Interviews

Interview with BL Garden of DFW

Get to know the people behind FujoCon!

BL Garden of DFWFujoCon is happening this weekend from the 10th to the 12th of July (CST). This event is organized by BL Garden of DFW, a group of fans who sought friends with whom to share their love of BL.

FujoCon’s Artist Alley Coordinator Melissa, Social Media Manager Kit, and Guest/Outreach Coordinator Cho were very kind to spare us some time despite their busy schedules preparing for their very first virtual con!

 

Thank you for your time! Could you first talk about your group? What is BL Garden?

BL Garden is a podcast and panel group of dedicated fujoshi influencers. We love BL, LGBT representation, fandom studies, and nerd culture. We have a passion for sharing that love with other fans through BL research, our podcast, and inclusive programming at conventions.

 

How was your group formed?

BL Garden was founded in 2012 in Dallas, Texas after a group of fans sought fujoshi friends with whom to share their love of BL. What began as just a casual anime circle has expanded to a group of podcast hosts, BL researchers, convention panelists, and now convention runners! 

 

What activities does your group do?

BL Garden of DFWWhen we’re not busy prepping for conventions, we generally like to get together to discuss the latest manga we’ve read, play games, watch anime, sing karaoke, eat delicious food, and enjoy the various holiday seasons. We try to do different things so that everyone gets a chance to try something they like or to do something new. We’ve also planned trips together like going to Japan or New York! And even during con planning season, you can usually find us tucked away in a dessert cafe sipping on boba and trying delicious treats as we work away.

 

When did you get interested in Japanese culture or manga and how?

Melissa: A friend in middle school introduced me to manga and from there, the interest grew into anime as well. I became more interested in Japanese culture in college when I met our international student coordinator, who was Japanese and was able to take a Japanese history class.

Kit: Honestly, I feel like it’s always been a weird kind of fate that I was supposed to be interested in Japanese culture! My initial interest came from collectibles I found around my grandmother’s house. She had sponsored a lot of Japanese families when they first moved to the US and attended her church so they gave her a lot of gifts like fans, art, and beautiful silk scarves. I also found small things that my mother had when she used to live in Japan as a child when her father was stationed there. So, I wound up growing up with a lot of the art surrounding me. Then, around the age of 5 or 6 Sailor Moon first aired on TV and I remember wanting the dolls SO much but we could never find them in the small Texas town we lived in, haha. Finally, when I was 12 shows like Dragon Ball Z and Gundam Wing aired on TV and I got completely sucked in! My friends and I started doing everything we could to learn more about anime and thankfully the internet taught us a lot. 

Cho: My first brush with Japanese culture was actually Yu-Gi-Oh! on the 4Kids Network. I’d watched other anime on the 4Kids network, like Pokémon and Shaman King, but none of them had as great an impact on me. I became obsessed with the show—and I’m still obsessed with it today!

 

Do you have any memories you have of manga during your childhood? Which manga you’d say had the most impact on you?

Melissa: A very American experience I had was first reading manga in a school hallway while we sheltered from a tornado. Fullmetal Alchemist had the most impact on me because it was the first anime (and then manga) I truly fell in love with and it’s still my favorite today. I strongly identified with Ed being short, blond, and smart and the manga had more mature themes than other shonen. Plus, it was FMA that introduced me to BL and anime fandom. I read a lot of my manga in the bookstore so I have fond memories of begging my dad to take me to Books-A-Million so I could read new volumes.

Kit: I remember the first manga I bought was Sailor Moon v.2 because it was the first manga I ever saw in person. I was completely enchanted seeing the characters drawn in their original style but, I also remember being a little confused because the story was different. It took me a bit to understand that anime wasn’t always perfectly adapted from manga. It was one of the original TokyoPop US printings too so it was badly bound which means since I read it over, and over, and over again, and because I shared it with all my friends, it fell apart. Chunks of pages just fell out!! I was heartbroken. I still have it though! But, the manga that affected the most? Fushigi Yugi. First, because it’s my favorite series. Second, because in the middle of it being translated into English, they stopped and reprinted it to do it properly—which is when I learned the series had been backward the entire time! But, this also meant I had to wait 6-7 years (maybe more?) to collect all 18 books and finish the series. It was complete torture. I don’t regret any of it!

