SPOILERS: up to episode seven of Yuri!!! on ICE
In episode seven of Yuri!!! on ICE something major happened… we finally had a clear reference to US national champion and Olympic skater Johnny Weir.
Not just any reference either. Many characters have embodied aspects of real life skaters as an homage, and Weir’s marriage of technical skating skill and flamboyant aesthetic both on and off the ice looked like it was going to be expressed through hyper-sexualised and somewhat problematic comedy character Christophe Giacometti. In episode seven, however, we saw a flashback to Victor wearing a version of Weir’s swan costume from the 2006 Olympics with a crown of flowers, as seen on Weir in the 2010 Olympics.
— ji@宗介先輩!!!ON ICE✨⛸⛸ (@soukatsu_) 16 November 2016
In other words, Johnny Weir, the subject of homophobic ridicule throughout his elite skating career, is represented in Yuri!!! on ICE by the most accomplished, respected and popular skater in the series so far. While Weir was criticised for being a questionable role model for young male skaters because of how he chose to present himself, Victor is introduced as a role model from episode one, with a track record of playing with his gender expression and complete comfort in his sexuality. Moreover, Yuri’s success relies on successfully incorporating his idol’s performative gender-fluidity and sexuality into his skating
routines programs. To anyone who follows figure skating and is aware of the “controversy” surrounding Weir, this was clearly a staunch statement of support for the LGBTQ+ community in and around figure skating.
Meanwhile, back in anime fandom, people are digging their heels in about whether Victor throwing himself shiny lips first at Yuri in front of thousands of people and international television cameras was actually gay.
Heteronormativity, the assumption that people are and/or should be heterosexual, has been an issue in Yuri!!! on ICE since episode two, when the gender-neutral word ‘koibito’, pointedly used three times in an eight-line conversation, was translated to ‘girlfriend’ in subtitles (a problem repeated in later subtitles but fixed in the dub). This presumably reflected a translator looking at a script without context and deciding that girlfriend is the most natural translation for a conversation between two men. Which, in 99% of sports anime, it would be.
Thing is, it would be in Japanese too. To use ‘koibito’ meaning ‘lover’ instead of the word ‘kanojo’ meaning ‘girlfriend’ is definitely the less ‘natural’ choice for a conversation between two Japanese men, because what is ‘natural’ in this case is heteronormative. The word in Japanese was carefully selected, while the chosen translation was most likely automatic – why wouldn’t two guys discussing relationships be talking about girls? Thus the deliberate ambiguity was lost and the queer subtext erased. But queer anime fans know subtext, and each subsequent episode has provided more and more support for a queer reading of this show.
Six weeks later, Victor and Yuri having crossed new lines of physical closeness and emotional intimacy every week, commenters clinging to a heteronormative interpretation are having to work harder and harder to justify their perspective. Unfortunately, the result is that queer people, finally seeing themselves represented front and centre in a well-regarded and popular anime outside yaoi/yuri labels, are also feeling the pressure to justify their perspectives. Rather than being able to simply enjoy feeling represented, they feel forced to “prove” the validity of that representation with screenshots, diagrams and detailed explanations.
— Adriana DLT (@Akimaro) 17 November 2016
Since starting this site I’ve heard various forms of “Anime fandom is inclusive enough already!” and “Anime fans are discriminated against too!” Right now we’re getting a glimpse of how far anime fandom has to go before becoming truly inclusive, how privilege is a problem within fandom as much as outside it. Queer fans are expected to expend their time and energy ensuring their experiences are not erased by a fandom that claims to be inclusive. Heterosexual viewers hold this expectation from a position of privilege, without any similar burden of proof.
These expectations of queer anime fans are in line with the types of microaggressions in which straight people demand LGBTQ+ people perform their identity before it will be acknowledged. These include transgender people being asked about the state of their genitals, sceptical comments that a gay person “doesn’t seem gay”, or the assumption that bisexual people are less queer when they are with a partner of the opposite sex. Out of sight, out of mind, and if queer people don’t show you their queerness then maybe they’re not actually queer, right? If we didn’t physically see Victor and Yuri’s lips touching then how can we possibly know it happened?
In this light, queer relationships can never be presented as art; they must always be presented as evidence. In Hays Code Hollywood it was enough to show a man and a woman smoking in a bedroom, and in 1997 everyone understood that a handprint on a steamed up window meant Jack and Rose were having sex, but no such visual shortcuts are permitted for gay pairings. Victor’s arm obscuring where his lips meet Yuri’s cannot possibly be an artistic decision; either we see them kiss or there was no kiss. Disagree? Prove it. Never mind that obscuring a kiss is completely consistent with the show’s storytelling style so far, leaving deliberate information gaps and inviting viewers to read between the lines. Pics or it didn’t happen.
Since the episode aired I have seen raw, vulnerable reactions from LGBTQ+ fans openly stating how deeply it affected them to see queer subtext made text, how they hoped it would be seen by young people who aren’t yet old enough to feel comfortable with their identities, how much seeing such a moment would have meant to them at that age. Why on earth would anyone in our fandom actively seek to reduce such an impact?
On the plus side, it’s only episode seven and their relationship has been progressing steadily. Straight viewers demanding indisputable evidence of gayness may not have to wait long before getting exactly what they asked for. A prediction, though: even if such evidence shows up, these people’s most common responses will be less “Guess I was wrong, good for you!” and more “Looks like they ruined a decent anime just to pander to fujoshi/SJWs”. Anime fandom is not as inclusive as anime fans want to believe it is, and the sooner we acknowledge this the more effectively we can work to address it.
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