Yuri!!! on Ice: musings from episode three.
Posted on a Facebook anime page that I admin on the very week Yuri!!! on Ice episode three came out, this was not meant to be an official review. And it shows. Think of it as a comparison of how the reality of things have changed from the third episode to the current tenth episode. I think it’s an amusing point of view, to say the least. 🙂
Before anything else, I’d like to say sorry to that one anti-gay commenter on a GoBoiano Yuri!!! on Ice post who I couldn’t resist responding to, and who I actually succeeded to convince to give the anime a try. I told him to ignore the little gay quips, to just focus on the plot and animation, the way you’d pretend that one character you hate in an anime you love doesn’t exist.
Today, I’m apologizing, because I miscalculated.
As a community, we were used to “gay” sports anime. Kuroko no Basket brought us Kagakuro and a variety of different ships involving rainbow-colored hair. Haikyuu!! brought us Kagehina, as well as all the captain-setter ships we know and love. Yowamushi Pedal blessed us with holy Toumaki. Prince of Stride came and offered 75% shipping and 25% sport. There’s Diamond no Ace and Cheer Danshi!! and Battery and Days and All Out!!, and let’s not forget the old-schools like Slam Dunk and Prince of Tennis and Hajime no Ippo. And of course, that one famous-slash-infamous swimming anime that single-handedly raised the standard everyone’s trying to beat. Every single one of them, “gay.”
And yet, we could never get past the confines of the quotation marks. It had always been a “kind of, sort of” kind of thing. Kind of gay. Sort of gay. Gay, if you squint a bit. And of course, this was exactly how they wanted it to be. It had become a running joke that sports anime these days have been trying to outgay each other without explicitly confirming anyone as gay. It would have been funny, it the joke wasn’t on our expense. Because the joke is that sports anime is always “gay,” but never gay.
Then…. ice skating anime came along. I heard about it years ago, and I was very much excited for an anime revolving around ice skating, something I’ve always been interested in. Then that PV came out a few months ago, and I thought, ‘Wow, this is going to be “gay.”‘ It was pretty much a given, though, so I wasn’t that surprised. So when I downloaded that first episode and hit play, I thought I knew what I was getting into. I did not. The main character was 23 years old, the competition was at an international scale, main character nailed a world champion’s routine all while being overweight, and the supposed heterosexual love interest turned out to be married with three kids. It was, all in all, not a typical sports anime. With all this in mind, a fragment of hope took root, and in the back of my mind I was thinking, ‘If this is not a typical sports anime…. would it be alright…. to hope?’
Episode 2 came out, and while a fujoshi / fudanshi mind could easily call out Yuuri’s giant crush on Viktor, everything still remained in fanservice area. I expected it, of course, but it was still disappointing.
Then episode 3 came out, and I can’t speak for everyone else– but it was everything I hoped for and more.
For starters, Yuuri started the episode with the line that Viktor’s eros routine could have made him, a man, pregnant. That…. that was not something that had ever been said in any sports anime I had ever seen. (Or actually…. I’m pretty sure that, rather than sports anime, that line was something straight out of a BL manga I might or might not have read. Can you imagine Hinata saying Kageyama’s accurate tosses could have made him pregnant? Things would certainly have taken a different turn.)
Speaking of eros and pregnancies, I hope I was not the only one who thought that this entire episode was literally just a giant innuendo. “Think long and hard about what eros is to you” was nothing short of a sexual pick-up line, with or without context, was it not?
And I honestly, honestly want to talk about Yurio (are we really calling him that?) and his agape, but that would take us more off tangent than we are now, so I will resist.
But what I really wanted to talk about, and what was supposed to be the main point of this post before I ventured off with all those things, was the latter part of the episode. Everything up to this point could be chalked up to fanservice (or, as triggered straight men would call it, “fujoshit pandering”), but this…. this was the real deal. See that screencap? Not even Reigisa, probably the most canon of all sports anime ships, had ever had an emotional hug in that degree. Not even when Nagisa thought Rei was going to leave the swim club, not even during the Nagisa episode when he needed a hug the most. Not even in the last episode of Eternal Summer when they were all crying like idiots over the thought of swimming together for the last time. It’s actually quite interesting how Reigisa skinship was okay when it’s for fanservice’s sake, but not so much when the scene dipped to the emotional and real. So when Yuuri asked Viktor to look solely at his eros, told him to watch him be a really tasty katsudon on the ice, and actually went for that teary-eyed, embarrassed hug…. well — let’s just say that that was certainly out of the ordinary, specially at this really early point in the series, and was something I did not expect at all.
