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07:44 pm: Those Glorious Bishonen

Here's another article from my Mania days. It's a bit out of date, but...


Dark and lithesome ponytailed hunks, dashing redheads with long transparent hair, subtle smiles, and open shirts, blond Adonises as evil as they are handsome; when it really comes down to it, the heart of shojo anime is the bishonen.


All anime fans know them, though they might not know the word. They are the tall and lanky male characters with billowing hair and large penetrating eyes who make appearances in so many series. They move with a feminine grace and speak with a languid air. In shonen (boys') anime, they are often the villains. In shojo, they become the heroes. Their appearance tends to delight feminine viewers and exasperate male viewers. In Japan, the word for these effeminate gods of beauty is 'bishonen'.


Bishonen is usually translated 'beautiful boys'. However, a shonen is often slightly older than the English word 'boy' properly connotates. A more accurate rendition might be 'beautiful youths' or 'beautiful young men' . While bishonen usually indicates the long-haired languid type, the word is often used to indicate any good looking boy.


How did this tradition of beautiful boys get started? Apparently, the first bishonen were imitations of popular Takarazuka players. The Takarazuka theatre features an all female acting troupe which puts on plays where women playing both the male and female roles - much as in Shakespeare's time, the female roles were played by men. The actresses have large followings, and many parents believe it to be a good sign if their daughter's first crush is on one of these male impersonators, instead of on a real (read 'dangerous') boy. The popularity of these male impersonators back in the forties and fifties led manga artists to introduce characters that resembled the most popular Takarazuka characters. These became the models for the tall, languid, overly-feminine men that now grace shojo manga and anime.


Are there really men like that in Japan? Well, apparently, there were not back in the forties. Yet, oddly enough, sometimes life does follow art. In Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, author Fred Schodt explains, "Ironically, since artists in the girls' comic medium began drawing their characters lithe and lanky, different ways of raising babies, an improved diet, and a different style of living (greater use of desks and chairs, for example) have given many of the younger Japanese readers these exact same physical characteristics."


In addition to websites featuring galleries of favorite anime bishonen, sites can be found featuring real live bishonen, usually men from the Japanese rock scene. Some of them do look amazingly like the type of hero featured so prominently in shojo stories.


The popularity of the bishonen character has lead to an entire bishonen sub-genre. These bishonen stories, sometimes called Bishonen Ai or Yaoi, feature love between two such elegant effeminate males. (Really, when you think of how feminine some of these guys look, it is almost the next logical step.) In Japan, these stories are not read by homosexuals, who apparently find them silly, but by school girls. Love stories between bishonen are currently very popular among Japanese school girls, who find them titillating and intriguing, and this popularity has caused such story lines to spill over into anime. Very few such anime have yet made it to America, but as anime becomes more popular here and more titles are brought over, such stories will invariably become more common. In the current shojo rage, Fushigi Yuugi, for instance, one of the characters is a female-impersonator who is in love with the male characters and claims to be 'a woman at heart' despite his masculine body.


Why are bishonen so popular? Perhaps because one of the qualities that draws audiences to anime, especially shojo anime, is beauty. Astonishing vistas and images are one of areas where animation easily outstrips live action. With such beautiful backgrounds and costumes, it only makes sense that the characters should be stylized to match. For viewer already drawn in by sense of wonder the animation Those Glorious Bishonen

Dark and lithesome ponytailed hunks, dashing redheads with long transparent hair, subtle smiles, and open shirts, blond Adonises as evil as they are handsome; when it really comes down to it, the heart of shojo anime is the bishonen.

All anime fans know them, though they might not know the word. They are the tall and lanky male characters with billowing hair and large penetrating eyes who make appearances in so many series. They move with a feminine grace and speak with a languid air. In shonen (boys') anime, they are often the villains. In shojo, they become the heroes. Their appearance tends to delight feminine viewers and exasperate male viewers. In Japan, the word for these effeminate gods of beauty is 'bishonen'.

Bishonen is usually translated 'beautiful boys'. However, a shonen is often slightly older than the English word 'boy' properly connotates. A more accurate rendition might be 'beautiful youths' or 'beautiful young men' . While bishonen usually indicates the long-haired languid type, the word is often used to indicate any good looking boy.

How did this tradition of beautiful boys get started? Apparently, the first bishonen were imitations of popular Takarazuka players. The Takarazuka theatre features an all female acting troupe which puts on plays where women playing both the male and female roles - much as in Shakespeare's time, the female roles were played by men. The actresses have large followings, and many parents believe it to be a good sign if their daughter's first crush is on one of these male impersonators, instead of on a real (read 'dangerous') boy. The popularity of these male impersonators back in the forties and fifties led manga artists to introduce characters that resembled the most popular Takarazuka characters. These became the models for the tall, languid, overly-feminine men that now grace shojo manga and anime.

Are there really men like that in Japan? Well, apparently, there were not back in the forties. Yet, oddly enough, sometimes life does follow art. In Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, author Fred Schodt explains, "Ironically, since artists in the girls' comic medium began drawing their characters lithe and lanky, different ways of raising babies, an improved diet, and a different style of living (greater use of desks and chairs, for example) have given many of the younger Japanese readers these exact same physical characteristics."

