as breastfeeding or, y’know, just existing - and can result in harassment, threats, and assault, while men’s exposed chests are considered no big deal). E uses his own natural advantage of the freedoms afforded to men in order to try to seduce S.

We can also factor in the age difference between A and E when considering their attempts to make S their lover: while A’s behaviour is more modest and “pure”, E’s appear more adult - his nudity, both in reality and S’s fantasy, suggest the awakening of sexual desire in both boys. The way E is drawn in these scenes aren’t sexual, though (at least to modern eyes): instead, it seems childlike and innocent, focusing on beauty and romance. It gives the impression of adolescent desire that doesn’t fully understand the act of sex; the nudity is a metaphor for exposing their inner selves, removing the obstacles between them in their desire for closeness.

I think this is something that the intended audience would be able to relate to: young girls who have moved beyond the childlike games of playing house which merely mimic the family dynamics of those around them, and are interested in romantic relationships, but may not fully understand or be ready for a sexual relationship. The art displays curiosity regarding sex and sexuality, but primarily expresses the emotional desire of the characters.

S’s shock at his own fantasies and running into A’s arms suggest he is disturbed by feelings he considers unnatural, and seeks comfort from one who he feels is an acceptable object of desire; however it could also represent the conflicting feelings of an adolescent who is shocked and scared by unfamiliar desires that are so powerful they conjure up vivid images of a type of intimacy they have never experienced before.

Given the arguments above, it is possible that while E is pursuing S out of a desire to monopolise a cherished friend, his seduction ends up awakening real romantic and sexual desire in S. The turbulent journey from childhood to adulthood can be full of complex emotions and conflicting feelings: S experiences a sudden and intense desire for E, which shocks him so much he has to flee, both from his imagination, and physically from E’s side.

Sadly, E and S aren’t given the opportunity to explore their complex feelings and discover if what they feel for each other is indeed romantic love or passionate friendship; E’s death crystallises their story into one of true love brought to a tragic end. Death is often used in narratives as a way to prove how intense and true a character’s love is, showing that they are willing to sacrifice even their life for the object of their desire.

It’s worth bringing up at this point that Romeo and Juliet were stupid. Perhaps that’s too harsh: naive, rash, and hyper focused on their own feelings to the exclusion of everything else around them. It is a cautionary tale about young people who make bad decisions due to their emotional immaturity and inability to see the big picture. While part of the tragedy can be attributed to the situation they find themselves in (the warring families), it is their own choices that ultimately cost them their lives.

E’s desperation drives him to put his life in jeopardy in order to win S’s heart, and it’s possible that he (and perhaps also S) dies at the end. The enormity of his emotions, his immaturity, and lack of experience contribute to a potentially fatal decision to put himself in harm’s way. An adult can shake their head, tut, and say that there were so many other ways to achieve his goal, that he needn’t have done something so extreme and dangerous, that he was a fool to sacrifice his life so needlessly… But it’s easy to forget, having weathered the storm of puberty and all its raging emotions and bad decisions, how overwhelming emotions can be and how hopeless situations can seem to those that are still trapped in that tumultuous period. Adolescents don’t have the same freedoms, choices, experiences, and resources that adults have; they can feel helpless in the face of their own emotions and the situations they find themselves in. Adults conveniently forget their own bad decisions of their youth, and how it feels to be in that strange period between childhood and adulthood.

The story, like Romeo & Juliet, can be viewed as both a cautionary tale and a tragic love story. Perhaps E’s love was platonic rather than romantic, but the power of his emotions still drove him to make choices that ended in tragedy.

Bury Your Gays

This trope is common in western media, but I don’t personally think it applies to this story. Still, it’s worth taking a look and considering the tragic ending through this lens.

The potential heterosexual couple, S and A, don’t face any consequences that we are aware of due to their relationship. There is the possibility of A’s family being against their relationship if they were to become a couple due to the difference of class and racial prejudice, but there’s not anything explicitly shown in the story. The only negative consequence seems to be E’s jealousy.

