Interview with BLush Convention (Part 1)
Yaoi Day is just around the corner, and if it weren’t for the pandemic, Filipino Boys’ Love (BL) fans would have been celebrating at BLush Convention, the longest-running BL convention in the Philippines. Despite BLush Convention 2020’s cancellation, Khursten, Rochelle, and Rael, organizers of BLush, came up with the perfect alternative, a hashtag party dubbed #BLush801. Let’s get to know more about them in this two-part interview!
Hello! Thank you for your time today! Could you first please introduce yourself?
Khursten: Hi! I’m Khursten. One of the organisers of Blush. I was born and raised in Manila. Currently, I’m an Assistant Professor at Ateneo de Manila University and my field is in Cultural Studies, Asian History and Gender Studies.
Rochelle: I am Rochelle, currently based in Singapore where I work as a professional in the Japanese Contents industry. Together with my friends, we have organised BLush Convention — the longest-running BL convention in the Philippines, as well as its predecessor, Lights Out — the first BL convention in the Philippines.
Rael: Hello! I am Rael. My birthplace, where I work and live is Manila. I am female, unmarried and the youngest amongst three sisters in my family. I work as an Expert Business Consultant handling data analytics for a global financial services company. Before shifting to my current work, I was a senior software quality engineer responsible for testing applications and systems.
When did you get interested in Japanese culture or manga and how?
Khursten: I was in my teens and they started showing anime on tv. I was really engrossed by its narratives. When I was in college, I made an effort to read manga. There were shops that sold second-hand manga so I used that opportunity to buy and read manga in Japanese.
Rochelle: In high school, I was part of the school’s anime club, and in university also joined the Japanese culture club. While in university, I also spent a few semesters in Japan as an exchange student which deepened my love for the Japanese language as well as pop culture
Rael: It was during university for my first degree when I really got interested to know more about Japan and its culture. Before then I was already familiar and watching the locally available anime but during that period specifically when I started watching Ranma ½ that I started browsing the shelves of the university library for Japanese literature.
Which manga would you say had the most impact on you and why?
Khursten: I didn’t really consciously access manga during childhood. So I’ll talk about the manga that made the most impact on me is Rurouni Kenshin. I was fascinated with its rich history, action, and narrative. It’s the first manga that I bought, although I realised later that the manga I bought was Chinese. The series motivated me to study history and in many ways, it has made me into the cultural historian that I am today.
Rochelle: One of my favourite anime series growing up was Macross, with Macross Plus as a particular favourite. It was also the first franchise that opened up my eyes to the difficulties and complications of licensing anime titles outside of Japan, which was partly the reason why I wanted to work in the Japanese contents industry.
Rael: I had access to anime through local tv stations but have no access to manga during my childhood. I encountered manga when I was already a university student – CLAMP’s X/1999 in Chinese. It was much later when I was already working that I found a story from a manga series, that had an impact on me. It was the cat story in one of the volumes of Sky High by Isao Kiriyama. My Japanese is not really good but without even understanding most of the dialogue in that story and by just looking at the panels, it made me cry.
Do you remember other Japanese contents you watched, listened to or played during your childhood?
Khursten: I didn’t know these were Japanese contents at that time. Shows such as Peter Pan, Sara… Ang Munting Prinsesa (Princess Sarah), and Cedi (Little Lord Fauntleroy) were part of my childhood yet I did not know that they were a part of the World Masterpiece Theater (Sekai Meisaku Gekijō) or anime for that matter. They were just cartoons on TV. It was only when I became an anime fan that I learned of these things.
Rochelle: One particularly strong memory I had was watching Studio Ghibli’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind on terrestrial television, dubbed in English and edited into a mini-series (as opposed to the original theatre-length work). It left such a strong impression on me that when I finally watched it in its original form, I was moved even deeper.
Rael: My exposure as a child to Japanese content was mainly Japanese shows (to name a few):
- Voltes V series (Chōdenji Machine Voltes V) series (in English) as well as it’s, opening and ending songs (in Japanese). I remember watching the “final” episode in a movie theater with my family during the 1980s here in Manila.
- Daimos (Tōshō Daimos) series (in English)
- Candy Candy series (in English)
- Lone Wolf and Cub Drama (in English)
- G-Force (Gatchaman)
- Nausicaa (locally shown in English as Valley of the Wind)
- Windaria (locally shown in English as Once Upon a Time)
- Macross (Harmony Gold version mostly but also the Tagalog version as well)
- Captain Harlock
- Starblazers (Space Battleship Yamato)
- Voltron (pre-2018 version)
Wow, those are pretty good old school anime. Okay, how about Boys’ Love? How were you introduced to BL?
