On December 22, 2016 Yuri!!! on Ice aired its final episode to a global audience anxiously awaiting for the final line up of the Grand Prix Final and the ultimate fate of Yūri and Victor’s relationship. For many, this has been a series full of surprises, in part due to the inclusion of Victor and Yuri’s developing romance as an integral aspect of its very sport anime-esque narrative.
By definition, Yuri!!! on Ice is a sports anime. Like most sports anime, this series has a large following of fujoshi and fudanshi, or in other words, those who imagine romantic and oftentimes sexual relationship between characters. However, this series transcends typical sports anime fujoshi/fudanshi baiting and even the boys’ love genre conventions that inform its ‘rotten’ fandom. To understand how the series does so, one first needs examine the typical genre constraints of sports anime and boys love.
Sports anime contemporaries to Yuri!!! on Ice typically focus on high schoolers (see Haikyuu, Yowamushi Pedal, Free! All Out, etc) and male-male friendship that could be construed as part of a larger sexual narrative created by the viewer. Engaging in what one may call fujoshi-baiting or gay-baiting, these series maintain a careful balance of ‘no-homo’ and boys’ love fodder. Boys’ love, on the other hand, places for formation of a male-male romance at its core. A romance genre in its heart, boys’ love media does away with fujoshi-baiting and invites the consumer to participate in the fantasies of the writer. As much as sports anime is implicit, boys’ love is explicit and profits from being so.
Yuri!!! on Ice, however, unlike than typical sports anime, delves into the bonds of love rather than friendship. In what can be called a canonical representation of a gay couple, Yūri and Victor represent what is implicitly forbidden in more mainstream sports anime and commonplace in boys’ love media. However, in opposition to most boys’ love media, Yuri!!! on Ice does not make the formation of their relationship singular focus of their show either. Instead, Mitsurou Kubo and Sayo Yamamoto, the series’s creator and director, interweaves their love story with other representations of love and the larger “underdog fighting to the top” narrative. With Georgi Popovich unrequited love for his ex-girlfriend, Michele Crispino’s protective love of his sister, Yurio’s unconditional love from his grandfather, and the parental love from JJ Leroy’s parents, Yūri and Victor’s romantic love is part of a larger rumination on how the many faces of love are deeply entangled in our lives as well as the creation of art.
Yuri!!! on Ice also subtly normalizes the male-male romantic relationships within the world of the anime. While the series includes plenty of what normally would be called fujoshi/fudanshi baiting scenes, as they are within the context of a recognized romantic relationship between Yūri and Victor, viewers are not asked to create an imagined love affair between the two. Rather, the series implicitly demands the viewers to accept the validity of the relationship as it transform Yūri into a competitive skater reaching new heights. Additionally understood within the wider context that real life professional figure skating is still very anti-LGBTQ and that Japan and Russia, the home countries of the two protagonists, continue to have questionable stances toward LGBTQ rights, Yuri!! on Ice gives a hopeful view of love. In a reality where who and how you love can inspire hatred and discrimination, Yuri!!! on Ice creates a world where love inspires beauty and artistry.
All of this can be encapsulated in a tweet by Kubo on December 8. In this tweet, Kubo declared that “No matter what the real world thinks of this work, in the world of this work, no matter who you fall in love with, you will not be discriminated. I will definitely protect that kind of world.”
This tweet unleashed a myriad of heartfelt answers from fans of all ages and sexual identities who thanked Kubo for creating a series that represented love not often portrayed positively or at all. Perhaps due to the popularity and international acclaim of the series, Yuri!!! on Ice will inspire other series to challenge typical genre tropes and audiences alike to imagine a more accepting world the embraces all forms of love.
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