Last year, Fuji TV announced the launch of a boys-love anime label called “Blue Lynx.” Since then, the label has produced three anime film titles: Twittering Birds Never Fly: The Clouds Gather, Given, and Umibe no Étranger. Anime News Network spoke to producer Yuka Okayasu about Blue Lynx's involvement in those titles and the current landscape of the BL anime market in Japan.
Could you explain the origins of the Blue Lynx label?
These days, anime isn't just for so-called “otaku”; you can see that its appeal is broadening in the mainstream as well. That's a very good thing for the anime business, but on the other hand, I feel that there are fewer niche properties that hardcore fans will passionately support. With that in mind, Fuji TV established the Blue Lynx label out of a desire to not only pour our energy into major titles but to also create cutting-edge new works in genres that speak deeply to the core audience.
As for why we decided to specialize in BL, BL comics may be extremely popular in Japan, but there aren't many titles that get screen adaptations. Within the Japanese anime market where the popular original works to adapt into anime are fiercely scrambled for, we decided that BL would be a very worthy challenge to bring to the screen.
Although Blue Lynx has only handled three projects so far, the diversity in the types of relationships depicted across the three works is very notable. What sort of works do you want Blue Lynx to represent?
I want to create anime with great stories and animation quality. Even if you were to take out the BL element, they would still stand on their own as great works of entertainment.
When you read a BL manga, what sort of aspects do you look out for that make you think, “This would be ideal to adapt into an anime”?
Twittering Birds Never Fly: The Clouds Gather, Given the Movie, and Umibe no Étranger have different vibes, but I think that what they have in common is that there is a proper logic to their love stories. Each work has their own adorning elements – Twittering Birds Never Fly: The Clouds Gather has noir, while Given has music – but those things are merely window dressing, while the love story is the main course. We're trying to ensure that the love story excels.
I'm a fan of ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept., Space Dandy, and other things that Shingo Natsume provided direction for, so he was the first person I contacted. From there, he invited Studio Durian, Kiyotaka Oshiyama, and kensuke ushio. Through Natsume-san's leadership, they were able to make the animation with a wonderful team.
You've said before that one of the reasons you want to make anime films is because of the freedom to depict sex in a way that's closer to the original work. Are there other reasons for you to choose film over television anime?
Making anime as a film absolutely allows you to exert a degree of freedom. I'm not particularly fixated on spicy content, but if it's necessary to convey the essential messages of the original work, then I think it's also necessary for the anime to have those spicy depictions. On the other hand, like with Given, the way you start the story with a television series, to be developed to a film, is sometimes effective depending on the content of the original work.
What sort of target audience are you thinking of for the films? Fans of the original work? Casual theatergoers?
The biggest target is the fans of each of the original works. And one of the purposes of creating the Blue Lynx label is to encourage the fans we get from each anime to become fans of the next work.
How much has the BL manga market in Japan changed compared to five years ago?
I am not an editor, so I can't speak about the changes in the manga market. But when it comes to screen adaptations, I think that there's been a very pronounced surge in interest in the past five years. Television stations felt the huge impact of Ossan's Love in 2018. At our company, the 2018 streaming series Pornographer was a hit, it's going to get a film version next year. Even a few years ago, it might have been hard to get a pitch for a BL anime with sexual depictions accepted within the company. However, due to the aforementioned circumstances in recent years, Blue Lynx's ambitious pitches have been favorably accepted within the company. Compared to five years ago, I think that there is more attention on the BL genre for its high potential when it comes to screen adaptations.
In the United States, BL and yuri manga are often marketed a bit differently compared to Japan. The works are often placed in the “LGBT” category. What do you think of this cultural difference?
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I think that this may be a peculiarity to Japan. This is my personal analysis, but over several decades ago, Japanese manga – particularly shojo manga – often had some characters of the same sex appear who were more than friends but less than lovers. For example, there were things like Card Captor Sakura and Sailor Moon. Maybe Japanese people who were into that fiction as children were more or less fond of “the deep spiritual connection between two people of the same sex” (which isn't always necessarily homosexual love). I believe that some of those people went on to like BL and yuri as an extension of that. Due to those circumstances, it was extremely natural and popular to see profound relationships between people of the same sex in anime and manga before “LGBT” became a commonplace word in Japan. I wonder if this explains the difference in the categorizations between Japan and the United States.
It feels like these days live-action BL dramas are getting more popular in Japan. Do you have any favorites?
I watch a ton of BL dramas, and not just from Japan. Lately, I've been really fond of the Thai series 2gether. Also, this isn't BL, but I watch BBC's Sherlock series over and over.
Finally, what sort of works can we expect to see from Blue Lynx in the future?
Unfortunately, I don't have anything to announce right now. However, since establishing Blue Lynx, we've received tons of messages from fans outside of Japan. This has made a strong impression on us, and I'm very interested in making anime out of BL comics that will be accepted even outside of Japan. I really appreciate your messages.