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I Never Thought I’d Be Talking About Yaoi Paddles After All These Years, but Now There’s a Kickstarter Intellectual Property Dispute Over Them

Hello mid-2000s my old friend...

SK8

Every now and then when I go on Twitter(dot)com, someone from the anime convention days of yesteryear tells the tale of yaoi paddles, an item that folks today tend to look at and go, “They allowed that at public events?!” Some people have fond memories of them, but for the most part, they are hailed as peak cringe on the convention scene because of how attendees would run around using them without consent.

Recently, a Kickstarter was launched to resurrect these mid-2000s relics for nostalgia’s sake, and again, some folks did get a good laugh out of it, but the general consensus whenever someone threatens to say yaoi paddle five times in a mirror is, “Some things are best left in the past.”

In a plot twist that I couldn’t have predicted, the Kickstarter was taken down due to an intellectual property dispute from the original seller of the paddles. So I’m going to break everything down, from what a yaoi paddle even is, why it stopped being sold, and how we’re at a point where folks are arguing about the intellectual property of something that started out as a joke gift to a friend. Major shout out to Anime News Network’s Kim Morrissy for their coverage and this very in-depth video from YouTuber Red Bard.

What was the yaoi paddle? Where did it even come from?

As someone who has been attending anime conventions since 2002, there are echoes in the back of my mind palace of a vendor screaming, “GET YOUR RED HOT YAAAAAOIIIIII,” and seeing boxes full of hot, steamy, plastic-wrapped boy-on-boy action. But along with the piles of Gundam Wing doujinshi (a major weakness for teenage me) was a curious item that looked like a boat oar and had the words YAOI printed on it.

The yaoi paddle was exactly what it sounded like. One side was the “softcore side” and the other was the “hardcore side.” There were other paddles released along with it, such as the yuri paddle (girl/girl relationships), the seme paddle (the “top” in the relationship), and the uke paddle (the “bottom” in the relationship), but the one everyone remembers the most is the yaoi one.

The origin of the paddle isn’t nearly as nefarious as one might think considering the end of its legacy is “banned from conventions due to unwarranted harassment.” As seen in this deviantART post from 2008, an artist by the name of Akicafe made the paddle as a gift to their friend, the owner of the company Hen Da Ne. “It was meant as a joke since he and I are friends and over 33% of his business relies on the sale of yaoi manga and doujinshi,” Akicafe said. “His business model includes yelling out catchphrases to passersby in con dealer rooms (such as “geeeeet your red hot yaoi books right here!” and “hot boys in tight pants right here”).”

Hen Da Ne’s owner liked the gift so much that he would go on to mass-produce it. Initially, Akicafe said that this was done without permission but later clarifies that Hen Da Ne’s owner went on to buy the mass production rights of the paddle.

“He never stole the invention. He bought the rights for mass production from me. It was originally a gift that snowballed into a nitch of convention wierdness and fandom.

The production rights though never stated the amount that he could make. I was assuming he would make like 50 or 100 of them, whereas he went on to make tens of thousands (I believe). That’s where I was minorly miffed about it.”

Kim Morrissy of Anime News Network writes, “Hen Da Ne representative Jordan Vieira told ANN that the story is ‘basically as that testimony stands,’ emphasizing that ‘it is legally our design.’ He also noted that the number of paddles the company produced was in the hundreds rather than the tens of thousands.”

Why isn’t it being sold anymore?

In that deviantART post from Akicafe, they reveal that they aren’t a fan of what yaoi paddles ended up becoming. “So if asked if I was for or against the idea, I’d actually have to say against,” they said. “When I thought of a funny joke for a friend, I never wanted it to turn into a big con staple that people would like or hate, and now has ballooned into hundreds of people nationwide spanking congoers with yaoi paddles.”

There is nothing wrong with consensual spanking, of course, but the keyword there is consensual. Because imagine, if you will, walking around a convention, minding your own business when someone smacks you in the butt with a paddle. Believe it or not, this is a thing that was happening with yaoi paddles (they predate movements like Cosplay is Not Consent). Now I’m not saying everyone who bought a paddle did this, but the fact that there are reports of it happening at all is troubling. Red Bard’s video highlights quotes from convention staffers who had to confiscate the paddles because some attendees were paddling people without consent.

Yaoi Paddles
Yaoi Paddles
Yaoi Paddles

Yes, even an entire convention with “yaoi” in its name took issue with the paddles. Red Bard’s video goes on to say that Yuri Con did as well, but the first instance that the vendor, Hen Da Ne, recalled being approached about the paddle ban was Sakura-Con 2007. See, Sakura-Con had decided to ban the paddles, but Hen Da Ne had no idea this decision had been made and showed up with paddles. Hen Da Ne would later be approached by staff after an attendee hit someone with the paddle.

But it wasn’t another attendee or even convention staff that got hit, it was a venue employee.

