“If you don’t have any inspiration left, you’re as good as dead.” – Yuri Plisetsky (Yuri!!! on Ice)
Sometimes a certain piece of media comes along and sweeps us away. It can be a book, a TV show, an anime, anything. Something clicks and our feet get knocked out from under us. It resonates through us and our lives. Something just feels right, we feel it deep in our hearts and even arguably our soul.
When people ask me if Yuri!!! on Ice is good or worth a watch, I tell them it is life changing. For me, this isn’t an exaggeration. It’s not me being overzealous over an anime I enjoy. This is a fact for me. The show goes beyond enjoyment and has brought on changes in my life that have not been spurred by anything like it before. It has awakened parts of me that have lain dormant for over a decade. No show or any form of media has taken me by the hand and led me for a ride and also comforted me like Yuri!!! on Ice has.
Trigger warning: Suicide mention
Warning: Minor Yuri!!! on Ice spoilers.
As a teenager, I would write pages upon pages about my original characters, other characters (in the form of fanfiction), and would roleplay for hours on end creating almost novel length situations and scenarios with other people. These would be both original characters as well as characters from anime or manga that I identified with. Hours would be spent every day writing in some way. Simply put, I couldn’t tell enough stories and I couldn’t create and explore enough worlds. I wanted to see myself in media and was dedicated to creating and exploring these spaces. Skip ahead 11 years to before Yuri!!! on Ice and I was struggling to create one piece of writing, let alone edit that work.
I can pinpoint the exact day my creative spark faded. In middle school, I was almost expelled for having gay doujin on me. As a developing queer teen, yaoi was my only access to queer relationships (and queer sex) that I could easily have. This was the only form of media that I could see myself in and be able to explore sexuality as someone other than how the world currently saw me. Yaoi and ultimately roleplay and fanfiction allowed me to try on labels that I wasn’t supposed to have, such as gay and male. However, when I was caught, I was ripped away from the worlds I had created. All my creative works, both sexual and not, were taken from me and burned. I was forbidden to use the computer or interact with people who my parents thought were bad influences on me. No longer could I explore bodies and realities other than the one I occupied. For a young queer person, someone who wasn’t just exploring their sexuality but their gender as well, these online places were my safe havens.
This was devastating. Online I had found like-minded individuals through various chat sites and forums like Gaia Online. There were whole communities dedicated to trans people (which is how I learned the word transgender) and other queer people who were not only into the same things as me, but felt the same way I did. A lot of them were also exploring their identity and sexuality with roleplay, fanfiction, and other forms of self-created media. These places allowed exploration outside of the limitations of my current extremely uncomfortable body. These communities also allowed me access to queer and transgender people who were adults, who were still queer and trans and who lived their lives openly. These were communities of people I could talk to and discuss issues with, who would truthfully and honestly answer all my questions. These communities were a wonderful mix of young and old, pre-transition, transitioning, and transitioned. Communities I found and grew within due to a shared interest in anime (since most of them were on Gaia Online).
Most mainstream gay American media at the time completely lacked transgender characters, and so did anime and manga; however, the effeminate men were the closest to how I felt. I could identify with these effeminate men much more than I could with the masculine and straight-acting men of most media. I was also surrounding myself with more androgynous characters and figures, my staple music being visual kei and David Bowie. The gender lines being blurred was something I was drawn to. Bowie being a queer figure was something of great importance to me. Here was a man who was effeminate and wasn’t rejected or despised. He was real, unlike the characters in the anime I watched or the visual kei band members (who were ambiguously queer). This is something that I still feel today, identifying more with effeminate male characters or women than I ever have with masculine characters regardless of orientation. Without access to the internet, I could not explore my gender and gender presentation in a way that was fluid and open to me. Even while identifying as a lesbian in person, online my persona was always an effeminate gay or bisexual man (or androgynous being). Being unable to write or roleplay these characters I felt represented a truer form of myself prevented me from finding out who I truly was and what identities felt comfortable and right.