Cho: Technically, my first manga was Yu-Gi-Oh! by Kazuki Takahashi; I searched it out after falling in love with the show on 4Kids. If I were to point to something else, though, it would be Fullmetal Alchemist. An ad for it in a weekly Shonen Jump issue caught my eye, so I sought it out at the public library. I ended up spending the whole day in the Youth section devouring the available volumes—even the ones out of order.

 

Do you remember other Japanese games, TV programs, songs, movies, and so on that you watched, listened to, during your childhood?

Melissa: As a 90s kid I grew up with Pokémon but later on, I learned that Speed Racer was actually anime! Being in the South though there wasn’t much exposure to Japanese media but I found my way through a Shojo Beat magazine which introduced me to lolita fashion and J-rock.

Kit: The only games I remember are trading card games like Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! As for other shows, I did later learn that Power Rangers was adapted from the Japanese Sentai shows and I had been obsessed with it. And with music, I found out about other music outside of anime OSTs because of a channel I happened to get called the International Channel. They had a Japanese music show that would come on late at night called Hey! Hey! Hey! which introduced me to my favorite artist, even to this day, Hyde. I fell in love with his music (and him) and did everything I could to get a hold of his songs; even if it meant getting viruses on the family computer, lol.  

Cho: Not too long after I discovered anime and manga I stumbled upon the band The GazettE and fell in love with J-Rock; I even used an English proxy to join The GazettE’s official fan club when I was 16. I religiously followed performers like Dir En Grey, Miyavi, and B’z. Around the same time, I got involved with the street fashion style gyaru; that became my newest obsession for the next three years.

 

So besides BL, you guys are into J-rock as well! That’s interesting. But how were you introduced to BL?

Melissa: I don’t actually remember which came first – fanfiction or manga but it was the spring of 2005 and I somehow discovered FMA slash fanfiction on LiveJournal and Gravitation in the bookstore, all around the same time. 

Kit: I believe I found out about it from both fanfiction and some doujinshi scans of Gundam Wing. I didn’t understand it until some friends explained it. Later, I read a fan-made comic about Gundam Wing characters that made me realize I really liked it! 

Cho: I believe my first brush with BL was through Yu-Gi-Oh! fanfiction that led me to the more R18 corners of the internet (lol). The first real BL title I read was a copy of The Tyrant Falls in Love by Hinako Takanaga a friend let me borrow.

 

Is there any manga (BL and non-BL) you are into right now?

Melissa:  Right now I’m reading Therapy Game and Love Nest for BL, and for non BL I’ve been working my way through BANANA FISH slowly but surely.

Kit: I have been starting from the back page of the futekiya library and I’m currently on page 6 and reading Shinjuku Lucky Hole. I’m also about to start Secret XXX. For non-BL, I’m re-reading Fushigi Yugi by Yuu Watase. 

Cho: I’ve just finished the latest chapter of The Demon Wants To Be A Good Boy by Memo Kamiya for BL—the artwork is amazing! For non-BL, I’m working my way through the GL anthology Éclair Blanche.

 

What are your top 3 BL manga/novel recommendations?

Melissa:
Golden Sparkle – first futekiya title I read and I’m still in love with the uke!!!
Kaniteki Pervert Romance – top quality spice with a twist
At 25:00 at Akasaka – beautifully drawn and with the right balance of sweet and spice

Kit:
My Dear PillowSpicy and a lot of fun with oblivious idiots having to realize they’re in love.
SeitokaiA deal to turn a delinquent into a proper student that involves spice but ends with a heartfelt confession.
Elevator StrategyVery spicy, lots of moments of nearly getting caught.

Cho:
God is Probably Left-Handed by Mushiba
Rational Pervert Romance by Semori Nanako/Sekihara Neg
Greetings, Smiles and Sparkles by Nacolat

 

Let’s talk about BL in your area. How do fans consume BL there?

Specifically talking about Dallas, we’re very lucky to have stores like Anime Pop and Kinokuniya that stock BL manga in print, and at Kinokuniya you can buy Japanese and English manga. We’ve also got RightStuf online, which unlike Amazon, isn’t pulling BL manga due to content concerns so you can easily shop for BL manga in-print. Unfortunately, using scanlation sites is common in the US because a lot of people are used to getting free anime through illegal sites, too. We’re a group that supports the legal anime and manga industry, so we try to evangelize wherever we can!

