Yuri on Ice and Homophobia in the Anime Fandom – by Chloe Spencer
“I hate this show simply because the fact that it’s [sic] homosexuality stole awards from other shows like Mob Psycho, Boku No Hero… This show won so many awards because of yaoi fanboys loving that the show is basically a more serious ‘Blades of Glory.'”
When I read this comment, posted by a random user, I was offended, but I wasn’t stunned. Even in nerdier communities, comprised of people who are (generally) socially scorned for their interests, you can’t escape homophobia. In fact, homophobia is frequently supported—this one comment received 450 likes. This definitely isn’t the first hateful, homophobic comment I’ve seen about the series in question—which is Yuri on Ice.
Now, allow me to provide some context: this was a comment posted in response to an article published by Crunchyroll, which detailed the results of an online popularity poll administered by a Japanese news site. Yuri on Ice—the anime that was accused of being “a more serious Blades of Glory“—topped the poll with 2,255 votes.
For those of you who don’t know, Yuri on Ice is an anime produced by studio MAPPA that focuses on the life of 26-year-old competitive skater, Yuri Katsuki. After suffering a massive loss at the Grand Prix Final, the depressed Yuri returns home to contemplate his future and skating career. When a video of Yuri performing a skating routine by Viktor Nikiforov goes viral, Viktor eagerly rushes to Japan to become Yuri’s coach, and help him win the Grand Prix title. As Yuri blossoms into a competitive and talented skater, he also happens to fall in love with Viktor.
But let me clarify something here—Yuri on Ice isn’t a yaoi anime, and it is barely shounen-ai. It would even be a stretch to call YoI a romance anime, because the amount of time that the show focuses on the figure skating competitions far surpasses the amount of time that they spent focusing on the romance between Viktor and Yuri.
The show isn’t about being gay or even falling in love—most of the homosexuality isn’t explicitly talked about, but is strongly present in the subtext or cultural context of the show.
Predominantly, the show is about the road to redemption; about how Yuri struggles to overcome his anxiety and depression in order to win gold, and how his friends and family support him as he reinvents himself. This is material that I have seen very few animes cover, and never have I seen it explored as thoroughly as in YoI.
In short, if you just focus on the relationship between Yuri and Viktor, you will have missed the bigger messages about mental health and sportsmanship that it tries to communicate. YoI is groundbreaking in how it addresses these themes, but also carefully incorporates the other, subtler themes of romance—the story is beautifully crafted, and also, positively incorporates a racially diverse cast, something that is hard to find in an anime. The animation is also notable for how it incorporates beautiful skating sequences choreographed by professional figure skaters. Also, who could forget the empowering and motivating opening theme song, History Makers? All of these aspects combine to make a truly engaging and thought-provoking show.
I’m not going to lie and say that Yuri on Ice doesn’t have a focus (or even a strong one) on LGBTQ themes. The depiction of the relationship between Yuri and Viktor is remarkable: the two have a bond that avoids tropes that many yaoi couples engage in, such as sexual assault and unhealthy power dynamics. Many yaoi animes present homosexual love or attraction as something to be eroticized or fetishized by its audience, but this is something that (thankfully) the writers of YoI avoid. Yuri and Viktor complement each other and support one another; they share an emotional bond that transcends physical desire, although the physical desire is arguably still present in the subtext. These themes, and the love that the two share, attracted a lot of fans to the series.
And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that.
Frankly, I’m tired of the ignorance in comments like these that act like depicting LGBTQ characters, and that people love the anime for simply having LGBTQ characters, is a bad thing.
It’s no secret that the LGBTQ community is discriminated against, and that LGBTQ creators or creators of LGBTQ-themed content are mercilessly harassed. In anime, it is particularly difficult to find positive representation of LGBTQ characters and couples in storylines that don’t end in tragedy or are fetishized. It’s thrilling for many people to simply find characters like Yuri and Viktor being positively represented, and it’s even more thrilling to see that so many people love the series. For once, the LGBTQ aspect of an anime isn’t seen as a limitation in connecting with a diverse audience, it’s seen as a strength, as people from all different backgrounds—not just “fanboys”–are able to enjoy.
So, for anyone who thinks that YoI isn’t a good anime simply because it has gay characters, know this: that’s bigotry. If you allow the fact that YoI has gay characters to negatively impact your opinion on all the other aspects of the show—the animation, the music, the story—that’s bigotry. And you deserve to be called out for it, as thankfully, so many people did.
This anime, unlike all the others that were mentioned, was truly born to make history. Unfortunately, these trolls aren’t on the right side of it.
Author’s Note: Allow me to clarify: it is perfectly fine if you don’t think Yuri on Ice is an anime that deserved the awards it was given. Many people, including me, don’t think that the animation is the best feature of that show. Maybe there are some of you who think that the LGBTQ themes weren’t addressed adequately in the show, and that’s a valid opinion too! What isn’t okay is to let the presence of gay characters and personal homophobic tendencies define how you view this series. That is not valid criticism.