Yuri on Ice: LGBT+ media breakthrough?

[Nov 16th Edit: This has been in my drafts for a while. You may or may not already agree that the opening statement has happened. I repeat the it with the emphasis on unequivocal proof, e.g. love confessions, public admissions of a relationship, and/or explicit on screen kisses.]

I’m going to start by making a bold claim: that the sports-genre anime Yuri!!! on Ice will feature a canon (textual) same-sex couple. I would bet money on it.

Many people are in the opposite camp, with some stating that they would delete their accounts on certain sites (or even eat their own faeces) if there is canon LGBT, so convinced they are that this is just another instance of bait. I’m so convinced otherwise I’ve been screencapping these from the start. Profanity ahead.

screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-01-06-36will-eat-his-shit

There are plenty of similar claims, but in these, the stakes are highest.

Not that you can blame them. For a long time, modern media has shied away from LGBT+ characters. But I’m not here just to reflect on our long past of avoidance, character death, and conversion therapy, both in real life and in media portrayals. I’m here to look forward, and I believe Yuri!!! on Ice may be an ideal platform to discuss this.

Yuri!!! is a popular, mainstream show which seems to be presenting a same-sex couple in the desired sensitive, realistic way. So, what’s the issue? It hasn’t been confirmed* [Nov 16th edit: *definitively], and so plenty of people claim this is simply “bait”, as almost every other show before it has been. As a quick explanation of the term, bait (or “queerbait”) refers to media which flirts around the idea of homosexuality or other taboos in order to achieve wider appeal from niche groups, but without confirming the taboo subject so as not to alienate traditional viewers.

This is widely viewed as a disrespectful copout for obvious reasons.

Here’s why I think this show is different.

  1. The most important point – the one that’s struck me ever since first starting the show – is the bold claim made by the opening theme. “We were born to make history,” so the catchy song informs us, and it’s true. This is not (just) a reference to fictional athletes breaking world records. This show intends to grab the headlines, not just the sports section.

    But it would not only be one of the first ever shows, one of the first ever anime, and definitely THE first ever sports anime to have a canon LGBT lead/relationship. It won’t just make history this way.

    This would be an interracial gay relationship between two prominent figures in the public eye. The pair are Russian and Japanese, cultures which, respectively, outlaw homosexual propaganda, and are very private about topics such as sexuality – in short, countries which are viewed from the outside as being relatively homophobic. To have these two in a public relationship would be a massive step forwards and take an innately political stance.

 

This is something a similar anime (like its quasi-predecessor, Free!) could never hope to attain. They could have two guys kiss and it would be realistic, certainly – but other shows have done that before. It would be a great step forwards, but it wouldn’t be groundbreaking. All the guys in that show (the closest possible comparison or competitor to Yuri!!!) are white-passing characters. They’re no-name teenagers the wider world doesn’t care about. They don’t have status. They don’t represent anything. They don’t have hundreds of thousands of social media followers in show and in real life. They would not make history.

This show can, because this show was gunning for it from the start. This show was created partially for this very purpose. From the first moments of the narrative, we are told, very explicitly, that their intent is to make history. Then we are reminded of this, not just through the themes of the show, but in every successive opening – alongside the incorporation of more and more colours of the rainbow to an initially more monochromatic animation.

And honestly, this is the main point. They had me convinced from the start with this. You do not make these assertions unless you’re going to follow through. They knew exactly what they were doing. And, of course, the show itself is gradually fulfilling its promises. I may make a follow-up post on the following points:

2. Love being the major theme of the show outside of sports/skating, with romantic love and sexuality explicitly explored

3. The creators  publicly taking a “go hard or go home” approach.

 

But that would be another lengthy post on its own, and for a later date.

I’ll just leave this on the note that some people have complaints, not that this show isn’t canonically LGBT, but that a.) the creators are doing it for the wrong reasons, for example for money, or that b.) the show is weak in other respects. This isn’t the post to discuss this, but I disagree with the first point for the reasons outlined above. I also disagree with the second, but I can see why some viewers may have issues, such as the characterisation not yet being very deeply developed.

But here’s the thing. It doesn’t need to be deep. I’m sure it will be more so in the end, but right now, it doesn’t need to. This is sad, but it’s true. As much as we’d all love to see a genre show have an LGBT relationship that’s realistic, happy, maybe even diverse – along with fantastic setting, plot, writing, direction, acting, and everything else above and beyond that – that’s not realistic in a fledgeling field.

Because listen. The first films ever made weren’t masterpieces. In fact, most films that are made are far from it. But those films paved the way for the masterpieces. Not every romance is the love story of the century. There are a lot of shitty romcoms. All we’re asking for is the occasional romcom with a gay love story that isn’t just marketed as a “gay” film (and please, don’t count tragic endings), but just as any other romcom.

It doesn’t have to be perfect – it just has to be there. And in this, I think it will be.

And if I’m wrong, well, I’ll eat my shit.

 

-a

 

 

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