And then, okay: Hands up, who actually expected what went down in that eros routine? Because I sure as hell didn’t. Yuuri realizing his eros was to be the woman who seduces the playboy — a blatant euphemism for Viktor — was something I felt like I should have seen coming, but didn’t. A main character opting to embrace his “femininity” for the sake of his sport…. is just…. not something that happens in sports anime, where everyone equates manliness with excellence. And this was done not in a comedic effect either; rather, it was his devotion to the femininity that made the entire routine work for him. As he said, “I’m better than any woman out there.” And as a woman myself, damn, how I agree. The announcer talked about how hard it was to believe it was katsudon on Yuuri’s mind as he danced on the ice, but in actuality, all the turns and stares and sways of his hips were constructed as a blatant seduction for Viktor, who was so enamored with him and the routine that Yurio took it as a cue for his loss. (And honestly? Screw Yuuri. Screw him and his goddamn eros. He was supposed to be seducing Viktor but he wound up seducing me as well. Take some responsibility for this, jesus christ.)
I replayed that eros routine five times, and I honestly have a lot more things to say about it, but all the right words evade me. So, moving on.
What really grounded it for me…. was the scene of Yuuri on that podium, Viktor placing his hand on his arm to calm him down. The closeup of his hand gripping Yuuri’s arm lightly, the pause, the closeup on Yuuri’s face as he realizes that Viktor is with him, that Viktor will not leave him — all these elements scream comfort, reliance, and potentially, love. The kind of love that tells you “I’m here, and I will help you get through this,” the healthy kind of love that Yuuri needs. And that was when it really hit me. This shit…. is real. They are not kidding with this. They are absolutely, at least 95%, going with this– and I cannot believe it.
It’s also interesting to remember that the common “dropping rule,” as in the widely accepted rule of the right time to drop an anime, is around the third episode. I’m not sure if the same thing goes for the Japanese audience, but if it does, then it’s a little amusing (at least, to me) that they chose to drop this specifically on the third episode. It’s like they’re saying, “Yes, this is what you’re getting into. If you want to leave, this is the right time to leave. If you want to stay, stay.”
And, well, we’re definitely staying.
So going back to the start: To that one GoBoiano commenter, I’m really sorry. I miscalculated. This is not something you can ignore or pretend not to exist. This gay is not just for the fujoshi / fudanshi bait that it usually is. It is a perfectly valid kind of gay, and it is something that is deeply embedded into the plot in a beautiful kind of relevance. Yuuri openly expressing his goal of seducing Viktor in order for him to stay in Japan, beside him, as his coach: nothing short of a declaration of his feelings for our sake, the viewers — the same people who have looked far and wide for this kind of representation in the medium they love. This kind of thing is not to be ignored. It may not be as loud as the heterosexual romance anime we are used to; but it’s there, thrumming in the background like a heartbeat learning to find its sound. So to you, GoBoiano commenter, I hope you’ve dropped this anime by now. Because this is only the third episode, and there’s a whole lot more to come.
I read a similar kind of analysis earlier this week, and it was something I wholeheartedly agreed with. If, by chance, this entire thing ends up as a massive attempt at queerbait after all…. it will be going down in history as the biggest disappointment of the year. But if — and this is a really hopeful if — MAPPA comes through and breaks that one longstanding barrier that no sports anime has ever yet attempted to break…. Yuri!!! on Ice will be a legend. It will become the standard. Rather than becoming the new Free!, it will rise way above the wall Free! set. And that…. is something I want to see.
So, ice skating anime. With my whole heart, it is my sincere wish that you won’t be a disappointment to me and to everyone else who have decided to entrust their hopes to you. MAPPA, I believe in you. Yamamoto-sensei, Kubo-sensei, I believe in you. I believe you can cross that line. I want to see something that surpasses what No.6 once tried to achieve. I want to experience a story that breaks boundaries. I want to experience an anime that rightfully engraves its name in history. And above all else, I want to be able to recommend Yuri!!! on Ice to people not as a “gay” sports anime, but as simply a sports anime — one that just happens to be really, authentically, and unashamedly gay.