Yuri!!! on Ice
by Jack Allistar
Let me get this out in the open: I am not the target audience for this show. I do not like sports anime. I do not like implicit homoerotic anime, and I especially do not like homoerotic sports anime. Free! bored me to tears from the first moment that one asshole dragged his total no-homo dudemate, speedo-clad body out of the bathtub. That isn’t a thing I want to watch.
But that’s okay, because it doesn’t matter how dull your scenes are, or how much you pigeonhole the actual sports that most of your audience might have come for…because if it’s gay, it’s good, right?
Having a gay couple in your show, or even just gay undertones, does NOT give you a free pass, gold star, or stamp of approval. Homosexuality is a small aspect of human life, and a lot of people in the world, including the young and “trendy” kiddos out there being sexually active, are straight. I know this seems like a huge shock to people who surround themselves with all the gay friends they could find, but that’s a confirmation bias, you and your six gay buddies do not a control group make. Gayness is not inherently special, or cool, or better than any other sexuality. Gayness does not elevate any piece of media to a higher standard just because it contains gay. It does not excuse any problems in quality, and the reason it’s there is probably a very cynical one: the people making this anime knew that if they included an outright, canonically gay couple, they could get butts in seats and audiences raving about it. These guys want your dollar. It’s as obvious as the thirty-forty year old reps at Blizzard making the flagship character of Overwatch gay: it’s free publicity, and it hooks people in quicker than me when I’m ridin’ that hog.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, and upset basically everyone who doesn’t understand that criticism and logic differ from homophobia (and let’s not forget that I’m pretty gay, myself, dontchaknow), let’s talk about ice gay-ting.
I actually kinda like ice skating. It’s the one thing I can do for fun in the small town I live in. There’s an ice rink fifteen minutes from my house and they host curling games, hockey, and yes, figure skating. And it’s all really cool and interesting. Putting a sport on ice just inherently changes up the physics and mechanics, and tests the human body’s sense of balance and muscle memory in unique ways. Trying to be graceful and set a routine to music while you’re also trying to stay upright on the smallest surface area that can support a human being is an insane suggestion for a sport, but we humans aren’t really known for making any sense with our pastimes.
So how does Yuri!!! on Ice fuck this awesomeness up?
I’ll let you in on a little secret. In the spirit of The Other Side, I compiled a list before watching the show, based on nothing more than the occasional (read: constant) screenshot thrown in my face without any context from Tumblr. I didn’t learn the character’s names and I didn’t prewatch any episodes before making this list. Here’s what I thought would go down:
-First episode(s) are going to be really fun, highlighting the sport with top-notch animation and interesting character introductions
-As soon as the two gays meet, all of that goes by the wayside, and skating is an afterthought to the relationship
-One of them (or both) totally admires the other’s ice skating in a verrrry platonic way
-They keep this to themselves until a very dramatic moment where they blurt it out awkwardly
-This “confession” results in too much physical contact and smirking from the other party
-Everything becomes awkward and blushy afterwards
-They’ll bump/touch very briefly and nosebleeds/minor seizures/screaming for no reason
-One of them will promise to win some kind of competition to “prove his love”
-Either he won’t but they’ll be together anyways because it’s only their love that matters OR he’ll win because he was thinking of his love and that suddenly pulled him ahead
-There’s one (1) very pushy female character who is universally hated by the fandom and is only there to be in the way
-Alternatively, tons of cheap women that each dude buries himself in to hide his gay
-Rival for the affections of one of the dudes, plans to steal the other guy away and prove he’s a better skater, to boot
-This rival won’t understand the deep love and understanding between the couple
-Rival will prove far more interesting and have better-written motivation than both as a result
-One of them cooks food to cheer the other up, gets compared to food in a sexual context (i.e., “Maybe you’d taste better”), because anime writes terrible gay romance and I hate everyone who likes this crap
How did I do? Let’s find out.
As we jump into the very first episode, they don’t even wait until after the opening to show how much BlackBangs McGlassesFace admires the shit out of SilverLocks Beanpole. Then the opening shows off the two skating and repeats in Engrish how they were “born to make history”. That’s some pretty arrogant proclamations, there.
The exposition is done via intrusive Emperor’s New Groove style freeze frame, featuring a chibi McGlassesFace, aka Yuri Katsuki, explaining that he is a skater who is somehow in the top ten of the World Figure Skating Grand Prix even though he sucks because reasons. He also binge-eats and his dog died, and also he was probably mugged before the competition and insulted a bunch on Twitter…
He goes into a bathroom stall to cry to his mom over the phone, and a blond guy also named Yuri kicks the stall open and yells at him for being a pussy. And I already wish the show starred blond Yuri just ragging on the rest of the cast. Pussy Yuri walks out and we’re treated to an overly drawn out scene where he just stares at Viktor, aka Beanpole. He’s caught and it’s just like every anime ever where someone is caught staring: he jolts up, blushes, and looks away, and internally monologues about his feelings and how much he sucks.
