Katsudon Paella Instagram
I have watched a lot of anime.
I went to the original theatrical release of Princess Mononoke. I have seen Haruhigasm thunder into our lives. My prized possession on my bookshelf is my Gurren Lagann figure signed by the Gainax staff. I have seen phrases from “God’s in his Heaven; All’s right with the world” to “Let justice be done though the heavens fall” to “See you Space Cowboy.” I have blogged long enough to have awarded Kamichu, KILL la KILL, and Clannad After Story Anime of the Year. I painted it red. I am over a decade into thin slicing. I have watched a lot of anime.
I have seen countless moe shows, countless sports anime, countless harems brimming with nubile haremettes, countless do nothing after school clubs, countless “normal” people whisked into fantasy worlds, countless magic high schools, countless cyberpunk dystopian futures, and countless otome shows with non-threatening, mousy female leads. I have seen the same themes and tropes and stereotypes endlessly repeated. I have watched a lot of anime.
But I haven’t quite seen an anime like this one.
Today, I can confidently do what I wanted to do for the past few weeks; I don’t need to see the rest of this anime. It can go as bad as Kare Kano or Endless Eight in its final moments, and I’m okay with even that. It doesn’t matter anymore; it has run up such a score, not even Keijo!!!!!!!! can hip check it or Yayaka can steal its Pure Illusion fragment. Yuri on Ice is blog好き’s 2016 Anime of the Year. It isn’t just a history maker, but Yuri on Ice is a future maker.
I haven’t named an Anime of the Year in a while, not because of anime per se but because I lacked time and inspiration. I’m old. Plain and simple. You’ll get old too. And you’ll hate it too. But, now, I’m making time for Victor and Yuri. I am also discarding the stereotypes and expectations of Anime of the Year posts much like how Yuri on Ice disregards the stereotypes of and expectations of anime and anime culture.
Yuri on Ice is a future maker because it is effortless: it effortlessly breaks down anime stereotypes, it effortlessly presents a human story, it effortlessly embraces modern culture, and it effortlessly embraces fun. That effortlessness shows anime a path into a future with even a wider palate and styles of stories to tell, hopefully leading to more and more anime that disregard typical anime tropes and stereotypes for imaginative and original stories.
When I think of same sex relationships in anime, they fall into two major buckets. The first is the typical otome game where there is a gaggle of hawt men waiting to be paired with each another like Free or Super Lovers or this season’s terrible anime about boys as swords. Or it could be a show where it is all implied in the minds of the audience like Gundam Wing or Code Geass. Maybe there is a non-threatening, mousy girl involved, much like this season’s show about a girl joining a musical school filled with hawt boys. There is not a lot of romance or the subtlety of romance. These shows tend to indulge the final fantasy: they typically skip the grocery shopping and the cooking and hop straight into taking Instagram photos of the meal. Yaoi anime has always been more about the viewer acting like Grindr for all the boys. It has not been historically about depicting homosexual relationship as, well, a normal relationship but more of fantasy indulgence for the viewer.
The second bucket is the Hibike Euphorium special (or for anime fans time traveling from 2002, the Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito special). Maybe there’s yuri. Maybe there isn’t. Who knows? Maybe it should be renamed to the “strong friendship but not quite Xena and Gabby” genre. There’s just a lot of scenes of two girls (or guys) somewhat being close to each other. Maybe they’ll sit on a bed together. Maybe they’ll enjoy a fireworks display together. Maybe they’ll hold hands like on Flip Flappers this season. From a scale of 1 to Ararararagi brushing Karen’s teeth, these shows typically are a 1.648. These shows are historically sweet and subtle but feature the burning passion of lukewarm microwaveable oatmeal.
