Feature: The Soundtrack of Yuri!!! On Ice

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“I was in a Little Chef once, and I read the menu, and it said: ‘Try one of our desserts. Go on, you only live once.’ And I thought: ‘That’s a bit of blow for the Buddhists, isn’t it?’ What a way to find out that everything you believe in is utter bollocks.” – Ross Noble

Earlier this week Yuri!!! On Ice, the hit anime series of last year – if both the Crunchyroll Anime Awards and the Tokyo Anime Award Festival are to be believed – made a slight return.

A new video (see below) promoting a forthcoming DVD and Blu-ray release in Japan was released featuring animation of Yuri Plisetsky and Otabek Altin performing a routine. It was intended to be broadcast in the show itself but never made it to air and is now being made available as an extra.

The music the characters are skating to is called “Welcome to the Madness” and is composed by Tarou Umebayashi, who was one of the main composers of the soundtrack along with Taku Matsushiba. Given this new footage it seems timely to look at the soundtrack of the anime in general (and when I say “timely”, I mean I was originally going to write about this when the anime went out, but I got distracted by other things, and thanks to this new clip I now have a decent opportunity to finally get to work on it).

Before we do, however, it is worth making a note that for once, the majority of the music for an anime has been made available in the west. It has always been an annoyance to me that so much Japanese music is not made available to legally purchase (even X Japan, the country’s biggest rock band, still haven’t released three of their five studio albums on the UK iTunes). But with Yuri!!! On Ice the entire soundtrack is available as an album, and the opening and closing themes are available as singles, released separately by their respective artists. It should be mentioned that not all of the music is available yet, because there are some background pieces not released, but most of the music is there.

Let’s start then with those opening and closing themes. The opening, “History Maker” by Dean Fujioka, certainly seems to encapsulate the series as a whole. It stands out from many other anime themes for several reasons. For starters there is the introduction played on the xylophone, which makes for an unusual choice of instrument and thus also makes the tune distinctive. Then you have the fact that the song is sung in English rather than Japanese, which again seems to be making a statement. It feels as if the anime is deliberately trying to reach outside Japan and gain an international audience by using English to attract foreign viewers. On top of this you have the unusual time signature for an OP which uses (I have been told by one of my editors, Sarah, who knows much more about these sort of things than I do) three beats in a bar rather than the standard four, making it arguably a waltz. This is fitting for a show that is about a form of dance, but on ice rather than a normal dance floor. Also, because you need two people to dance to a waltz, it makes for a possible connection between two people like Yuri Katsuki and Victor Nikiforov – although, as the opening title sequence also features Yurio, it does complicate things a bit.

Lastly you get to the sentiment of the song: “We were born to make history.” When you first listen, it sounds rather rousing, but as you watch the series progress, especially when the relationship between Yuri K. and Victor becomes ever more romantic, you then realise that the series itself is making history in its own way, by having what is almost universally considered to be a gay couple in a sport anime. The song suits the tone of the series, because it is jolly, stirring and moving.

The end theme, “You Only Live Once”, is performed by Wataru Hatano, who is one of the voice actors in the show, playing the role of Georgi Popovich, the Russian skater suffering from heartbreak after his girlfriend has left him. The song is sung in a mixture of English and Japanese, and indeed is the only track in this whole article that features some Japanese dialogue. The main chorus line is always sung in English, and the verses are mixed up in both languages. Personally I prefer the opening over the ending if we are just going on the songs themselves, but with the end animation the song seems to work better.

The majority of the music available comes from the album Oh! SkaTra!!! Yuri!!! On Ice Original Skating Collection, which contains the pieces that are used in the skating routines. When it was released it topped the Oricon Digital Album Charts, and came third in the CD charts too.

It begins with “Aria (Stammi Vicino, Non Te Ne Andare)”, or in English, “Aria: Stay Close to Me”, composed by Matsushiba. It is the classical track performed by Victor which Yuri K. later copies, which in turn is filmed and sparks the whole sequence of Victor coming to Japan to coach Yuri K. This track illustrates again a point made by the opening theme: the international nature of the show, because it is sung in Italian. Looking at the translation you see that it talks about two people who, “are blending together”.

Then we move onto the most famous of the tracks: “In Regards to Love: Eros”, composed by Matsushiba. This is the Spanish flamenco number that Yuri K. performs in all of his routines. Having watched the anime, in my head all I can think of now is Yuri skating. The other notable feature of it is that in a way it pans to the international aspect again, not only because it is Spanish music, but because there are no lyrics at all, so nothing hampers your enjoyment, regardless of where you come from. The same is true of the next piece, which is also the title track: “Yuri On ICE”, which Yuri K. performs in his free skate routine. In the anime, this is the track that Yuri gets his old friend Ketty Abelashvilli to compose for him, but in reality it is Umebayashi who composed it.

Then we move on to Yurio. First there is “In Regards to Love: Agape” by Umebayashi, which sounds more melancholy than the “In Regards to Love” track Yuri K. dances to, and arguably shows Yurio’s frustration with Victor. If Yuri K.’s pieces are international because there are no lyrics, Yurio’s track is is international because it is sung in a language that has no native speakers at all: Latin, and thus everyone is sharing in collective ignorance. His free skate track however, “Piano Concerto in B Minor: Allegro Appassionato” by Matsushiba, is a classical piece with no lyrics, performed by string orchestra and piano.

After this, we then get onto the other skaters in the show. It is also where we see a much wider range of musical styles. We start with young Kenjirou Minami and his jazz instrumental “Minami’s Boogie” used in the qualifying rounds, and then we move onto the Cup of China. We have Yuri K.’s old friend from Thailand, Phichit Chulanont, whose two pieces of music, “Shall We Skate?” and “Terra Incognita”, are tracks from a soundtrack of a fictional film, one in English and the other in an unspecified language. Chinese skater Guang Hong Ji performs to instrumentals: string track “La Parfum de Fleurs”, and then “The Inferno”, from a fictional action movie soundtrack. Then heartbroken Russian Georgi performs to the English song “A Tales of Sleeping Prince”, a sad track sung by an R&B singer; followed by American Leo de la Iglesia with “Still Alive”, which features a bit of rap in it. His song is also in English, but as he is American it does feel less significant.

