Queerwhatsitmaybes on Ice: Yuri on Ice, Boys’ Love & Gendercoding

yuri on ice boys love

Now that we’re done:

 

yuri on ice boys love

The differences between Boy’s Love and sports anime as genres should be pretty clear by now. Boy’s Love can use sports as a backdrop for the real purpose of its narrative: showing the internal, romantic world of the couple (or couples) that it wishes to focus on. We might even be able to say, in fact, that BL that uses sports series conventions are fetishizing the relationships between athletes. In the same way that readers can have narrative kinks (like, let’s say, enjoying BDSM stories or preferring May-December couples in their fiction), fujoshi can enjoy reading the rivalry and competition between male athletes as homoerotic – and some of them will simply write them in a “gay” relationship.

On the other hand, sports anime can’t be defined as Boy’s Love. While we are certainly welcome to read the relationships between the athletes as gay, they are, more often than not, canonically heterosexual. We’re just projecting our own queer visions of the world on them, for whatever purpose. This isn’t to say, of course, that sports anime CAN’T have gay characters at all – else, Yuri!!! on Ice wouldn’t exist. However, the gay characters in a sports anime are present as part of the plot, or as representation – accurate or otherwise.

While we are certainly welcome to read the relationships between the athletes as gay, they are, more often than not, canonically heterosexual. We’re just projecting our own queer visions of the world on them, for whatever purpose.

I acknowledge that the face of Boy’s Love has changed a whole lot since its origin point. Beyond having more male mangaka on the scene, you’ve also got female mangaka that really DO want to write gay stories and aren’t writing out practical heterosexual porn with dicks. Some mangaka are even gay Japanese men, out to tell their own stories on their own terms.

Yuri on Ice isn’t just a sports anime, and is definitely NOT BL.

 

yuri on ice boys love

I don’t think I could ever overstate this. Stories are inherently political; genres reflect and amplify a story’s inherent agendas.

In the case of Yuri!!! on Ice, the insistence that the series is “simply” Boy’s Love masquerading as a sports anime is wholly inaccurate. Yuri!!! on Ice contains an ASTOUNDING amount of detail on all aspects of figure skating: the way the sport works, how competitions play out right down to the point system, the performative aspects of figure skating that set it apart from many other Olympics competitions, and the politics of the sport itself.

yuri on ice boys love IG screen
The international figure skating community is actually EXTREMELY tight knit. Everyone knows everyone, everyone TWEETS everyone, everyone IGs everything about everyone. We saw a hell lot of this in YOI, didn’t we?

While I can’t speak with authority on all of the technical merits of the figure skating of Yuri!!! on Ice, I CAN laud it for its portrayal of figure skating culture. Many of the characters don’t actually borrow from the archetypal conventions of characters in sports anime narratives. In fact, some are caricatures (or tributes) to real people in the figure skating scene. Other characters might be Kubo’s quiet critique of the more damaging politics in competitive figure skating.

yuri on ice boys love screenshot - leo
Leo de la Iglesia is an interesting character in YOI with regard to representation. Most of the figure skaters who represent America in competitions are American or Asian-American. For Leo to be Latino and have an African-American coach is interesting. Consider today’s context of the racial tensions that exist in the States between the white communities and “non-whites”.

We can also consider Yuri and Victor’s love story in this context. It is easy for us to write off their dynamic – figure skater and coach falling in love – as a BL trope, but that would be ignoring the way their story plays out.

Victor and Yuri are “real” gay characters, not fantasy projections.

Episodes 1 to 9 may have led us to believe that Victor wasn’t interested in a relationship with Yuri. There’s enough textual evidence to interpret his actions as him trying to find  something new and exciting for himself by coaching another figure skater. Episode 10, however, reveals that in a drunken moment, Yuri and Victor had an amazing time together at a party. Yuri even begged Victor to become his coach!

yuri on ice boys love - camera roll
Two particularly affectionate and drug male figure skaters horsing around, or a future couple in the making? I say it’s the latter.

