[Feature] Straight guys!!! on ICE

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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. 

 

Comments are open! Please read our comments policy before joining the conversation and contact us if you have any problems. We would particularly like to hear from queer readers who have a view on this or who simply want to share what Yuri!!! on ICE means to them.

 

Amelia is the editor-in-chief of Anime Feminist and a freelance writer for websites and magazines on film, television and anime. She has a degree in Japanese Studies and is working towards a master’s degree in film and television.

When talking about a marginalised community we would much prefer to be able to approach a writer from that community and commission them to write about the subject on our page. To make it possible for us to pay marginalised people to talk about their experiences here, please become a patron for as little as $1 a month! 

  • Katelyn Sweigart

    I read somewhere that the “censoring” of the kiss may be because of the time the show broadcasts in Japan having restrictions, and it may be “corrected” in the DVD release. Any validity to this theory?

    • Anime Feminist

      If there is censorship it’s unlikely to be because of the broadcast time – in Japan it airs mostly between 1-2.30am. This is the same time shows like Super Lovers, which have much more controversial and explicit content, are aired. A quick google in Japanese doesn’t seem to bring up any posts expressing a concern about censorship, though that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t exist. However, given the type of storytelling Yuri!!! on ICE has employed so far it seems more likely that this was simply an artistic decision in line with that direction. Prepared to stand corrected should new information surface though!

      • Katelyn Sweigart

        Thank you for checking this out!

      • Moni

        I think it may be for other countries like Russia (given that policy they have about “gay propaganda”) I have a theory that the director wants this show to be available to Russian fans and to be obvious can put them in a rough spot or outright banned. Similar to the censorship of lesbian subtext in Steven Universe.

    • Kaiba Corp.

      For what I know, censoring is part of the sport anime policy. There should be fanservice but nothing more (kisses, OTP). correct me if i’m wrong.

  • Sim Le

    Great article! I think you made a lot of really important points here but I’m going to quote the part that really resonated with me:

    ” 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.”

    This is why it’s so important that websites like this exist. Even as big media websites like Crunchyroll and Twitch are proclaiming acceptance of the LGBTQ community: these same websites are working both consciously and subconsciously to ensure that portrayals of sexuality and gender roles conform to heteronormative standards.

  • smashman42

    I haven’t watched the show at all but I’d always assumed something would happen between Victor and Yuri. Obviously to form this opinion I’ve only got what I’ve picked up on blogs or Twitter to go on, and I’m aware people tend to surround themselves in bubbles of the like minded somewhat, but I’d never even heard a hint of this ‘no, they’re straight!’ argument. How widespread is it?

  • Andres Rosales

    I’m happy that the relationship is progressing because what I was worried about early on is that it was going to be all-tease and nothing else. It’s unfortunate that the subtitles weren’t as accurate as they should be, hopefully moving forward more care will be given to them.

  • Well first off, anyone watching Yuri who believe and believe there wasn’t a kiss, apparently wasn’t paying attention, after how sexually charged Victor has been up to now, a mere hug would not surprise Yuri in the slightest. Maybe Victor flinging himself at Yuri was surprising but that is nowhere near the level of surprise Victor was trying to impart to Yuri. Thus the Kiss definitely happened.

    Now to my own confession. I will confess that I am hetronormative being, though I am also one who has a particular quirk of reading “sexually charged” relationships as platonic, or at least as less explicit as other people likely do. Perhaps its some of my conservative-sexual-morals upbringing coming through, or some deep subconscious fear of sex I have, but suffice to say that I have watched Yuri on ice, conscious of the fact that while many people read their relationship as sexual one, I myself out of subconscious preference read it as a deeply platonic relationship between two men who are/growing incredibly comfortable with themselves and each other. Not to say that either Victor or Yuri may have homosexual attraction to the other, but that I’m not sure weather or not it is the sexual attraction that defines their relationship. Personally I know my own ideal of “platonic friendship” would accommodate two incredibly close friends kissing in the height of excitement, no matter the sexual orientation, or genders of the parties involved. I guess you can say my quirk is that I divorce/block out sexual tension from scenes, unless it is required (which i consider the opposite of “shipping” fanaticism which finds it in completely unwarranted contexts). Thus in my own mind I believe that “developing-mutual-platonic-friendship” is an equally valid explanation for victor’s actions in this scene as “expressing-sexual-passion.” (To be honest i am equally thick-headed with ‘straight” sexual tensions too).