I cannot make up the shit that happens next. A year passes and he gets fat and washed up. There’s another chibi freeze frame plot dump to explain that he lost basically every single competition, graduated college, and decided to run home with his tail between his legs. A lady named Minako instantly fills that Pushy Bitch character slot I anticipated, and I’m too filled with anguish over watching this show that I don’t even care to research if the fandom hates her, I hate her. She strips him to his long underwear and shames him for being fat in front of his parents, and continues to be a bitch. Somehow Yuri, a man who could easily overpower her with his weight alone, doesn’t stop her at any point. There’s really no distinction between Yuri and an average harem protagonist, both are pretty gay once you get down to it.
We’re introduced to the small town Yuri calls home and the ice rink he practices at, even though he’s hemming and hawing about what to do now that he’s become a failure. We meet his rink mate Yuko, Yuri’s beard, and he calls her Madonna of the rink because why not, maybe Madonna played a mean hockey game. She’s also his childhood friend, because anime. It’s also revealed in a giant flashback that Yuri bought a poodle because Viktor had one too. It’s even named Viktor. I feel sorry for Yuko, seems like Yuri’s been gay since the beginning. Thankfully, it looks like she caught the hint early on because she’s married with three satanic kids.
Yuko films Yuri copying Viktor’s routine from the Grand Prix, and it “accidentally” gets uploaded online. Viktor sees it, travels to Japan, has himself a set-down in one of Yuri’s family’s hot springs, and the last shot of the episode is Viktor’s naked ass as he’s greeted by Yuri. He claims that he is now Yuri’s coach and he’ll get him to win the Grand Prix, so Yuri does his best donkey bray and God please don’t make me watch any more.
I’m not even gonna continue with the blow by blow of each episode like I originally intended. This episode should pretty much tell you all you want to know. If you want uninspired character designs (seriously, blond Yuri is just Mello from Death Note) doing exactly what you expect them to in a melodramatic puff piece, framed by the average anime zaniness of the Tazmanian Devil on his fifth Red Bull, coated in a well-toasted layer of predictability, you’ll probably love this show. Also if you like pale Russian ass. I prefer Putin for that, personally.
You might notice I didn’t even touch my list yet. I was almost completely spot on. I expected maybe a little over half of these tired tropes to make it into YOI. The animators made time for all of them, and then some. Nothing is a surprise here, everything is exactly how every sports-based romance anime goes, no variations, no clever or mildly entertaining alternative plotlines. And that’s when I realized something very crucial.
This anime could have been a random romance, forgettable, eye-rollingly banal, but the character designers just took the girl character and made it into a chubby guy. There’s no key difference between Yuri and your average shrinking violet lead anime girl. He even looks a little feminine, with big round eyes and a narrow chin. Viktor might be the androgynous man steak everyone wants to mouth-hump, but Yuri is your self insert girl, only with a penis. He actually looks closer to the girl from Princess Jellyfish, a well-animated show that took the stereotypes of otaku and outsider culture and made an enjoyable ride out of it. It’s not perfect, but it’s far better than knowing what’s going to happen in episode twelve before you even open the tab for Crunchyroll. I’m honestly surprised more people aren’t upset that the main character is a genderswapped girl. He’s unnecessarily demure and soft spoken at all times, rather than just being an insecure guy. If I gave more of a damn, I’d probably be offended that the show thinks that’s what gay is.
I feel especially wrong about my animation prediction. I can’t even consider the animation good, like I thought it might be, because the skating is all on a way lower framerate than the rest of the show, and it’s all loops and repeated sequences. They could have made this a hentai and the quality of their pivotal scenes would have better production values. Not to mention each extended sequence involves a drunken camera that’s likely supposed to add depth and intrigue to the shot, but the perspective is always straight-on for the skater and the shot never changes or cuts away, so it just looks like someone took a wide shot and made a shaky camcorder video of the whole thing. I’m almost expecting Slowbeef and Diabeetus to comment as a sudden “Unregistered Hypercam 2” appears in frame. Outside of the skating, some of the walking scenes are focused on the feet, which is creepy enough, and most feature rotoscope levels of erratic attempts to seem smooth. Characters move in herky-jerky motions typical to anime, or they suddenly emote and overact as much as the voice actors. Basically, nothing looks decent at all, the poses are awkward and the focus of each shot is all over the place.
I might be a little unnecessarily harsh on this show, but it’s because I feel cheated. I knew YOI wasn’t going to be God on a breadstick, but I really wanted a sort of “suffer through dinner to get your dessert”, by which I mean the skating, not the cartoon man ass. The romance scenes aren’t anything you can’t unwittingly find while you mind your own business on Tumblr. The skating was a total let down, and everything else was either disgustingly overbearing or tired and overdone as a laugh track. If there’s one xenophobic statement I feel completely justified in saying after all this, it’s thank God that America is marginally better at writing gay shit than this.
Incidentally, if you also felt cheated by this waste of time, I recommend the manga Pet Shop of Horrors instead. There’s an implied domestic gayness you can infer if that’s your thing, but the one shot stories involving mystic creatures and the occult keep anyone interested.
+It’s the first mainstream gay anime since Hetalia. This is a very small pro.
+Side characters are interesting
+Cool costume designs
-Boring, unwatchable leads
-If you have ever seen a romance, you’ve seen this anime before.
-Doesn’t focus on ice skating after first few episodes.
-The intimate scenes with Victor are uncomfortable to watch. He’s a creep
-Two characters named Yuri. Don’t do that.
-Their interpretation of homosexual characters is “basically a girl”
-Subpar character designs