YAOI is the Japanese equivalent to "Slash" fiction. But let me step back a bit. "Slash" fiction is homoerotic fanfic written by women portraying romantic or sexual relationships between their favorite male characters. The term comes from early Star-Trek fanfic and "Kirk/Spock" stories so it's named after a bit of punctuation. Go fig.
So, as I was saying, YAOI is the Japanese equivalent to "Slash" fiction. Except...
- Where slash generally involves characters from live-action shows, yaoi features characters from anime and manga (comic books).
- Where slash is written mostly by women over 30, yaoi is (in Japan) written mostly by high-school and college girls.
- Where slash takes the form of prose, yaoi takes the form of self-published comic books (doujinshi).
- Where slash writers look for cues and clues in source material to match up characters, yaoi writers match characters up because they would look good in bed together.
There's one really big difference, though, that eclipses the others. As popular as yaoi doujinshi are "Boys Love" (or "BL") manga; commercially published series by professional mangaka (comic artists). Several manga publishing houses have imprints that are exclusively dedicated to BL titles.
With the incredible growth in the popularity of anime in the west, it's not surprising that yaoi has also become very popular, enough so to support an annual convention in its fifth year that brings popular BL mangaka to our shores.
For the second year in a row, Yaoi-Con was held at the Westin SFO in Burlingame with additional events at the Clarion Hotel across the parking lot. It was a touch irritating showing up at the Westin (the host hotel) on Friday night and finding out that all of Friday's events (and registration) were at the Clarion. Fortunately the Clarion's construction project was complete; the old wings had been destroyed and replaced by parking lot, making for a direct shot between the hotels.
Alas, work schedules and transit didn't allow me to arrive at this year's Yaoi-Con until after Opening Ceremonies and Guest of Honor Kazuma Kodaka's introduction. Nor did we sit down for Bishounen Bingo (definition time again: "bishounen" is Japanese for "beautiful boy" and is very literal about "boy" referring to barely pubescent boy; western fandom has shifted the age range up to something that fits community standards here), where pretty young men hawk prizes and bingo cards to fangirls.
Yep, most of the convention is college girls. It follows the Japanese pattern (but is adults-only). Some of them haul their boyfriends along, there are a few gay men shopping for cartoon porn, and there are a few straight guys who figure the concentration of girls improves their odds, but well under a fifth of the convention is guys.
Saturday is rich with panel discussions, and, of course, the staple of any anime convention, the dealers' room. A Yaoi-Con dealers' room is always an interesting mix of vendors, from J-pop music dealers, manga importers (with boxes and boxes of commercial manga and of doujinshi, all in Japanese), toy and gadget importers (with strange objects), western manga and anime distributors (like BeBeautiful, TokyoPop/Blu and Media Blasters) and many dealers you might see at any SF convention.
Because of the emphasis in yaoi on fanworks, there's also a large "Fan Market" corridor where amateur artists can get a table and show and sell their wares.
The panels? They're wide and varied. There are plenty of panels on drawing and writing technique, the standard industry panels where publishers announce new titles and answer questions about current titles, and (because porn and erotica are the basis of the whole genre) usually a few "real sex" type panels. This year there were more industry panels (featuring the aforementioned publishing imprints, some new in the last year) and fewer "real sex" panels, but all in all it was a good mix.
The art show was rather small, but that's the paradox of the genre. Yaoi fandom is a very participatory fandom; most members of the convention are involved in producing art, fanwriting or costume. Because of this, and because it's so easy for a fanartist to get a dealers table or a fan market table, there aren't many pieces in the art show. Putting art in the show is just something that doesn't occur to many yaoi fanartists.
The Saturday night events (again, at the Clarion), remarkably all ran on schedule. This is impressive because in the past they haven't, and because the schedule is actually very tight.
The Anime Music Video contest, scheduled from 5:00-7:00 ran on schedule. Individuals and groups edit together and set clips from their favorite anime to whatever music they choose, trying to set their desired mood, often to excellent effect. These entries are shown for the crowd on Saturday night. The cosplay contest, scheduled in the same room for 7:00-9:00 seated just after 7:00 and started at quarter past. It's a rather low-tech affair, unfortunately with a riser-stage that should have been 2-3' higher to allow the whole audience to see better, but the quality of entries continues to rise over time. The "Bishounen Auction" (in which convention attendees bid for a few hours of time with selected pretty boys), scheduled for 9:00-11:00 (again, in the same room, which was starting to get really toasty by that point) started pretty much on time; I couldn't bear the heat or the bad bishounen rock band that was auctioned first so we bailed quickly. That meant we missed the elaborate hoax at the end in which a group of guys on staff "bid $125,000" for one of the female auctioneers.
Sunday wound up with a bit more shopping, a bit more gossip, more panels and the run home. Closing ceremonies weren't scheduled until 4:00pm, and the Yaoi-Con Raffle (infamous for giving away both the ridiculous and the sublime) after that. It was too long a weekend, and it was time to be going.