    I realize that I may be strange in trying and to separate some actions from being automatic expressions of underlying sexual desire (like Victor’s and Yuri’s kiss), so please don’t read this as a condemnation of anyone who feels this is a vindicating step for realistic non-hetronormative sexual relationships, if that’s you please enjoy it as you will. My only intention in commenting here was to relate my own viewing experience from a possibly strange dude who subconsciously reads scenes in a way that has “sexual relations” as having the “burden of proof.”

    • oshaexclaimation

      What you’re saying isn’t weird at all! What you’re referring to when you’re saying “developing-mutual-platonic-friendship” in the context of Victor and Yuri lines up with what I’ve heard about queerplatonic relationships. (Sometimes called quasiplatonic relationships) These are relationships that are neither normally platonic or outright romantic, they sit in the middle. Sometimes they’re sexual, sometimes they’re not, and they happen regardless of the genders involved.

      Acknowledging queerplatonic relationships isn’t as common and unfortunately, I’ve seen scenerios in which there have been clashes between people with queerplatonic readings of a relationship and romantic readings of a relationship. As it becomes more common to discuss and people start valuing platonic relationships as on an equal level to romantic relationships, I feel such clashes will become less common.

  • cybertsundere

    i’m assuming you’re all westerners, so you should really read this:
    http://oatmealaddiction.tumblr.com/post/153314154173/japan-and-lgbt-representation

    • Anime Feminist

      Tweeted the link from our Twitter account, thank you so much! All really important points and very valid criticism.

  • scostantino

    Whilst it’s important to consider that this is coming from a western perspective (as cybertsundere pointed out) and that both Japan and Russia have serious issues with homophobia, but to me (as a relatively young) queer viewer, this episode meant so much to me. It’s nice to see a gay relationship not only become onscreen canon, but also see one where their relationship is treated seriously and with dignity (not, perhaps, for laughs or fetishization). Both characters are fleshed out, with flaws, and it’s incredible to witness the growth of their relationship and them as characters. Whilst it’s one thing for the characters to become canon onscreen, it is also significant that these characters are the main characters in the show. Often in fiction LGBT+ characters are side characters, or (particularly in the west), added as an afterthought for the sake of ‘inclusivity’. To me, it shows that our stories don’t have to be just relegated to the side: we are just as deserving of our stories being told, and our relationships are just as valid. (Although the denial of their relationship I’m seeing on social media is quite frustrating – this article brought up a lot of great points, and it’s saddening to have to constantly see LGBT+ viewers justify their stance)

  • Champ Buch

    I think my favorite denial was a commenter on a YT reaction video, who insisted that, even if it was a kiss, it was a (presumably platonic) socialist greeting because uh one of the characters is Russian. I kid you not.

  • SC

    Before reading this piece, I had no idea the queer people were put in a position where they had to defend their reading of the kiss scene. My take on the scene is that the creators left a (tiny) room for discussion because they wanted the fans to keep talking/tweeting/blogging/commenting about it, which serves as a free advertizement for the show. If the scene had been more explicit, the fan reactions might have been more momentary and short-lasting, maybe?

    I do not watch figure skating, so I did not know about Weir. That was very informative. I also agree with the tumblr post below; as a Japanese myself, I think there is a disconnection between the gay representation in anime/manga and the real-life LGBTQ issues in our society. That’s one of the reasons why I enjoy reading anime/manga analyses in English; they always give me fresh perspectives, and queer analyses in particular are quite eye-opener to me because I am heterosexual.