We know from our research that not all fujoshi think of “fujoshi” as someone who reads just BL. MM fanworks through fanfiction and fanart are arguably more consumed, people just don’t always see it as “BL” or think of liking it as something that makes them a fujoshi. Shipping is incredibly common in American fan circles and there’s a healthy amount of love for shipping characters in sports anime and even shonen anime. A lot of fans support their ships through buying fanwork in Artist Alley at conventions. To that end, itabagging has become popular in the States and Dallas has a really strong itabagging community.

 

What kind of BL manga do people prefer? Are there any characteristics or trends?

According to our research on English-Speaking fujoshi fandom, “childhood-best-friends-to-lovers” and “rivals-to-lovers” are two of the most popular BL tropes. Omegaverse/ABO—a relatively new genre in BL borrowed from the American Supernatural fandom—and “Gay-for-you” love stories were two of the least liked. University settings are also preferable to salarymen or high school settings. 

Doukyuusei by Asumiko Nakamura was by far the most popular manga listed in our survey, which is in line with the “softer” and less “problematic” tropes favored by the participants. However, risqué manga-ka like Harada and Scarlet Beriko were high on the list of popular manga-ka.

 

How do fans get access to BL manga? What are the challenges, if any, fans face when trying to access BL?

I think BL manga is highly accessible in the US (at least nowadays) – there are a lot of different companies releasing it in print and digitally, so fans have plenty of options for how to read and what types of stories to read. We’ve seen a marked increase in the last 2-3 years in how much BL is licensed and by whom so it’s never a question of access, it’s a question of whether fans want to pay for that access. It’s a lot easier for someone to hop on a scanlation site than it is to buy manga or pay for a subscription service. For some fans, they may not have a credit card or may still live at home and can’t have BL shipped to the house.

 

What do you think is the difference between BL fans in Japan and in your area?

The most hardcore fujoshis in the US are the same as Japanese fujoshi – they’re traveling to Japan often, have imported fujoshi culture like itabagging, we even had our first ouen in the US with PROMARE. But in the US I think the biggest difference is the label: a lot of US fans display fujoshi behavior but really feel repelled by the label. This is because there’s a stigma against fujoshi from things like the anti-shipping phenomenon or outdated ideas. The biggest difference is still that US fangirls are far more likely to ship characters from non-BL shows and even non-anime shows. About a decade ago we saw a big influx of non-anime fans at anime conventions thanks to “slashy” fandoms like Supernatural, Sherlock, and Homestuck. I think a US fujoshi’s repertoire is probably broader than what a Japanese fan might consider shippable or even BL.

 

What changes have you observed in the BL manga industry, if any? How do you think it will change in the future?

The biggest change is accessibility. BL has really experienced a rebound in the last 5 years, and especially in the last 2 years, in the US market. We have more companies than ever publishing BL, and directly in their main imprint. Whereas someone like Viz created a sublabel, SuBLime, to publish BL, Kodansha and Seven Seas release it directly with their name. Even Tokyopop, who had exited the US market, came back with a huge push into BL. Companies like futekiya entering the market are changing up not only how BL is read but how manga, in general, is read. This is the Crunchyroll model of a subscription service that I think could really help fans make the switch to legal manga–it worked for anime! I think that because of this boom in publishing, we’re going to get a lot more variety in stories that will hopefully bring more people to the fujoshi fold. BL in Japan has been doing some really cool things in the last few years–omegaverse is a huge one–so I’d love to see that diversity come through to the US.

 

How do you think the BL manga publishing industry can improve? 

I think one of the things futekiya gets right is the tagging system – American fans care about tags, especially about being able to filter out tags for things they don’t want. I think to combat illegal sites, BL has to be quick – so getting the hottest new manga from Japan faster than the scans and beating the quality of the scans. I don’t think futekiya needs to go around redrawing genitals, but if legal manga is consistently as fast and good as illegal scans and at such an affordable price, it’s hard to make any kind of argument against it. I will say coming from a group that really values in-print BL, having some kind of eventual print option would be nice. We love the ease of digital manga, but it can be hard to hear something is licensed for digital but not for print. Some companies like Kodansha outright say if something sells well enough digitally they’ll consider making it a print version. This type of crowdfunding or “all together” mentality is something fujoshi would definitely put their energy (and money!) towards. 