If we’re to believe that Mitsuru Kubo was vying for “accuracy”, the gender coding of this pair starts to make sense. Yuri never truly goes through the “dark night of the soul” that BL characters usually go through (“am I gay? / I like him, is that weird?”). He simply realizes, for himself, that the love he has for Victor is “different”. His understanding of that difference grows as they continue their journey together. It’s also telling that he never comes off as feminine, right down to his performances on the ice.

While he never openly declares his sexuality, Victor’s actions and the way he carries himself speak volumes. Furthermore, BOTH of them are extremely discreet. It’s almost as if they are aware of this “different love” that they possess for each other. The world at large may not view their relationship with kindness.

Conclusion

It’s a love letter to figure skating. It’s also a fictional presentation of a world that many people hope for: an LGBTQ-friendly one, where same-sex romance on and around the ice rink can exist without prejudice.

The power of the representation in Yuri!!! on Ice is one of the greatest things about the series. It’s a love letter to figure skating. It’s also a fictional presentation of a world that many people hope for: an LGBTQ-friendly one, where same-sex romance on and around the ice rink can exist without prejudice. Therefore, we have to view it as a sports anime that went the distance. Writing it off as queerbaiting ignores everything that it did. Writing it off as Boy’s Love ignores the strength of the world it constructed, and prevents us from seeing Yuri and Victor for who they are.


An earlier version of this article cited Oofuri as an anime about middle school baseball. This has since been corrected.

The Girls Got Game team and the presenter of this panel discussion welcome discourse in the comments! Tell Pam what you think.

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Pamela Punzalan
30, female, not in Narnia about anything. Games, writes, DMs, watches shit, reads shit, loves cats. Answers to Kae, Pamela, Pam, Pam-Pam, Pammy, Pammeth. Pamera, and Pammu. Also part of the admin team of What's a Geek, over at http://www.whatsageek.com!

6 comments

  1. Excellent piece of writing. I have shared it on my academic blog if that is okay (although I should mention that I personally do not believe it is appropriate to label these characters as “gay” so much as possessing potential same-sex attraction… since neither of them ever identify as such explicitly)

    1. Thank you for your feedback! That is actually what a lot of us find REALLY interesting about the series with regard to whether we can label them gay or not. There is ample textual proof for either reading, especially if you take the cultural context of Japan and the country’s views on LGBTQ, most especially homosexual men.

  2. I entered the world of Yuri!! On Ice as a longtime figure skating fan and as the author of a figure skating novel. I’m also an American over forty who doesn’t have much of a background in anime/manga, so your article feeds my brain in a new way.

    “Yuri!!! on Ice, an anime, has a canon gay couple in a sport notorious for its anti-LGBTQ stance. I don’t know how much more political you could possibly get.” I absolutely agree with this. If anyone has any doubt, consider that current World figure skating champion Evgenia Medvedeva has spoken publicly about how much she loves the series and regularly tweets about it. This is a teenager from a country where it’s against the law to distribute “homosexual propaganda”! Whether Yuri!!! On Ice’s creators intended it or not, their stories do have a political impact.

    1. Thank you so much for taking time to read my piece! I honestly wish that more fans would write about the more political aspect of the series and what it does for figureskating and LGBTQ issues. Am also glad that my article’s providing new viewpoints. May I know the title of your novel?

      1. My novel is titled Red Flags. It is a coming-of-age story about a Soviet figure skating champion. The paperback is available at Amazon and it’s also available in all the major ebook platforms (Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Tolino). And yes, the story addresses LGBTQ issues. (Well, not much on the “T” front, except for one brief scene where the main character and her Soviet teammates are watching talk shows in an American hotel room.)

        1. Sorry for the massive delay in my response, got whisked off for the Holy Week long vacation down here. That sounds really, really interesting. I’ll make sure to tell my friends about this book!

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