Following on from this, we get to the final of the Grand Prix. The first track is “Intoxicated” sung in English, performed by the Swiss skater Christophe Giacometti, followed by Christophe’s free skate classical instrumental piece “Rapsodie Espagnole”. Next is the Korean skater Seung-gil Lee, beginning with “Almavivo”, a Spanish number with mambo elements; followed by Czech skater Emil Nekola and “Anastasis”, an electronic piece from a fictional sci-fi film; then the Italian Michele Crispino and “L’homme Armé” a fanfare from another fictional soundtrack, and then Crispino’s free skate track “Serenade for Two”, a ballad sung in English. After this is the egotistical Canadian Jean-Jacques Leroy and his own “Theme for King JJ”, which you cannot help but find infuriatingly catchy; followed by his slow free skate piece “Partizan Hope”. Then comes Otabek, starting with “Samarkand Overture”, an instrumental piece that pays tribute to a city in Uzbekistan, a country bordering his homeland of Kazakhstan; and then his free skate piece, a rearranged version of the second movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s 9th symphony, with an added chorus singing in German.

Last are the two pieces for the final exhibition skate at the end of the series, the already mentioned “Welcome to the Madness”, and the finale to the album, “Duet: Stay Close to Me”, a version of Victor’s original theme, but with two singers now, and skated to by both Victor and Yuri K. Thus the album ends with a piece of music that bring the central couple together at last.

While I did say that the album has an international bent to it, the most commonly performed language across the tracks is still English. No surprise as English is the dominant language across the world, but still it shows that the anime is trying to reach out. Then it is mixed with Italian, German and Latin, as well as plenty of instrumental tracks. We also see a wide variety of genres of music played including classical, modern orchestral music, Latin American pieces, jazz, rock and pop.

Listening to the album, and appreciating it alongside the anime, the main theme that seems to run through the entire thing is diversity. You have not just the diversity of musical styles and languages, but you then have the diversity of the cast. It is a series set across different countries and featuring competitors from across the globe. Then there is the already heavily discussed diversity in terms of sexuality. Because of this, the joy with a soundtrack like this is that you will be able to find at least one track on it that you really like, one you will be able to enjoy again and again.

For me, my personal favourite tracks would be “In Regards to Love: Eros” for its role in the story; “Minami’s Boogie” for its swinging, fun sound; “A Tales of Sleeping Prince” for being the most emotional track; “Theme for King JJ” for being a guilty pleasure (the character is annoying but the tune is catchy); and the final “Duet: Stay Close to Me”, for the way it unites Yuri K. and Victor.

All of the tracks are available to download from iTunes.

Yuri!!! On Ice wins Crunchyroll’s “Anime of the Year” Award – Angering Crunchyroll users

Yesterday Crunchyroll announced on social media that sports anime Yuri!!! On Ice won the “Anime of the Year” award in their inaugural Anime Awards, meaning that it won all the awards it was nominated for; seven of the fourteen prizes overall.

However, the victory has also resulted in angry comments from some who regularly use Crunchyroll, with people taking to their forums to complain about not just YOI winning this award, but the whole of the awards, and have accused fans of the series of rigging the poll.

When the awards were launched Crunchyroll users complained about the quality of the shortlist, saying that having four nominations in each category (apart from “Anime of the Year” which had eight) was not enough, although later during voting it was revealed that an “Other” section was created to allow any nomination.

After the rest of the awards were announced, most of the complaints were directed at the fact that Crunchyroll users thought YOI won awards it did not deserve, in particular the award for “Best Animation”, and referencing stills from the show which featured what they claimed to be poor quality animation. They also highlighted the large amount of votes cast in categories in which YOI was a nomination in comparison to those in which it wasn’t nominated, and many claimed that those such as fujoshi and people on social media sites like Tumblr were actively encouraging people to vote as many times as they could in the open poll, effectively accusing YOI fans of cheating. Others said that the timing at the end of the year meant that YOI had an unfair advantage over shows broadcast earlier in 2016 as the series was fresh in people’s memories.

However, other Crunchyroll users have also defended the awards, saying that none of the evidence the attackers have used to argue that there has been vote rigging has been conclusive, and have some have accused those of attacking the awards of just moaning that their favourite shows didn’t win.

Crunchyroll themselves have said on Twitter that: “We had very strong anti-cheating methods that gave us results in line with true audience sentiment” and that, “we had some surprisingly complex ways to fight multiple voting that worked based on multiple tests.” At the time of writing, although Crunchyroll announced YOI as the winner of the “Anime of the Year” award, they did not say how much by or where the other nominations finished. Nor has Crunchyroll said if there will be changes to the way the awards are run for next year.

A full list of the other awards can be read here.

Yuri!!! On Ice wins all the Crunchyroll Anime Awards it was nominated for (so far…)

In Crunchyroll’s first ever Anime Awards, figure skating series Yuri!!! On Ice is on course to make a clean sweep and win all seven of the categories it was nominated in, winning six with one yet to be revealed.

So far, the series has won “Best Opening”, “Best Ending”, “Best Animation”, “Best Boy” (for central character, Japanese figure skater Yuri Katsuki), “Best Couple” (for Yuri K. and his Russian coach Victor Nikiforov), and “Most Heartwarming Scene”.

The series is also up for “Anime of the Year”, but this is not yet been announced. The winner will be revealed live at the Crunchyroll Anime Awards party on 28th January. However, Yuri!!! On Ice is almost certainly favourite to win if the other results are anything to go by, with the show winning all but one of its prizes with over 50% of the vote. The one that didn’t, “Best Animation”, won with 49% of the vote.

Elsewhere, the only other series to win more than one prize are time-travel murder mystery ERASED for “Best Drama” and “Villain of the Year” (not mentioned here to avoid spoilers, scroll down to results to see name) and supernatural comedy Mob Psycho 100 for “Best Action” and “Best Fight Scene”.

Meanwhile My Hero Academia won “Hero of the Year” (for Izuku “Deku” Midoriya), RE:Zero took “Best Girl” (for Rem), and Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto! picked up “Best Comedy”.

The nominations for the final award, “Anime of the Year” are (in alphabetical order) ERASED, Joker Game, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, Mob Psycho 100, My Hero Academia, RE:Zero, Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju and Yuri!!! On Ice.