Hen Da Ne was told to stop selling the paddles on the spot, and in the years that followed, other conventions would follow suit, not just on the vendor side of things, but the attendee side. By 2010, according to Red Bard, the paddles were pretty much phased out of the convention scene here in the U.S. Vendors could no longer sell them and no one was allowed to carry them around.

Hen Da Ne would go on to tell Red Bard the following:

At first, our response was, ‘well we’ll sell them with the idea that as soon as you bought it, it had to go in your car or hotel.’ This worked for a short time until conventions considered them ‘weapons’ and we had to deal with a whole new process of either applying as a weapons vendor (not an easy thing) or dropping them altogether. So we dropped them from production and from cons. The last con we sold paddles at was in 2011 in Denmark.

The Kickstarter and the Intellectual Property Dispute

Fast forward, like, way forward, to February 25, 2022. An artist by the name of Henry AL launched a Kickstarter to revive the yaoi paddle. Despite its troubling history, the Kickstarter aimed to bring the paddle back as a novelty item with AL urging backers to NOT go around smacking booties without consent. “We had a nice thing, and it took a lot of work to bring it back, so let’s make sure to keep it wholesome.”

Before we even delve into the legality of it all, the main issue I have with this idea is the fact that there’s no telling whether or not people are actually going to stick to that whole “keep it wholesome” thing, especially when you take into account that the yaoi paddle started off as a novelty item in the first place. It just seems like a bad idea to try and put something into production that stopped being produced because it was banned at events for harassment—and that’s not just events here in the U.S., as Red Bard’s video talks about how other countries would go on to ban them from their conventions, too.

Of course, you can still find memorabilia of the paddle via stickers, enamel pins, and smaller items courtesy of places like Etsy, but the actual paddle itself stopped being sold for a reason. Hell, Hen Da Ne had even tried the “scouts honor” approach of “take this back to your room ASAP” before giving up.

I know there’s nothing stopping someone from making their own paddle and releasing it, it just seems like a recipe for disaster knowing the history of it. But here we are, and Hen Da Ne has not only spoken against it but the Kickstarter has been taken down because of an intellectual property dispute they sent against Henry AL.

According to Morrissy’s article for Anime News Network, Hen Da Ne’s description of the copyrighted material states, “A wooden paddle exactly the same as ones previous sold and copyrighted by Hen Da Ne! Inc. These paddles are banned from nearly every convention and are harmful to our business operations if sold in their current form and configuration.”

Henry AL would go on to tell Anime News Network that Hen Da Ne, “can’t forbid everyone from making another yaoi paddle for the rest of the time, only to not produce paddles themselves.” AL then would link to the deviantART post I cited above from the original creator of the paddle, stating that Hen Da Ne isn’t the one who made the paddle first. This, of course, is true, but the original creator did go on to say that Hen Da Ne did buy the rights to produce them.

Then there’s this bit from the Anime News Network article.

Henry AL additionally insisted that he would have bought paddles from Hen Da Ne if they were available, and that his relaunch is “meant to just be for a keeps sake no more dangerous than a wooden spoon in the kitchen,” arguing that “No one is actually going to be able to bring a paddle to a convention.”

I’m not gonna pretend like I speak legal terminology in regards to who has the right to do what, but I think a vendor has the right to be concerned that someone is trying to produce an item that they are known for selling, especially if that item has been banned at events all across the globe. “We feel that this version of the Yaoi paddle should stay in the past where it belongs. If people want to make more, great, but not with our specific design,” is what Hen Da Ne representative Jordan Vieira told Anime News Network. “We don’t want, nor need that association or blame if they start being used or brought to conventions.”

Also? If the argument is that Hen Da Ne isn’t the original creator and, therefore, has no say, shouldn’t we be keeping the original creator’s feelings in mind, here? The original creator who came out and said that they never meant for yaoi paddles to become this infamous thing in the con scene? Because it was meant to be a joke gift and nothing more?

If someone, personally, wants to have this thing as some sort of keepsake, couldn’t they just make it themselves instead of running a campaign that asks people for money to put the item into production AND send it to others who will use it however they want? What if one of the backers sneaks it into a convention? What then?

All and all, I’m sure there are folks out there who have fun, mid-2000s memories of yaoi paddles but knowing that they were instruments of harassment toward congoers makes me think that they should probably stay in the mid-2000s. If you truly want that piece of nostalgia, you can make it for yourself instead of trying to run an entire campaign that recreates a product that isn’t sold anymore because of the harm it’s done.

(Image: Studio Bones/Hiroko Utsumi)

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Briana (she/her - bisexual) is trying her best to cosplay as a responsible adult. Her writing tends to focus on the importance of representation, whether it’s through her multiple book series or the pieces she writes. After de-transforming from her magical girl state, she indulges in an ever-growing pile of manga, marathons too much anime, and dedicates an embarrassing amount of time to her Animal Crossing pumpkin patch (it's Halloween forever, deal with it Nook)