SHIO-TAN BLOGS

BL Poetics: Eros in the Stoic


Cropped image of the Cover B illustration of Yoneda Kou's oneshot titled 'Eros in the Stoic', showing one man pulling up the shirt another.
Scanlations courtesy of the Dangerous Pleasure Archive. Accessed via Google Drive and Mangahere.cc.

Today we’re talking about a oneshot that doesn’t really have any plot, but is bursting at the seams with substance all the same. Summary will be included as per usual, but my recommendation is that you just read this one because it will take legit half a second.

In short, Eros in the Stoic walks us through author Yoneda Kou’s meditations on the meaning of “eros,” aka romantic slash passionate slash erotic love according to those old-timey Greeks. The dialog and characters are more or less irrelevant, serving merely as props in a series of moments through which Yoneda-sensei cycles in an attempt to capture what she means when she says “eros.” Initially, she tries to sum it up with the written word, giving us the following definition:

For me, eros is embodied in someone who might look stoic, while he’s anything but on the inside. I guess it’s pretty straight-forward. And kind of embarrassing.

But she immediately abandons this definition in the following panels:

I suppose it’s such a delicate thing, you can’t really put it into words. It’s something that’s better experienced through sight and touch. That’s what eros means to me.

The overarching point of Eros in the Stoic is not to zero in on a singular definition, but to demonstrate that eros is a nebulous concept that varies in meaning from person to person. Yoneda-sensei begins and ends with the assertion that it’s eros according to her specifically, which she emphasizes is something highly situational. In other words, eros or the erotic is something that seems “pretty straight-forward” while being the literal opposite in reality.

By its conclusion, Eros in the Stoic can come across as pointless because we wind up almost exactly where we started. What exactly is eros to Yoneda Kou?

I find it hard to believe that Yoneda-sensei isn’t aware that her narration in isolation is aimless and frustrating, claiming to explain while doing anything but that. Eros in the Stoic opened the floodgates for my interest in applying close reading methodologies to non-textual, visual realms when I first read it many years ago. The "poetics" of the oneshot exist solely in its visual scenarios, so let’s spend some time with those.

The most compelling thing about these visuals is the fact that they get markedly less explicit as Yoneda-sensei inches closer to the conclusion that eros can only be expressed through sight and touch. Interestingly, this final written argument reads as the most “straight-forward” interpretation of eros; when people think of the erotic, we most often think of things that are explicitly sexual and probably of a kinky variety (i.e., very visual and very tactile). But this eros is decidedly not what Yoneda-sensei means if we’re paying any attention to what’s going on in the background.

Yoneda-sensei’s concept of eros is what I consider high-femme. It’s an eros that has more to do with intimacy than it does with the purely sexual; it’s the inherent eroticism of closeness. Prioritizing intimacy doesn’t necessarily mean that sex is irrelevant to this version of the erotic, but sex isn’t really the star of the show. We know this to be true because the blatantly sexual is rejected by Yoneda-sensei right from the outset:

Three manga panels showing a gun, a close-up of a man, and one man performing oral sex on another. The narration text reads: 'A deadbeat eros? Let's see, when you say 'eros' this probably isn't what you meant.'
An aside, but I’ve always been fascinated that she starts with a qualifier: “A deadbeat eros?” Just another situation where I’d die to have and understand the original Japanese.

Okay, so, eros isn’t giving or receiving a blowjob... Perhaps that is too crass, too straightforward, not erotic at all--just two people we don’t know having sex. This notion isn’t too out of left field; Ovid’s Amores can make for much less compelling poetry than all of those early modern yearning sonnets, depending on the reader. So, Yoneda-sensei modifies the scene to imbue it with some actual eros:

These panels show an eroticism with which many BL fans who grew up consuming shounen anime will be familiar, except without the canon dirty talk. That kind of thing usually has to be fanfic’d or doujin’d into existence.

This edited scene seems to get closer to what I think is the tagline of the oneshot from the first panel on page one:

I’m probably attracted to the deep, profound danger in him that I can’t quite capture.

Yoneda-sensei is known for her exploration of unconventional BL characters with somewhat darker backstories. She’s not a Harada, to be sure, but the fact that her eros is tinged with danger is unsurprising. Her most famous character, masochist yakuza Yashiro, is a guy that both invites danger his way and creates it himself, giving him a constant flirtatious and erotic aura.

But she abandons this thread, too. It’s better than the blowjob scene, but not quite hitting right either. And if we remember the scenes with Yashiro that make us feel feelings, moving away from raw danger makes sense. It’s actually not the dangerous, mocking yakuza inflicting violence upon men or aggressively flirting with men to make them uncomfortable that speaks to us (read: me) on a deep level, but scenes that resemble her final example that do the trick:

Two manga panels showing a man wincing as he has a wound cleaned.
In Tadayoedo Shizumazu, Saredo Naki mo Sezu, Kageyama treats Yashiro’s wounds, which eventually leads Yashiro to fall for him. The intimacy of this explicitly caring touch is what does it.

