Recently, Facebook and Twitter have been filled with references to Yuri!!! On Ice. Even if you have no idea what Yuri!!! On Ice is, you’ve probably seen the artwork (I have it featured on my own FB page, by the way!). The animated figure skating series took the anime world—and the rest of the world—by storm. The series gives me great hope and excitement for the gay romance genre and for the greater LGBT community.
For the uninitiated, Yuri!!! On Ice is the story of Yuri Katsuki, a Japanese professional figure skater who is thinking of retiring after failing miserably in the Grand Prix of Figure Skating finals. He’s insecure in himself and his skating in part, we come to understand, because he’s unsure of his sexuality. Enter Viktor Nikiforov, five-time world champion skater and Yuri’s idol of many years, who arrives in Yuri’s backwater hometown in Japan and offers to coach Yuri to a gold medal in the next Grand Prix.
When my buddy, Lex Valentine, told me to watch Yuri!!! On Ice, I hesitated. Much as I’m an anime addict (Japanese might call me an “Otaku” – the equivalent of a serious geek), I’m not wild about sports anime (I’m not a huge sports fan), let alone anime series with lots of pretty boys (“fan service”) and unsatisfying almost-romances/ bromances between men meant to titillate and without any real depth. Boy, did I call this anime wrong! Sure, the skating is front and center, but the animation is stunning and accurate, as is the portrayal of the world of professional skating. More to the point, the relationship between the two protags is beautiful. AND the sexual aspect of it is almost entirely off-screen.
“Yaoi,” or Japanese gay anime, has traditionally been aimed at women. It’s often highly exploitive and relies upon tropes I personally find distasteful, including the ever-popular non-con/falling for your rapist trope, as well as the gay character who seduces the so-called “straight, I’m straight, dammit!” character. Oh, and explicit sex. LOTS of explicit sex. Not that I mind explicit sex—I write it in my romances—but there’s very little relationship to go with it. Porn-with-some-plot. Sure, there are exceptions, but they’re few and far between.
Yuri!!! On Ice is a totally different riff on love between men. Unlike yaoi, the relationship between the two MCs is multi-dimensional. Friends, more-than-friends, coach/skater, even potential rivals on the ice. The relationship grows and changes throughout the series, and most notably, both characters grow and change because of their relationship (my favorite romance trope!).
Probably the most ground-breaking element of the series is that, unlike typical yaoi, the most sexual contact we see between the men is a single kiss. Although, to its credit, Yuri!!! On Ice shows lots of physical affection between Viktor and Yuri in the form of hugs, touches, and dreamy looks. It reminds me of my favorite gay romances. Most importantly, Yuri!!! On Ice has attracted a ton of male watchers, straight and gay. The story, the subject matter, and the characters have universal appeal.
Sure, it’s difficult to say whether the success of Yuri!!! On Ice is due to its groundbreaking treatment of a “real” gay relationship. It’s also difficult to predict whether we’ll see more of this genre of anime romance. What we can say is that it’s not only serving to bring folks to anime who have never heard of anime before, it’s bringing gay romance to anime fans who may have never considered or heard of gay romance before. The Yuri!!! On Ice phenomenon has served to raise awareness of the gay romance genre to men as well as women.
Want to watch Yuri!!! On Ice? Go to my favorite anime streaming service, Crunchyroll, and check it out. You can watch for free with ads, or choose to pay a small monthly fee for premium service with no ads. You can watch it on your internet TV or stream it on your tablet, phone, or computer. Crunchyroll is a legit, legal, service that pays animes’ creators for their work (unlike pirates who illegally copy artists’ and writers’ work!). Watch a few episodes (they’re short, about 25 minutes each) and let me know what you think! Happy watching! -Shira