Yuri!!! on Ice
by Gabriella Ekens,
How would you rate episode 10 of
Yuri!!! on Ice ?
In this final episode before the Grand Prix Final, the characters enjoy a restful moment before the big event. In the meantime, the show gives us something that I've wanted from the beginning of the series – Victor's POV! Yay! This pen-penultimate installment, which consists of one last restful moment before the Grand Prix final, serves as a reflection on the cast's growth over the past in-show year, and culminates in an emotional revelation from Victor that forces us to recontextualize his and Yuuri's relationship up to this point. It's really hard to talk about this episode without addressing its final 30 seconds, so I'll just dive into it and talk about the rest of the episode afterwards.
So that final moment changes everything that we thought we knew about the trajectory of Victor and Yuuri's relationship. Previously, the most implausible part had always been Victor's initial interest. Why would a busy, successful, and seemingly happy celebrity like him drop his entire life for another guy based on a viral video? The answer was that they already knew each other. Last year at the Grand Prix Christmas party, Yuuri got insanely wasted and came on to Victor, inviting him to come to Hasetsu and be his coach. This charmed Victor and became the inciting incident for his arrival there. We've now learned that Yuuri initiated their relationship, and that Victor had developed feelings for him way earlier than was previously assumed. In the meantime, Yuuri forgot all about this encounter and the show, conveniently, kept this information from us until it had an episode situated from Victor's POV.
Basically, Yuuri got super drunk at the after party to last year's Grand Prix Final and revealed his freak side to everyone in the room. This culminated in Yuuri giddily straddling Victor while pleading with him to come to Hasetsu and be his coach. This means that Victor isn't a gay Mary Poppins in that he's somehow instinctively aware of Yuuri's repressed sexuality and takes it upon himself to “fix” him – Yuuri shotgunned him in the face with a raw expression of his sexuality on day one, thank you very much. In fact, it was Yuuri who revitalized Victor's life by providing him with an immediate, sincere connection within his monotonous life of achievement. Victor risked a lot in pursuing that spark he felt with Yuuri, both professionally and emotionally. This was only confounded by Yuuri's mixed messages after the fact. Go back and watch all of Yuuri and Victor's early interactions in light of this revelation, because they all mean something new now. Victor wasn't being excessively forward with Yuuri during their early interactions in Hasetsu, at least not without precedent. Yuuri started this flirtation in a dramatic way, so from Victor's point of view, Yuuri's relatively cold treatment of him in Hasetsu must have been a confusing rejection. That only amplifies the risk he took in putting his career on hold to be with Yuuri. We already knew that Yuuri was brave and strong, but now that information also applies to Victor. It also explains a few other things, like Christophe grope-greeting Yuuri at the Cup of China. A little ass-grabbing isn't much after you've already pole danced together while pouring champagne over each other's naked bodies. Jesus Christ, Yuuri is a FREAK.
Going forward, I'd still prefer some more concrete information regarding Victor's backstory, but it isn't necessary anymore. This episode gave us the emotional context to justify his attraction to Yuuri. Prior to meeting Yuuri, he'd dedicated his entire life to mastering skating. This was to the detriment of his personal life, where he remained isolated. Approaching his expiration date as an athlete, he began to contemplate his future and what was left in his life besides skating. It turns out that it wasn't very much. But then he met (drunk) Yuuri, who disregarded Victor's celebrity mystique in pursuit of an immediate connection. Yuuri's skating – while less technically proficient than Victor's – was capable of channeling deep, sincere emotions, which are something that Victor struggles with. And beyond Yuuri as a person, Victor is also attracted to all of the things he has, like a loving family, close friends, and a tight-knit community. I don't know if they'll ever address Victor's upbringing, but it wouldn't surprise me if it were similar to Yurio's, meaning that he thrust himself into skating as compensation for an unsatisfying family life. He would've developed the opposite personality type – posturing happiness over posturing anger – but they could both stem from a similar inability to show weakness. This often develops in people who have never been able to depend on others, usually their parents. Either way, both Victor and Yurio seem similarly attracted to Hasetsu as a place overflowing with familial love. While for Yuuri, this is a revelatory relationship that forced him to confront his repression, reconciling the two disparate sides of his personality, for Victor, this relationship is emotionally re-attuning him with life. Together, they both expand on what they previously viewed as the limits of their capabilities. In summary, true love is like being each other's gay Mary Poppins.
