I Wanted A Story About Female Friendship so I read a Book About BL

A little while ago I saw a tweet by Allison showing off some new quarantine reading and got me in the mood for some myself:

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One of the volumes caught my eye, mostly because the title was a bit odd and I hadn’t even heard of it before: BL Metamorphosis. I thought it might be some hilarious Sci Fi, B movie with BL thrown in for good measure. When in doubt, add BL… and I sort of filed it away in my brain drawers for another day. I wasn’t really in the mood for BL at the time, not that I have anything against it.

Still, the insane premise I had imagined based only on the title had me intrigued so I figured I would look up the synopsis at least and if it sounded like one of those melodramatic titles I could take it right out of the brain drawer and put it out of my mind all together. And this is what I found:

” Ichinoi, a seventy-five-year-old woman living a peaceful life, unwittingly buys a boys’ love manga one day, and is fascinated by what she finds inside. When she returns to the bookstore to buy the next volume, the high school girl working there—Urara, a seasoned BL fan—notices a budding fangirl when she sees one. When Urara offers to help Ichinoi explore this whole new world of fiction, the two dive into the BL fandom together, and form an unlikely friendship along the way.”  (it’s written on the back of the book…)

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Well that’s something new. A female friendship between a teenager and an unrelated much older woman base entirely on mutual interests? I’m not sure I’ve ever explored that type of relationship in fiction before. And we get to reference the world of Boy Love for giggles? Sign me up!

I ordered it on the spot….and ended up ordering a whole bunch of other manga as well. A missing volume of Devils and Realist, the latest volume of Bungo Stray Dogs, the first volumes of Yuri is My Job as well as Ran and the Grey World (which looks really pretty), volume 3 of the way of the Househusband and I preordered the Latest Natsume which should be out in a month or so!!!! OMG Natsume!!! (You guys are so lucky a new season hasn’t been announced yet, I would never ever stop talking about it). I need to gain a bit of manga self control.

A few days later I was holding my brand new copy of BL Metamorphosis and by the evening I was managing my disappointment that the next volume was only due out in July. There’s a running gag of sorts that the volumes of the BL Ichinoi is reading only come out once every 6 months so she is struck living until 90 in order to find out what happens. There’s a bit of bite to that joke. It’s morose as she had mentioned having outlived her husband a few pages previously. But there’s a warmth and humour to the delivery that makes it feel almost comfortable.

BL metamorphosis isn’t a twist story. You get pretty much exactly what’s on the tin. But with a premise that unique, you still can’t really know what to expect. Ichinoi is a woman who has lived an entire life. She has a wealth of experience, joy and grief to bolster her and her character. She is past being embarrassed by who she is or what she likes and doesn’t worry about what others may think. She is also a kind and emphatic woman who worries about how others may feel. In charged of her life and unburdened by the little things, she knows how to appreciate and enjoy simple pleasures.

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Ichinoi is in many ways just an ordinary woman, albeit a pleasant and intelligent one but not exceptionally so. But there’s something very lovely about the grace with which she is portrayed. I hope I can grow up to be that graceful. She has it figured out. But even more than that, I wish I had known someone like that when I was a teenager.

Urara is a shy girl who hasn’t quite figured out where she belongs. There’s nothing tragic about her life or anything. She does have friends, she isn’t bullied, her mother is busy but seems nice and they have a good relationship. It’s just that Urara is a little lost. She’s at that age where you’re supposed to be a little lost. And in those moments, it’s crucial to have someone who can help you out.

And this is where the relationship between these two comes into play and the book really shines. It’s shy and withdrawn Urara who reaches out first. Who tries to make friends with this unusual customer at the bookstore. Not only is Ichinoi way out of the standard BL demographic, she’s an adult who is accepting of a hobby generally perceived to be embarrassing. Ichinoi doesn’t judge or preach. She doesn’t give advice. And yet her simple presence and easy attitude is precious guidance for Urara.

On the flip side, Ichinoi was comfortable in her routine. She still is. For a widow in her 70s, life doesn’t tend to hold that many surprises anymore. Her children are grown and live overseas. Her students (she teaches calligraphy) are a pain. She pretty much knew what every day would bring. And now, she has this young woman full of life suddenly looking up to her and offering to show her a brand new world. How odd and delightful.

There isn’t much BL in BL metamorphosis but pages of the books Ichinoi is reading are scattered throughout the volume and connoisseurs of the genre will recognize many of the more common tropes. Rest assured, it is completely PG.

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You don’t actually need to know anything about the Boy Love genre to appreciate BL metamorphosis. Outside of the actually in universe manga pages I mentioned above, there is very little reference to BL tropes or known titles in the first volumes. Some general manga romance clichés get thrown around a bit but that’s it.

There is however the general feeling of being a BL fan that radiates throughout the book. Some of it got lost on me I think. From what I gather it’s supposed to be still very embarrassing to read BL in Japan despite it being featured prominently in book stores. Or at least Urara is very embarrassed by it. I get bombarded by BL art every time a new anime features two male characters sharing any amount of screen time together so I’m a little numbed to it. I actually get bombarded by Yuri fanart a lot more. I wonder if Yuri is also supposed to be embarrassing. Anyways, this particular feeling and the releif Urara finds in Ichinoi for being indifferent to the perceived embarrassment is something I understood but could quite relate to.

Other aspects though, I was chuckling with glee and talking back to the characters. The frustration of having to wait for what happens next. The deception of picking books with similar art styles only to find they have nothing else in common. The guarded enthusiasm of hearing that one of your favourite authors has started a side project. That’s great but when are you gonna get the next volume out!!!

And of course, the feeling of having read something great and wanting to talk about it and having no one to talk about it with… I mean that’s why I’m here today, talking to you guys about this manga. You’re my Ichinoi and that’s a huge compliment.

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BL metamorphosis is a well written and measured book with realistic, complete female characters. In this first volume, we see a budding friendship develop organically with respect and affection on both sides which just warmed my heart. So if you ever feel like you want to read a book about women, I would recommend this manga on Boy Love.

But don’t take my word for it, you can go see what Bloom Reviews had to say about it.

Have you read BL metamorphosis? Do you want to? Have you read it in Japanese and can you tell me what happens next?

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Irina

I'm much nicer than I seem, we should be friends!

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16 Responses

  1. I hope this series encourages people to actually check out other BL or Yuri titles, as there’s some seriously good stuff out there. Great review Irina, I can’t wait for my copy to arrive!

  2. aina says:

    Oh my! This sounds like something I’d enjoy! Thank you so much for introducing this title to us 😄

  3. Kapodaco says:

    This was a really solid post. You framed it in a way that made the story sound endearing, gentle, and kind. I’ll have to check this out sometime.

    Also, should you ever get around to Ran and the Gray World, I’d love to know your thoughts on that.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I have some YAOI in my manga collection and this was some stuff that came along with some other assorted manga that i found in Value Village. This YAOI does look more compelling then the other ones i’ve read that really came across as just more or less the same story over and over again thats about 5 or 7 chapters give or take. I may give a look at it some time.
    -K(rogueotakugamer)

    • Irina says:

      Well this is about as yaoi as Yuru Camp or K-on… There aren’t even any male characters.

      • Anonymous says:

        Much of the YAOI or YURI i’ve seen is basically rinse and repeat type stuff that has no dicenerable difference from each other. One yaoi i read by Kaori Yuki really didn’t made any sense or in fact why would anybody go after a sex offender or criminal is something i find really ridiculous.

  5. Dawnstorm says:

    Aw, that looks adorable. I really like the art. Don’t really read much manga at all, so this flew totally beneath my radar.

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