Khursten: The concept? I learned about yaoi from a fansite of YuYu Hakusho that contained yaoi fanfiction. I was about 15 then and I was getting into anime. It wasn’t my cup of tea back then. It took Evangelion for me to get into coupling. Shinji and Kaworu were the first coupling that I really appreciated and their relationship eased me into the idea of boys’ love. That got me reading into BL manga. The first one I read was Love Mode by Yuki Shimizu. I bought the entire set from a 2nd hand bookshop in Makati.
Rochelle: The first series I shipped (or coupled, in Japanese parlance) was YuYu Hakusho, and in the search for doujinshi of my main pairing I was introduced to original BL works. One of my early favourites was Minami Ozaki’s Bronze, and I loved her work so much I even collected her Captain Tsubasa doujinshi as well as her official fan club illustration books.
Rael: Through a recommendation from the anime videotape rental storekeeper. I was looking for short animes to watch and I was holding Bronze Zetsuai. I recalled the storekeeper said that it was short, good, and a romance. I paid it forward and introduced friends to it.
Is there any manga (BL and non-BL) you are personally into right now?
Khursten: For non-BL titles, I’m really into Itagaki Paru’s BEASTARS. I’m really enjoying the stories and the characters. I also ship Louis/Rui and Legosi. I also enjoy SPY×FAMILY by Endo Tatsuya! For BL titles, I feel like I have moodier tastes because I am fascinated by different titles depending on my mood. Recently, I’m hooked on the works of Kamome Hamada. I find her works comforting to read. I also enjoy Kitahara Rii because she always has food on her BL manga.
Rochelle: Having moved to Singapore, I’ve had more access to Chinese “danmei” contents, and my current favourite is a web novel by author PRIEST titled Guardian (“镇魂”).
Rael: Non-BL: Himitsu: Top Secret Season 0 by Reiko Shimizu. I must admit I am not reading manga currently but I have recently read and in love with Guardian (Zhenhun or 镇魂) a web novel danmei by PRIEST.
What are your top 3 BL manga/novel recommendations?
Khursten: Is this BL list of all time? I have so many to recommend! Here is a list based on what I think are important markers of BL history. First, Kaze to Ki no Uta by Keiko Takemiya. Second, Yoshinaga Fumi’s Ichigen me, First Class is Civil Law series. Third, Nakamura Asumiko’s Double Mints/Doukyuusei. I think these three titles represent an interesting dimension of BL history.
Rochelle: I have quite “old-school” tastes in BL and keep going back to favourite authors. Aside from Ozaki, I also recommend works by Naono Bohra. For more recent manga, I am drawn to the omegaverse trend in Japanese manga — which started in western slash fandom (unless I am mistaken), and one of the titles I would recommend is “ Tadaima, Okaeri” by Ichi Ichikawa.
- Zetsuai 1989 by Ozaki Minami
- Lovers in the Night by Yoshinaga Fumi
- ZhenHun 镇魂 (Guardian) by Priest – this is a danmei (BL) novel from China
Let’s talk about Boys’ Love in the Philippines. How do fans consume BL there?
Khursten: In recent years, most BL fans consume BL through fan works. Big anime fandoms such as Yuri!!! on Ice and Haikyu!! really paved this fan consumption. K-POP consumption has also led to a large K-POP shipping consumption. The diversification of BL media also led to the consumption of BL from Thailand and China. Those have also large followings. As for BL manga, I know that not a lot of people read BL because of inaccessibility. Hopefully, that would change.
Rochelle: Same as Khursten’s observations, a lot of Philippine fans purchase locally produced BL fan works from their favourite mainstream anime. They have also started giving the same treatment to Chinese danmei titles as well as Thai BL web dramas. I feel that this is an economic decision, as purchasing original goods such as figures, BDs/DVDs, and merchandise can still be prohibitively expensive when compared to fan merchandise.
Rael: Manga, doujinshi (online and mainly fan translated), artwork, and goods (both official and fanmade). Also fanfiction via AO3.
What kind of BL manga do Filipino fans prefer? Are there any characteristics or trends?
Khursten: Based on some reactions I get in cons, BL fans like a good mix of spicy and heartwarming BL stories. This can be seen in the kinds of BL fan works I encounter online and the kinds of engagement I see in conventions. BL fans in Manila have not caught up to BL manga trends in Japan so it’s a bit tricky for me to make an assumption on what they like about manga.