With this all gone, I lost my support network. I lost the people who understood me. I lost my ability to explore myself outside of my current situation, body, and experiences. I lost my access to the media and medium that allowed me to explore and be happy with myself. I was stranded on a desolate island, excluded from the only place I had felt accepted. I was forced to experience the world in the confines of how others saw me and not how I saw myself. No longer could I interact with people like me or see media that I felt a connection to. This lasted for several long months. During this time, I attempted suicide and was in the ICU for a week on the verge of needing a liver transplant from an overdose. It was after this that I was allowed back on the computer and access to the internet. However, that creative spark had left. No longer could I feel that connection and need to explore like I had before. I became ashamed and scared to write. Even now, these events still impact me as I struggle to write with people watching me or if I believe people are watching me.
So, how do these events from over a decade ago tie back to Yuri!!! on Ice? Before Yuri!!! on Ice, I hadn’t written anything substantial in 11 years. For almost half of my life, I had lost that creative spark I had when I was younger. I had written for my website (GenderTerror), but it was nothing compared to the works I had done before the events in my teenage years. One story or opinion piece a month was a lot for me when I started GenderTerror. Before, I was pumping out that and more out almost every day. Doing something I used to love had become daunting and difficult for me.
To further emphasize differences from before Yuri!!! on Ice and now, my last fanfiction, according to my fanfiction.net account, was published on July 22, 2005. My first fic published on Ao3 was on December 15, 2016. Since that date I have published fifteen different fanfics, with thirteen of them being Yuri!!! on Ice. I have written over 50,000 words across these fics with a total of over 22,000 hits. I even hit an all-time first, publishing a fanfic with over 9,000 words. Even with this amount of work done, I am still writing and creating more. The ideas for new stories never seem to stop. This is something I can attribute entirely to Yuri!!! on Ice. Before the show I struggled to write anything over 1,000 words, let alone anything of substance or merit. Anything I produced I was not proud of, and I certainly did not want to share it with anyone else on a major platform.
Being able to write again is not the only thing important about Yuri!!! on Ice for me. In fact, it is something that pales in comparison to what it means to me on a personal level. As I said before, yaoi and boy love anime and manga were my only access to queer relationships I could identify with. They were the most easily accessible form of queer media. However, they were mostly fantasy, based off queerbaiting and wishful thinking of fan service moments. Most of the media available was not explicitly queer, or the explicitly queer media that did exist was not something I knew where to find outside of anime/manga/doujin. At the time, what did exist was often toxic in how it portrayed queer relationships. Gravitation is a prime example of this, but it is not the only one. The relationship in Gravitation is not only abusive, but unrealistic. If it was not toxic or abusive, it was fetishizing. Thus, the communities I was part of made our own ideas about characters and who they were. We used roleplay and fanfiction to create the characters we needed to see in the worlds we loved. We made characters reflect aspects of ourselves that we desperately needed and wanted to see within the media we were consuming. Never would we dream of a world where a queer relationship would be in an extremely popular anime, let alone be the primary relationship in one.
Yuri!!! on Ice not only represents a healthy relationship, including showing problems when communication breaks down, but a realistic one that just happens to be queer. While Kubo in interviews has said Yuuri and Victor are soulmates, they do not immediately fall in love. Over the episodes, their relationship develops and changes as they get to know each other. They get the chance to learn about each other, and in doing so they find things they like and even things they don’t like about the other. They show affection in gentle touches and by being close to each other. There are context clues (such as their hotel beds) that further emphasize the changes in their relationship. It is a natural progression of two people dating and falling in love. It is not fetishized or sexualized. Instead, their relationship is celebrated and accepted by those close to them. It also just happens to be between two men.
This is something that did not exist to me when I was younger, this vital piece of media that shows a queer relationship as natural. A queer relationship surrounded by accepting people who are excited by their friends being happy and in love. Yuri!!! on Ice fills these gaps that existed in queer representation when I was growing up and exploring myself. It speaks not only to me now, but to teenage me who felt so alone, misunderstood, and rejected. The show allows the characters to develop together as well as separately into their own unique people. Their identities are not entirely tied to their relationship as partners, but their friendship and support as coach and student as well. The impact of this relationship can be seen in how the characters act, think, and perform. It is complex, it is deep, and most of all, it is loving.