 

FujoCon is this weekend! Is this your first time organizing a BL-only event?

While we here at BL Garden have had plenty of experience both behind and in front of the scenes, this was our first venture into an entirely virtual convention. In the past, we have worked for conventions like Yaoi-Con, A-Kon, AnimeFest, San Japan, and more as both staff and panelists. Thankfully, that experience helped ease the transition to this online event. 

 

What were the challenges you faced in preparing for FujoCon?

The technology! We wanted to be able to accommodate everyone with the resources we had, and that meant testing out a lot of different platforms. Some panelists haven’t had much experience doing talks with this kind of set-up so we had to familiarize ourselves enough to teach them. Another challenging aspect of putting on the con was time zones. We have many international guests–like Ayu Yamane who will be holding a talk at the fuetkiya panel on Saturday @ 7:30 p.m. CST (9:30 a.m. JST)–so figuring out how to accommodate the varied time zones was like a puzzle. Luckily, we ended up getting everyone on the schedule–and no one has to host a panel at 5:00 a.m.!

 

What should we look forward to at FujoCon?

FujoCon will feature a variety of activities for all fujin! We have fans panels, industry and guest panels, a virtual Artist Alley, Thai BL streamings, games, and more! Check out the official schedule and mark down what you’d love to see. If you’re a futekiya fan, don’t forget to check out the panel happening Saturday, July 11th @ 7:30 CST (see when that is in your time zone)! This is a Zoom-locked event, so register (for free) to attend here.

 

What can you say about futekiya?

Melissa: For years I’ve gone on about how I wanted to pay a flat monthly fee and read unlimited manga – so when this service popped up and it’s JUST BL it was a dream come true. futekiya has made it really easy to legally read manga and there’s just SO much quality here, and with something for everyone, I’m so happy it exists.

Kit: I used to be so bad about keeping up with manga. It was hard to always go out and buy the newest series and I was never a fan of reading a series illegally. Futekiya has made my life so much easier and now I can actually keep up with manga conversations with the club! I finally feel up to date with the latest BL and I can participate in our 8OH1 Reviewed episodes now!! Thank you!!!

Cho: futekiya is a godsend for fujoshi. I couldn’t imagine having so much easy access to licensed BL when I was just a young fujo. Thank you so much futekiya for making our dreams come true!

 

What is BL is for you?

Melissa: For me, BL is a really diverse genre that brings fujoshi / fudanshi / fujin from around the world together to celebrate the beautiful love between two men. 

Kit: BL is just… my favorite! It’s the genre I immediately reach for and search for. It’s diverse, it’s got so many wonderful stories, and it’s been the reason why I’ve made so many amazing friends!

Cho: To me, BL is a genre that encompasses so many diverse stories and fans. BL is the reason I’ve met so many wonderful people, including my fellow fujin at BL Garden.

 

Lastly, please invite our readers to FujoCon!

Missing the con experience? Love BL, shipping, and fandoms? Then spend your weekend with us! We’ve got three days full of panels, guests, games, artists, cosplay, and so much more. Connect with fellow fujin, hear from those who work in the industry, learn from experts in the field, and to shop in our Artist Alleyway. It’s an event you won’t want to miss out and best of all, it’s completely free! Join us this weekend, July 10-12 at FujoCon!

Contact us at fujocon@gmail.com

 

Thank you for your time and good luck with the event! We’ll see you there!

 

Are you joining FujoCon this weekend? What are you excited about? Tell us on our Twitter account!

About futekiya: BL manga subscription

Boys' Love Manga Subscription Service futekiya promotional image

In 2018, futekiya began as a Boys’ Love manga news and culture website operated by FANTASISTA, INC., a CG/VR production studio based in Tokyo, Japan. futekiya transformed into a budding global distributor of officially licensed BL manga in 2019.

futekiya launched as an online subscription service for officially licensed BL manga on July 8, 2019. Determined to connect fans around the world with English-translated BL legally and conveniently, futekiya empowers readers to support creators and the manga industry.

Readers who subscribe to futekiya and pay a flat monthly fee of $6.99 will have access to our expanding library of English-language manga. To subscribe, please go to read.futekiya.com and create an account. More information is in our guide.

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