On Saturday, Yuri!!! on ICE was pronounced Anime of the Year in Crunchyroll’s first ever Anime Awards. But while voters and non-voters alike celebrated its win, certain people got a bit upset. Some said it didn’t deserve the acclaim, and that if not for its gay main characters, it wouldn’t have earned so many votes from the so-called “yaoi effect”. Our friends on Twitter will probably have seen our response to that homophobic nonsense. If you click through now, you will also notice that Crunchyroll’s tweet announcing the series’ win has since been deleted. I can take a good guess as to why. It’s the very same reason this show deserves to stand representative of the otaku community’s best and most memorable experiences of the last year in anime.
Now, I’m not agreeing that the all the gorgeous gay is the only thing making the show worthy of its breakthrough success. Sayo Yamamoto’s elegant direction on pro skater Kenji Miyamoto’s choreography remained a thing of beauty even after the animation quality dipped, which in itself was understandable given the frantic production schedule. It also retained its inspiring and aptly-timed moral of love giving strength, and being the best weapon against adversity. It could easily have made its central relationship between Yuri Katsuki and Viktor Nikiforov ‘queer bait’ to attract LGBTQ viewers to that moral, or tossed it by the wayside as an incidental sub-plot to cash in on the current popularity of boys’ love. But it chose to be daring, deliberately placing their romance centre stage, to celebrate seeing what two men in true love could accomplish with its power.
The beauty of this anime is that its message made some uncomfortable with its resulting popularity. Some of these people were the same arguing against its status in Crunchyroll’s community. The very same who claim that they don’t care who you fall in love with, as long as you don’t ‘rub it in their faces’. Who say that legalised gay marriage is an abhorrence to archaic, heteronormative laws that excluded queer people from expressing their love freely. These people hide behind ‘having an opinion’ only they deem as valid, pretending that gay characters are the show’s only advantage over others from 2016, and is therefore a sham act desperate to appeal to the fujoshi vote. Because heaven forbid that anything be made for female viewers in the first place.
Such accusations only prove a despicable ignorance of the full extent of the show’s reach and impact. Straight and queer people of all genders, pro figure skaters, fans and newcomers to the sport were communicating, befriending and supporting each other, and continue to do so now as we ride the shockwaves of Yuri!!! on ICE the cultural phenomenon. It helped all who watched to feel free and positive in their sexuality and gender expression. We ladies who do love the guys might have found our hearts pounding with a kiss on the ice, but at the same time we knew there were marginalised fans seeing something that, perhaps for the first time, let them recognise themselves as someone beautiful, powerful, empowered.
Yuri!!! on ICE may not have been our anime of the year, but it is the show that best signifies what we need from our media right now. And while I agree with everyone who believes it would have been successful without the gay relationship, such comments undermine that being queer and successful should be embraced as one of its greatest achievements. In showing us the best of what fandom is capable of, inspiring reams of pieces about LGBTQ representation and challenging the gender binary, it gave us hope that love between all kinds of people can conquer all, even as hate and fear seemed to be winning. It brought people from across the globe together through the love of a show, and in support of the love of a gay couple. But perhaps most importantly, it created a paradigm for complex, respectful depictions of queer love that can and will be accepted by the masses.