Full Results (contains spoilers)

Hero of the Year

  1. Izuku “Deku” Midoriya (My Hero Academia): 32% (38,325 votes)
  2. Satoru Fujinuma (ERASED): 28% (32,869)
  3. Mob (Psycho Mob 100): 24% (29,159)
  4. Mumei (Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress): 7% (8,346)

Other: 9% (10,281)

The number of votes cast: 118,980

Villain of the Year

  1. Gaku Yashiro (ERASED): 33% (35,805)
  2. Yoshikage Kira (JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure): 33% (35,390)
  3. Tomura Shigaraki (My Hero Academia): 18% (19,129)
  4. Biba (Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress): 9% (9,775)

Other: 7% (7,794)

The number of votes cast: 107,893

Best Boy

  1. Yuri Katsuki (Yuri!!! On Ice): 58% (83,485)
  2. Arataka Reigen (Mob Psycho 100): 17% (25,043)
  3. Izuku “Deku” Midoriya (My Hero Academia): 16% (22,563)
  4. Yakumo (Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju): 3% (4,217)

Other: 8,890

The number of votes cast: 123,891

Best Girl

  1. Rem (RE:Zero): 60% (66,441)
  2. Ochako Uraraka (My Hero Academia): 15% (16,282)
  3. Nico Niiyama (Kiznaiver): 10% (11,625)
  4. Mumei (Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress): 8% (8,376)

Other: 8% (8,648)

The number of votes cast: 111,372

Best Fight Scene

  1. Shigeo vs. Koyama from Ep. 8 (Mob Psycho 100): 40% (38,255)
  2. Deku vs. Kacchan from Ep. 7 (My Hero Academia): 25% (23,630)
  3. Mumei vs. Kabane from Ep. 2 (Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress): 18% (16,910)
  4. Altland vs. Moss from Ep. 32 (Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans): 8% (7,475)

Other: 9% (8,844)

The number of votes cast: 95,114

Best Animation

  1. Yuri!!! On Ice: 49% (68,535)
  2. Mob Psycho 100: 28% (39,766)
  3. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress: 12% (16,764)
  4. Flip Flappers: 6% (8,525)

Other: 4% (6,122)

The number of votes cast: 139,712

Most Heartwarming Scene

  1. The kiss from Ep. 7 (Yuri!!! On Ice): 55% (74,617)
  2. Kayo’s first homecooked meal from Ep. 9 (ERASED): 31% (42,092)
  3. Kakeru and Suwa learn to understand each other from Ep. 4 (Orange): 7% (8,987)
  4. Makoto flies over her new home from Ep. 12 (Flying Witch): 4% (5,319)

Other: 3% (4,750)

The number of votes cast: 135,765

Drama of the Year

  1. ERASED: 51% (46,528)
  2. Kiznaiver: 22% (19,597)
  3. Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju: 17% (15,698)
  4. Joker Game: 5% (4,413)

Other: 5% (4,637)

The number of votes cast: 90,873

Best Couple

  1. Yuri and Victor (Yuri!!! On Ice): 69% (99,194)
  2. Saturo and Kayo (ERASED): 14% (19,377)
  3. Katsuhira and Sonozaki (Kiznaiver): 8% (11,133)
  4. Luluco and Nova (Space Patrol Luluco): 5% (7,347)

Other: 4% (6,082)

The number of votes cast: 143,133

Best Comedy

  1. Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto!: 36% (33,102)
  2. KONOSUBA-God’s blessing on this beautiful world!: 33% (30,174)
  3. Keijo!!!!!!!!: 16% (14,692)
  4. Space Patrol Luluco: 9% (8,567)

Other: 6% (5,472)

The number of votes cast: 63,850

Best Action

  1. Mob Psycho 100: 36% (33,460)
  2. My Hero Academia: 25% (23,402)
  3. Drifters: 21% (19,362)
  4. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress: 13% (11,848)

Other: 6% (5,769)

The number of votes cast: 93,841

Best Opening

  1. Yuri!!! On Ice: 57% (80,882)
  2. Mob Psycho 100: 23% (32,225)
  3. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress: 7% (9,863)
  4. Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju: 3% (3,663)

Other: 10% (14,115)

The number of votes cast: 140,748

Best Closing

  1. Yuri!!! On Ice: 56% (71,144)
  2. Mob Psycho 100: 19% (24,754)
  3. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress: 9% (11,208)
  4. Space Patrol Luluco: 6% (8,048)

Other: 10% (12,221)

The number of votes cast: 127,375

Grand total of votes cast: 1,492,547

Feature: A Guide to the Odagiri Effect

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“If men knew all that women think, they would be twenty times more audacious.” – Alphonse Karr.

It is a question that many anime fans have asked themselves: what is it about high school male sports teams that make them so sexy? This is also probably going to be the first question put to me, if I should ever end up in court about why so many sports anime have a “special” following, in which most people think the characters are gay, and why there is so much fan fiction about these youthful characters.

The answer is something called the “Odagiri effect”, which has been around for a while, however little has been written about it in-depth. This is something that is worth looking into as it deals with many of the most popular anime series around, and it is something that has begun to influence British media as well, but no-one has talked about because so many mainstream TV critics have never heard of the term. But first…

What is the Odagiri effect?

The Odagiri effect is a phenomenon first seen on TV where a show gets a surprisingly higher-than-normal number of female viewers, because they find the male actors or characters in a show attractive.

According to The Dorama Encyclopedia by Jonathan Clements and Motoko Tamamuro, the term is named after Japanese actor Joe Odagiri, who starred in the 2000 children’s superhero show Kamen Rider Kuuga, about a masked motorbike-riding superhero. The producers noticed that the series was attracting two main audience groups. One was children, which isn’t surprising as that was the target audience. The other group was surprising: women around the age of 30. The producers discovered that these women, most of whom were mothers, were tuning in to see the rather sexy Odagiri in action.

Thanks to his performance, Odagiri went on to have a successful acting career, while the producers of the show repeated the success in the next series, Kamen Rider Agito, which had three male actors as the leads. It did attract the women, although many men disapproved of the way the show was being changed. [p. 182]

Does the Odagiri effect happen in British TV?