Yuri on Ice dodges both of those buckets. Sure, one could ship JJ and Christophe, but the main course is Yuri and Victor. They have a real relationship. Sure, the relationship isn’t spelled out like in the first episodes of Kare Kano, but the show doesn’t need that. It doesn’t need to go through all the baggage and shit with high school romance because it isn’t a high school romance. Yuri and Victor are adults in their mid to late twenties. What anime centers around a love story between two characters in their mid twenties? More so, which anime does it well? Nodame Cantabile has characters in their early twenties, but they behave romantically as if they were in middle school. Their romance is also qualified on music and performances whereas Yuri on Ice uses ice skating as a very loose reason for why Yuri and Victor would spend time together but not the only one. It is a distinction but an important one.
The ice skating show also acknowledges that relationships do not need twenty-seven volumes of manga to build into or require tripping and falling into butts or long internal monologues. Sometimes (well, most of the time), relationships are, “Hey, I like you. You like me. Maybe we should hang out. Yuri on Ice and chill.”
Yuri on Ice depicts nicely the highlights and key points of a budding and developing romance. The show skips the boring shopping trips to Target, the nights spent binge watching Terrace House, and the lazy mornings spent making mochi waffles. But the anime does show Yuri telling Victor that he doesn’t want anything special from Victor other than Victor being there for him and to believe in him. That is a key point in any relationship when you realize, “Hey, I don’t need a special reason to be near this person. I just want to be near this person.” The way the show approached Yuri’s first short program with Victor feels natural and human rather than a scene from a manga. The anime is very good at highlighting key points in their relationship and making those moments seem effortless.
Then there’s the point in any relationship when you realize, “Hey, it sucks that we will be apart– but we need to be apart now.” That’s Yuri sending Victor to be with his poodle with Yuri’s career making or breaking long program coming up. It’s a part of any relationship you don’t plan for, but how you overcome that as a couple tells a lot about the relationship. No one plans on their dog choking on mochi (Fashion Czar is now keeping our mochi waffle mix behind lock and key), no one plans on a mom or grandfather getting sick, and no one plans having to sell their childhood home in a weekend. But these things happen. You might have to be apart at a crucial time. But you make it work. In typical shoujo or romance manga, that scene would time dilate over four volumes of manga. Here, it’s business as usual for a relationship. Yuri wants Victor to go, Victor wants to leave but doesn’t until Yuri sends him off, and they are all stronger for it in the end. Plus, Makkachin survives and can continue being a mischievous puppy. The drama from that event wasn’t from their relationship, but it was their relationship that overcame that drama. That is history making for a romance anime. That’s Yuri and Victor, and Yuri on Ice captures that aspect of a working, functional relationship beautifully. It is not something anime typical depicts– a working, functional relationship where each person is rooting for the other– and isn’t hinged on constant drama after drama.
It isn’t just that Yuri and Victor have a natural, human relationship. It isn’t that they are both men. It is that their relationship is happening in a medium where natural, human relationships as well as same sex relationship are often poorly portrayed.
For other anime stereotypes, yes, it is a sports anime. We do have the typical sports anime arc where the protagonist has to build up from nothing and be great. What is different is that the sports aspect isn’t an analysis of the sport itself. In the excellent Haikyuu, also airing this season, the tactics of volleyball are incessantly dissected and applied. Same goes for Cross Game and baseball and Long Riders and cycling and Slam Dunk and basketball. For Yuri on Ice, the show assumes you watched Brian Boitano and Kristi Yamaguchi skate on the CBC as you were growing up. What is a triple axel? A quadruple flip? They don’t tell you. You know more about Tekkadan’s finances than you do about figure skating.
But that is okay because Yuri on Ice isn’t a sports anime. It isn’t about Yuri becoming a God-like skater and becoming the Little Giant or playing at Koushien or getting the gold. It’s a celebration anime. The anime is celebrating ice skating. Every competitor gets their own skating routine (and original song) beautifully and effortlessly animated by MAPPA. Each competitor has their own distinctive gimmick and style that feels natural for each character, from Christophe jizzing in his pants to Popovich
coaching Tim Duncan getting over his break up. That is a lot of production effort for MAPPA with not just smoothness of animation but also camera work. Not only that, every skating routine is literally the Michael Jordan flu game over and over and over. (Or in modern terms, Sumail on Storm Spirit.) Every routine would destroy the modern ice skating records. Who the fuck lands twenty-seven quad jumps in a long program? JJ. Motherfucking JJ.