  • DeathOfTheEndless

    I’ve seen people spending a lot of time celebrating Yuri!!! On Ice for its representation and I can’t help but ask if all that praise is justified.

    I wasn’t sure how much of the hype of the show’s gay characters was just your usual shipper enthusiasm until I watched it myself. Needless to say, I was delighted to see an openly gay Russian skater as well as the title character being so fluid with his own sexuality. Choosing to come at the Eros performance as a woman? Loved it!

    That being said, I am incredibly frustrated at how the show seems to opt for ambiguity over making an actual statement — an ambiguity that only serves to add to the struggles of viewers identifying with these characters.

    LGBT+ people have to constantly “prove” or “justify” their very existence in pop culture because the prevalence of heteronormativity insists every instance of a non-straight, non-cis character is “pandering.” And every time a show offers any ambiguity on the matter whatsoever, we get, as this article said, the “pics or it didn’t happen” stance.

    Yuri and Victor’s kiss reminds me of [SPOILERS for Legend of Korra] the end of Legend of Korra, when Korra and Asami get together. The team behind the show did everything they could to show these two characters were in a romantic relationship, including mirroring the final scene from The Last Airbender, minus the kiss — Hell, they even had the colors of the bisexual flag in the sky behind them! But many people still wanted to insist Korra and Asami’s relationship was purely platonic!

    However, while the intention of the Legend of Korra creators to include this kind of representation in their show was restricted by the network’s fears, is that really what’s happening with Yuri!!! On Ice?

    Yes, I do recognize how homophobic Japan truly is. It is perhaps more difficult there to show a healthy, normal same-sex relationship in a show than it would be in the States. The show runners would have to compromise just as the Legend of Korra team did. But consider how many anime make a name for themselves using the temptation of same-sex couples to draw more viewers in.

    I see the popularity of such shows rising on my social media feeds and at conventions, but when I watch them myself, I’m treated to arms covering a kiss and sexually charged comments or situations meant only to excite the viewers and not build and honest relationship going forward in the show.

    Yes, it’s no fun dealing with the very real hardships LGBT+ communities deal with every day in your show about pretty figure skaters. But dancing around the subject entirely isn’t the answer. Much like how the DC Bombshells comic series (set in the 1940s) didn’t want to put their own characters through hell when their were Nazis to fight, they didn’t stray away from showing Batwoman and Maggie in a happy relationship either.

    This isn’t to say Yuri!!! On Ice should be condemned for not making any sort of “political” statement or for not being more steadfast about the relationships within the series. It’s still a great, fun show! And the intent to show the sexuality of these characters is important, especially in the field of figure skating.

    Every instance of good representation is wonderful because people should have the opportunity to see themselves in the media they love. And Victor and Yuri and the whole cast of Yuri!!! On Ice are good characters! But it’s still discouraging that, more often than not, LGBT+ fans are told they need to accept scraps of ambiguity over a proud declaration.

    Ultimately, we do need to look at Yuri!!! On Ice and ask if this is a team trying to practice inclusivity and true representation in their show and are being forced follow the restrictions of their culture, or just another example of an anime cashing in by fetishizing same-sex couples.

    • Moni

      I think the reason the director chose to be ambiguous is so the message can be spread further, I strongly believe that the show is making subtle commentary about Russia’s political and social atmosphere towards the LGBTQ community and to be obvious about it would get it banned easily there (as well as other countries with similar policies and cultures) and may put watchers of the show in a tough spot.

      • DeathOfTheEndless

        That’s a remarkably hopeful stance. I’d like to believe you’re right.

        • catseye fantasy

          The director has a history of including explicitly LGBT+ characters in her work, so I’m pretty confident that her intentions are more positive than negative.