The sight and touch of this eros is wholly different from the sexual, although it produces an air of intimacy that can certainly become romantic and sexually-charged. Again, this is what I’d call high-femme eros; it’s in accord with more "feminine" attraction and sexuality, which places greater emphasis on interpersonal bonds than it does the purely aesthetic or overtly sexual. But why would Yoneda-sensei write Eros in the Stoic if her audience is primarily women with highly similar, if not identical interpretations of eros? Who is this for?

Well, EYEEEE would argue that Eros in the Stoic acknowledges the fact that women BL fans are constantly being placed in the position of explaining what it is we like about BL. This text reads as a BL author’s commiseration with her audience over the unrelenting interrogation we’re subjected to because of our interest in media depicting sex and romance between men. Yoneda-sensei explains her idea of eros as though she’s answering some outsider’s questions about the appeal of BL, but she’s doing so by dialoguing directly with her (mostly) female audience. She’s teasing whomever is listening to our “conversation” by being vague and lazy, throwing together a bunch of different examples of what BL fans might find erotic like an old photo reel toy.

She begins with the blowjob scene to play into normie (especially male normie) expectations. When outsiders ask us why we like BL, they really want to know why we’re stimulated by the idea of two men having sex. It’s the sex and our reaction to it that they’re most curious about. She throws “eavesdroppers” for a loop by not only disregarding the sexual side of BL, but confirming with her readers that a random sex scene probably isn’t where our heads went first either... Probably.

People often mock for-women videos, romance novels, and other “mommy porn” for their emphasis on emotional connection and elaborate plots to justify sex scenes, so I’m astounded people don’t pick up on that being a huge appeal of BL for women. In even the smuttiest BL, there’s typically some intense emotional thing happening or intense emotional bond between men being explored. I’m not saying this is always the case, of course, but it’s a real common shtick. It’s honestly laughable that people have a hard time wrapping their heads around the idea that BL and its themes are situated squarely within traditional women's sexuality for this reason alone!

Women are also in this weird position where we’ve been told for thousands of years how our company and love is inferior to a man’s relationship with another man, and these misogynist philosophical musings can be found in Western and non-Western cultures alike. Therefore, is it really so far-fetched for women to imagine (and then be titillated by the idea) that the real romance men must be having is with each other? I mean, I don’t think so--if anything, this is a logical assumption what with how adamantly misogynistic and disgusted men can be at women's bodies despite claims of heterosexuality.

So, if women generally prefer to view sex in context as being a physical manifestation of deeper intimacy and we’re getting these “bros before hoes” messages from the patriarchal societies in which we live, why does the evolution of BL as for-women romance and porn surprise anyone? If men aren’t in love with us--who they’re fucking and having kids with and shit--then they gotta be in love with their homies or something, right?

Funnily enough, Yoneda-sensei’s first definition--that eros is embodied in a stoic guy who’s anything but on the inside--is symptomatic of this entire phenomenon. Men don’t show their true selves to women very often. We have to romanticize stoicism in men constantly because that’s all they give us for the most part. But you know who they prolly do show their true selves? Other fucking men! And guess what? Male vulnerability, regardless of who is actually privy to seeing it, is hot! Sorry, not sorry!

And all of this is leaving aside the inherent eroticism of homosocial spaces to heterosexual members the opposite sex. Heterosexual men and boys are constantly fantasizing about women-only spaces and, in the grand scheme, that’s not that weird at all??? It’s only really a problem when they start to project those fantasies onto real women (especially lesbians) or spy on those spaces or try to access those spaces to see if their fantasies are reality. Plus, as women, we clearly know their fantasies to be generally misguided or untrue:

But does that make men’s fantasies wrong or strange? No!

So, can people leave hetero women alone for being into BL and leave BL alone for not being dedicated to 100 percent accuracy in men's representation? Are women allowed to masturbate to fake shit or nah? You know, stop trying to police female sexuality--that ship sailed! (They are constantly trying to reel it back into port, tho.)

Sure, men have a right to be mad if there are fujoshi out there being weird and projecting their fantasies on them IRL, but pipe down about feeling vaguely objectified or fetishized by some for-women porn--and I’m saying this shit to hetero and gay men alike. Y’all got a lot of fucking nerve complaining to women about this kind of thing to begin with... learn to be a little more subtle about your hypocrisy, okay?

And you may be thinking, uhhhhh, what does this rant have to do with Eros in the Stoic? Is she just popping off at this point in the post? Well, I don't think so. Let's bring it on back.

Regardless of her actual authorial intent IRL, Yoneda-sensei is prompting this kind of conversation through Eros in the Stoic. She’s deliberately being lackadaisical explaining herself and playing fast and loose with different erotic scenarios because she’s making fun of people for asking us stupid questions about what we find erotic in BL.

Eros in the Stoic is a three-page fujoshi inside joke. We’re laughing at all of you!

And that’s pure poetry, baby.

Date published: 2020-04-22
Last updated: 2022-04-23