And kanji with manga
Thursday, September 21, 2017

bara 薔薇 - Meaning in Japanese, Gay Anime Genre, Term Origin

In Japanese, bara 薔薇 means "rose," the flower. In the English anime fandom, bara typically refers to a genre of gay drawn pornography (hentai) featuring muscular, overweight, or hairy men. It's also spelled バラ, ばら.

Marie, マリー, fantasizes about Lloyd Belladonna, ロイド・ベラドンナ, having a gay relationship.
Right: Marie, マリー
Left: Lloyd Belladonna, ロイド・ベラドンナ
Anime: Tatoeba Last Dungeon Mae no Mura no Shounen ga Joban no Machi de Kurasu You na Monogatari, たとえばラストダンジョン前の村の少年が序盤の街で暮らすような物語 (Episode 9)

Rose

The word bara 薔薇 in Japanese normally means "rose," the flower. The term for the color "rose" would instead be:

  • aka

    Red.
  • bara-iro
    薔薇色
    Rose-colored, as in having the color of a rose flower.
  • hada-iro
    肌色
    Skin-colored.
  • momo-iro
    桃色
    Peach-colored.
  • pinku
    ピンク
    Pink.

Kanji

The kanji of the word bara 薔薇 are uncommon, not part of the jouyou kanji 常用漢字, consequently, the word is sometimes spelled with katakana instead, as bara バラ.

Etymology

The origin of bara, "rose," is the word ibara 茨, "thorny shrub."(news.goo.ne.jp)

  • {toge no aru} teiboku no soushou wa ibara to iu no desu ga, sono ibara ga mijikaku natte "bara" ni narimashita
    トゲのある低木の総称は茨(イバラ)というのですが、その茨が短くなって『バラ』になりました
    The general term for shrubbery [that] {has horns} is ibara, this ibara got shortened and became "bara."

Gay Genre

The gay genre bara targets a male, homosexual audience, which makes it different from BL (yaoi やおい, shounen-ai), which are gay genres targeting a female, heterosexual audience.

Basically, BL is gay romance like in a shoujo 少女 manga, where girls are drawn beautifully, like princesses, and guys are drawn like princes, except the prince doesn't go after a princess, he goes after another prince, instead.

As a consequence of this art style, the male characters generally look like some super model, or lead singer of a popular boy band. Stylish, slender, no facial or body hair, is there to make the girls (or guys, in this case) hearts' flutter, going dokidoki, and so on.

Typically one guy is more feminine than the other, timid, shorter, weaker, crossdresses, or something like that, to make clear who is "guy" and the "girl," "top" and "bottom," seme and uke 攻め受け, of the gay couple.

By contrast, bara tends to be more manly in general, with body and facial hair, with muscles, body fat, and so on. It will avoid heteronormative stereotypes like there is a "girl" in a gay couple—it's two guys.

Alex Louis Armstrong, アレックス・ルイ・アームストロング and Sig Curtis シグ・カーティス doing a "handshake," akushu 握手.
Left: Sig Curtis シグ・カーティス
Right: Alex Louis Armstrong, アレックス・ルイ・アームストロング
Anime: Fullmetal Alchemist, Hagane no Renkinjutsushi 鋼の錬金術師 (2003) (Episode 30, Censored)

The best-known bara manga is probably the source of the yaranaika やらないか meme.

そう思っていると突然その男は僕の見ている目の前でツナギのホックをはずしはじめたのだ・・・! やらないか
Manga: Kuso Miso Technique, くそみそテクニック
  • Context: how very straight, I mean, direct of him.
  • sou omotte-iru to
    totsuzen sono otoko wa
    {boku no mite-iru} me no mae de
    tsunagi no hokku wo
    hazushi-hajimeta no da...!

    そう思っていると突然その男は僕の見ている目の前でツナギのホックをはずしはじめたのだ・・・!
    While [I] was thinking like that, that man, in front of [my] eyes [while] {I was seeing [him]}, started undoing the hook of [his] jumpsuit.
  • yaranaika
    やらないか
    Won't [you] do [it]?
    • The verb yaru やる means "to do," and "to have sex," among other meanings.

The term bara as a genre is normally only used in the English fandom. It seems this term exists in Japanese, too, but normally bara comics are instead called:

  • gei komikku (geikomi)
    ゲイコミック (ゲイコミ)
    Gay comics. Gaycomi (abbreviation).
  • gei manga
    ゲイ漫画
    (same meaning.)

Nevertheless, gei manga and bii-eru manga BL漫画 are still different things, e.g. a girl won't like bara just because she likes BL.