        • Champ Buch

          An update to this is that the director, Yamamoto Sayo, said in an interview that there was institutional censorship aimed at that scene and that she had to fight to keep it in. Whether Victor’s arm blocking the kiss was a concession or not that was required to get that scene aired is not made clear, however. Either way, it’s not queerbaiting, if that term is even applicable in a Japanese cultural context. If you want a link to the screenshot of the interview (in Japanese) that’s circulating the internet, I can link it. However, I’m waiting for a physical copy of the book with the interview in in.

      • tdoiwitcohe

        I definitely agree after watching ep.8, and that also makes sense because Russia has to be a huge market for figure-skating related things and thus the producers would probably want to be careful about censorship from the Russian government from a purely marketing standpoint, regardless of the director’s intent.

  • Lin

    Thank you for writing this article! I stumbled across it in the YOI tumblr tag, and it beautifully articulates much of what I’ve been pondering in the wake of The Kiss™. A bit of background: I’m a 23-year-old American bisexual woman. It took me a long time to come to that conclusion because I often have difficulty identifying my own feelings, which is one of the aspects of the show which draws me in. Yuri isn’t confused because OH NO, I’M ATTRACTED TO A GUY. Rather, he comes across as someone who struggles with his emotions in a very real way; we first see him at a point in his life where he’s unsure of where he’s headed. And while Victor is very… forward, shall we say, he nevertheless doesn’t push Yuri (he meets me where I am). They also quarrel and act like real people rather than flat stereotypes; as uncomfortable as it was to see Victor threaten to resign as Yuri’s coach, that scene was one of my favorites in the series because we see Victor out of his depths and Yuri both telling him what he needs from Victor and being a little bit petty in a very real way.

    The kiss after Yuri’s performance took my breath away. I was laughing and had tears in my eyes because I’m a giant dork. But it’s so important to see a canonically queer couple in which both parties are flawed and yet respect each other and make each other better! And even better, it’s not a “tragic gays” story! Yuri becomes stronger, and Victor learns from Yuri. My friend and I immediately started talking about how we wanted more queer stories like this. Happy queer people achieving their dreams while also falling in love!! #Aesthetic. Honestly, I felt so validated after this episode, and it helped relieve some of the terribleness that has been the hallmark of 2016.

    So, it was really disheartening to see so many people say “it wasn’t a kiss lol stupid fujoshis.” I understand the queer fans who are skeptical; we are used to queerbaiting in shows. Shows that I love despite their unfulfilled erotic tension commodify us without going through with relationships. And yes, I would have liked to see an unobscured kiss and feel that apprehension going into the next episode of “How will they treat this?”

    Still, I loved this episode and it meant a lot to me, and I can’t wait until episode 8. Thank you, Yuri!!! On Ice!

  • AntonyShepherd

    “if queer people don’t show you their queerness then maybe they’re not actually queer, right?” but then the ‘phobes go “Eww, why are you shoving that in my face!” because they’re idiots.

    Speaking as a ‘hetero cis guy’ I must say when Victor ran over to jump out and kiss Yuri I actually cheered because it really represented the growth of their relationship – especially after what had come earlier in the episode. If Victor had kissed Yuri in the basement then it would have been awkward for both of them but after Yuri’s skate it was completely natural.
    I want those guys to be happy together.

  • tdoiwitcohe

    I agree that this “burden of proof” is a damaging and pervasive problem, one that I had shamefully come to accept as a matter of course, so thank you for bringing it so clearly and eloquently out into the open. It helps so much to have this site and these discussions.

    The relationships in YoI (including, most emphatically, the one between Viktor and Yuri) are portrayed so realistically, with rough edges and complexity and actual, real, natural and unforced change; I had no doubts about the validity of Viktor and Yuri’s evolving romance because it was part of their growth as idol and fan, coach and pupil, and as friends (which I do not feel precludes romantic interest, and in fact strengthens it, as it does in the show). Seeing something like this on screen is rare, even more so for LGBTQ relationships, and I hope more shows follow their example.

