By now, you’ve probably heard about one of this season’s breakout anime, Yuri!!! on Ice. The show focuses on figure skating and manages to deliver on all fronts as an anime by telling a powerful story through stunning animation. It also helps that the figure skating community has openly embraced the anime, adding on to the show’s popularity and global appeal. But why would an anime fan who’s not into figure skating watch? The answer is complicated.
The real appeal of Yuri!!! lies in its subject matter: The surface story follows Yuri Katsuki, a Japanese figure skater, who abandons the sport and returns home after a miserable loss. Meanwhile, a video goes viral of him performing a skating routine from his childhood idol, Victor Nikiforov. When Victor sees the video, he travels to Japan to coach Yuri in a last ditch effort to win the world championships. The underlying story is about discovery: Yuri grows and learns more about himself, and most importantly, he explores sexual and romantic attraction that seems to bubble up between him and Victor.
The characters haven’t made any direct mention to their sexuality in the show so far, but the tension builds in a subtle way. As Anime News Network puts it, “Yuri!!! on Ice stars two complex characters of the same gender who harbor a directly sexual and romantic attraction to each other in a relatable story that does not fetishize or exoticize these feelings.” This forces the viewer to wonder whether we’ll ever learn the truth in regards to Yuri’s sexuality, and it doesn’t make a spectacle out of the attraction. Yuri!!! on Ice is not the first anime to feature homosexual relationships or LGBTQ characters; its director Sayo Yamamoto has created works with respectfully portrayed characters of various sexualities and genders.
A well-done show that tells a complex story with gay characters is important and not just for gay anime fans. Straight, cisgendered men can often avoid watching certain shows because we feel that they stand in direct opposition to our manhood. But, by doing so, we miss out on so many contemporary narratives and limit ourselves to a certain brand of anime. Imagine how dumb it would be to miss out on a show like Full Metal Alchemist because Edward Elric is gay. Similarly, although Yuri!!! on Ice is not your typical action anime, it offers the same deep, existential content that makes anime so popular internationally.
Watching an anime that has the potential to be a coming-out story, doesn’t make you any more or less “gay” than you already are. Your sexuality will remain intact regardless of which stories you watch. But, for those young men who may be confused, seeing a show that maturely represents homosexuality can possibly be the respite and influence that they may need, no matter where they fall on the sexuality spectrum. You are who you are at the end of the day, and watching stories written for people who aren’t like you can only improve the way you interact with the world.