By contrast, E and S’s relationship does unequivocally result in tragedy. When E tries to keep S for himself, his arm around him and striding ahead of his sister, A slips and falls into the river, which leads to S rescuing her and A requesting a kiss. While E’s actions don’t lead to A’s mishap, it’s interesting that the narrative shows his possessive behaviour towards S, swiftly followed by S bravely rescuing the damsel A, as though cosmically trying to steer the characters’ stories into the “right” direction. It’s easy to imagine the story being told from another perspective, where A is the main character and S her beloved, with E being an unwanted third wheel. In this scenario, the rescue would be considered a very romantic scene, with E being the evil love rival who is bitter about all the attention the sweet and pure A is receiving from S.

When E tries to seduce S in the sunroom, S flees into A’s arms: this is a very clear depiction of E being the dangerous choice and A the “proper” choice of lover. E’s actions literally drive his would-be paramour into the arms of another. Similarly, after kissing S and leaving the room, A requests a kiss from S - his sister copying his tactics - which angers E. When E invites S over to the mansion and strips, A gets upset and S becomes angry with him and leaves the room, presumably to comfort A. It seems as though whatever E tries to do to win S’s affection, it just drives S away from him and closer to A. Of course, E’s final attempt is the most tragic: he purposely puts himself in a dangerous situation and catches pneumonia, which likely leads to his own death. While this can be viewed as him finally winning S’s love, his death would leave S and A alone together to bond over their shared bereavement.

Having said that, the ending doesn’t come off as E being punished for his immoral or unnatural attraction to S; instead it seems like the ultimate expression of love. It’s interesting that the narrative manages to set up E and S as a couple in love who cannot be together (for many reasons: S’s denial of his own feelings, the difference of their social status, S’s ethnicity, the love rival A, the disapproval of E’s parents, their physical separation, and finally, E’s death); when viewed from the perspective of A, it could paint a very different picture - S saving her, wanting to include her when they play, running into her arms, and generally just wanting to be with her, while E’s overt seductions fail over and over again. Even at the end, she selflessly helps S visit E while he’s ill, though her heart is breaking. Yet rather than sympathise with A, we root for E to overcome all the obstacles between them and win S’s heart.

The tragedy of E’s death isn’t a punishment due to his sexual orientation, in fact the heavenly light streaming down on them and church-like sunroom could be viewed as their love being blessed by the heavens.

While I haven’t read a lot of contemporary shoujo to be able to adequately compare them to E and S’s love story, I did come across this interesting comment:

I think when discussing 1970s shoujo manga, in particular, this is a false equivalency. The fact is, aside from romantic comedies or aspirational sports shoujo manga, nearly all dramatic shoujo manga in the 1970s did end in tragedy, or at least had a lot of suffering in them. This is not unique to manga focusing on same sex relationships, but is largely true across the board. That was what was popular […] It was not something that singled out “queer” narratives (for lack of a better word) and is unfair to read it that way.

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Okay, finally finished reading through the first (non-BL) story in 竹宮惠子作品集 サンルームにて | L24?? | Natively; I was not expecting it to be 130 pages long. :sweat_smile: サンルームにて up next! I have to say, I’m really enjoying the 70s artstyle so far; you can really feel the Western influences on it all. Real night and day stuff compared to my usual modern manga.

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Okay, I finished サンルームにて last night! Now for my thoughts before I dive into bibliothecary’s. Unmarked spoilers for full story below.