    I’m ace, and I didn’t know the word for what I was while growing up; in fact I didn’t even know that such a thing existed. I just knew that there was something wrong with me because I didn’t fit into any visible group. I never read or watched shows about anyone like me, and that was very lonely and kind of terrifying. I’m so, so glad that things are changing, and while I’m still looking for more ace characters, it’s really heartening to see representation of the broader spectrum of the human experience finally making it to the screen.

  • Moni

    I’m glad this director seems to be leaving references and subtext to let viewers know that this isn’t about “typical” people. I’m pretty sure the female figure skater from Russia (forgot her name) in episode 6 I think is told by Yuri (the younger) that he wouldn’t want to get beat up for going out with a girl, judging by her reaction to his comment I think it was meant as a wink to the audience that she is a lesbian and considering in Russia where “hunting” and beating up gays and queers is practically condoned she would want that to be under wraps outside of her close group of fellow skaters.

  • Animenord

    Let me add in my personal opinion as a queer, mostly gay man that watches a lot of anime, loves shipping and even reads Boys Love. Yuri on Ice makes me feel very ambivalent. A lot of people seems to be praising Viktor’s and Yuri’s homoerotically charged relationship as very LGBT-progressive. But it leaves me feeling very frustrated at times because there’s no commitment to it and it’s too divorced from reality.

    They kiss in front of a big crowd and on television, yet this causes no reaction at all, nobody in the series seem to react. I mean, I don’t necessarily want a homophobic reaction, but nobody is asking the questions a new couple would get, like if they’re together, treating them as a couple in any way, nobody is even trying to deny it.

    If nobody in the entire Yuriverse is treating their romantic relationship as if it exists, how can I as a viewer believe in it? Those moments of affection are just completely divorced from their actual life and interaction with the rest of the world around them. If a guy was heavily flirting with me under my parent’s roof, or kissing me during an international competition I’d be sure to get a lasting reaction of some kind.

    My strong suspicion about Yuri on ice is that it’s queerbaiting taken to a new extreme, and in the end it will just be the wishy-washy swept-under-the-rug relationship as usual in most anime. I feel pretty confident stating this is made for shippers, not actual lgbtq people (because the japanese market for that is rather small). Yuri even does the typical denial when Viktor asks if he wants him as a boyfriend, classic for queerbaiting (so that deniers can go “see, they don’t feel that way!” and the others can go “but look at how they act! he’s just in denial about his true feelings!”)

    This is anime, everyone should know to make a distinction between positive lgbtq representation and an implied romantic same-gender relationships with two cute/beautiful guys or girls fawning over each other, because they are really not the same in this context. Not saying lgbtq people can’t relate to those, I do myself. But I don’t think they are on the same level as actual substantial lgbtq characters.

    I really, really hope Yuri on ice will prove me wrong, trust me. Few things would please me more than a canon same-sex couple. But I’m not seeing the optimism so many other people are seeing. I will almost get angry at this anime if they don’t end up together at this point, when they’ve driven it this far.

    Sorry for the long comment, I seem unable to state my point with few words, but in short, I can’t believe in this unless the end of the anime proves me wrong, and it’s not because I’m a heteronormative doubter, but because I know anime is produced in a heteronormative context and lgbtq people most likely isn’t even considered as an audience.

    • tdoiwitcohe

      Here’s an article that may address a few of the excellent questions you’ve brought up: http://lookiamnotcreative.tumblr.com/post/153468260932/lost-in-translation-on-ice-translation-mistakes
      It’s really long, sorry! The part I found most interesting was that all of the skaters in episode 6 who speak to Victor about Yuri are using language that indicates they already assume Yuri and Victor are in a relationship at that point in time. The sub translators lost this intent when translating to english, and having read your comment I now wonder if that could be a result of the heteronormative context you discussed coming up in the world of translation. I’d be very interested to hear your take on that!