Sometimes, BL is mistakenly thought of as synonymous with bara.

This happens because yuri 百合, "lily," is a lesbian genre.

BL stands for Boys' Love, so there's a derived counterpart for lesbian fiction called GL, Girls' Love, however, while gay fiction is normally called BL, lesbian fiction is normally called yuri, not GL.

This makes people assume that "lily" is some sort of flower language for GL, and that "rose" is a flower counterpart for BL.

マルちゃん描いてる本もバラかユリやもんな アウトドアでばらすなーー ばら?ゆり?
Manga: Inari, Konkon, Koi Iroha. いなり、こんこん、恋いろは。 (Chapter 13)
  • Context: Marutamachi Chika 丸太町ちか supports her friend's lesbian romance.
  • {Maru-chan φ kaiteru} hon mo bara ka yuri ya mon na
    マルちゃん描いてる本もバラユリやもんな
    [Well,] the books [that] {Maru-chan draws} is bara or yuri too, right?
    • ya mon - same as da mono だもの, used to give a reason for something, in this case, it makes sense for Maru, who draws lesbian fiction, to be supportive of lesbian romance.
  • autodoa de barasu na--
    アウトドアばらすなーー
    Don't [tell everyone] outdoors!!
  • bara? yuri?
    ばらゆり
    Rose? Lily?
    • The friend doesn't know these weird flower-based terms!

Sometimes when you have a yuri-like scene with two girls in anime, lilies are drawn in the background.

An example of "lilies," yuri 百合, used as a visual pun for lesbian romance.
Left: Moritani Hiyori 森谷ヒヨリ
Right: Kotoura Haruka 琴浦春香
Anime: Kotoura-san 琴浦さん (Episode 5, Censored)

Generally this only happens when a character is fantasizing about the relationship of two other characters. When it's two guys, and a fujoshi 腐女子 fantasizing about other characters' possible homosexual relationship, then roses are drawn in the background instead.

Keith Claes, キース・クラエス and Nicol Ascart, ニコル・アスカルト, pictured roses in the background, implying a gay relationship.
Left: Keith Claes, キース・クラエス
Right: Nicol Ascart, ニコル・アスカルト
Anime: Otome Game no Hametsu Flag Shika Nai Akuyaku Reijou ni Tensei Shiteshimatta…, 乙女ゲームの破滅フラグしかない悪役令嬢に転生してしまった… (Episode 3, Stitch)
  • Context: roses are used in spite of such scenes being closer to BL, targeted at a female audience, than bara, targeted at a gay audience.

Genre Origin

Most likely, bara as a genre comes from the name of a certain gay magazine called bara-zoku 薔薇族, "rose tribe," first published in 1971.

This was the magazine where Kuso Miso Technique (the yaranaika manga) was published, for example.

According to its editor, the word bara was used because:(news.nicovideo.jp)

  • Girisha shinwa ka nani-ka de "bara no shita de otoko doushi ga chigiri wo musubu" to iu hanashi ga aru
    ギリシャ神話か何かで『薔薇の下で男同士が契りを結ぶ』という話がある
    In Greek mythology or something like that there's a story saying "men exchange vows under a rose."

I'm not sure if he means this, but it could be in reference to King Laius who apparently had affairs with boys under rose trees. Although Laius is a well-known pederast that got cursed for raping one of his male pupils, I don't really know if he did such thing under a rose tree or not.

Historically, there have been some gay-related works created before bara-zoku with the word bara in their titles.(wdic.org)

  • Bara no Souretsu 薔薇の葬列, Funeral Parade of Roses, is a 1969 movie related to gay culture.

However, I think it's more likely that both bara and yuri as genres originate from bara-zoku instead.

The magazine had a column for lesbian readers, called yuri-zoku no heya 百合族の部屋, "lily's tribe room," named such because lilies are the symbol of narcissism.(news.nicovideo.jp)

The term yuri 百合, "lily," is a genre of lesbian manga because of this. After all, this was where "lily" was first associated with female homosexuality in Japanese culture, so it's unlikely to have originated anywhere else.

It makes sense to think that, similarly, the reason gay-targeted fiction is called bara is also because of bara-zoku, and not because of some gay-related work that just happened to have the word "rose" in its title.

Presumably, the magazine published content for gays, including gay comics for gay men, consequently, gay comics became associated with the brand bara-zoku, and thus the term bara started being used to refer to them as a genre. The west loaned this terminology while Japan kind of forgot about it.

References

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