Now that we’re done:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.