      In the context of that article, I then read the audience’s reaction (i.e. Yuri’s family, Minako, random audience members, etc.) to Yuri and Victor’s kiss as shock that they’re kissing on international TV, rather than shock that they’ve suddenly become an item. Perhaps the world of Yuri is similar to that of Teen Wolf in that homophobia does not exist there (and no, I would not presume to compare the two shows on any other point! It’s just nice to see worlds that are more like what we aspire for ours to be, which I believe is an important function of speculative fiction).

      I’m curious to know whether you think Yuri and Victor’s relationship could be read as very understated, an artistic choice in service to keeping the focus on Yuri’s growth as a person and skater rather than romance; or whether a relationship would need to be justified further in text for it to read as romantic to you. It’s a tricky thing, figuring out romance, in real life never mind in a stylized representation of it! I’m so glad you addressed some of the storytelling issues here, especially Yuri’s denial when Victor asks if he wants to be his lover, since that felt very out of place for me in the context of the rest of their interactions. Was it embarrassment from Yuri since he’s never been in a romantic relationship before? A mistake on the part of the writer in playing up to the expected tropes, later retconned? Something to allow the show past Russian censorship, as several commenters on this site have wondered? Or a way to eventually try to retcon a romantic relationship into something platonic?

      • Animenord

        Thank you for your reply and for the link, I’ve tried to read it through carefully. Don’t worry about length, I don’t mind. I can’t make short posts either, so I have no right to complain at all. After this, I feel like I should watch the anime again and see if I interpret things differently the second time. I knew some of the nuance lost in the translation, but this clarified some of them further. It is very clear that the English translators are making the text much more heteronormative. But the differences are ultimately not game changers in how I interpret this, I think.

        As for my take on the comments others make in chapter 6, sexual and romantic metaphors is raining tight in the presentation of the skating itself. Take the “break up” comments, to me it seems they are using a lover’s relationship as a metaphor to describe how Yuri has stolen away Viktor from competition by having him as a trainer. Why bother putting it in that muddling context if they want to clearly show they are seen as lovers off the ice, and why use that particular word choice if they don’t want that? Because the anime doesn’t want to be straightforward either way, it wants to nudge and wink at us. Of course they want us to think of it as a statement of their relationships status by using that word. They also want us to think that it’s not by putting it in that context, if that’s what we prefer. That is what I think.

        I think I would be very much more positive about this if Yuri hadn’t rejected Viktor in the role as a lover in that episode, because that was alienating. The creators very purposefully put that part in there as a border, it’s not like they needed to include it. And worse, it can even be read as a joke seen in a certain light, as most of the comments from Viktor can be. I can’t see that as anything but bad faith on the creators’ part. It is not a mistake, that is what I am saying. It was very purposefully put there to muddle the issue and encourage people to interpret their relationship as platonic if they wish, despite the ridiculous amount of sensuality between them. That was the biggest deal breaker for me, and I haven’t been able to see it in a charitable light after that.

        Not being subtle or understated enough in its portrayal of same-sex relationships is not a problem I feel anime is suffering from. But this is really something someone even more knowledgeable than me should answer.

        This is my take, however: It’s not subtle or understated at all in Yuri!! on ice, and that is partly why the vagueness feels so bothersome to me. Considering the huge focus on the attraction between them in almost every episode (I think I know exactly the scenes that has gained the most attention in this anime every week, and the creators know this too), the relationship is not so much understated as overstated, but in strange ways, and reads to me as artificial and voyeuristic at parts, almost performative (especially in the earlier episodes when they didn’t even know each other, but that has substantially improved over time). If they’d just subtly start to get closer in the background during the show and focus was more on the skating, it would be a different story, but the relationship is clearly as integral (and public) as the skating here. And they’ve chosen to present that relationship as romantic and even erotic, but they won’t call it exactly that. A little more clarity is exactly what I feel is needed. Yuri and Viktor’s possible romantic feelings are always filtered through their relationship as coach and student to some level, no matter how intimate they are.

