This story has been updated below.
There’s a recent anime about ice skating that is so popular (and gay) that even openly gay Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir watches it. In fact, Weir and other professional figure skaters like Joe Johnson have been tweeting about it. If you didn’t know about the anime, you may have been confused by Johnson’s tweet earlier this month:
No offense but I am absolutely gonna J.J. style in the kiss & cry at Nationals pic.twitter.com/r5aXnZKFHV
— Joe Johnson (@JoeJohnsonIce) January 7, 2017
Or perhaps this tweet he made last Friday, carrying through on his earlier tweet’s promise to “J.J. style” at this year’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships:
Did I just J.J. Style on network television? Perhaps pic.twitter.com/xHkQh0ao4Y
— Joe Johnson (@JoeJohnsonIce) January 21, 2017
What’s this mysterious hand gesture? Is there a super secret ice skating cabal? Is Johnson giving the secret signal to the Bilderberg Group to release more chemtrails? Does Team USA outrank the Illuminati?
No, nothing quite so conspiracy laden as that—actually, Johnson’s just a fan of the anime hit Yuri!!! On Ice. (He’s not the only one—it landed on our Best of 2016 list, too.) The series follows Yuri Katsuki, a professional skater from Japan as he washes out of the finals and heads back home.
To relax, he heads to his hometown skating rink and, just for fun, performs an advanced routine by multiple-time champion Victor Nikiforov. He’s secretly recorded on a camera phone and his flawless performance goes viral … ultimately gaining the attention of Victor himself. Victor flies to Japan and asks to be Yuri’s coach, where he takes him to the next level in skating … and love.
And, no, it’s not corny at all. In fact, the show features one of the most mature same-sex love stories—not just in anime, but in television. The viewer is brought in, especially as the initial hints that Victor and Yuri’s relationship may be more than platonic are clear only in retrospect.
At the moment when it becomes clear that Yuri and Victor are more than coach and coachee, queer anime fans cheered. While same-sex love stories are common (called yaoi for male couples and, ironically, yuri for female couples), the most visible examples of the genre are based on straight women’s idealized version of gay relationships, and they’re not terribly realistic.
Yuri!!! on Ice avoids the pitfalls of these by fleshing out the characters before getting to the romance—and, more importantly, by having something to say about love. The entire series looks at different types of love—romantic love, platonic love, erotic love, self-love—and wants to comment on what these really mean, and whether or not you can love others if you don’t love yourself.
To get at the nut of love, Yuri!!! on Ice uses a similar device to Your Lie In April, one common to both competition anime and Shakespeare: the soliloquy. During the beautifully animated skating routines, we hear the thoughts of the skaters, putting us into the heads of the characters and understanding all the skaters, no matter how ancillary they may seem at first.
But as deep as the show is, it’s also visually beautiful—which sometimes caused problems, as their ambitious animation often caused delays and less-than-complete scenes to air. Admittedly some of those could be rough, but when the animation was complete, it was exquisite. (And all the more reason to pick up the inevitable Blu-ray release. As is common in anime, that will have the final, complete versions of the episodes.)
The creator of Yuri!!! on Ice is Sayo Yamamoto, creator of the very well-regarded feminist interpretation of the classic Lupin III series, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine. She also created the short film Endless Night for the Japan Animator Expo, showing the life of an ice skater as he skates at a championship. (Astute readers may pick up on a theme.)
Unsurprisingly, Yuri!!! on Ice has picked up many fans in the world of ice skating due to its accuracy and quality. The routines are real; they’re choreographed by Kenji Miyamoto, who’s worked with skaters like gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu. The costumes are real, designed by Chacott. And the fans are real; they include Michael Martinez (the champion from the Philippines), Russian skating superstar Evgeni Plushenko and Evgenia Medvedeva, the women’s world champion (and Yuri cosplayer):
— Evgenia Medvedeva (@JannyMedvedeva) November 17, 2016
And, much how Yuri regained his prominence in the skating world by skating to one of Victor’s routines, real fans have recorded themselves doing Yuri!!! routines.
If you want to see Yuri!!! on Ice for yourself and see what all the hubbub is about, it’s available on Crunchyroll (subtitled) and Funimation (dubbed). And when you get hooked, binge on the whole show and cry because there are only 12 episodes, buck up! Yuri!!! on Ice will likely be coming back, and maybe even be coming this year!
And if, for some reason, you still need convincing, Victor was designed to look like Hedwig and the Angry Inch creator John Cameron Mitchell. So now you have to see it.
UPDATE, April 29: “Yuri!!! on Stage” event on April 29, it was confirmed that a Yuri!!! on Ice film has been green-lit. We don’t know any details yet about the movie other than it will be an original story, and not a movie-sized compilation of the TV series.