In addition to websites featuring galleries of favorite anime bishonen, sites can be found featuring real live bishonen, usually men from the Japanese rock scene. Some of them do look amazingly like the type of hero featured so prominently in shojo stories.

The popularity of the bishonen character has lead to an entire bishonen sub-genre. These bishonen stories, sometimes called Bishonen Ai or Yaoi, feature love between two such elegant effeminate males. (Really, when you think of how feminine some of these guys look, it is almost the next logical step.) In Japan, these stories are not read by homosexuals, who apparently find them silly, but by school girls. Love stories between bishonen are currently very popular among Japanese school girls, who find them titillating and intriguing, and this popularity has caused such story lines to spill over into anime. Very few such anime have yet made it to America, but as anime becomes more popular here and more titles are brought over, such stories will invariably become more common. In the current shojo rage, Fushigi Yuugi, for instance, one of the characters is a female-impersonator who is in love with the male characters and claims to be 'a woman at heart' despite his masculine body.

Why are bishonen so popular? Perhaps because one of the qualities that draws audiences to anime, especially shojo anime, is beauty. Astonishing vistas and images are one of areas where animation easily outstrips live action. With such beautiful backgrounds and costumes, it only makes sense that the characters should be stylized to match. For viewer already drawn in by sense of wonder the animation portrays, it becomes an easy matter to fall in love with the dashing hero, or villain, who is framed so dramatically by these beautiful surroundings.


Want to sigh over the handsomest of the handsome? Here are a few good places to start:

HEROIC LEGEND OF ARSLAN: Offers the dashing Darius and the elegant Narsus, in addition to the pretty blond main character, Prince Arslan. In fact, Narsus, a languid effeminate military genius, who would rather drink and paint than fight, is practically a model for the archetypal bishonen.

REVOLUTIONARY GIRL UTENA: The first 12 episodes feature the gorgeous red-haired playboy, Touga Kiryuu, and the green-haired, girlfriend-slapping Saionji. Episode 13 introduces the white ponytail-sporting Akio, who is even slimier. If you like your hunks subtle and manipulative, this is the title for you!

FUSHIGI YUUGI: Almost everyone in this series, except the two school girls, is a bishonen, and practically every character has his share of fan clubs of worshiping young girls, even the female impersonator Nuriko. Favorites include the emperor Hotohori, the handsome Tamahome, and the dashing, blond, and villainous Nakago, whom, rumor reports, is the favorite character of the series' author.
 
SAILOR MOON A number of prettyboys here, both heroic and villainous.

ANYTHING BY CLAMP. Clamp is a group of women artists who combined their initials to form the name Clamp. Their work is known for having among the largest eyes in anime. 

 



Comments

[User Picture]
From:jordan179
Date:June 20th, 2007 11:56 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Would Tuxedo Mask qualify? He's got the body, but not the hair or mannerisms.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:June 21st, 2007 01:12 pm (UTC)

Tuxedo Mask

(Link)
That's a good question. I was mulling myself yesterday over exactly what counts as a bishonen. In particular, what about the short-haired more masculine fellows who are still handsome? I suspect the definitions differ, but if there is a particular term for good looking guys who are not bishonen per se, I have not yet heard it.

(Anyone else know?)
From:8bitbard
Date:June 26th, 2007 06:01 am (UTC)
(Link)
IMO guys who carry roses all the time are a sub-class of bishonen.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:July 2nd, 2007 02:19 am (UTC)

Bishies

(Link)
Bishies...how cute!

Allen Schezar is still my favorite!
[User Picture]
From:headnoises
Date:July 3rd, 2007 03:59 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Reno from Final Fantasy: Advent Children. (the red-haired "thug")

*grin* He's not _exactly_ Bishonen-- the lead evil twit and Cloud get that-- but he's got a hint of it *and* he's funny.

Sephroth (although I think I misspelled that) is another famous Bishonen villain.

I know you doing the stories, but the video games have many of the same themes, and if you enjoy the anime you may enjoy Advent Children.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:July 3rd, 2007 04:17 pm (UTC)

Video games

(Link)
Sephiroth is a good example.

I wrote these articles years ago, when I was a column writer for Mania.com, so a lot of the story oriented video games were just getting started. I recall our roommate at the time playing Final Fantasy 7 for several days straight back then.

(I wonder how the Kabalistic Jews feel about their tree of holy symbols being used as the name for a video game villian. ;-)
[User Picture]
From:headnoises
Date:July 3rd, 2007 04:38 pm (UTC)

Re: Video games

(Link)
(They probably feel about the way I do when I see the massively Catholic symbols used in many Anime-- or when they have female priests, or evil priests.)

It's held up very well.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:July 3rd, 2007 05:18 pm (UTC)

Re: Video games

(Link)
Or Catholic priests who have lived in the same chapel, father and son, for generations. ;-)

Very good point. It's kind of cute and kind of odd.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:January 20th, 2011 02:23 pm (UTC)
(Link)
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