“The Lily Tribe” – A Look at Erica Friedman’s By Your Side: The First 100 Years of Yuri Anime and Manga

“The Lily Tribe” – A Look at Erica Friedman’s By Your Side: The First 100 Years of Yuri Anime and Manga

Hey all, don’t mind me cutting it down to the wire here with my obligatory Pride month post >>; Like all of us here at BAYOG and everyone EVERYWHERE probably, life is just a tiny bit too hectic to handle. Let us all take a collective deep breath in, and out, and get back to it.

I have been following Erica Friedman, aka OkazuYuri for a long time now, having been drawn to their collection of video essays they dub “Yuri Studio”. The videos range from discussing how Yuri (Girls loving girls) manga and anime came to be and has evolved up until the present, as well as some specific topics like why there is a bigger saturation of Yaoi (Boys’ Love) series than Yuri. Other topis include why certain tropes are popular in Yuri works, like the ‘Girl Prince’ archetype, and why Yuri series focus mainly on schoolgirls and school settings. Erica has an illustrious history of research, having been there in the trenches of Yuri research since the 2000’s. Her blog, https://okazu.yuricon.com/, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and before her blog, Erica wrote articles for Animerica magazine and the Shoujo Arts Society.

In short, Erica is one of if not THE most active cultural historian for Yuri anime and manga. Earlier this month, in collaboration with Journey Press, Erica published By Your Side: The First 100 Years of Yuri Anime and Manga. By Your Side is a curated collection of Erica’s essays, articles, and lectures from over their writing career. 

The book is 13 chapters long and includes a prologue and also a beautiful foreword by one of Erica’s peers, James Welker. Although structured in chapters, this book isn’t necessarily linear as Erica puts it,

“These essays are a mix of historical notation, comparative literature, reviews, overviews, opinion pieces, and my personal relationships to the series we’ll be discussing. These are the kinds of stories told over and over around a dinner table, until everyone remembers the story whether they were there or not. Think of this book as an ongoing conversation, a chat we’ve been having for the last 20 years and will continue to have for some time.”

I can literally go back to the afternoon I was watching Adolescence of Utena on my parents bed, wide eyed and eyes glittering with the beautiful animation and story line. When Utena and Anthy kissed, it was like all the puzzle pieces clicked together in my head. I could like boys but I could also like girls? And I could have a meaningful relationship with a girl? It was my first time truly experiencing a Yuri series, and ever since that day I have sought out more and more Yuri works, ranging from watching the actual Revolutionary Girl Utena anime to reading Yuri fan fiction and even still now seeking out new Yuri series to watch.

I went from being a closeted and confused preteen who didn’t know why she felt like that about girls, to a proud bisexual woman with a slew of friends who also love and engage with Yuri media. Sharing our thoughts and experiences with queer media is so important. You never know which preteen will stumble upon these resources and come to the same realizations I had. I would have been ever so lucky to have had a similar resource like By Your Side growing up, and I am so grateful it is here now.

One of my favorite essays is early on in Chapter 2, titled “Why We Call It Yuri”. In it Erica recalls a meeting they participated in with multiple Yuri fans and creators. In the meeting, they debated on what they should define Lesbian Japanese media as a genre, and what word to definitively call it. I think they put it so beautifully with their reasoning for going with “Yuri” (short for Yurizoku, originating from a gay men’s magazine from 70’s, called Barazoku, you can read more about it in the Prologue of the book!)

“A lily flower had been used for decades by then as a symbol of lesbian desire and love. Lilies are pretty, come in many varieties, and smell nice. What better word to describe a genre that had no word of its own?”

Another section I loved reading comes from Chapter 7, titled “Girl Gangs and the Yuri Underground”. I was introduced to the trope of girl gangs in anime through series like SuperGALS! and the original Fruits’ Basket so the imagery and aesthetic of sukeban (female delinquents) are ultra nostalgic for me. 

Erica explores multiple series, starting with Sukeban Deka (スケバン 刑事), a manga by Wada Shinji that revolved around a girl named Asamiya Saki who was being extorted by the police while they held her mother in jail. The police send Saki on missions investigating crimes that occur within schools, notably reform schools. The manga’s popularity spawned a television drama, several movies, and even an OVA (Original Animation Video). Asamiya Saki evolved into a codename that multiple girls in the original position took, much like James Bond and the 007 moniker, or the lineage of phantom thieves under the name Lupin/Arsene. I have to wonder if Saki from the series Zombieland Saga is a reference to Asamiya Saki! 

