In September 2016, the online-only series named “Love is more than a Word” went play on Youku, concluding 12 episodes about costume and detection with a label of suspense /costume. The original author is Ghee Cake (Suyoubing), a well-known internet writer. The novel tells a suspenseful story of a playboy TAO Mo who bought a position in Danyang County as the magistrate and bent to be a good officer to comfort his father in the heaven even though he’d never accepted any education.
The drama got a score of 7.3 on Douban and became outstanding among the chaos of the online-only series market, because of the wonderful story, elaborate scenery and earnest producing. The ending song “Blooming Youth” by the famous singer Han Lei has been also unanimously praised on major music platforms. If there is no other hot point, perhaps “Love is more than a Word” would be a well-made costume drama only.
Actually it is a Tanbi live action adapted from the novel. The leading character Tao Mo had interests in BL and fell in love at first sight with Gu She, a lawyer, after taking up his magistrate position. They have many emotional interactions while investigating. Delicate and graceful lyrics such as “do not ask the future but you” and “mutual love sway in the flourishing age” in the ending song “Blooming Youth” touched a lot of fans with the comment “a cinnabar banquet, a century wedding, hold your hand and grow old together, may the world accept homosexuality one day, and we will bless them with smile for their forever happiness.”
Around last January, another online-only drama “Addiction” concentrating on campus love was also adapted from the Tanbi novel written by Chaijidan became a hot topic. It was ordered to withdraw by the SARFT without accomplishment. Shortly after that, the SARFT published “The General Principles of the TV Series” to ban the contents of homosexuality, extramarital affairs and underage love (the explanation about “addiction”on Baidu Baike), which made young people who support BL and homosexuality legalization discuss a lot on the internet. The two starring actors, Johnny HUANG (Haung Jingyu) and Timmy XU (Xu Weizhou) drew much attention and their private interactions attracted plenty of fans although they confirmed to be straight.
Although “Heroin” and “Walk Slowly”, the theme songs of “Addiction” by Timmy Xu, seem not that aesthetic and veiled like “Blooming Youth”, its brave lyrics like “forget those gossips and may we live together till old and grey” brought discussions to envisage homosexual equality in Tanbi works on major platforms.
Some people made exclamation: “Tanbi becomes more and more promising.”
Starting from “small but beautiful” to getting thousands of fans, what’s the difference between BL culture and Yaoi Culture？
Before the development of online-only drama, most of Chinese Tanbi culture came from Japan. Tanbi writers were quite interested in uploading dramatic BL stories on www.jjwxc.net or other websites. The readers hoped to make them voice and organized several groups through QQ or other forums with the authors’ authorization. Members would explore their own capacity to imitate the mode of Japanese BL Drama (Japanese seiyuu agents always base on BL novels, comics and game-adapted scripts to invite excellent male voice actors for the BL CDs or tapes, which are divided into full-age and non-full age styles.) to use orphean male voices to produce domestic BL broadcasting dramas and share self-made theme songs on some platforms or forums. Some of those songs were composed by talented enthusiasts, and some are directly adapted from favorite music works.
“At that time I did not think these can make money, and everything was made for the interest of Tanbi.” Said Ms Yang, a “fujoshi”.
Another “fujoshi” Ms Zhou felt nobody can insert between the two heroes in the animation works, even they might not be together at the end. “The heroines are not important to me at all”.
What is Tanbi in the end? We chatted with some Tanbi fans: the majority of respondents are girls with an average age of 25 years old. The length of time they have known Tanbi various that some got interested when watching animations at primary schools, and some started in their high schools and colleges because of chasing stars, playing games, watching novels and so on.
Tanbi, i.e., BL (Boy’s Love) or “Yaoi”, was an exotic originally used in Japanese dubbing and publishing industry. It is pronounced in Japanese as “Yaoi” and in Chinese as “Ji” to describe the love of two men.
Simply speaking, usually Tanbi/BL is the favorite romantic and fantastic theme to women, and the subjects are mostly the pure love of men under a unrealistic or realistic background. The starring males are usually handsome young men or juveniles, manifested as novels, broadcasting dramas, comics and games; Yaoi elements basically refer to reality-oriented materials with sexual description and pursue powerful &handsome muscle males. To most homosexual men, the male characters in Tanbi work are more or less too feminine or idealized, but Yaoi elements are more acceptable.
From the live action point of view, Johnnys (a famous Japanese juvenile boy artist agency, started from the personal interest of the founder and based on the wide acceptance of BL and create idol groups and accumulate lots of female fans from the stars’ trainee time. For instance, Yamashita Tomohisa and Kamenashi Kazuya were sought after by crazy female fans after starring “Nobuta Wo Produce”, and formed a temporary combination of “Shuji and Akira” for series of activities. The mixed clipped videos of them were also spread extensively online.
Ms Wang started it from high school when chasing Japanese and Korean boy groups, such as TVXQ and Arashi. She loved to watch the ambiguous CP interactions among the members of male idol groups through their concerts or MVs, and then read related articles or created new stories by herself.
Domestically, Tanbi in the 1990s just meant that ACGN works with ambiguous interactions among male characters such as “RG Veda” of CLAMP were welcomed within a small circle; Afterwards dramas like “Ni Shui Han” and “Qi Xia Wu Yi(King Cat)” were re-developed into various derivative Doujin works, and witnessed the high popularity of Wallace Chung, Julian Cheung and other actors; Then in the recent years, BL accessed to live action films and stars are eager to join, such as the fresh stars like Timmy Xu and Johnny Huang, or William Chan and Lay Zhang in “The Mystic Nine” in 2016, and Boran Jing and Han Lu in “The Lost Tomb”. Now, “fujoshi” has become a common marketing way to attract young people.
