Bishounen for those not in the know, is a Japanese word meaning, literally, “beautiful boy.” While it used to refer primarily to an ideal of a youthful and pretty boy, it has now expanded to refer to an entire character archetype within anime and other media: a beautiful adult male with fine features, long and/or well-styled hair, and a generally refined demeanor. While they’re most often found in anime for girls and women, such as Kyou Kara Maoh and Fushigi Yuugi, there are plenty of examples in boys’ anime (such as Gundam) as well as video games (Final Fantasy VII is famous for its stable of specimens).
I love bishounen. I squee like a mad thing over them. And I’m not alone. There are women of all ages that respond to this character archetype. Let’s face it, there’s something about these men that is devastatingly attractive. So, if you’re a guy looking for love, what can you learn from these characters besides hairstyle ideas and snazzy fashion sense? Here’s my perspective as a bishounen fangirl.
1) Femininity is not a bad thing!
One complaint I often hear from male geeks is that these sorts of characters are androgynous or even effeminate compared to the more rugged heroes in Western comics and games. My answer is… what’s wrong with that? Sure, there are plenty of bishounen that are more “feminine” than we might be used to; perhaps they have particularly delicate features, or a soft voice, or maybe just don’t behave in a “macho” fashion. But speaking for myself, I’d rather go out with a long-haired and willowy bishounen with an affection for tea than any of the muscle-bound supermen I find in Western comics.
Contrary to what you may think, not all women demand ultra-manliness in our men. Some of us actually like a bit of a feminine side, for a variety of reasons. This doesn’t mean you have to start wearing makeup or growing your hair out. It just means that A) you don’t have to sprain yourself in trying to be a MACHO MACHO MAN, and B) you don’t have to be ashamed if you like something “girly” or behave in a non-macho way. Honestly, we don’t mind! In fact, some of us find it kind of hot.
Besides, who’s really to say what counts as “masculine” and “feminine” anyway?
Examples: Most bishounen, but special note goes to Nuriko from Fushigi Yuugi, Zoisite of Sailor Moon, and James from Pokemon.
2) Confidence is sexy…
One of the most striking qualities a bishounen can possess is effortless confidence. A little bit of pride and self-possession can be incredibly attractive, whether you’re a military general, a medieval Chinese emperor or a silver-haired megalomaniac. A bit of catlike strutting, a smirk or two, and you’re well on your way. Note, however, that this is not the same as bravado, i.e. “I am the greatest thing ever, now listen while I talk endlessly about myself!” That’s a turnoff, unless you’re the aforementioned megalomaniac and you’re discussing your plans for world domination. Then you get a pass, but only if your evil outfit is appropriately swanky.
The most successful bishounen don’t need to make a big song and dance about themselves; their relaxed and genuine confidence just shines through in the way they look, act and smile. Take a look at that picture up top and tell me that’s not a man who’s comfortable in his own skin. So don’t worry so much about “acting” confident… instead, try to be confident. There is a difference.
Examples: Ilpalazzo from Excel Saga, Nakago from Fushigi Yuugi, Zechs from Gundam Wing, Touga and Akio from Revolutionary Girl Utena, Taishakuten from RG Veda.
3) … but so is vulnerability.
While 50% of bishounen are smirking and strutting their way across the screen, the other 50% go the opposite route; they struggle with themselves, spend all their time soul-searching, and generally tend to carry around varying amounts of angst. Many people accuse these characters of “emo” tendencies, and with some just cause… but there are still plenty of fangirls who flock to these guys. What’s the secret?
Well, the Woobie factor is certainly an element, but in my opinion, the attraction is in emotional vulnerability. In a world that keeps telling men that they have to be hard, manly and macho, it’s nice to see a guy who acknowledges his own fears and confusion, who can feel lonely and need companionship. Having said that, a lot of these characters take things to a very unhealthy extreme (more about that in the next point) so I wouldn’t necessarily hold them up as good role models for behavior. But the next time you find yourself upset or emotionally lost, don’t be in such a hurry to be the big manly man and hide your fears. If Mr. Saves the World A Lot can spare a moment out of his busy schedule to worry about his future, it’s perfectly acceptable for you to do the same.
Examples: Hotohori from Fushigi Yuugi, Kamui and Kakyou from X/1999, Ryuki from The Story of Saiunkoku.
4) Intensity can be cool… in moderation.
There’s something about the act of bishies brooding that drives some girls (myself included) wild. I think the draw of brooding is the intensity of emotion that goes into it. Behind the character’s eyes, there is a lot of powerful and deep feeling, and powerful deep feelings can definitely be attractive. Bishounen tend to be very intense as a rule; most of them have some sort of pet cause, quest or duty that they get very passionate about. That passion can be very compelling, both narratively and romantically. And let’s face it, there’s something very nice about a smoldering glance filled with boiling hot emotions. Rawr.
However, bishounen also show what can happen when intensity, brooding and violent emotions go too far. Between brutal quests for vengeance, creepy obsessions with the object of their affection, and maniacal attempts for world domination, there are plenty of examples of why sometimes it’s a good idea to rein in your feelings a bit, calm down, and try to react in a calm and logical manner. If you let your emotions get too strong or twisted, it can lead to destructive and unhealthy behavior.
So yes, be intense, but keep it cool too. Because otherwise, one minute you’re brooding about how the world is really a dark and depressing place, and the next thing you know you’ve raised an army of the dead to destroy the galaxy and the plucky hero is trying to kill you. Whoops.
Examples: Nakago from Fushigi Yuugi, Light and Mikami from Death Note, Heero from Gundam Wing, Zagato from Magic Knight Rayearth.
Do you like bishounen, and if so, what do you like about them? What sorts of life (and love) lessons can we learn from these characters?