I know I said I’d watch and review more OVA’s, but then I came across the gem of an anime that is Yuri!!! On Ice, and this show is so great. I don’t normally watch sports anime, but every episode of this show far has been fantastic. The characters are flawed yet believable and interesting, and the tale of the underdog is familiar while adding new twists and turns. Most of all, the best part is Yuri and Victor’s relationship, and I couldn’t resist the temptation to talk about it.
Warning: this will have spoilers involving Episodes 1-7 of Yuri!!! On Ice. Read at your own risk!
Episode 7 has the Internet exploding with praise and excitement because it stands out among other anime by confirming a homosexual relationship. This is noteworthy because Japan is stricter when it comes to same sex marriage, and therefore, homosexual couples are extremely fleeting in anime. What tends to happen more often is “queerbaiting”, and the definition is as follows: “…when people in the media…add homoerotic tension between two characters to attract more liberal and queer viewers with the indication of them not ever getting together for real…”, and I think you can see pretty quickly why this is a problem.
Hinting at the possibility of a homosexual couple to get more ratings and essentially to trick the viewers is unacceptable. Not only that, but it squanders all potential for a dynamic, interesting couple, especially homosexual couples that aren’t represented equally in anime. It serves to demean the community at large and invalidate them by treating homosexual couples as something “strange” to be mocked. This isn’t just a problem in Japan either; I’m sure cases can be made for American shows and movies that do the very same thing. But the point is not about the country, but the fact that queerbaiting is relied on in the way that it is and how it ruins the potential for fair representation of homosexual couples.
So the fact that Yuri!! On Ice has a legitimate homosexual couple is something to clamor for. Now I don’t want to imply that Yuri and Victor are only a notable couple because they’re breaking the away from the mold of most anime. Yuri and Victor’s relationship challenges the industry and Japan’s perception of homosexual relationships, and this is an extremely important first step into encouraging acceptance. It’s a bold move that has absolutely succeeded on all fronts. But Yuri and Victor aren’t a great couple because they’re homosexual. They’re a great couple because of how they support and rely on each other during this new chapter in both of their lives.
When Yuri!! On Ice begins, Yuri has just lost the Grand Prix due to extreme anxiety and no self-confidence, and goes back home in shame. In his mind, his skating career is over. And for a while, it is. He wants to feel inspired to skate, but feels that there’s nothing left. Eventually, he is inspired by his role model, Victor. Victor has been the World Champion male figure skater for many years, and Yuri as admired him greatly since he was young. This inspiration leads him to copy one of his routines. His imitation of the piece is very good, and it’s recorded and leaked onto the Internet. The video immediately goes viral, and eventually Victor finds and watches it. Impressed, he makes his way to Japan and finds Yuri, declaring himself his new coach.
From here on out, Victor acts as Yuri’s mentor and focuses on instilling more confidence in him. While Yuri does start to gain more self-confidence over time, he still suffers from crippling anxiety and fears that Victor will resign and have a ruined reputation if he doesn’t win the Grand Prix. This pressure can get the best of Yuri at times, causing him to make mistakes in the choreography or rebel against Victor’s commands with the hopes of impressing him. Yuri is far from a perfect character, but his flaws make him sympathetic and a great character to follow, and seeing his growth step by step in each episode is great. This character development is largely due to Victor’s presence as his idol, but Victor’s role as a coach is not as impactful.
As a coach, Victor isn’t emotionally supportive in the same way. He often acts more intimate as a way to distract Yuri or tells him to focus on impressing him rather than trying to talk him through his feelings. This flawed coaching style becomes most apparent in Episode 7. Victor emotionally breaks Yuri with the hope that saying he’ll resign as his coach will force Yuri to focus. This backfires because of how it reaffirms Yuri’s fears of incompetence and anxiety and makes him cry and confide in Victor.
Yuri’s fears often get in the way of his self-confidence, and leads him to think he can’t win. Because he struggles to be confident, he wants more than anything to be believed in. At this point, Yuri has seen Victor’s flaws as his coach, and similarly, Victor wonders what he should do as his “coach”. But he ultimately sees that he can’t just be Yuri’s coach – he needs to be an emotional anchor at every step of the way, leading to the surprising kiss in Episode 7.
Their dynamic as a coach and figure skater, but also as a couple, is interwoven to create a very dynamic, realistic relationship. They respect and admire each other professionally, but also emotionally – it’s part of why Yuri’s theme for the competition is “love” – not just for skating or having his idol be his coach, but because Victor means so much more to him than that. Victor is the first person outside of his close-knit family and friends to believe in him. He’s more than just a hero or friend, but someone Yuri can open up to and be with. Victor is the reason Yuri skates, the person he skates for.
The most interesting thing about this relationship is the fact that it is flawed. They’re not a perfect couple – they have their issues and sometimes have a hard time relating to each other. Sometimes they don’t know how to react to each other’s emotions, and sometimes maybe react incorrectly even. They fight, they may even hurt each other’s feelings without realizing it, but still support each other without fail. What we’ve seen in Yuri!! On Ice is the masterful and natural development of a genuine and complex relationship between two characters. It proves that well-written couples that people want to root for and invest in are not determined by gender, but how they impact each other as two halves of a whole. I have high hopes for the remaining episodes of Yuri!! On Ice and how they continue to explore Yuri and Victor’s budding romance.