The core of Tanbi songs: still IP and characters
Everyone may be familiar to the big IP “The Lost Tomb”. In addition to the vivid character portrayals, thrilling suspense &adventure storylines, the original /adapted theme songs about the pure love between Zhang Qiling and Wu Xie also appeared on a variety of related radio and music platforms. These songs often correspond to part of the original story, such as “a ten-year-appointment in Changbai Mountain”. Dialogues or monologues of male voice actors (Seiyuu in Japanese) in the melodic gaps to correspond to the poignant or sweet atmosphere make fans unable to stop loving.
Most of the other popular Tanbi songs are mostly the same. Let’s take the well-known online singer Audio Monster’s hot Tanbi song “Guqin Master” as an example. The exquisite lyrics, antique temperament, profound implications and sedate &limpid voice made it an excellent ancientry masterpiece. However, the most important reason to its high popularity is the official introduction of the background and the colourful storylines associated by the netizens.
According to the lyric author Ediq, the prototype of the “Guqin Master” is the historical figure Zhong Yi, who was born in a court musician family of Chu in the Spring and Autumn Period and was the earliest historically recorded guqin player. During the wars between Chu and Zheng, Zhong Yi was captured by Zheng and presented to Jin. Thus, netizens have made up a series of gooey love stories among the king, the master and the guard.
Netizens call this phenomenon of the “male CP mania” making Tanbi works popular as “love generating electricity.” CP fans would always believe their favorite male stars are in love with each other and the clues are from eye contacts to even a subtle little trick. The derivative Tanbi works are a king of fantastic re-creation.
Some ones also get “love” or even the stories between the king and his concubine from the song of “Guqin Master”, which is unrelated to sexual distinction. Conversely, the success of “Guqin Master” is due to the Tanbi elements added into the fine ancientry music, which surprised ordinary ancientry music lovers and Tanbi enthusiasts at the same time.
Lu Xiaoxu (Louis), CEO of an ACGN music company Game Music, has shared with us his opinion about Tanbi Music.
“Most of current Tanbi songs are the derivatives of Tanbi novels, comics and dramas, with ancientry characteristics and Tanbi-preferred lyrics. They may be still considered as a kind of subdivided ancientry music and it is the story details that sparkle.” said Mr. Lu. “Music is only a carrier of this culture and the commercial expansion depends on other factors as well.”
According to Mr. Lu and our discussion with some Tanbi-fanatic “fujoshi” and “fudanshi”, fans love Tanbi Music along with their interests in ancientry songs. However, the problem is “most ancientry songs sound the same”.
Indeed, accompanied by the prosperity of online Tanbi drama IPs someone has posted on Tieba the 2016-2017 drama list of China Wit Media, where many Tanbi oriented IPs like “Ghost Corps (Guifu Bingtuan)”, “Headlines all about Him” appeared. These IP adapted dramas and music works will certainly be more and more standardized. However, compared with the live action works which take the majority concerns, Tanbi songs may not be able to get rid of shoddy, monotonous and boring impressions in a short time, and the users would only consume for their favorite characters and stories.
As for the reasons why these Tanbi stories occurred in the ancientry environment, Ms Yang, who has adapted Tanbi radio dramas, explained the ancient emotions were often obscure and artistic, and the ancient wars or dynasty changes could present the Heroism of the leading men. The descriptions from the fate of the country to the mutual interactions get very much close to female secret illusions and romantic expectation. The brotherliness between straight men would be treated as public unacceptable love in ancient unpredictable situations by girls. This kind of fantasy out of the reality is more in line with the romantic temperament of Tanbi culture.
In fact, although the “fujoshi” audience are often accused of playing tricks on boys, most of them can clarify the fantasy and reality quite well. Hence, they prefer emotional description.
“What will the current teenagers reject?” –Along with cultural booming, will Tanbi songs be just the king of youth carnival or a new VIP on the music market?
During the interviews, we asked the respondents for the future social acceptance of Tanbi songs.
“What will the current teenagers reject?” asked Ms Wang. Meanwhile another Ms Liu said her mother scoffs and insists upon that Tanbi is a morbid. Others also expressed the disagreement of their parents to Tanbi contents. Actually thus is the main critic point that as a kind of fantastic niche culture, it would naturally be related to homosexuality by the misapprehensive public. In recent years the boundary of the two has gradually blurred and many people put Tanbi and Homosexual Equality or even Feminism together.
“Maybe we will be much more inclusive to the Tanbi Mania of young people with age.” said Ms Zhou.
Putting aside the political topic, Tanbi songs as a kind of carrier require to be standardized on the way of commercialization under the existing subculture, such as some adultery or over-rating contents.
As for the nature of music and commercial operation, Mr. Lu mentioned that the current Tanbi and ancientry audience are 95ers who are stickier, more fanatical, but of lower per ticket sales. The concerts of some top ancientry singers only cost two or three hundred Yuan, which have a distance to those of traditional popular stars or musicians, and the audience scale is also narrower. “The present excessive consumption of fans might help create transient internet icons, but longer it will disappear without any new stimulation.”
“Now the ancientry circle is more accustomed to crowd funding, which is easy to make money in a short period only. Finally business should return to focus on sustainable profitability, i.e. the operating capacity behind. Many Tanbi ancientry singers who get some benefits and grow up quite quickly now will disappear pretty easily.”
In short, the current answer to whether Tanbi can be more acceptable is NO. As a niche culture, it may decorate the works of film, TV, music and so on. The much more essential is the preeminent quality of the work itself. High-quality works with Tanbi orientation may be easier to become well-known.
(For the protection of personal information, respondent names are alias.)
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