Recently, there seems to be a few who embrace ABO. That’s amusing.
Rochelle: Based on a number of Philippine-based fan communities on social media such as Twitter and Facebook, the preferences still appear to skew towards more romantic and less raunchy renditions of BL. But then again, this is social media, so who knows that kinks people are really hiding behind closed doors 🙂
Rael: What I observe, the preference is mainly through visual stories with pretty boys still preferred.
How do fans get access to BL manga?
Khursten: I’ll be blunt that few people access licensed BL manga in Manila. The work of SuBLime’s global distribution is helpful but with a lot of BL manga left untranslated, I’m certain that most fans read it from scanlation aggregators. I read BL manga initially in this manner too. It’s a reality given our economic capability and the age of consumers. What I find fascinating is that fans DO buy the BL when they DO get older. I often have fans who approach me to talk about how they eventually purchase titles when they travel to Japan. That’s cute.
Rochelle: Similar to my response above, this is quite possibly an economic decision on the part of many fans, so I still see scanlation groups and communities as the main source of media as opposed to officially licensed sites 🙁
Rael: Mainly online for manga, doujinshi, official merchandise. Events for fanwork and some official merchandise by local sellers.
What do you think is the difference between BL fans in Japan and in the Philippines?
Khursten: Diversity in consumption. BL fans in Manila are not just consuming BL from Japan anymore. For most BL fans engaged in BL fanworks, many of them buy goods from artists all over the region and even from the US. A good number of BL fans are also consuming Thai BL and danmei. So the world of BL’s expanding in the country! A colleague of mine even argues that because of our language and our disconnect with Japan, Filipino fans openly consume any kind of BL work without question of its origin. To a certain extent, it’s fascinating but as a BL historian, I get annoyed when people do not make the connection of BL’s roots in Japan.
Rochelle: Japanese fans still trump all others when it comes to directly supporting their favourite authors — by purchasing books as well as related goods. But it is encouraging to see local girls get into the habit of paying for things — it could be as simple as purchasing a single chapter of a series from a paid comic site, to watching entire seasons on the official YouTube channel and letting the producers earn from ad revenue.
Rael: Japanese BL Fans: Easy accessibility to original JP materials and events. My Country’s BL Fans: Mainly rely online for their materials. Not all consumers in my country know Japanese so they rely on scanlations/translations. However, the BL material available to the fans in my country is strictly not Japanese only. There are fans of translated BL material from Thailand, China, Korea not to mention the material in English that is also available online. In terms of BL related events, there are only two well-known BL related events in my country.
What are the changes have you observed in the BL manga industry, if any, in the Philippines? How do you think it will change in the future?
Khursten: The economy has always been unkind to young fans. Fiscal freedom is harder to achieve given that many young people have other socio-economic responsibilities. As such, luxuries such as manga have taken a backseat. Bookstores make an effort to stock them but the scale has never grown larger. I know more people consuming manga through scanlation aggregators and it’s not because they do not want to buy the original. It’s mostly because they could not afford to buy the series. This is the unfortunate thing about being a fan in an economy where luxuries such as manga are hard to sustain. 450 pesos per title is hard. Imagine if they have to sustain a long series with that price. For BL, I recall for a time that BL manga was sold at 600 to 800 pesos (13 to 17 USD) which is quite expensive. If there are affordable means to access manga, that would be great. Either translated manga becomes cheaper and accessible or our economy becomes better.
Rochelle: I am very much encouraged by companies such as futekiya making the effort to switch to digital and accept payment methods from outside Japan, allowing international fans to purchase licensed manga — without shipping and customs concerns that plague usual methods (such as purchasing physical books from online retailers).
Rael: The local BL manga industry in my country is still at its fetal stage. Consumers rely mainly on imported content. I am unsure if this will change in the future given that there could be legal implications on the publication of graphic content. Another hurdle to a change is the prevailing conservative point of view of the majority in my country. The idea of “Boys Love” is an idea that will not be easily accepted by the majority, more so if coupled with very graphic content.
What do you think? Are BL fans in your country similar to Filipino BL fans?
Tomorrow, Khursten, Rochelle and Rael talk about BLush Convention, how it started, the challenges they faced in organizing the event, and future prospects in Part 2 of our interview!
If you’re interested in reading more interviews like this, visit our Creators’ Corner for exclusive interviews with our independent creators, or check out our Interviews tag!
Official Website: https://blushcon.org/
About futekiya: BL manga subscription
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.