WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD. PLUS, M/M ROMANCE ANIME, ‘CAUSE… YOU NEED TO BE WARNED ABOUT THAT, APPARENTLY.
I hate censorship.
Ironically, I censor myself all the time when it comes to my writing and my blog posts. Case in point, when I originally started writing this post, I came at it from the viewpoint of art and escapism and didn’t know how to morph it into something coherent.
But now that I’ve read about halfway through You Are a Writer by Jeff Goins…
Now I can talk about this with a clear head.
Who Dat Up Top?
Channeling the last Make-Write Monday with Makoto Shishio, I’m drawing upon my love of anime in today’s post through “Yuri!!! on ICE”. The boy in the picture above is the anime’s titular protagonist: 23-year-old, competitive Japanese figure skater Yuri Katsuki.
After a crushing defeat at the previous Grand Prix Final, Yuri finds himself in last place and debating whether or not to continue his career as a competitive skater. He takes a year off from the sport, becomes quite depressed, and gains weight from all the katsudon he eats. After talking to his childhood friend Yuko, he decides to get back on the ice and replicate the free skate routine of his figure skating idol, Victor Nikiforov, who won his fifth consecutive Grand Prix Final at the time Yuri wound up in sixth on his last one. The video goes viral, eventually reaching the eyes of Victor himself. Greatly moved by Yuri’s performance, Victor hops on a plane to Kyushu and offers to train Yuri. Along the way, Yuri re-awakens his love for the ice and discovers new loves that fuel his desire to win a gold medal at the next Grand Prix Final.
The only walls in his way, however, are fellow rival Yuri Plisetsky and the crippling emotions he must master in order to skate the best program he can.
Okay. Wut ‘Bout Censorship?
I hate to cite a Tumblr post for this, but according to Victor Nikiforov’s voice actor, Junichi Suwabe, the level of sexiness in this anime is so high that the anime itself “barely passed” Japan’s censorship law. Whether mentioned as a joke or the actual truth, this statement has since colored how I view Yuri!!! on ICE as art.
I’ve watched all 12 episodes, and I can indeed confirm its homoerotic undertones and sexual overtones. It is most certainly not an anime for the immature eyes of children. From Victor’s costume as a tribute to the openly gay figure skater Johnny Weir, Yuri’s accidental bleeding nose during one of his routines, and to the pair of matching golden “good luck” rings Yuri buys for both of them, this anime is rife with text book-definition visual symbols for love, romance, and sexual arousal.
Of course, the anime is more than its sexual subtext. On the visual/textual surface, it’s incredibly detailed, beautiful, and tender. It’s about a boy who must master his crippling anxiety and find his self-confidence. It’s about masculinity, femininity, and finding power in-between the gender dichotomy. It’s about love and the different forms it takes. It’s about winning for your country, getting knocked off your high horse, and making new friends.
Yuri!!! on ICE is about being human. And shows like that in general are hard to come by. They’re progressive, fresh, and beautiful to watch, like geysers erupting from the ground.
But it’s hard for me to give a definitive review of this anime because part me of has reason to believe it went through the censorship wood-chipper.
The Censorship Wood-chipper?
Japan is the country of yaoi, yuri, and fetishes of all kinds. And yet, the LGBTQ+ community still struggles to have rights other heterosexual people have. As of February 2015, only Tokyo’s Shibuya and Setagaya districts recognize same-sex partnerships in matters of hospital visits and sharing apartments. Everywhere else, the LGBTQ+ community can be discriminated against, whether it be donating blood or being harassed in the workplace.
Yuri!!! on ICE, in this sense, depicts a Japan, and perhaps a world, where love has no restrictions, despite it being broadcast to a country with such restrictions still in place. This contrast, in turn, is what the made the anime, for me, visibly start to fight with itself.
In episode 5, Yuri Katsuki chooses “love” as his skating theme for this season. Quoting the Crunchyroll translation, he says that his love is “not something clear-cut like romantic love, but the more abstract feeling of [his] relationships with Victor, family, and my [his] hometown.” He even tells Victor in episode 4 that he doesn’t want Victor to be a boyfriend-like figure as his coach, and just wants Victor to be himself. This would imply, thematically, that Yuri, mimicking his coach, is trying to become more of himself with the love of everyone around him.
One can also make the argument that Yuri’s growing comfort with himself and his emotions is a symbolic representation of his “coming-out-of-the-closet” as a gay figure skater, since initially denying these feelings is typically a part of the journey itself. But to that, I say, where is the closet? I see the love. And I see the closet regarding Yuri’s emotions and confidence in general as a human being. He even does a routine involving the Greek concept of eros — passionate, romantic, and sometimes-sexual love. But as for the closet that refers specifically to his homosexuality (possibly even bisexuality, if we want to count him blushing at Yuko in the first episode as anything, since blushing is a visual trope in anime for liking somone), where is it? Where is that struggle?
Of course, the show isn’t centered on Yuri’s struggle with his feelings for men, and I certainly don’t think it should be. But part of me feels like this show was held back because the closet Yuri would have come out possibly went through the censorship wood-chipper. For the subtext of the show to “work” and not have its fans grasping at straws, there can be no kiss scene in episode 7 obscured by the romantic interest’s sweater sleeve.
Which is why I want to say the following, dear writers:
Don’t ever censor yourself when making art.
Art and Censorship: Offending Someone 101
No matter what you do, no matter where you go, you will always offend someone. You will offend someone by making the art that you make. You will offend someone by not making the art that you make. If you write homosexual romance, you will offend someone. If you don’t write homosexual romance, you will offend someone.
But offending someone is not enough reason to stop making art.
Censorship happens, time and time again, when people come across material that offends them — when it goes against their beliefs and teachings. It happens when certain books get banned by school boards each year so that they aren’t read in the classroom. Censorship happens when an artist talks themselves out of writing a sex scene or having their character curse, despite it being a book for adults, because they fear their parents and peers will get the wrong idea about them. Censorship happens when an anime like Yuri!!! on ICE continuously has to backpedal its stance on love in order to satisfy television broadcasting legal requirements.
Censorship kills art.
Fear kills art.
If the censorship that must be done does not harm the content to the point of confusion and obscurity, fine. If the censorship is done out of the sake of preventing your toddler from listening to a porn radio station by accident, fine. Your child, your rules. But otherwise…
Stay out of the way, and let the art speak for itself.
Go forth and create. Unabashedly. Without reservation.
Edit and cut, if you must, but never out of fear.
Only out of love.