The Speakeasy Podcast recently released their 4th episode, wherein they talk about the “bishounen,” and all of the celebration and agony that comes from putting some eye candy for girls into anime that are traditionally considered “for guys.”
For those unfamiliar, the term bishounen literally means “beautiful boy,” and refers to characters in manga, especially shoujo manga, who are beautiful and effeminate. In being pretty, bishounen in turn violate the unwritten rules of Acceptable Beauty in a Man, where guys are allowed to look good, but only in a way that reaffirms heterosexuality by having them conform to the male view of what a lady killer is supposed to look like.
Simply put, bishounen threaten masculinity and make guys uncomfortable. But the “threat” of bishounen isn’t simply in their looks, but in their very presence, and to get to the real heart of the problem, we have to take a look at a very similar concept which also holds some very profound differences: the trap.
The origin of the term “trap,” as it’s used by English-speaking anime fans, refers to the idea that a male viewer is “tricked” into being attracted to what he thinks is a very attractive lady, only to find out that the character actually has a Y-chromosome. In some cases, it works so effectively that some will say that liking traps is still not considered “gay,” because the character is so effeminate that all they’re doing is appealing to a heterosexual man’s natural desires using the power of artistic expression.
Now what’s really interesting is that in some cases you’ll find examples of guys who love traps but hate bishounen. At first, it can appear to be a contradiction, but there’s a fundamental difference at work here: bishounen are designed to appeal to girls, while traps are designed to appeal to guys.
Of course I’m aware that there are plenty of guys who decry the presence of traps just as much as they do bishounen, guys who believe that both the moe fan and the fujoshi are killing anime. But I really believe that the thin line between bishounen and trap reveals the truth, and that it all comes down to fear.
Guys who lament the presence of bishounen are not as threatened by their good looks as they are the idea that the presence of bishounen means that guy-oriented anime will suffer in some capacity. When the bishounen talks, this is what they hear coming out of their mouths.
“These character designs are not for you.”
“We’re doing things to actively appeal to people that aren’t you.”
It’s the fear that girls will latch onto a show just for the hot guys and will ignore all of the deep and wonderful story that’s actually there and will refer to the guys as “bishies” and debate the degree to which they would “glomp” them. It’s the fear that anime which would have had excellent story and setting might end up being aborted half-way and turned into a hideous carbunkle that sacrificed its potential for greatness for scenes involving with male beauty, angst, and sparkling moonlight.
The truth of this matter is actually stated in the Speakeasy podcast: anime, in some capacity has always made attempts to appeal to girls, even in that most manly of genres, the giant robot anime. The original fans of Mobile Suit Gundam were actually mostly female. UFO Robo Grendizer found a female fanbase as well, because of some of the romance elements in the story, as well as the presence of strong female characters. Even Gowapper 5 Godam tried to appeal to girls by being the first giant robot series to have a girl as the main character. They may have been a secondary audience to the boys buying action figures, but when it comes down to it, what’s wrong with having an audience that’s 50% female?