        Yuri on ice could very well prove me wrong, and convince me otherwise, and the ending is crucial to judge that for me. What will happen after the competition? Will they stick together or will their relationship end with Viktor’s role as a coach ending? What is their relationship without the skating competition? I don’t demand a grandstand on lgbtq identity and equality (because that is very unlikely), just a clear intention that their relationship is continuing afterwards. Or they could fall apart but Yuri could realize his romantic interest in men goes beyond his feelings to Viktor. Yuri saying he’s not sure yet, but wants to stay by Viktor’s side even outside their coach/student relationship and find out from here on might also work if done right. I want some sense of normality in their over-the-top displays of affection and innuendo, and some other ground for their relationship than the skating and coaching. This, or other small things could make a huge difference.

        Why do I suspect there won’t be a confirmed relationship in the ending? Because there’s no incentive for the producers to do that. The primary audience enjoying their relationship is actually not that interested in seeing real representation of non-straight men, but the fantasy of two guys being sexy and flirty and emotionally bond with each other. They are already shipping them, and probably will regardless of the ending, and by not plainly stating it they may avoid turning some people away but still get their money from the fans. I think the producers would probably like that outcome, to not alienate anyone (not alienate people that wants to ignore same-sex attraction). Even if the creators are sympathetic to same-sex relationships, they didn’t do the anime with a political will to make any “real” lgbtq representation. It’s not created for us. Maybe I’m completely wrong though.

        In short, I suspect them of deliberately playing a double game. I really tried shortening the reply, sorry!

        • tdoiwitcohe

          Don’t worry, I don’t think discussions should be artificially condensed into single paragraphs when you have a lot to say! Your interpretation of the anime is really interesting to me both because it’s very different from my own and because it’s made me rethink the ambiguity present in many scenes, and the way relationships are presented in media in general. It’s certainly helped me recognize some of my own biases when viewing media, one of which is directly linking physical affection (of many sorts, not limited to the sexual or sexually charged) with emotional intimacy, and I think it’s because it is so rare to see normal platonic relationships which involve physical affection in movies or tv; most nonviolent physical contact is a signifier for romance. This then muddies the waters when producers, directors, etc. use that physical affection to queerbait (thanks for the definition!) the audience, knowing we are programmed to read it as ‘romantic’ while still denying that it is. The result being that I personally may read relationships as romantic when they were intended to show something along the broader spectrum of platonic, even if I’m not being queer-baited. And as you pointed out, even if you were to get a show where you do have sexually charged contact, plus emotional intimacy, you have no way of knowing if it’s in good faith (I hope I haven’t just entirely misunderstood you), and indeed I can understand why you would suspect that it’s not, given the antecedents.

          What Yuri on Ice brought for me was a show where I don’t feel that understatement can be turned into denial, and so it’s great to know that not everyone sees it that way because it’s got me thinking about the importance of having the full spectrum of representations of romantic relationships (LGBT+ specifically), ranging from the subtle clasping of hands just before the end credits roll to declarations of undying love beneath balcony windows and marriage proposals in the sunset. A world with all of that, I think, would be one in which people wouldn’t read ambiguity in the relationship in YoI, but it’s not the world we have quite yet.
          And as you say, I also really, truly hope the writers and director are in good faith on this one.

          • Animenord

            I’m happy to hear my perspective gave you some food for thought. I’ve also enjoyed reflecting on the questions you gave me. Yes, I think you’ve roughly summarized my concern. If Yuri on Ice had been made in another context, my take would be rather different. But my distrust of Yuri on ice comes from my experience on how little anime producers value the legitimacy of same-sex romance but still don’t mind cashing in on it, and in recent years they’ve really been ramping up the romanticism between same-sex relationships (because they know it’s popular) to a huge amount only to treat it as non-serious in the end. And yes, in another context with greater diversity and more portrayals with less ambiguity, this would not be as concerning. Let’s hope for the best.

