Yuri!!! on ICE and Boys Love?

Hey, everyone! Someone over on tumblr asked me what I thought of Yuri!!! on ICE, the imitable, the incredible, the sensation that rocked anime fandom, and I’m pretty happy with my reflection on the relationship between the series and the BL genre, so, crossposting! Let me know in the comments if you have any additions, fact-checks, alternate perspectives, or if you just enjoyed the post! Thanks so much everyone.

yoi ask

Hi! Thank you for this question–I adore Yuri!!! on Ice. It’s a little embarrassing how much I love it, actually. Since I’m answering this question on this specific blog, it’s important to me to be clear that I don’t think YoI is BL; the anime is TV-original, so it’s not marked for a specific demographic the way most manga are, and neither Sayo Yamamoto nor Mitsurou Kubo have previously worked on BL projects. Also, Yamamoto in particular has depicted same-gender sexual and romantic attractions/relationships in her previous directorial works Michiko and Hatchin and The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, so to me it seems more likely that she’s continuing in that vein rather than having…suddenly developed an interest in BL.

Matt Thorn, an awesome translator and shojo manga scholar, has actually said that YoI feels more like yuri than BL to her. I can’t say whether I agree, as I just…don’t read yuri (I wish I did!) but I think it’s a fascinating take on the series.

That said, although BL is a unique genre with a complex history and not just ‘every gay anime thing that comes out of Japan,’ some of the problems people have with it (specifically that it’s for girls) extend to media otherwise outside its parameters. I think Yamamoto’s statement regarding how she wanted Michiko and Hatchin to be recieved indicates that she is a director who values and actively courts a female audience, and this in combination with all the uh, lovingly drawn shots of Victor and Chris’ asses suggest that, by extension, YoI is a series that values and actively courts a female audience. This post theorizes that YoI uses the same techniques as fujoshi bait series to please its intended audience, and that there’s a disconnect between how that language is understood in Western and Japanese fandom. I think this is an argument that deserves to be heard, and I really can’t speak to different viewership dynamics in Japan as opposed to the West, but there are definitely alternate perspectives—Jacob Chapman has talked on twitter about how he’s seen fujoshi and fangirls be overwhelmed and baffled because YoI so clearly violates the “contract” referred to in the previous post.

There are also a lot of outdated ideas and misinformation about BL floating around the internet that play into the debate about whether YoI is Real LGBT Representation–for example, BL has come under fire from Japanese gay men, but there are also a significant amount of gay men who do read and enjoy it, and it’s possible that this population is growing. An Australian scholar in Japanese Studies doing work on sexuality and masculinity in Japanese gay media, Thomas Baudinette, just published a paper on Japanese gay men’s attitudes toward gay manga and BL. It’s research with a very small sample size focused on qualitative, rather than quantitative data, but very interesting!

I definitely have a limited perspective on this, as I’m neither a working academic in this field of study nor a Japanese gay man, but everything I’ve read suggests that there just isn’t any clear consensus. Of course, that makes it really, really important to listen carefully to dissenting voices, to people who are saying things I disagree with or dislike, so I genuinely hope people with all different perspectives on YoI and BL will feel comfortable responding to this post if they have something to add!

I do think YoI is remarkable for its delightful, diverse cast, well-developed supporting female characters, and moving themes on the nature of love. I don’t think the series makes any sense if you try to argue that the Victor/Yuri relationship is purely platonic and the romance is just subtext meant to tantalize fujoshi (again, I don’t think there’s a single, clearly defined target audience for this show, although Yamamoto has expressed a strong desire to speak to women in her work and her public statements–think about that what you will.) I don’t think the ep 7 kiss was obscured because of Japanese censorship oh my god, y’all. I think YoI is a very enjoyable, very charming series about a gay relationship made under the primary creative direction of two straight women supported by a whole team of writers and animators we–or at least I–know very little about. This is something that also happens in the West sometimes! Having that limited perspective always affects the nature and execution of a story, which is in part why it’s so vital for LGBT people to tell our own stories (and Japanese LGBT people are telling their own stories), but that doesn’t automatically make the result stealth fetishization.

I do love this show, I loved watching it every week during the fall and sharing that feeling of excitement and community with fellow fans on the internet. I don’t think it’s a perfect show, and I don’t think the creators are perfect people, but by accident or effort–or maybe both! they made something that means a lot to a lot of people and I do think that’s valuable.

Here’s some other great analytical writing on YoI:

Plus, useful meta from tumblr! @spurisani has great writing on how Japanese culture informs the series, my favorites being this post on Victor and Yuri’s rings and this one on the concepts of uchi and soto in episode 7; The Lost in Translation post from @lookiamnotcreative also acts as a great supplement to Crunchyroll’s subs, showing how difficult and complex translation is while also providing extra insight into the nuances of the original Japanese script.

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