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[personal profile] type_wild
I called Heart of Thomas the grandfather of mothern BL, and the father is, in our context, Maki Murakami's Gravitation.


First things first, I know very little about BL beyond having read some big name titles, and even less about eighties and nineties such. I know I love Gravitation for reasons that have little to do with quality and more to do with how parts of it made me howl with laughter when I was nineteen. What I know about Gravitation outside of the flat-out canon on paper is an interview I once read and haven't been able to track down since, where Murakami said something to the effect of that she wanted to make "a kind of comic that the BL genre hadn't seen before". Anonymous people on the internet have also claimed that Gravi is

a) a parody of eighties/nineties BL
b) a very obvious ripoff of the subjects of the RPS doujin Murakami made before Gravi

Whatever the truth is, it certainly seems like Gravitation did not rose from the void, but was built on things that happened before it.

Gravi, if you're reading this and are too young to remember, is a 1996 manga and was - I'm told - the first BL anime to ever be broadcast on TV, in 2000 (with earlier animated BL works being, one assumes, OVAs only). It was also one of the BL flagships in the west, as Tokyopop published it along with FAKE in the first half of the noughties and the anime was dubbed around the same time. There was a fandom, and there was a huge backlash against the "abusive uke-seme bullshit" that I'll probably write something about someday - suffice it to say that that accusation displays an unfortunate reliance on visual clues and a corresponding lack of reading comprehension.

Most of all, Gravitation is a dramedy BL of very debatable quality. As noted above, it is allegedly a parody of its genre. I wouldn't know, but what is certain is that it has a lot of plot points in common with The Heart of Thomas, so let's talk about that.

WITH HUGE SPOILERS FOR BOTH SERIES FROM THIS POINT ON

This is my thesis: Eiri Yuki is the Juli Bauernfeind who didn't meet his Erich Frühling, and whose Thomas survived into a man twisted and destructive in his futile attempts at saving him.

Let me point out that the ONE editing error I found in Heart of Thomas was a speech bubble where someone called Juli "Yuri" (if you know a bit of German, it's no surprise that Kyo Kara Maoh saw that the boy reincarnated from a "Julia" and named after the hottest month of the year in a German-speaking world ended up as "Yuri" in Japanese). SO YEAH, I'm kinda seeing that "Yuri Erich" became "Yuki Eiri" twenty years later. Frühling means "spring", Yuki means "snow", and when they dubbed Digimon Savers to English, "Tohma H. Norrstein"'s name was changed to Thomas, come on.

Eiri and Juli both have very similar backstories: They're both racially marked as outsiders (Juli is rejected by his grandmother because he inherited his Greek father's dark complexion; Eiri was bullied because of his blond hair and brown eyes). They were are both sent away from home, and with Eiri it is explicity stated that the reason was to get him away from the bullying. And while away from home, they're both attracted to an older person - for Juli, an upperclassman at school; for Eiri, his tutor - who betrays them. Eiri's tutor tried to rape him but sold the first go to his friends; Juli's upperclassman and friends locked him up and tormented him during school break, in what isn't explicitly stated as rape but certainly looks like it's coded as such. They are both radically changed persons after this trauma, though the fallout is different: Eiri "escapes" his situation by killing his tutor, an act which haunts him for years. Juli merely rejects all affection and attempts at help, which drives Thomas to his ill-adviced suicide. Both suffer immense amounts of guilt and self-hatred over what happened, blaming themselves because of their attraction to their attackers. And both very much shape their new sense of self around the knowledge that they have lost an innocence that other boys still maintain, and that they cannot ever be healed because this innocence can never be restored.

And for them both, the way out of the place the assault left them is shown by an innocent outsider striding into the wreckage of their lives with no idea what went wrong, but who loves them and who demands that they end the bullshit now, you stupid jerk. Also note the similarities to how Juli and Eiri respond to these healings: Juli leaves Erich and Oskar behind, enrolling in a seminary to become a priest. Eiri dumps Shuichi by going back to take up as a monk at his father's temple (except Shuichi, of course, isn't a fourteen year old schoolboy and will have none of that on his watch, thank you very much).

There are two obvious points contradicting this hypothesis, though: AFAIK, there's nothing tying Shuichi Shindo's name into the Erich-Juli-Thomas fiasco, which there would ideally be if he's to be read as an Erich with the room to claim Juli for himself. In fact, within that scenario, Shuichi should've been "Eiri", and "Yuki" (a nome de plume taken in memory of the tutor) should've been some play on Siegfried (Juli's attacker). There is how Eiri compares Shuichi to the person he himself was before his assault, which has some smatterings of the whole "looking like a person of the past that I'm trying to escape" a la Juli--> Erich/Thomas, and even more explicitly so in the weirdass ending of the manga where Eiri apparently starts comparing Shuichi to Kitazawa (the tutor), which takes it to that "replacing the beloved dead with the living" thing that is so thoroughly rejected in regards to Erich--> Thomas.

Secondly, the person who is made to stay with Juli after his assault, who wield some special degree of power that others around him don't, who nurses Juli through his trauma, who is the only person who is in on the secret of what truly happened and who loves him but never confesses because he knows that love cannot be returned... that person isn't Thomas, but Oskar. Now, there is that whole bit about Thomas' suicide being an extremely ill-adviced attempt at saving Juli from his own emotions, which could certainly be compared to Tohma's guilt for failing to protect Eiri from his tutor and his subsequent destructively unhelpful attempts at protecting Eiri. If anything, Gravi conflates Oskar and Thomas, the two outsiders pining for the suffering MC but whose love remain unrequited, into Tohma.

So what are we supposed to take home from this? I certainly don't think it is coincidence that Gravitation pretty much just re-tells the backstory of Thomas to the exact detail here. Whether that was an unconscious influence or an intentional riff on a genre classic, however, is not for me to judge. But presuming that Murakami really DID do it on purpose, then Gravi becomes the fix-it fic to Tohmas' chaste, "spiritual" love. In Gravitation, we get an Erich who demands that his Juli stays with him, and loves him in the gay way and not just in the ethereal, non-sexual affection between hardly pubertal schoolboys. Our topic is no longer the "heart", the loss of the "angel's wings", but the inescapable attraction between phyiscal objects.

(and then shed a quiet tear for the train wreck Gravitation eventually turned into, but that's a tale for another day)

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