Yuuri is also a main character who is shown as emotional and with anxiety issues (I have generalized anxiety disorder and borderline personality disorder). Yuuri is shown failing. He is shown having a panic attack. Despite these, and ultimately not achieving his goal, he is still shown as a happy and whole individual who is supported by his partner. And yet, even when his partner cannot be there, he does not completely fall apart. He exists as his own person who can function without someone else there. The media I consumed, especially queer media, defined relationships with complete need. If there was no partner, there was no existence. The entirety of the story revolved around the relationship as opposed to the characters in the relationship.
Yuuri is only one part of the equation. Victor is shown as supportive and understanding of Yuuri’s issues. He does not discourage him, but instead lifts him up (quite literally sometimes). Victor helps Yuuri when he falls and is always there for him. Their relationship is fluid, natural, and non-sexual (at least in the show). This non-sexual aspect is extremely important on multiple levels as well. As an asexual individual, much of queer media focuses on sex. This was true back when I was a teen and it is true today as well. Showing such a nurturing and caring relationship with no reference to sex speaks to me on a level that is not often seen. It shows more important aspects of relationships, such as support and communication. If such non-sexual queer media had been accessible to me at a younger age, I may have found out about being on the ace spectrum much earlier in my life.
This lack of sexual nature is important since most yaoi/BL I grew up around was directed at women. While that is not to say that Yuri!!! on Ice is not in some way directed at a more female-orientated audience, it does not fetishize its queer protagonists as much of yaoi/BL does. The relationships were not there as realistic depictions or fluff pieces meant to make queer people feel loved and accepted. Queer audiences were not the original or intended audience for these forms of media. By presenting a realistic and healthy relationship, Yuri!!! on Ice attracts a large queer following, thus creating a safer space in the fandom for queer fans of the show.
There is also a bridge it creates with others. Even when I was younger, I was never extremely involved in fandoms. I was a fan of certain things and would interact with others, but I never bought fanzines, participated in bangs (or reverse bangs) or centered entire groups or conversations on specific things (such as one anime). Yuri!!! on Ice changed this for me as well. I have become more social with fans of the show, actively participating and consuming other fan-made creations. I participated in my first bang and applied to be part of a ficzine. I am stepping out of my comfort zone and wanting to experience the joy this show has brought me with others. No longer is my work something I hide, but actively promote to others who have loved the show in the same way I have. The show has shaped my life in more than just the creative sense, but in a social and emotional sense.
Yuri!!! on Ice is everything I needed as a queer teen. If something like Yuri!!! on Ice existed for younger me, it would have changed the course of history for other forms of media like it. However, it took over a decade for such a show to be made. It fills me with such joy to know that there is something like this out there for others like me. There is now a well-written and popular show that shows queer protagonists in a light that does not fetishize or diminish their relationship. There is so much more queer media nowadays and despite that, canon queer couples in popular media are still a rare thing, especially canon queer protagonists. The popularity of the show is also unprecedented. It speaks to me now, as it would have when I was younger, for these same reasons. It creates a bridge between the person I was growing up and the person I am now. It feels like there is a finality to that part of my life, an ability to say “yes, this is it. This is what I’ve been looking for”, even if that chapter of my life has been over for many, many years.
While not everyone may appreciate the show as I have, it is still extremely important in the scope of recent anime. The blu-rays and DVDs have smashed #1 spots in Japan. The music of the show has placed on top charts as well. The last episode of the first season crashed multiple anime viewing sites as it was released. It is a monumental show that has impacted the lives of many people, each for different reasons. I am not alone in my experiences with how life changing of an experience Yuri!!! on Ice has been. As corny as it sounds, the show has followed its opening theme and has certainly become a ‘History Maker’.
Author: Lucian Clark
Lucian is the owner/creator of queer horror website, GenderTerror. They also hold a BA in Psychology from Post University. Favorites video games, rats, and cosplaying. They can be found most of the time writing fanfiction or yelling excitedly on Twitter.
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