What are Yuri and Shoujoai, anyway?
The terms yuri and shoujoai are often used to refer to anime or manga series that portray romantic or sexual relationships between girls or women. The history of these terms are a little fuzzy, though. And while some people use these terms as if they have clear distinctions, or as if they are interchangeable, the truth is that both are somewhat fluid, forming a broad continuum. of definition and understanding. In other words, what each term means has a lot to do with who is using the term - and what they think it means.
There are three potential etymologies for the use of the term yuri to denote female/female relationships as depicted in manga and anime. The first is that so many characters in yuri manga were called "Yuri" or "Yuriko," that it became a kind of cliche' for the genre itself. It is also possible that the name came about because one of the most common early pairings in hentai manga were Kei and Yuri from Dirty Pair. In addition, in 1971, lesbians in Japan were termed "the lily tribe" by the editor of Barazoku, a gay men's magazine - bara is Japanese for "rose" and yuri is Japanese for the lily. Hence, gay men were barazoku, or "rose tribe" while lesbians were yurizoku, the lily tribe. These added up to a term with several plausible etymologies - but no one actual source. At Yuricon we believe that they *all* contributed to the origin of the concept.
Here in the west, the term yuri is often, but not exclusively, used to represent explicit sexual relations between women. Shoujoai (Girls' Love) is a pretty new term, for all that it's a pretty old concept. The term shoujoai was created as an analog for shounenai (Boys' Love). The term was most likely created by an American fan and isn't really used in Japan - although they know what we mean when we use it. Shoujoai is often used to refer to romantic love between girls - sometimes with sex, sometimes not. The emphasis tends to be on the romantic over the sexual, but this is a convention that was made up by Americans and has no meaning at all in Japan.
For five years, we at Yuricon have been working to define yuri as something more than just porn for men, since that definition ignores an entire body of truly excellent lesbian-themed works by and for girls and women - not to mention the non-pornographic works by men. To this end, we at Yuricon would like to offer this definition of yuri:
Yuri can be used to describe any anime or manga series (or other thing, i.e., fan fiction, film, etc.) that shows intense emotional connection, romantic love or physical desire between women. Yuri is not a genre confined by the gender or age of the audience, but by the *perception* of the audience. We can, if we want to, easily differentiate between shounen yuri - written by men for a primarily male audience; shoujo yuri - written by women for a primarily female audience and; what we at Yuricon like to think of as "pure" yuri - written by lesbians for a lesbian audience...but it's still all yuri.
In short, yuri is any story with women in love (or lust) with other women.
And there you have it - Yuricon is all about celebrating anime, manga and doujinshi that show girls/women who love other girls/women no matter who the author is, or who the story is for. As long as we, the taku-rezu, the lesbian fans of anime and manga, see some part of our lives reflected in a character or series, it's yuri no matter who drew it. As we like to say on the Yuricon Mailing List, Yuricon is about the celebration of girls/women in love - and we don't care who brought the drinks!
**Special thanks to resident yuri scholar Sabdha Charlton for her endless and fascinating research into the origins of yuri and shoujoai and Rica Takashima for her energy and passion in promoting yuri, and Yuricon, in Japan.**