Yes, but because so few people have heard of the effect, most are unaware of it. There is one British TV show where a sexy male actor has boosted the viewing figures considerably: Poldark, starring Aidan Turner.

When the series began, most of the papers at the time were reporting about how many women were tuning in to see musclebound Turner and his topless scything. It was so popular, that in a 2015 poll by the Radio Times, this topless scything scene was voted the top TV moment of that year. This year, another topless Poldark scene, in which Turner is seen in a tin bath, came top of the Radio Times’s poll for the top TV moment of 2016.

Interestingly, coming third in the same poll was a scene in The Night Manager in which Tom Hiddleston’s bare backside was briefly on show, so we can see the Odagiri effect here too. Even more interestingly was what came fourth in the poll, which was Poldark again, but for something that caused a lot of anger among female viewers, as the moment was where the character of Poldark appears to commit rape. I’ll be returning to this later, but as we are an anime website, let’s turn to the animated art form.

Where can you see the Odagiri effect occurring in anime?

In my personal experience, when I first began getting into anime properly in the early-to-mid 2000s, I came across a show with a surprisingly large female audience: Hetalia: Axis Powers.

The wartime comedy manga which began in 2006 has a considerable female following, which is odd for a series featuring moe anthropomorphic stereotyped personifications of the nations of the world fighting in World War II. Presumably the women were attracted to the use of pretty boys – “bishonen” – as the main characters.

It seems that any anime with bishonen is likely to experience the Odagiri effect. According to Lauren Orsini, these tend to fall into two particular groups of anime shows: sports series, where you have athletic characters who obviously need to keep fit and look in shape in order to perform well; and musical idol series, concerning the interactions between the male characters in each group.

However, it isn’t just limited to these kinds of anime. You can arguably see the Odagiri effect in other kinds of anime too. For example, take Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE!, the series that parodies magical girl shows by featuring magical boys. Like the traditional magical girls, the boys are obviously made cute to appeal to audiences, but you also have the added bonus of the rather too-cute outfits that give the characters both extra appeal and comic value.

How do fans change the way the series is seen?

This is where things seem to get really interesting.

Let’s create a hypothetical example. As the main type of anime involved in the Odagiri effect tends to be sport, we will make a fake sports anime. I’m going with cricket as there not that many anime that cover it (it appears in Black Butler which is set in Britain, and baseball anime Star of the Giants has been adapted to cover cricket for the Indian market, but that’s about it).

Now, let’s imagine that this cricket anime follows a boys’ school cricket team, and you have all the students who make the team there, training, playing etc. You have all these fit guys in the show, so the Odagiri effect takes place and women start tuning in. However, because this is an anime, it is a fair bet to say that some of these women watching are fujoshi: yaoi fans, interested in male homoerotic anime. There might even be some fan service design to appeal directly to them.

Because of this, you then get the fujoshi tuning in because not only do they find the characters sexy, but they are also thinking that behind the scenes something else is happening, and that the characters might be “getting it on”. This leads me to reveal why I’ve chosen cricket as my hypothetical choice, because let’s be honest, in terms of cricket and double entendres, you have a lot to play with. We can all enjoy the sight of leather on willow, while the balls knock into those massive stumps. You would certainly need to have a long leg then, but things might be too kinky in cow corner.

Anyway, getting back to the main point. We have the large collection of women fans, and some of those are fujoshi who are of the opinion that the characters may be gay. Some of them may even be making yaoi fan works like dojinshi and selling them on. Because you have this possible homosexual element, you also attract male yaoi fans – fudanshi. Then on top of that, you may also attract men who are gay, but are not anime fans.

How has the Odagiri effect changed anime?

The main change is that now many anime are now exploiting the effect. As sports anime are my own particular area of interest I will stick to examples from here.

While my first personal experience of the Odagiri effect was in Hetalia, arguably the first sports anime to have been influenced by it was The Prince of Tennis; the manga began in 1999 and the anime in 2001. Although it started soon after the effect was noticed, it ran for so long that there was going to be some influence.

It seems that Kuroko’s Basketball was the first sports anime where the effect began to be seen, and then the swimming series Free! really began to push things with the Lycra-clad main characters, all of whom had girly names. Even coach Gou doesn’t make any attempt to hide her muscle fetish. You get even more body-tight Lycra in cycling series Yowamushi Pedal, but if leather is more your thing, you always have motorcycling manga Toppu GP.

Even making up an entirely new sport doesn’t stop the effect from taking place. Take Prince of Stride, for example, which covers a sport that is a kind of relay parkour. The fact that you happen to have the main female character giving out information in a position that is officially called the “Relationer” certainly sparks a few thoughts along the lines of, “Yeah, and we know what sort of relations too.”

However, there is a big issue when it comes to these shows: because these are mostly school sports teams and most of the characters are under 18, there is the whole question of legality. It is fine under Japanese law because there are few laws covering this kind of thing, but in the US and UK it is obviously more of an issue. There are obviously older characters in these series too, so it all depends on who is depicted. In terms of adults in sports anime, there are still some examples such as the Breakers, the all-male cheer leading team in Cheer Boys!!, which on the downside is one of the most unintentionally camp anime ever made – but on the upside, it is set in a university rather than a school, so at least all the main characters are adults and thus there are no legal issues in terms of any yaoi activity.

In the last anime season, there have been four different male sports anime series on the go: the long-running volleyball series Haikyu!!; football-based series DAYS; rugby anime All Out!! which attracted plenty of comment before it began due to the promotional poster featuring a particularly handsome backside; and the series that got everyone talking…

The Odagiri effect and Yuri!!! On Ice

Come on, if we are talking about homosexuality, sports anime and a large female following, we had to get to here sooner or later.

Any anime fan that has been following the events of recent months will be more than aware that this season we got a sports anime where the gay stuff was no longer just in the minds of the viewers. OK, it might have stopped short of actually showing a kiss fully uncensored, and Yuri and Victor may not actually say “I love you”, but even I, with my Asperger’s syndrome and thus my difficulties in understanding relationships and people’s reactions at face value, can tell that Yuri and Victor are gay. Whether it was the original kiss scene, the exchange of rings, Victor crying at the thought of the relationship ending or something else, Yuri!!! On Ice gave us the closest depiction of a same-sex relationship in a sports anime yet seen. There are also a relatively mature couple, as both characters are in their 20s.

However, there are still plenty of people out there who say that the whole relationship thing is speculation, and still refuse to believe Yuri and Victor are a couple until they actually admit it. Why? All the evidence clearly shows they are gay. Whenever someone has suggested that they are not, they can’t provide any evidence to support themselves other than the fact that Yuri and Victor never actually do “it” on screen.

Let me put it this way: all the evidence points to the fact that Yuri and Victor are gay and in a relationship, although the characters themselves have not admitted it – in the same way that all the evidence points to the fact that Monkey D. Luffy from One Piece will probably get a heart attack or bowel cancer from his almost exclusive meat-only diet before he ever becomes King of the Pirates. How much more proof do you need in order to be totally convinced? It couldn’t be more gay unless there is a second series and end up calling it something like Yuri!!! Again On Ice, for the sole purpose for giving the series the acronym “YAOI”.

There is one other thing that makes Yuri!!! On Ice stand out in comparison to most of the other series mentioned. One of the reasons why this series appeals to women is that it is actually made by women: namely director Sayo Yamamoto and writer Mitsurō Kubo. The reason so many women like this series is because the people making it know what women want because they themselves are women.

Overall, the series has sparked up debate about the depiction of homosexuality in anime and the media in general. Many were pleased to see the relationship, but some were critical of the fact that the relationship was not realistic enough, which leads me to the next point.

Is the Odagiri effect good or bad?

Well, the effect is certainly good at pulling in viewers. Some series have increased debate among the depiction of sexuality in anime. But the Odagiri effect has its downsides too.

The main one of these is that anime such as these, and yaoi in general, do not depict homosexuality realistically. For example, yaoi manga often feature rape. While a more mainstream show like Poldark that features male/female rape scenes will usually result in complaints from angry viewers, a yaoi that depicts male/male rape is often more accepted. A study back in 2008 by Dru Pagliassotti, Better Than Romance? Japanese BL Manga and the Subgenre of Male/Male Romantic Fiction, published in Boys’ Love Manga: Essays on the Sexual Ambiguity and Cross-Cultural Fandom of the Genre, which she co-edited with Antonia Levi and Mark McHarry, found that out of 391 people responding to a survey on Boys’ Love (BL) / yaoi manga: “fifty percent thought that rape, explicit sex, sad endings, physical torture, ordinariness, bed-hopping, cruel heroes, and weak heroes were all acceptable in BL manga. Of the remainder, twelve percent said that rape should never be included in BL” [p. 67-68].

Another issue is the fact that there is a difference between how different audiences react to a show. To reference another section in Boys’ Love Manga, Alexis Hall in his study Gay or Gei? Reading “Realness” in Japanese Yaoi Manga, looks at the ways that we western audiences read yaoi in comparison to how it is read in Japan. He talks about one gay man, who thinks his views on yaoi are more valid than most yaoi fans because he is the sort of person depicted in the works. However, this man is American and not Japanese, so does that mean that in the context of reading a yaoi manga or anime that sexuality is the most important thing rather than ethnicity? [p. 217] It is safe to say, that I have been guilty of doing this myself.

We may think that we are more forward thinking than the Japanese in terms of gay rights because we have things like gay marriage, but for most of history it has been Japan that was more forward thinking because for most of the time they were no laws prohibiting it. [p. 218] In the 1960s, the Japanese weren’t imprisoning gay people like we British were doing at the same time. It’s just that at present we are currently being more progressive.

There is also the one other, big, glaring factor relating to whether the Odagiri effect has a bad effect or not which is this: the fact that we are talking about it in the first place. If this was the other way around, and that we had noticed there was an observable effect in which men were more likely to watch a TV show if there women actors or characters were sexy, we would probably be saying that this was sexist, or for that matter that this is something that actually goes on all the time anyway. We can probably come up with a massive list of TV shows, films, adverts, books etc. which have used sexy women to try and make men watch or read them. Reversing that and naming things that use attractive men to get women to engage with them is harder.

You also got the fact that because these shows are relying on a male cast to get women to watch them that these shows are perhaps not going to be the most feminist programmes around. It is hard to imagine any of them passing the Bechdel test.

What does the Odagiri effect say about ourselves?

What we are actually kind-of saying to ourselves when we observe the Odagiri effect is: “Wow! It turns out that women have some kind of sexual desire! I never realised that before. Turns out that women quite like men who are sexy.”

If you can get a positive out of this you could say the effect has pointed out that there is actually a lack of cultural material, across all media, that is aimed at women. The fact that this effect occurs points out that we need to do better, because whenever something using the Odagiri effect does gain the public’s attention, it shows that there is a gap in the cultural market that is now being filled.

For instance, let’s take another example of a work that became surprisingly popular with women: Fifty Shades of Grey. This is something that we have been repeatedly told that we are not meant to like: it’s sexist, poorly written, an inaccurate portrayal of a BDSM relationship etc. But let’s examine it more closely. For starters, Fifty Shades is fan-fiction. It began as Twilight fan-fiction, so it has connections with yaoi fan works based on sports anime. Like Yuri!!! On Ice, it is made by a woman for women.

Also, as is common with the Odagiri effect, the media were reporting on the surprising number of women who were buying it, even though it was supposedly a bad book. I would argue that women were going out to buy the book because there was so little else like this that was aimed at them, even though everyone else thought it was terrible. See also the Muslim community and Citizen Khan.

The point is this: it doesn’t matter if you are getting a thrill from Yuri Katsuki, Ross Poldark or Christian Grey. What matters is that people can get some enjoyment out of what they like.

What can we conclude from this?

Personally speaking, my main hope is that the Odagiri effects will be discussed wider afield, especially in the more mainstream media as it is something that seems worthy of discussion, on the grounds that it is of interest to those who work in TV, to feminists and to the LGBTQ+ community.

Also, while acknowledging the whole problem of being a western observer wishing to impose his views on a Japanese art form, it would be nice to see anime cover homosexuality more realistically. We may not get to see that in Yuri!!! On Ice, but perhaps the next generation of anime shows might cover it more in-depth.

Yuri!!! On Ice is thus more of a stepping stone to something that is perhaps going to be greater. I do suspect that there will be a second series, possibly to tie in with the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, which may explore Yuri and Victor’s relationship more fully.

One other thing to conclude is that there needs to be debate on the relationship between TV and women in general. We can conclude that little TV caters for women, and women appear to be on TV less than men, especially in formats such as comedy – a recent study shows that there has never been an all-female comic line-up on a panel game on British TV since 1967, and only once on radio during that time.

This gets to something that has annoyed me in recent weeks concerning Yuri!!! On Ice. I know there are plenty of people who are sick of the show being discussed so much, at least in our anime bubble. The big problem however is that I don’t think Yuri!!! On Ice is being discussed enough by mainstream media. If you look up any list of “The Best TV Shows of 2016”, the lists are totally dominated by shows that are in English. I’m not saying Yuri!!! On Ice should be in these best show lists, I’m saying that they need to come out of their bubble and we need to come out of ours. It feels as if mainstream TV critics can’t be bothered to watch shows “in foreign”, and the only way they would be interested is if there is some sort of British connection, like a guest appearance from some British skaters. Mind you that’s no bad idea: I for one would love to see Torvill and Dean skating just before Yuri and Victor.

Really though, we need to make more of an effort to cater culturally to women, across all forms of media.

We should also keep eye out on some anime coming out later this year in terms of the Odagiri effect striking. Two series that spring to mind are another pair of sports series, Welcome to the Ballroom and DIVE!! – both of which are being turned into anime in the summer, and both of which cover activities that already have LGBT stars: thank you Bruno Tonioli and Tom Daley.

Streaming review of Yuri!!! On Ice, Episodes 9-12 (Crunchyroll)

WARNING: Contains spoilers

Link to review of Episodes 1-8.

“Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly it flips over, pinning you underneath. At night, the ice weasels come.” – Matt Groening.

Having finally reached the end of the series, waiting to see what would be the outcome of Yuri Katsuki’s progress through the Grand Prix, and the nature of his relationship with coach Victor Nikiforov, my overall reaction is one of… well, I don’t really know to be honest. I’m not ecstatic, nor am I as disappointed as I thought I was going to be. However, by the time I had finished writing this piece, I think I finally cracked it.

The eighth episode ended with Victor flying from Moscow back to Japan after Yuri K. learns that Victor’s beloved poodle Makkachin has been rushed to the vets when it was found choking. Thus Victor’s old coach, Yakov, who is also Yurio’s current coach, agrees to serve as Yuri K.’s temporary coach while Victor is away. In the end, Yuri K. gets third place in Moscow with Yurio coming second, and first going to the rather overbearing Canadian J.J. Leroy. Yuri K. then returns home, with Makkachin perfectly well.

The scores for both Yuris are enough to take them to the grand final in Barcelona, with the tenth episode being told from Victor’s viewpoint rather than Yuri K’s. This episode, mainly serving as a run-up to the main competition, has what I think is the best scene in the series. While much has been made of the kiss scene in episode seven – a scene which Crunchyroll has nominated for a prize in their first ever “Anime Awards”, for me the single best scene in the whole of Yuri!!! On Ice occurs when Yuri K. decides to get a good luck charm for the final. This charm is a pair of gold rings for both himself and Victor, which they both wear. As a result, it is seen as deeply symbolic in terms of their relationship. When they meet the other skaters people think they are married, but Victor just says they are engaged.

The final two episodes cover the grand final itself, with the competitors being the two Yuris, J.J., Yuri K’s friend from Thailand Phichit Chulanot, Victor’s friendly Swiss rival Christophe Giacometti, and Kazakhstan’s Otabek Altin who becomes friends with Yurio. In the first half of the competition, the highlight is when J.J. cracks under the pressure, which for me is a good scene because you can finally start to sympathise with him. At the end of the episode, however, Yuri K. says to Victor: “After the Final, let’s end this.”

This remark clearly upsets Victor, and the final episode is partly about whether or not Yuri K. and Victor will continue working together. As to what happens in the final round, well, I don’t want to give away the critical details, but I think it is safe to mention the things that occur after the contest is over. One is is a gala exhibition in which Yuri K. and Victor are skating together – something fans of the show are saying is a big deal because two men skating together in a competition is something that never happens. The other thing is a message to the viewer: “See you NEXT LEVEL”, indicating the possibility of a second series.

As I said, I was expecting to react to the ending in one of two ways: anger or joy. In fact, anger was my reaction when I logged onto Crunchyroll to watch the last episode. For starters, I needed to update my Adobe Flash Player, so I thought, “Oh God, I’m now going to be behind everyone else watching it.” What I didn’t notice while I was updating the software was that everyone else was angry because Crunchyroll hadn’t put the episode up at all. They were nearly 20 minutes late putting up the most anticipated finale of the season and people were understandably furious. I admit it is a bit of a ‘first world problem’, but as the main anime streaming website for most people, you expect Crunchyroll not to have these issues.

In terms of watching the finale itself, I think I have finally reached my conclusion as to the proof of whether Yuri and Victor are a gay couple. I think there actually is conclusive proof – but again, not the sort of proof I was expecting. It comes at the top of the episode, following on from Yuri K. saying he wants to end it all. As he explains, I think I see the true indication that Victor loves Yuri – Victor cries. For all this time, I was hoping to see something happy to indicate their love, but in the end, it was something that was sad. The idea that your relationship might end, the possible heartbreak, is for me the final indicator. If the kiss is the initial spark, and the rings the visible sign of love, then the tears are proof that you don’t want it to end. I have been saying all the time that what I wanted was text rather than subtext – but in end, I think the subtext did actually pay off. If there is a second series we might get text then, but for now, I think everything’s OK.

That crying scene overall speaks volumes to me. All the time it has been the kissing and the verbal indications, yet what love really is, when you get down to it, is emotional. As I said in my previous review, I’ve been in a long distance relationship with a genderfluid American for six years. The one thing we have never been able to do is meet in real life. If and when we do, it will be a glorious, passionate moment, but when he no doubt gets on the plane back home and returns to his everyday life, I know I will cry bitter tears. As I write this passage out, I am even on the verge of tears knowing that this moment might never even happen, because we still might never get to physically encounter each other.

This show has put me through so many emotions: love, frustration, joy, bewilderment, and finally anger – not at the show, but the way people are debating it. Yes, there will still be people arguing about whether Yuri K. and Victor are gay, battles between zealous fans and haters, but for me the most annoying and tedious have been the rows on the AUKN forums between Rui and IncendiaryLemon, which even on the day of the finale have still raged on, because of the show being nominated for awards. I did end up posting on the forums a message that included the phrase: “Won’t you two get a room.”

If there is a second series, I really do hope we get to see the relationship between Yuri and Victor flourish, and I do think that if we see that fully uncensored kiss I would put it up to 10, but I would also really hope that Rui and IncendiaryLemon bicker less.

Title: Yuri!!! On Ice
Publisher: Crunchyroll (streaming)
Genre: Shonen-ai, Sports
Studio: MAPPA
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Legal stream
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Running time: 100 minutes

Score: 9/10

Streaming review of Yuri!!! On Ice, Episodes 1-8 (Crunchyroll)

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“Galocher – to kiss with tongues.”
“La galoche – an ice-skating boot.”
– Definitions from Petit Robert, France’s most popular dictionary.

It seems that in France ice skating and kissing go hand-in-hand (I know neither of those definitions involves hands, but it feels weird referring to it as “foot-in-mouth” because you keep accidentally thinking of “foot-and-mouth” which is a very different area), so perhaps many a French fujoshi and fudanshi may have been watching in awe last week when they (kind of) got what they finally wanted – a sports anime where the central characters were both gay and in a relationship, as indicated by what has probably become the most talked about scene in anime this year. But to reference another gay icon, Kenny Everett: “I’m giving away the plot! Go and see it – it’s all done in the best possible taste!” Let’s stick to the chronology before we get to the big moment.

The “Yuri” in the title is a bit confusing. Firstly, it is not “Yuri” as in “lesbian manga”, this is guys we are talking about – and it’s guys in the plural as there are two Yuris. The first is 23-year-old Japanese figure skater Yuri Katsuki (who for the purposes of this review we shall refer to as Yuri K.), who is pretty talented in his sport but recently has been in a slump. He doesn’t cope well under pressure and as a result has slipped down the rankings. The other Yuri is a Russian figure skater named Yuri Plisetsky (later referred to as Yurio), a 15-year-old with natural talent and a punk-like attitude. This is made clear at the end of one tournament when Yurio finds Yuri K. hiding in the gents, upset, and tells Yuri K. to quit the sport.

Yuri K. does unofficially leave figure skating, distancing himself from his coach and returning to his hometown where his family run an onsen. During this time, Yuri K.’s hero, 27-year-old Victor Nikiforov of Russia, wins his fifth consecutive Grand Prix Final. Yuri K. decides to visit his local skating rink, where he performs Victor’s winning routine in front of the rink’s owners (and his childhood friends) the Nishigori family. His performance is perfect, but there is one problem: the triplet children of the Nishigori family record Yuri K.’s performance, then post it online, and the whole thing goes viral.

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The fallout from this is pretty dramatic. While Yuri K. tries to relax in the family springs, he gets an unexpected visitor – Victor Nikiforov – who saw the clip and was so impressed that he demands to be Yuri K.’s new coach. As a result Victor moves in and makes the shock announcement that he is having an ‘off’ season. When the press track Victor down, Yurio then arrives on the scene and tries to take Victor back to Russia, because Victor has promised him that he would coach him for his senior debut. To sort out the problem, a contest is held at the rink and whoever does the best out of the two will be coached by Victor. Yuri K. wins with a routine based on the theme of “Eros”, and thus Victor does become Yuri K.’s coach, with both Yuris promising that they will win the next Grand Prix.

Thus Yuri K. and Victor begin their competition, facing off against fellow Japanese competitors and challengers from overseas. After qualifying to represent Japan in the Grand Prix, their first assignment is in China where Yuri K. is able to perform under huge pressure. Despite his nerves, he is able to skate wonderfully, to the delight of the crowd and Victor especially, which leads to the big scene referred to earlier, which occurs at the end of the seventh episode. After the end of his routine, Victor and Yuri K. rush to each other, arms open wide, and as a close-up indicates, with their lips very close together. However, just before you see anything, Victor’s arm blocks the sight of it, although the reactions of just about everyone watching the event in the stadium and at home seem to indicate that what actually happened was that these two guys kissed – and as if that is not enough, the next assignment will see the duo in Russia taking on Yurio.

Obviously the main talking point of Yuri!!! On Ice has been the kiss scene, but before we talk about this, let’s look at the ups and downs of the show so far. Dealing with the negative points to begin with – first, there is annoyingly little explanation of how figure skating works. One of the problems with sports anime is that it often covers sports that many people don’t know the rules to, and thus they have to explain what certain things are: this is down in Haikyu!! and more recently All Out!!, but Yuri!!! On Ice (which at least does come top in the list of the sports anime that overuse exclamation marks) don’t explain what all the fancy jumps are, which for me has always been one of the major put-offs of any of these sports in real-life. It would be nice if the show explained the scoring system or told you what a “Salchow” is – for anyone wondering, it’s a jump where you start off from the back inside edge off one foot.

Another issue comes from the fact that much of the time rather than getting on with the plot, you are seeing all the other competitors doing their routines, which again is a problem given the lack of explanation in some of the terminology. All you can really judge the characters by is their passion as explained in their internal monologue, and whether or not they fall down at any point. As a result, you kind of care less for some of the minor characters because often you don’t know what is going on.

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On the plus side, there is the overall quality of the animation, as well as the impressive soundtrack – not just the opening and closing music, namely “History Maker” by Dean Fujioka and “You Only Live Once” by Wataru Hatano – but also the incidental music, such as the tracks the skaters perform too. But for me, the main plus point is the diversity. Anime is often a closed shop when it comes to characters of different ethnic backgrounds, but Yuri!!! On Ice is able to make up for this. Not only is the central relationship between someone from Japan and someone from Russia, but we also have characters from China, Thailand, Switzerland, Canada, Italy, South Korea, Kazakhstan, the Czech Republic, and the main American skater is Hispanic. Perhaps this is not surprising given the director of the series, Sayo Yamamoto, is the same woman behind Michiko and Hatchin, which is set in Latin America.

If you want a more detailed argument, you are probably best reading the posts on the AUKN forums by our reviewer IncendiaryLemon, who dropped the series after six episodes, and editor Rui. I can assure you it is about ten minutes of your life you will never get back (sorry guys).

But now it is time to finally discuss the key moment. The one that has got so many people talking over the past week: the scene at the end of the seventh episode in which all the evidence suggests that Yuri K. and Victor kissed. If you look at some of the social media websites, in particular the more American-dominated ones like Tumblr, you will see post after post explaining how, even though you never actually see the kiss, it definitely happened.

You can see people drawing lines behind Victor’s arm showing that if it wasn’t there you would have clearly seen the two kissing each other; you can look at the claims that the reactions of everyone watching the moment are a clear indication that nothing other than a kiss would have proved that shocking; you can even examine the claims that the show references actual real-life gay figure skaters: namely footage of a young Victor shows him wearing the same outfit as Johnny Weir, an openly gay American skater who has reportedly faced much prejudice in his career, which I find amazing – in the sense of finding figure skating to be a homophobic sport, when it comes across as one of the glitziest, showy, camp sports around. These are people dressed in sparkly suits, dancing around and in Yuri K.’s case being taught by a ballet teacher. To a figure skating layman like me, if you were to ask me about homosexuality in figure skating, I would have said that I was less surprised that openly gay Weir was facing discrimination and more amazed at the fact that Torvill and Dean were married to each other. The only sport I can think of as being camper is an all-male cheerleading squad (I can’t watch Cheer Boys!! without regrettably sniggering).

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However, despite all this and all the support that this scene has, my reaction has been one of frustration. Part of this is partly due to my own background – I’m pansexual and have been in a long-distance relationship with a genderfluid American for six years, as of 1st December. As someone who is pansexual, a fudanshi, and a fan of all these sports anime that appeal to someone of my personal tastes, I’m frustrated at the fact you don’t see the actual kiss yourself, on screen. You go by everyone else’s reaction. Because you don’t see the kiss, you still have that tiny seed of doubt in your head that the kiss didn’t actually happen. I’m 99.999% sure the kiss did occur, but that 0.001% is horribly getting to me. I don’t want to go by what everyone else sees – I want to see what is actually going on, and share in the reaction of the characters at the same time as them.

One of the problems is the pressure to accept that the kiss just happened. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and the other social media outlets, you sometimes get the feeling that if you say that the kiss didn’t happen the immediate reaction is fans will accuse you of homophobia, or will say that you wouldn’t feel like that if it was a straight kiss or perhaps a lesbian kiss. One article I’ve read concerning Yuri!!! On Ice was on Anime Feminist where Amelia Cook writes:

“Since the episode aired I have seen raw, vulnerable reactions from LGBTQ+ fans openly stating how deeply it affected them to see queer subtext made text, how they hoped it would be seen by young people who aren’t yet old enough to feel comfortable with their identities, how much seeing such a moment would have meant to them at that age. Why on earth would anyone in our fandom actively seek to reduce such an impact?”

Well, maybe it is because of my age (I’m 30), or maybe it is because I’m British and our country has had a troubled history concerning gay rights – yes, we now have gay marriage, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that homosexuality was legalised; it wasn’t until 2003 when Section 28 which banned teaching anything positive about homosexuality in schools was finally lifted; in Northern Ireland there is a big row over a Christian bakery refusing to bake a pro-marriage cake for a gay couple, bringing up debates on gay rights and freedom of speech on both sides – but I don’t think we have reached that far yet. Yes, it has made a great impact, but the impact is still a little short for me. Mind you, in terms of gay rights we Brits are still further ahead than the home countries of the main characters. Japan only recognises same-sex partnerships in some areas and with no legal standing, while Russia’s negative attitude towards gay rights is pretty well known. Cook also writes:

“Victor’s arm obscuring where his lips meet Yuri’s cannot possibly be an artistic decision; either we see them kiss or there was no kiss. Disagree? Prove it. Never mind that obscuring a kiss is completely consistent with the show’s storytelling style so far, leaving deliberate information gaps and inviting viewers to read between the lines. Pics or it didn’t happen.”

I’m sorry, but I genuinely don’t think we’ve reached that point yet where simply implying that a gay kiss happened means the characters are certainly gay. That is a future step, the one beyond, that the next wave of anime might take us. But what Yuri!!! On Ice can do is take the next immediate step and actually show an on-screen kiss, uncensored, beyond all doubt, showing that these characters are definitely a gay couple. Now it should be highlighted that the eighth episode also features kisses, but one is of Yuri K. blowing a kiss to the judges, which, while not that romantic is certainly fun; and the other is another blocked-off kiss in which Victor kisses Yuri K.’s skating boot, which is not as exciting as flesh-on-flesh contact and thus not really any further indication of anything romantic – unless it turns out that Victor has some form of foot fetish.

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I wish to say that I bear no animosity towards anyone, in particular to Cook whose article makes many great points and I would urge people to read at their leisure. What I am trying to say is this: it is good that we seem to have a canon gay relationship in a relatively mainstream sports anime series and that these characters appear to kiss. It would be great if we could actually see those lips meet, for the characters to declare their love and their relationship openly, to rid my and indeed anyone’s mind of that 0.001% of doubt.

Let me put it this way: in a year that, let’s be honest, has been pretty shit for just about every decent human being concerned, one of the ways that I would definitely be cheered up would be to see Yuri K. and Victor do a kiss on screen. It doesn’t have to be a big kiss. It’s doesn’t have to be a galoche, it can be a simple peck. But I do want it to be one where I and everyone else in the 3D world can clearly see happening.

For me, personally, I would be ecstatic if I saw it. It would be for me, personally, not just the anime event, but the TV event of the year, because after years of being a fan of all these sports anime like Free!, Haikyu!!, Kuroko’s Basketball, DAYS, All Out!!, Cheer Boys!!, Yowamushi Pedal, Prince of Stride and so on, it would be great not to have to simply imply the characters are gay, but say that they definitely are, and that they love each other, no matter what hardships they may face.

Title: Yuri!!! On Ice
Publisher: Crunchyroll (streaming)
Genre: Shonen-ai, Sport
Studio: MAPPA
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Legal stream
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Running time: 200 minutes

Score: 8/10