Queerbaiting And Yuri! On Ice

The argument that comes up when discussing this show is whether or not it is queerbaiting. One response we received from @three_kids_in_a_trenchcoat also said that a queer relationship doesn’t have to have PDA to be valid, and I agree. I don’t think Yuri! On Ice is queerbaiting at all. I think there are several things to be discovered about this show the more we watch it.

[*Editor’s Note – Spoilers ahead for Yuuri! on Ice]

One of the things I have loved about this quarantine is that I get to ignore the world and spend all my time consuming and thinking about movies, books, and tv shows. Recently, I find myself quite taken by anime. I was introduced to anime by my friend Debdoot and the first one I ever saw was Violet Evergarden. But my favorite anime from all that I have watched so far is Yuri! On Ice.

Google says it’s a sports anime, but all those of us who have watched it might agree to categorize it as BL (Boy’s Love – a sub-genre in anime). The story mainly revolves around Yuri Katsuki, a skater from Japan who loses badly in the Grand Prix Tournament, a global competition for ice skating. The other two protagonists are Victor Nikiforov and Yuri Plistesky (nicknamed  Yurio for differentiation), two amazing ice skaters from Russia. A few months after witnessing Yuri’s embarrassing defeat, Victor decides to take a break from his professional career, and shows up naked in Yuri’s onsen (hot spring) in Hatsetsu, Japan, offering to coach him. Needless to say, Yuri is shocked and doesn’t know how to react to this information. Victor has been his idol, inspiration, and crush for so long and now he actually gets to have him as his coach! Over the course of time, Victor and Yuri grow really close and although their relationship isn’t explicitly sexual, there are plenty of things that indicate their exclusive affection for each other.

This is a very wholesome and cute anime and although the focus is on Victor and Yuri’s relationship, it doesn’t take away the spotlight from ice skating itself. We are introduced to each contestant and we also get to know them on a personal level instead of just being treated as extras and being cast aside for the protagonists’ tale. The skating competitions are riveting and the viewers are engaged from start to finish to find out who won the tournament.

Those who have watched it will know that there is a lot of debate around the show and whether to classify it as queer or not. Yuri and Victor even share a kiss, but it is covered by Victor’s arm and so there is a question of whether or not it was actually a kiss (on the lips) and why it was censored in the first place. And so we took to Instagram to ask you guys what you thought of the show!

Personally, I think there is a lot of subtlety and queer coding when it comes to the show, not because the creators are trying to hide it but because queerness isn’t the only aspect of the characters. Their skating comes first and identity becomes a normal part of who they are and I think this is done well without the creators patronizing or shaming the characters. For example, there is Guang Hong Ji, a 17-year-old skater from the People’s Republic of China.

The pink phone case, pink curtains, the pastel wallpaper, Guang’s androgynous appearance and gender-neutral expression, made me think of Guang as queer; even the people who responded to us agreed that it was so subtle but so beautifully done and that felt natural.

Let’s look at Yurio. Yuri Plisetsky is a 16-year-old skater from Russia. He is determined to beat Victor and claim the title of the number one skater.

His expression is not necessarily ‘masculine’, but it’s not ‘feminine’ either. Part of his skating choreography is dependant on him being graceful and beautiful and he even takes lessons in ballet from Lilia Baranovskaya who is determined to turn him into a prima ballerina (a lead female dancer in a ballet production) for his performance. He is every bit the passive-aggressive teenage boy, but his expression on the ice is rather gender-neutral which highlights his personality rather than gender.

Victor Nikiforov is another great example of a fluid expression. One of his performances was based on the merging of the gender binary and he wore his hair long and a black costume to express that.

Although that kiss between Yuri and Victor isn’t agreed to be a kiss by everyone, I think it counts as a kiss. One of the people who responded to us also told us that that kissing on the lips was censored by the Japanese censorship board, and that may be why it couldn’t be shown.

Plus they also exchange promise rings in front of a church and Victor claims it’s an engagement and they’ll get married once Yuri wins a gold medal in front of all their friends. They share costumes and clothes. It’s obvious that they are in love and engaged. Yuri and Victor’s relationship is sweet and wholesome. Victor tries to pursue Yuri initially but when he sees that it makes him uncomfortable, he maintains his distance and lets Yuri come to him instead of pushing him. Victor has always been so proud of Yuri and everything he does and in turn, Yuri tries his best to get out of his comfort zone to make Victor proud of his efforts as his coach. Victor takes his job as Yuri’s coach seriously and is with him every step of the way. He takes his time in understanding Yuri and tries to push him without breaking him. Yuri learns to become more confident in himself and his skating and works with Victor to win a gold at the Grand Prix.

Although more than half the responses disagreed with this, I think that Yuri is asexual and I say this because I can relate my experience of asexuality with him. His lack of understanding of sexual love, his lack of sexual experience, and how his imagination of his and Victor’s relationship is not really sexual or romantic, but rather an admiration and a liking of his personality and talent makes him asexual-coded. When Victor asks him what Eros means to him, Yuuri replies that for him it resonates with a katsudon (pork cutlet bowl), which is his favorite dish.

The argument that comes up when discussing this show is whether or not it is queerbaiting. One response we received from @three_kids_in_a_trenchcoat also said that a queer relationship doesn’t have to have PDA to be valid, and I agree. I don’t think Yuri! On Ice is queerbaiting at all. I think there are several things to be discovered about this show the more we watch it. There is also the question of whether this fluidity in gender and expression is an agenda of rainbow capitalism or if it’s progressive and 78% of you folx agreed that it was progressive. I think so too. Even though it didn’t start off as a BL, the creators wanted to make a space where all kinds of identities would be valid. A lot of research had gone into the skating part of it as well, with the characters being based on real skaters. In fact, the creators attended as many competitions as they could for research. And the way the story is told of these two skaters who fall in love with each other is so well done while highlighting their identities as queer and ice skaters rather than choosing between the two. And it’s a legit skating show, I actually did learn a lot of new terms regarding ice skating from this show. For me, it’s a comfort show that I have several times and will continue to watch because it is such a wholesome and cute anime and the relationship between the characters is developed organically.  I would definitely suggest this show and one can watch it on 7anime

About the author

Ankita

Her pronouns are she/they, but please don't ignore the 'they'. She loves books, music, art, handwritten letters and painting their nails. They believe it's important to critique what one loves, not to stop loving it, but to get a more wholesome picture of it.