          • Shoelle

            Oh gosh, I know this is an old conversation but I was very impressed with the clarity and articulation of these arguments. Both Animenord and tdoiwitcohe did an exceptional job at really listening to the other, and some productive thinking is really evident as a result.

            I would *love* to hear updated thoughts on this discussion in light of the end of season 1 (the rings in particular). This show presents queer sexualities and performativity in some complicated, uneven ways, and I believe unpacking it all is a worthwhile endeavor. I really enjoyed the above dialogue and made an account just to encourage you to continue!

  • Kaiba Corp.

    For me, the queerness of YOI is mainly fanservice and has little to do with LGBT+ community. I’ve tried to find ways to accept the anime idea telling myself “maybe the creator wanted to show all aspects of the sport even with the queerness, since it is a very important part of it too.” But usually I fail to really LOVE this idea because Russia and Japan are very homophobes countries and male figure skating also is a homophobe sport. And the characters act in their relationship in such a fairytale way, everyone accepting it, and not caring about their relationship. And in reality, somebody would react! Maybe not so much the athletes since they have known themselves for years, but the media would. The media looks like is completely unaware of their closeness. We are talking about a sport in which judges who are queers don’t supports skaters for being queers just because of the stereotype male skaters have, is a really complicated sentiment beneath this sport. In the story, romance was rushed, for a queer relationship having two famous figure skaters in the olympics as coach and student in less than a year already having very intimate relationship in the public eye. Reality is not that way.
    Now, in my opinion. I would have rather they made it official since the beginning, and see the romance grow. I would be very disappointed if in the end after all this time showing public affection, they never accept their sentiments as lovers officially. I don’t think the creator took the anime seriously and just planed an anime that would sell, giving the public what they wanted. My only question is: why on the first anime of figure skating they had to throw such stereotype? Why they didn’t do this type of LGBT+ romance in other sport anime instead to actually send a message?

    • Champ Buch

      And yet Kubo has made it clear that this universe is one better than ours. People are not judged or punished because of whom they love and she will protect that world, as she announced on Twitter. In such a world, same-sex love is normalized, so why make a song and dance of it as an “exotic” special case? Their romance is a happy outcome of the gradually growing closeness of Yuuri and Viktor that is accepted by friends and family after their initial moment of shock (look at those faces as the kiss takes place!) and then celebrated in the restaurant in Barcelona. Indeed the creators consistently put the queer romance on the same level as the het ones: see the almost-kiss of Gyorgi and imagined!Anya, and compare the engagement of JJ and Isabella with Yuuri and Viktor’s (both are linked to winning competitions, and both ambitions are frustrated and yet the couples grow stronger despite neither JJ nor Yuuri winning gold). Yuuri and Viktor also get the bonus of their romance being between the most fleshed-out characters, the ones we care about the most, instead of being relegated to the side characters, as is usual in those few shows with queer romances. We learn why they are so wonderful together and why they weren’t ready for romance earlier: both men were infatuated with a part of a person, not the whole, warts and all. It’s no accident that their first kiss happens after Yuuri sees Viktor make a terrible mistake. An idol tumbles from its pedestal. Viktor also seems to seriously accept how serious Yuuri’s anxiety is and yet also sees him rise to the challenge so gallantly and creatively that he cannot hold his admiration and love back any more. In short, romance between them in ep1/2 would have been a bad idea and OOC for Yuuri, someone who only lets people in after a lot of growing and soul searching.

      If the straight couples don’t have to scream their identities, why force the queer couple to do so? Most shows do have queer couples announce themselves and in romances from the beginning (or not long after), so why not have a normalized couples in a slow-burn romance like so many m/f couples get to do? Why not have a spectrum of romances like m/f couples get to have? Do queer relationships deserve less diversity?