Another similar series during the time, YajiKita Gakuen Douchuuki (やじきた学園道中記), follows two young girls named Yajima Junko and Shinokita Reiko who work with gangs from Eastern Japan in taking out yakuza and other gang leaders in order to keep other students from straying on their path due to ‘negative influences’. 

The last referenced series, Hana no Asuka-gumi! (花のあすか組), by Takaguchi Satosumi, spanned almost the totality of media at the time, originating as a 27 volume manga. There were six side stories, two novels, an OVA, a live action film, television series, two audio dramas, an eight volume new series, a second live action film and astoundingly two additional manga series for the 21st century. Holy shit honestly, that’s expansive.

Hana no Asuka-gumi! revolves around a girl named Kuraku Asuka and her interactions with the Zenchuu Ura, an organization that oversees all the girl gangs, including their operatives and sub-organizations, in the Tokyo area. The women-only criminal organization included recruiting new members from a pop idol’s fan club, creating a gambling ring, and using the “dark web” to organize hit squads.

These three series were so influential to young women in the mid 80’s; the girl gang aesthetic was idolized and copied from fashion to mannerisms. This was intensified by the already spreading influence of real life girl gangs in Tokyo from the 1960’s.

“What these series had in common was an exploration of an alternate “women’s world,” uncontrolled by men and almost completely lacking adult supervision of any kind. The organizations that fill the spaces of all three series are run by the children, for themselves. Leaders, attendants, the rank-and-file, insiders and outsiders, were all middle school and high school age. These stories took place in the hallways and behind the gymnasiums of schools and the fights spill out into the back alleys and shrines of Shinjuku and wooded areas outside Tokyo. While boring everyday life goes on in the adult world, the children are creating— and destroying— empires.”

All of these series are related to Yuri through their narrative: In Sukeban Deka, Saki is given the opportunity to break out of jail while her jailer engaged in sex witrh another female inmate. Some of Saki’s peers and opponents also crush on her throughout the series.

The androgynous Shinokita Reiko of YajiKita gains new admirers at each school they visit, even made to work at a host club where a patron falls in love with her.

Asuka from Hana no Asuka-gumi! is manipulated into joining Zenchuu Ura after a member of the organization, Yohko, seduces her. Asuka is then made a play-thing for the leader of the Zenchuu Ura, Hibari, who deeply desires Asuka. Yohko actually dies to free Asuka from her influence as an act of expressing her love for Asuka.

In each series, there is a continuing trend of the heroines rescuing ‘damsels in distress’ from their series’ enemies who in turn crush on the heroines (both the damsels and the enemies). While almost all of the interacting cast are powerful women, it is only natural that these women develop romantic feelings for each other.

A recent iteration of Yuri featuring sukeban themes is Watashi no Kobushi wo Uketomete! (私の拳をうけとめて!) localized as Catch These Hands! By Yen Press:

“Former gang members, Takebe and Soramori meet by chance and now, outside of both school and gang life, they begin to date, trying to piece together what that even means for rivals whose fondest wish was formerly to punch the other’s lights out. And indeed, when they find it almost impossible to speak their feelings for one another, a fight in the park stands in just as effectively.”

I feel like I could go on for ages more about sections of By Your Side that I love but the reality is that I love them all and believe they are all significantly important to Yuri culture. If you are interested in the history of anime (in any capacity) I highly recommend purchasing or borrowing this book from your local library. Erica’s prose is engaging, thoughtful, and rife with love and care for Yuri media. Thank you Erica for creating By Your Side. I am so excited to see what Yuri media we get in the future, and especially your thoughts on them,

You can purchase By Your Side from a myriad of retailers, and most importantly, you can receive a signed digital bookplate if you purchase a digital copy of the book: https://okazu.yuricon.com/2022/06/07/by-your-side-digital-bookplate-giveaway-for-june/

I hope you enjoyed reading about Yuri history in my article! Are you also a Yuri fan? If so feel free to contact me through my new public twitter I created: https://twitter.com/cattasticks (you can definitely follow me if you aren’t a fan of Yuri as well)

As always, unfortunately the wave of ‘unprecedented events’ is never ending, but I hope you were able to have a little reprieve with my article. See you next time.

One Reply to ““The Lily Tribe” – A Look at Erica Friedman’s By Your Side: The First 100 Years of Yuri Anime and Manga”

Tell us what you think...

%d bloggers like this: