THIS SHOW IS IN MY TOP 5 MOST LIFE CHANGING EXPERIENCES
I actually shivered a little from nervousness as I sat down to FINALLY write this post. This story is a vulnerable one, but it's also one that I've been wanting to write since all the way back in October, but for a long time, the ability to put it all into words had been eluding me, probably because, like I said up there, this show, this queer love story that I watched is solidly in the running with the top 5 most life changing experiences I've had. Within that top 5, I'd say that the life changing magnitude of this queer romance ranks higher than any formal church experience or anything else that's happened in a strictly "spiritual" context, which might surprise some people, especially other Christians.
And if you know me, you already know I'm talking about Yuri!!! On ICE.
SPOILER ALERT: I just want to warn everyone really quick that this spoils some of the plot, so just know that before you keep going!
I discovered this anime purely by accident (though I'm also starting to believe it was divine intervention) as I was clicking through some anime news sites back in October, and I quickly realized it was truly everything I never knew I wanted or needed. I know I can be a pretty hyperbolic human being, so I want to reiterate that I mean that with no exaggeration. In many ways, seeing this show ushered me into a new season of life mentally and emotionally, so let me backtrack a bit to tell you what it's about.
Yuri!!! On ICE centers around the titular character Yuri, a 23-year old Japanese figure skater (dark hair in the image above) and the development of his relationship with Victor, a 27-year old Russian figure skater (dead center in the all black or top right in the image above). Over the course of the show, you watch their relationship evolve from Yuri simply being starstruck by Victor being the current world champion to Victor falling for Yuri and realizing that he doesn't want to live or skate without him. It's truly a queer anime romance for the decade, and its intricate and beautiful nuances grow even deeper as you go beneath the surface.
One of these, and also one the most refreshing aspects of Yuri and Victor's story is how neither the show itself nor any of the characters within the story specifically categorize or name their relationship as being explicitly queer, and that's a GOOD thing because it normalizes them. There is no coming out scene for either of them, and neither Victor nor Yuri actually use the words "queer" or "gay" to describe themselves. And though it may represent the somewhat idealized version of the world the show is set in, the two of them never experience any backlash for their relationship from anyone either, not the press, not the other competitors, and surely not their friends and families.
In fact, an emotionally charged scene late in the series where Yuri and Victor actually exchange rings is almost immediately followed by a scene where one of Yuri's friends and former teammates exuberantly shouts into the air that he has just gotten engaged, much to Yuri's embarrassment. And that's the magic in the portrayal of their relationship, being treated as completely normal and beautiful and worthy of celebration.
THE MAGIC IN THE PORTRAYAL OF YURI AND VICTOR'S RELATIONSHIP IS BEING TREATED AS COMPLETELY NORMAL AND BEAUTIFUL AND WORTHY OF CELEBRATION.
In the name of emphasizing the power of normalizing their relationship, I was also thrilled to see that Yuri!!! On ICE accomplished that without simultaneously sexualizing it. For as much as I absolutely ADORED Call Me By Your Name, another queer film that was also deeply impactful, I couldn't quite get over how it was completely saturated with all the passion, desire, and fleetingness of a summer fling that was never really meant to go any further. On some level it just felt too unrealistic, too veiled in the haze of a fictional Italian summer.
In almost every way then, Yuri!!! On ICE is the perfect complement to Call Me By Your Name. Their relationship develops slowly, and the one significantly physical romantic display of affection is a partially obscured kiss that comes after several episodes of emotional and relational wind up.
RATHER THAN FALL INTO LGBTQ TROPES OF SEXUALIZATION, YURI!!! ON ICE TAKES ON THE ELEMENTS THAT MAKE REAL RELATIONSHIPS LAST, including yuri's mental health
Instead of highlighting the physical aspect of their relationship, the show decides to focus on the messier parts, showing how Victor needs to earn Yuri's trust, how Yuri gradually warms up to Victor, and even how they fight and make each other cry because of common relational conflicts like miscommunication. And beyond that, the show even touches on some much deeper themes, such as Victor learning how to navigate and care for Yuri amidst his mental health challenges, specifically his performance anxiety on the ice and general anxiety off the ice. Rather than fall into LGBTQ tropes of sexualization, Yuri!!! On ICE takes on the nitty gritty elements that make real relationships last head on, and that's one of the most beautiful parts of the show.
All these facets of the show make it an amazing queer romance all on their own, but the part that elevated Yuri!!! On ICE to its life changing status was how it helped me see MYSELF and how it changed how I see myself. I'll be the first to say that I probably watch too much anime and regular TV, but as a queer Asian kid, with glasses, who struggles with anxiety, and has historically dated and been in relationships with white boys, this show was the FIRST where I was able to effortlessly put myself in the role of the main character. I've always been an ardent proponent of minority representation in media, but I discovered what that actually FELT like watching this show. I sincerely identified with Yuri and that made the experience of watching his and Victor's relationship all the more powerful and profound.
Representation helps you see yourself in situations you only dream of, and it helps you believe that it's possible. For all of the self-differentiation I'd done in therapy leading up to finding this show, it was seeing Yuri and Victor grow to love each other in a real, wholehearted way that helped me actually believe I could have that someday and that it would be good and beautiful and celebrated. Watching their normalized relationship unfold changed that idea from a fact I knew in my head to a truth I believed in my soul, and in all honesty, Yuri and Victor became the first "real" example I had seen firsthand of a healthy queer relationship rooted in mutual love.
SEEING YURI AND VICTOR GROW TO LOVE EACH OTHER HELPED ME BELIEVE I COULD ACTUALLY HAVE THAT SOME DAY. THEIR RELATIONSHIP TRANSFORMED THAT FROM AN IDEA I KNEW IN MY HEAD TO A TRUTH I BELIEVED IN MY SOUL.
I'm not sure if even those words do justice to the awakening and transformation that happened deep in my inner self through watching this show, but as I told my close friends this story in the days and weeks that followed, they all told me they could see a light that had sparked up in my eyes.
This is why intersectionality and representation are important. It took me 20+ years to find a show with a queer Asian protagonist who also happened to have glasses and struggle with anxiety, but it changed my life. As superficial as it might be, being able to watch this 12 episode anime about ice skating changed my life and reminded me of what's possible, and that's what I want for everyone else who finds themselves at an odd intersection of different-ness.
I want people to believe that they're worthy of a starring role, that they're worthy of love, that they're worthy of celebration. And we need acknowledgement of intersectionality and representation to do that.
So, go watch Yuri!!! On ICE through that green link at the top of the post and let it fill you with warmth to fuel you to want more of this. It's all I can think about with the Winter Olympics on and figure skating in the spotlight. I'll be over here watching it too, for probably the umpteenth time while I search the internet for YuriXVictor fan art.
And hey, if you have any stories like this, let me know in the comments below or send me a note!
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