"Yuri!!! On Ice" and the importance of positive LGBTQ representation

The first clip I remember seeing of the sports anime series Yuri!!! On Ice was of one of the main characters standing up stark naked in a hot spring, facing the other male protagonist and declaring that he was going to be his skating coach. This, coupled with my previous frustrations from never-to-be-realized queer subtext in other sports anime like Free! Iwatobi Swim Club, led me to believe that Yuri!!! would never allow its two male protagonists to be together romantically before I even started watching it. I have never been more thrilled to be proven wrong. 

Despite my resigned certainty that I was about to be drawn in by the potential of a queer relationship only to be disappointed for the umpteenth time, Yuri!!! On Ice managed to exceed all of my expectations. In the end, the show delivered a thoughtful portrayal of two men developing a deep and trusting romantic relationship that provides LGBTQ viewers with representation of queer individuals being happy together above all else, which is something that we desperately need.

The show follows twenty-three year old Japanese figure skater Yuuri Katsuki’s athletic career after a personally devastating loss at the previous season’s Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final. However, his life and his career change forever when Yuuri’s idol, Russian figure skating legend Victor Nikiforov, moves in at Yuuri’s family’s hot spring and declares that he’s going to be Yuuri’s coach for the upcoming season. As they work together, their relationship progresses from fan and idol to skater and coach and finally to equals who fall in love.

After realizing that Yuuri and Victor were fully, romantically in love (and overcoming the euphoria that queer subtext had finally become text in a sports anime), I prepared myself for the worst, expecting one of the characters to be outed or for them to be tragically separated. However, as the series progressed I realized that Yuuri and Victor didn’t face the kind of discrimination that LGBTQ individuals are used to seeing both in real life and on the screen. Furthermore, this lack of discrimination was a deliberate choice: in a tweet, series creator Mitsurou Kubo stated, "Whatever the reality seems to be in this work... will not be discriminated against by absolutely loving something in the world of this work. I absolutely will protect... that world." (Translation via Google Translate)

 For me, it was the first piece of entertainment media I had seen that didn’t present queer individuals as “other,” but allowed them to simply freely love and exist. While watching, I didn’t have to worry about whether Yuuri or Victor would be outed in an unsafe environment or if Yuuri was going to be unfairly judged on the ice because of his sexuality like so many real life figure skaters have feared in the past. Rather, I fretted over when they were finally going to kiss (because really, it was a long time coming) and if I was ever going to get to see the wedding that was hinted at by their matching gold rings.

Watching Yuuri and Victor fall in love was so emotionally rewarding for me as a queer individual because it allowed me to experience a queer love story simply for what it was: a love story. Often, I have to turn to fan-produced content for this kind of idyllic, worry-free representation when I don’t want to deal with the emotional rollercoaster of fearing for the fates (and the lives) of my favorite queer characters. This isn’t to say that Yuuri and Victor’s relationship is without conflict, but rather that any conflict in their relationship derives from their struggles to better understand each other rather than discrimination that they face on the basis of their sexuality. 

Ultimately however, watching Yuri!!! On Ice made me feel safer and more secure in my own identity because it presents its queer characters as normal people falling in love. At a time when I was still struggling with feeling comfortable calling myself bisexual, watching queer characters simply exist in the world of Yuri!!! helped to reassure me that I could experience love in the same way as my heterosexual peers.

Although it is true that the discrimination-free world of Yuri!!! On Ice isn’t realistic (yet), it can help reassure queer individuals like me that they can experience love in the same way as anyone else. At the same time, it provides a glimpse of a future where being queer doesn’t mean being “other”. And that notion is something that I will always work towards and protect.

Yuri!!! On Ice is available for streaming on Crunchyroll in Japanese with English subtitles and Funimation in English and Japanese with English subtitles.