Because of how Yuri on Ice celebrates ice skating, ice skating professionals have embraced the anime. Most of them probably haven’t watched anime outside of Cartoon Network, but they are all digging and social mediaing Yuri on Ice. Hashtag #onice. Hashtag #historymaker. Hashtag #naughtymochipuppies. It is a celebration. It is a victory lap– err– skate. At the end of every episode, you feel good, warm, and hopeful watching it. If there is a polar opposite to watching Ramsay Snow torture Theon or the 2016 presidential election, it is watching Yuri on Ice.
More so, the victory skate feels even applicable in 2016. Japan is not a diverse country: highly xenophobic with a lot of legal barriers to same sex relationships. Japan rarely depicts race outside of their own well. Yuri on Ice doesn’t have to be diverse– world figure skating, at least men’s, is dominated by Asians and Russians. But they make a point to include a representative worldwide cast. I might joke about how Thailand competing in figure skating is like the Jamaican bobsledding team, but we are all better for having Phichit and Cool Runnings in our lives. The show also then takes it up a notch by not just depicting other races but thoughtful representations of races and cultures. The skater from the United States isn’t Asian or Caucasian: the American skater is Latino. The Canadian skater is a mixed Anglo-French skater. The show put thought into the characters and made them interesting cultural representations rather than typical, more expected cultural representations. I like that. I would like to see more of that. Furthermore, they are all friends, except with JJ, and cultural differences are only portrayed as an excuse to try out new and different food. Plus, a lot of yuri and yaoi anime will just focus on same sex relationship. Yuri on Ice has heterosexual couples being featured plus the highly popular Yurio and himself couple. There are more heterosexual couples than homosexual couples in the show. Yuri on Ice celebrates not only figure skating but diversity in race and lifestyle as well. It goes about it in a natural way to seems, like, well, normal life.
The anime also feels modern. It has been the first show to properly depict how people use social media: a lot of selfies, a lot of pictures of food, and a lot of pictures of pets. There are no trappings of anime like oh finding ero hon under a mattress or pretending text messages do not exist. Yuri on Ice embraces life in 2016. The use of social media probably led to Yuri on Ice‘s best scene and reveal: the drunken party in episode ten. We see through the phones of Victor, Christophe, and others that Yuri tried to drunkenly hook up with Victor. That obviously led to an impression on Victor, who wasn’t sure if Yuri was serious or not about having a relationship. They go their separate ways and we loop back to the first episode. Yuri goes home and skates to Victor’s program. The rest of the world is impressed with Yuri’s technical ability, but Victor sees it as a sign of romantic interest. So he goes to Japan and discovers that Yuri remembers none of the drunken party, and Victor ends up crying that night in Japan. The story makes sense.
The story feels like a relationship story without having long periods of self-doubt and internal monologue being emphasized for spelled out for the viewer. We see it, and we make the deductions ourselves. The show isn’t beating into our heads what Victor and Yuri are feeling but instead lets us infer how they feel and think. It is a stark upgrade and improvement over every fucking relationship anime thus far (Goddamnit Keiichi and Belldandy). Maybe you don’t care about MAPPA’s excellent tier one animation production. Maybe you don’t care about figure skating. Maybe you don’t care about gay people or diversity. But Yuri on Ice propelled romance and relationship storytelling in anime into the future. The gap between Yuri on Ice and relationship anime is bigger than the gap between Madoka and magical girl or Evangelion and giant robots in how they changed those genres. Not only that, Yuri on Ice accomplished that task with a same sex couple, complicating the feat from just a triple axel to a quadruple flip. It did it effortlessly. It is a future maker.
I watch a lot of anime. Yuri on Ice is something special, and it is blog好き’s Anime of the Year.
#1: Yuri on Ice
Also wins for 2016:
- Best Tissue Holder
- Most Katsudon
- Best Opening
- Best Drunken Parties
- Best Use of Hideki Anno’s Japan Animator Festival
- Most Fun