Ok, so onto the elephant on the rink – Yuri!!! on Ice, in depicting a sincere and uncomplicated engagement between two dudes, is unprecedented in anime. There hasn't even been a for real gay marriage in Japan, so this show is depicting something that isn't legally possible in its country of origin. I don't want to throw out the word “radical” too lightly, but this is pretty radical. I guess that the show wasn't lying when it said that it was “born to make history.” There was a lot of hubbub earlier over whether Yuri!!! on Ice would fulfill its initial promise as an uncompromising queer romance, and, uh… it has. More than we could've imagined, in fact. Wow. I'm honestly having trouble imagining how their relationship could develop past this point. Yuuri and Victor have rounded all of the (limited) bases that anime usually tackles in its depiction of heterosexual romance, where things rarely even get to marriage. We're in uncharted territory right now, as far as animated depictions of romance go. Are they going to adopt Yurio? I mean, that's been the joke since the beginning, but it almost feels plausible now. Beyond breaking ground as representation, Yuri!!! on Ice is also a rare show in that it's an accurate and passionate depiction of love at a later stage in life than anime usually reaches.
The biggest criticism to be made of Yuri!!! on Ice in terms of queer representation is that it doesn't depict any of the very real persecution and Victor would face in real life. For developed nations, neither Japan or Victor's native Russia are at the forefront of LGBT rights. As mentioned previously, ice skating is rife with gender and sexuality-based discrimination. In real life, their union would provoke all sorts of nastiness from all sides. My response to this is that, while it'd be great to see an anime directly tackle LGBT discrimination, I don't want to be hard on Yuri!!! on Ice for not doing everything. Its goal seems to be to depict a sort of utopian version of cosmopolitan globalization, where these globetrotting athletes can interact (and even fall in love) without any of the identity-based socio-historical baggage that would normally constrict their interactions from the get-go. It's a fantasy, yes, but an inspiring one in that it depicts what would be possible in a better world. Yuri!!! on Ice isn't the end-all-be-all of queer representation in anime, but it is a brave and important show, so its value shouldn't be discarded just because it doesn't achieve everything. If you'd like to watch an anime about the difficulties of being gay in Japan, I'd recommend Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, which is coming back next season. There's also last season's Battery, which is explicitly an allegory for queer youth. (It's also not very entertaining as a show. That's another reason why Yuri!!! on Ice is special – it's extremely watchable and has captured a wide audience.)
Back to the episode itself. We've finally met man of mystery Otabek Altin, and his role in the show appears to be as a ship for Yurio. We'll I'm not complaining. The fans can't tolerate an unpaired bishonen, and they were getting pretty desperate when it came to Yurio. I was starting to see fanart of him and JJ, dammit. Otabek is an enormous step up from that. I'm curious as to whether he'll be given a little more meat (we haven't even seen him skate yet) but he's otherwise acceptable as is. He's even one of the hotter dudes in the show! Good catch, Yurio. Also, is that his bike? Did he ride it all the way from Kazakhstan to Barcelona? Or did he rent a hot rod as soon as he got there? Either way, I love him.
Of course, Yuuri and Victor's Barcelona date is adorable. They go visit some Gaudí architecture, Yuuri loses his nuts, the works. I really love the camaraderie that's built up between all of the skaters, minus JJ. They're all competitors, but there's still a strong sense of friendship and trust. Phichit is excited to see his friend MARRIED!!!! (Engaged.) Chris and Victor can even post sexy pictures of themselves at the pool without Yuuri getting jealous. So much trust! Of course, JJ tries to ruin the moment with his heterosexuality, but nobody gives him the time of day. Can't wait to see you lose, bro. (I still love you, though.) And the final dance party is, without exaggeration, the greatest thing I've ever seen in my life. Like there is fanservice and there is fanservice. Hot damn. Bless Sayo Yamamoto. Bless Mitsurou Kubo. We do not deserve you.
Yuri!!! on Ice is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.
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