Diverse World: Diversity in Yaoi

Welcome to the Natsukoarts Design Studio blog. This is Shoji and well, here is our first blog post in the Diverse World series. I want to say with all the website building over the past few days Natsuya and I have been head down into getting everything ready so we are a little late in posting. I will be better in future and get at least a post out every week. Our Diverse World series will highlight topics related to diversity visibility in literature. So lets start talking about diversity, shall we?

Diverse World: Writing Diversity in Yaoi

So Natsuya Uesugi has written the graphic noiz series. The series features a bestselling writer who is Japanese named Shiro Ijima and the amateur manga artist Noiz who is Native American, Black and half Japanese. The story takes place in New York City as the two work on creating the scifi Fissure manga. So that is the premise but what I want to talk about today is the character diversity in the story.

Most manga that I have seen have characters that may be similar and not people of colour. I wanted to commend Natsuya for including a Black and Native American character in the story as those representations are rarely seen. Sure there are a few but Natsuya himself is Blasian as am I so we wanted to team up in Natsukoarts and really promote diversity.

With the graphic noiz story we see some of the struggles that Noiz faces as a mixed race person. He has little touch with his Japanese heritage based on his background and the story recounts his mother took him out of Japanese school in the third grade. His Native American side makes him wary as well as his family tried to raise him “American” where traditional Native culture was also hidden. He also does not like his name which is “Wolf Tadashi Begay” and hides behind the nickname Noiz.  In the last book in the series we will explore more of Noiz’ culture and it also explores Japan as the writer and artist go to Comic Marketplace which takes place in Tokyo. Getting to see the characters interact in the 6th book when Shiro’s father gets into the picture is interesting to see the family dynamic a little better that started in book 1.

Usually in Yaoi the characters are white washed and are typically light skinned and are culturally neutral. I know Natsuya wanted to highlight the bustle of New York City and also show how cultural influences with Shiro and his take on “shigoto” or “work” plays out in the story. Shiro overworks himself to exhaustion in book 5 and continues to need to create and work on his masterpiece the Fissure series despite his health. This is a very Japanese sentiment and we see articles in the newspaper about manga artists and regular office workers dying from overwork. The term “Karoshi” is the Japanese words which is literally translated as “overwork death” or occupational sudden mortality. The major medical causes are heart attack and stroke due to stress and a starvation diet. We see Shiro in this plight in book 5 and we see Noiz also falling into it as well when he is sleeping at the studio and working all hours of the night trying to meet deadlines for Megumi to deliver his storyboards.

The other thing we see in graphic noiz that we don’t see in other manga which are more focused on romance or erotica is the relationship piece between the two of them. Even through they are “in a relationship” which Shiro will never admit, it is hard for Shiro to say “i love you” in English to Noiz. Instead he hides behind the Japanese “suki desu” which can have multiple meanings including i like you, i love you, or more toned down meanings of varying interest. These dynamics play out in the manga series as well as in the books using the cultural references and showing as well how this affects the characters.

The Native culture is sprinkled slightly through the work and will have more in the final book 6 in the series. For now I am glad Natsuya brought the cultural differences between Noiz and Shiro and shows how their interactions are painted by these influences in the story.

Well, I hope you liked the first blog post. We will be writing more in the Diverse World series. Check back each week for more.

Thanks,

– Shoji

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