Full unmarked spoilers!
  • First off: for some reason, this story feels familiar? Like, I’m pretty sure I’ve never read it before, but the main vibe of “outcast falls in love with beautiful person of same sex, only for other boy to kill himself out of despair” just feels so familiar. :thinking: I have no idea what’s triggering it; I think the sunroom itself is also adding to the vibe, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why.
  • I thought it was interesting that, despite Serge being described as dark-skinned, he wasn’t? At least not in the Kindle version. Makes me wonder if any skin shading was lost in the transition to digital, or if it was there at all in the first place.
  • I’m really curious now how this ~50 page short story got adapted into a 17-volume (!) manga. I’ll have to try out 風と木の詩 at some point…
  • Setting this up as a tragedy straight from page 1 was unexpected, though I thought it added to the overall melancholy well. Definitely not what you might first expect from a shoujo story, and I’m wondering now if that opening scene was chosen because of concern over readers’ reactions to a gay couple (and thus giving them more sympathy right off the bat) or not.
  • I really wish I knew how this story would’ve been received by contemporary readers in general. Was BL manga up to this point developed enough where a kiss between the two leads felt like a natural progression of the genre up to that point? Or would it still have been pretty shocking?
  • エトアール’s suicide: while I’m tempted to write it off as melodramatic (which it is a bit, granted), I’m also curious what past experiences he had already had to drive himself to that point. Granted, they did say they weren’t sure if he would recover from the 肺炎 anyway, so maybe he didn’t think he’d be living long anyway?
  • And speaking of エトアール, come on boy. You can’t walk up to your friend one day and say, “hey man, I thought of an awesome new game. Let’s get nekked.” and then immediately strip and expect it to all be okay. I thought セルジュ handled it all pretty well, actually; he didn’t seem put off by エトアール being a boy, just at the sudden stripping, which is 100% understandable.
Thoughts after re-reading a few sections; unmarked spoilers
  • On the very first page, エトアール’s love is described as 一方通行, which is…interesting. Why is that word used? Because エトアール’s love was unwavering in being for Serge alone? Is 一方通行 trying to give a more “one-sided” feel, as in Serge didn’t necessarily reciprocate the depth of エトアール’s feelings at the time (pre-suicide)?
  • Looking at the suicide scene again, the choice of where to stab エトアール also feels a bit unusual. He gets stabbed on the lower left-hand side of his torso; that’s what, in his intestines? I suppose stabbing him in the heart isn’t thematically appropriate, given that Serge is here to (presumably) return エトアール’s love, but the location the knife goes in looks more horrendously painful than immediately fatal.

I’m leaning towards Étoile as well. Neat, I didn’t know you could have a superscript… Dunno if that’s a real name/how common it is, granted.

I’m going to need to re-read this section; I didn’t pick up on the final scene being illusionary at all.

So I went back and checked it, and I see what you mean. It’s not clear how long passes between Serge getting kicked out of the house and him meeting again with エトアール in the sunroom, so it seems like there are four possibilities:

  1. Not much time passes, and エトアール finds the opportunity to change clothes and wait for Serge in the sunroom.
  2. A lot of time passes. (Not enough for it to not be snowy.) エトアール recovers from his illness and waits for Serge’s eventual return.
  3. Serge returns to the sunroom without エトアール, the final scene representing Serge’s grief over エトアール’s death and/or his grief over the end of his relationship with エトアール and that period of his life.
  4. The entire scene is more metaphor than actual reality. Perhaps Serge never returns and エトアール’s fate is left unknown, but the scene is emblematic of the end of their time together, one way or another, with Serge’s thoughts and feelings on the matter being front and center.

The big question is, as you mentioned, that knife. If Serge and エトアール are not actually there (or just Serge is), and since the scene so intimately involves Serge, how/why would he know about the knife? And why would he use it specifically as a tool in the suicide? I lean towards option number 1 above in my interpretation, but that’s mostly because I don’t have a satisfactory explanation for the knife.

You mention it many times in your thoughts @bibliothecary, but it’s a great observation linking the sunroom to a church; I didn’t pick up on that, but it adds such an interesting array of narrative possibilities to the story.

This one I also didn’t pick up on, but I’m not as convinced that he made himself ill; I read it instead as the “warm up” to the final stabbing, so to speak; we see エトアール starting to slowly give up on live. I also thought he was going to cut himself on the mirror shards, but apparently not?

Now that’s very interesting. :thinking: Reminds me of the classic distinction between tragedies and comedies, with no in-between.

I have about 70 pages left in the full book; I’ll probably finish those up first so I can write a review over the whole thing, then start thinking about 11月のギムナジウム | L24?? after.

