Yuri!!! on Ice: Fanservice or canon?

Yuri!! on Ice is the Swiss cheese of anime – in its entirety it is good, but there were some parts missing.

WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD

I will start this post with a positive comment – overall, I enjoyed watching Yuri!! on Ice. It wasn’t my favourite anime of the Autumn 2016 season (that crown goes to Bungou Stray Dogs) but it was a solid effort on MAPPA’s part.

My main criticism is that there were too many characters for a 12 episode anime – the show lost focus in the second half, and it became a little repetitive as they showed the same skating routines again and again…and again (but then I guess they were depicting what a season of ice skating is like).

The main issue I had with the anime was the fine balance they walked between making Yuri and Victor’s relationship purely for the Fujoshi fans, or making history and having the first canonically gay couple in a sports anime that wasn’t labelled BL.

At the start of the anime, I thought they were just going to walk the fan service line like Free!!, hence the Twitter thread below, which inspired me to write this post:

But then The Kiss happened and I thought perhaps MAPPA might be going somewhere special. And it made me happy, because after years of only having sports anime where the boys share lingering gazes and often get blush lines on their cheeks because of a teammate’s comment, we were finally going to get something cannon.

But, as it turned out, that wasn’t the case.

After the exchanging of rings, MAPPA seemed to reign everything back and the hope of Yuri and Victor’s relationship becoming canon faded. As the credits rolled at the end of the twelfth episode, I felt disappointed and felt unfulfilled by the promise of Yuri and Victor’s relationship.

There is a fine line between fan service and making something canon. Free! walked the fan service line really well. Canonically Makoto and Haru are best friends, but KyoAni put in a lot of touches and gazes to make it seem more than what it was – it wasn’t more, however much I would like it to be.

Yuri!! on Ice stuck a toe over that line and then promptly pulled it back. I know there is a lot of issues in Japan with labels – I don’t think you can show intimate romantic affection between two same sex characters unless you slap a BL or Yuri label on it (although I’ve been watching Psycho-Pass, and I think they show Yayoi and Shion romantic relationship to be what it is without showing any explicit).

Yes, Yuri!! on Ice had The Kiss, the exchanging of The Rings, and lots of promises about not leaving one another until Yuri had retired. But The Kiss didn’t led to anything on Yuri’s part, The Rings were placed on their right hands not their left, and there were never any right out confession of love that tipped the scales into the canon zone. Do I dare say that this show was queer baiting? I think it probably was, since we never saw a gay relationship being consummated on screen.

I think we’re past that day and age where you write off lingering gazes, blush lines, hugs and hand holds as “friendly”. There is something romantic going on between Yuri and Victor, but it’s not enough for me to label it as canon. It might be cynical of me to say this, but I think MAPPA decided to see how far they could take the fan service. I think the writers should have just stuck a BL label on it and taken it to full canon glory. I mean, the same audience would have watched it.

I’m interested to see what they’ll do with Yuri and Victor’s relationship in the second season. If they do make it canon – that includes a proper confession with solid words going along the lines of “I love you and I want to be your boyfriend” – then I will take all these words back.

MAPPA, don’t let me down.

Did you watch YOI this season? What did you think of Yuri and Victor’s relationship? Let me know with a comment.

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