Lets Talk About Pretty Boys
Pretty boys, Bishounen, Bishies, call them whatever you like they are everywhere and seem to be creeping into each and every type of modern anime show being created. Why are they so popular, what makes them relevant to todays anime, why are they in all the shows I/we love and why am I writing an article that will further increase the belief that I am actually a fujoshi?
For all the un-initiated Bishounen is a combination of the word Bijin which means beautiful and Shounen which means younger males, Bishounen refers to the pretty boys found in anime and manga. In western anime fandom bishonen or ‘Bishie’ for short would refer to any outrageously good-looking male character in anime. It should not come as a surprise that most of these characters are found in Shoujo manga/anime, Bishies are very popular with females and in a medium that is primarily dominated by male oriented material the addition of these characters in shows is often treated as icing on a cake for most fan-girls.
There have been a few shows that have taken a unique approach to the role of Bishies in female targeted anime. Kuroshitsuji/Black Butler is one such show, The series is a dark, Gothic, action drama with supernatural elements, the basic premise of the show is very fascinating and may seem like one that can appeal to a wide demographic but the twist comes when the humour and blatant pandering hits. The character designs are clearly meant to appeal to a female audience and the subject matter often gets lighter than the viewers may have preconceived.
Obviously the series as a whole is very popular, popular enough to have two seasons worth of anime and an ongoing manga series. Both males and females enjoy the series even if they may be for different reason all-together.
There have been more series that have turned this formula into a success, Hetalia and Ouran High School Host Club have had and increasing popularity and its fans are not only vocal about it, they are also loyal. The manga versions of these series is always in the top 10 best sellers list and the FUNimtion Brand Manager of Hetalia herself has announced to the public that the show has done incredibly well for them. Clearly these shows have something about them that must appeal to a wider audience than the desired niche female portion of the fandom.
However, there is always two sides to a coin and very recently there have been a few shows that have attempted to mimic the formula of the above shows and have failed terribly. No.6 was a story set in a futuristic, post apocalyptic sci-fi world and has some pretty cool action sequences and drama. They also had an ‘implied‘ Yaoi subtext that felt tacky and unnecessarily lengthy in most of the scenes that it was implemented. The writers of the show were clearly trying to reel in as wide an audience as they could and by adding some pretty boys and yaoi, they thought female fans would come flocking to this Sci-Fi Dystopia anime as well. Unfortunately for them the show as a whole just didn’t work, the story seemed to come to a screeching halt whenever the two leads had an opportunity to be together alone and to make matters worse this show aired on the noitaminA block meaning it only had 11 episodes in which to wrap itself up nicely, 11 episodes is not nearly enough for any mystery anime let alone a Sci-fi drama. The constant pandering just killed the show for me and many other viewers and proved that just having pretty boys in your anime is not a formula for isntant success no matter how hard you pander to the fujoshi.
Pretty Boys In My Manly Show??
I remember gong onto a forum to discuss this one show I had just finished watching, I thought it was amazing and assumed most other fans would as well, to my surprise the response I got was underwhelming, positive but underwhelming. I later noticed that only female fans seemed to talk about the show as much as I did and only females seemed to cosplay as these characters at conventions and such, it didn’t occur to me exactly why this was the case until I saw a Durarara!! panel at Anime Expo 2011 online. nearly 7/8 of the crowd was female and they all screamed and squeed whenever two characters were mentioned, Izaya Orihara and Shizuo Heiwajima. Suddenly I got it, it was because this show, my manly show, my favourite cool characters…were actually bishies. I was a little shocked at first but soon came to terms with it, the show was successful and it definitely would not have been so well received had it not garnered such a massive female following.
Another good example of such a phenomenon would be Sunrises’ super hero show Tiger and Bunny. A show meant to appeal primarily to an older male audience so much so that the protagonist was designed to be in his thirties and have a beard! ( believe it or not this is quite rare in modern anime)
Tiger and Bunny has such a Western feel to it so it came as a huge surprise when suddenly the show gained massive popularity in Japan and with its female audience. In a flash Pxiv was spammed with various fan art, fan fiction, figures, posters and all sorts of other related memorabilia soon followed, some more creepy than others.
Tiger and Bunny is one of the best selling titles of the year in Japan, with each volume selling over 25,000 copies. The Show has been licensed by VIZ in the States and Siren Visual in Australia and will undoubtedly do very well even in the west once it is released.
An Interesting article by Project Haruhis‘ Jon Snyder contained the results of a ‘most popular anime series by gender’ poll taken by an Otaku matchmaking service in Japan. The results showed that women watched more Mecha than men and men, well lets just say they liked Kyoto Animation works as a whole. In the top 5 of the Womens list were Gundam, Code Geass and Macross Frontier, on the surface these shows may not seem like they would appeal to massive female fanbase but taking a deeper look (or not so deep) into these series and we can all see why, lets take Gundam OO as an example.
A story rife with political intrigue, war themes and lots and lots of action but it also has a predominantly good looking cast. Was this deliberate? Even if it wasn’t it worked well enough to gain itself two full anime seasons and a theatrical release. Gundam OO is not the best the franchise has to offer but it certainly has its fans no matter how convoluted the plot becomes, no matter how bad the writing gets, as long as there are pretty boys fighting in Giant sparkly robots it will sell.
If a formula has been tested and it succeeds why not go all the way and try to create something spectacular with it. The Producers at Sunrise must have known they were onto something special when they were penning the script for the Mecha Action Thriller Code Geass and to make sure they didn’t alienate the female fanbase from this soon-to-be-masterpiece they decided to let the artistic geniuses CLAMP create the character designs for their show. At least how it must have gone if it was planned that way.
Regardless of the fact of whether it was deliberate or not , the decision to use CLAMPs’ character designs was ingenious. Ofcourse this meant that nearly the entire cast of the show would be superficially attractive even by anime standards. The show was popular and ended up selling well, so well that the next season was big enough to air on prime time television in Japan.
A common trend in Shounen anime is to add a superficial romantic subplot in order to reel in as many female fans as possible. While this tactic has been proven to work a more effective and more common one is to add atleast one or two pretty boys in the show for the female fans to fawn over. A very good example would be Naruto Shippudens’ Sasuke Uchiha himself. After the series first time-skip the character who was already popular with the females because of his good looks was given an even more appealing look and his default costume rendered him shirtless, I’m not kidding. A more recent example would be Ichigos’ final transformation in Bleach, a design unashemadley meant to sell figurines and to pander to the female fanbase.
A Faboulous Future
With the increasing popularity of shows like Natsume Yujinchou and Tiger and Bunny and a sudden influx of more Josei anime, it will come as no surprise to me if we begin to see more and more Bishounen in anime genres that they initially were not found in. I personally don’t mind this but then again maybe that’s because I am secretly actually a fujoshi 🙂