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So excited to hear someone else’s thoughts on the story! :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

I actually had this the wrong way around. Per this article:

During the period in which Takemiya was living by herself […] when looking at her poster of Millet’s Daphnis and Chloe, inspiration suddenly struck and the image of a boy named “Gilbert” came to her. She immediately called Masuyama to share the idea, and the two sat on the phone for eight hours discussing and sharing ideas for what would become Kaze to Ki no Uta (Song of Wind and Trees ).

It would take another six years of struggle against the Shogakukan editorial department before Takemiya could get her ‘life work’ into print.

Takemiya hadn’t dared to bring up the topic of Kaze to Ki no Uta (henceforth referred to as Kaze Ki ) or shounen-ai to her editors, having been certain that they would immediately dismiss it due to the male-male romance aspect. But an opportunity to get a shounen-ai story published came in 1970 when she struggled to create a story she had already promised […] Despite the title and a preview already being set and printed, she decided to steer off course and create her first attempt at shounen-ai. The story was titled “雪と星と天使と…” (“Yuki to Hoshi to Tenshi to…”), and was later retitled “サンルームにて” (“Sunroom Nite”) “In the Sunroom”.

This guerilla tactic of delivering a story completely different from what was previously agreed on caused a conflict with the editorial department, in particular with Yamamoto, as “Sunroom” did not match the originally set title nor the already published preview. Because there was no time for her to redo her manuscript or find a replacement, there was no choice for the editors but to let it run.

It’s interesting how she managed to get it published! :smile:

I hadn’t considered that there might be time between S being thrown out and him returning to the sunroom. :thinking:

There is also the possibility that the mangaka forgot that S wouldn’t know of the knife’s existence, or was taking artistic liberties… :sweat_smile:

That’s an interesting perspective - I saw it as attempt to mirror A’s rescue from the river, by putting himself in a dangerous situation and becoming the damsel in need of saving by S.

That’s how I understood it; E is very open about pursuing S, who doesn’t accept his advances. This changes at the end, when S climbs the balcony to see E and they kiss. The unrequited love is over, as S now loves him back. It could also be subtly refering to the one-way love being over because E is now dead (and so is his love, whether requited or not).

I think it’s also because the mangaka wants us to be make assumptions about the relationship in the opening scene; she seems to deliberately mislead the reader, and by the time we reach the end, we see the same scene with fresh eyes and a new understanding, having seen how the boys’ relationship developed.

I think S may have seen it as more of a prank - the scene in the sunroom was an overt seduction with just the two of them, whereas E stripping was done in the presence of both S and A, while the siblings were arguing. In that situation, it seems more like a childish way of “winning” the fight (even though he had been planning for it just to be the two of them) and lacks any romantic intent.

It’s often mentioned that the manga contains the first kiss between boys, but I haven’t come across anything that talks about any BL elements in shoujo previous to its publication (in English anyway); it’s possible that this was the first BL manga. Takemiya was influenced by the French media she was exposed to, so maybe it was something completely unseen before in the world of shoujo manga.

I would be interested in reading some shoujo manga from before it was published, to get a feel for the stories and see if there were any subtle hints of BL. Although I think this might be difficult to distinguish from platonic emotional and physical intimacy displayed between males, especially reading it as a Westerner without the cultural context to discern what would be considered acceptable behaviour for friends in that specific time period.

There are still things in the manga I’d like to examine; the more I think about it, the more ideas pop into my head. I can’t believe I’ve already found my thesis topic! :laughing:

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Aaah, makes sense. Although now too I’m intrigued on how 武宮 expands on the concept, haha. That article is a goldmine, by the way; excellent stuff.

Haha, why does the easiest possibility always escape me? :sweat_smile:

I do like that interpretation; I think I didn’t originally think of that since it seemed pretty clear that Serge was gone and wasn’t coming back. Etoile didn’t call out for “help” or try to re-attract Serge’s attention iirc after that, he just kind of layed there. Even if he wasn’t actively trying to make a callback, though, I do agree that at least symbolically that’s probably what the author was going for.

Yeah, totally agree. It gets real hard to determine author intent, and the added complications of a different culture ~50 years ago (!) just makes it that much worse.

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