I recently joined the otaku group OWLS (Otaku Warriors For Liberty and Self-Respect) that discusses different social issues portrayed in anime. Our theme for February is the infamous Yuri On Ice!!! and the concept of “flight.”
Our prompt for this month is:
“An individual takes flight when there is a goal, a dream, or an ambition that he or she wants to achieve. However, for this blog tour, we are going to look at “flight” in different lenses: the underdog’s dream, the possibilities that Yuri on Ice allows viewers to think about, and also the dangers of greed and ignorance that can influence one’s dream.
Yuri and Viktor’s Relationship
The internet could argue all day whether or not Yuri and Viktor are canon, but for the sake of this analysis, I am going to assume they are in a legitimate relationship.
Yuri On Ice!!! is about a figure skater, Katsuki Yuri, who goes for gold after his hero, Viktor Nikiforov, becomes his coach. In the anime, the competitive nature of figure skating makes all of the characters’ nationalities known: Yuri is Japanese while Viktor is Russian. Throughout the course of the series, no one seems to judge the fact that these two are in an interracial, homosexual relationship. When Phicit announces that Viktor and Yuri are engaged/married at a crowded restaurant, there isn’t one negative comment about the fact they are both men. On the contrary, it seems to be accepted and celebrated.
However, in real life, people are not so accepting. Every culture has its own interpretations of homosexuality, some positive, some negative. But how would Yuri and Viktor’s countries of origin react to their relationship? In this piece, I am going to explore how homosexuality and LGBT relationships are viewed in Japan and Russia.
Homosexuality In Russia
As much as everyone loves Viktor as a character, the sad truth is that Russia is very anti-gay. According to data, most people in Russia still do not accept homosexuality, and the Russian government is increasingly homophobic. The government seems to be the biggest problem when it comes to this anti-gay sentiment. Laws against LGBT individuals have been around since the days of Stalin (Khazan). Laws prohibiting being homosexual in private have been done away with, but there are still laws that deny people the right to express support for the LGBT community in public. Vladimir Putin recently passed a law that outlaws “gay propaganda”, which is meant to “protect” children from “abnormal behavior.” To makes things worse, there is a law that could be passed that would criminalize displaying homosexual relationships in public. Hopefully, this does not happen (New York Times).
Why does Russia have such a negative view of the LGBT community? One reason is that people in Russia are strict when it comes to tradition- they do not want to break from the tradition of male and female relationships. There is also a stereotype that homosexuality relates to pedophilia, and that gay people are “perverts” (which is not true). This seems to be ingrained in the minds of the conservative government officials. But what about the everyday civilians? I obviously can’t speak for everyone, but according to an article in The Atlantic, there is the concept that the government sets the morals and ethics for the country. Russia is a very nationalistic country, so supporting the government’s agenda is part of being Russian. So if the government says homosexuality is bad, people are likely to believe it. On top of this, many Russians are supporters of the Orthodox Church, which is extremely anti-gay. The Church and government have close ties, which doesn’t help the issue (Khazan). Apparently, when the new Beauty and The Beast movie came out a couple months ago, the Russian government rated it 16+ in Russia so children wouldn’t be exposed to LeFou’s gay character.
Although the LGBT community faces persecution in Russia, there are still people and activists who are fighting for human rights, despite the danger. Their bravery needs to be acknowledged, and the rest of us should learn their example. Hopefully, that proposed law criminalizing public homosexuality will never see the light of day, and people in Russia and around the world, will continue to fight for their rights and beliefs.
Homosexuality In Japan
In good news, things are a little different in Japan. Support for LGBT issues has slowly been spreading around the country. Same-sex couples can now get married in certain areas, like Shibuya. There are also some laws protecting against homophobic discrimination. These recent happenings in Japan give me hope that homosexuality may one day be accepted in Japan, but there is still work that needs to be done (Aliasis).
Although it is more accepted than in some other countries, same-sex relationships still aren’t mainstream in Japan. Homosexuality really isn’t talked about. This is because of heavy gender roles and traditional Japanese culture. In Japan, the culture is centered around building a family. Men are expected to be the head of the household, and women are supposed to be good wives and mothers. This is still seen in modern day Japan, where marriage is about setting up a family and passing on your family’s name. Recently, more people have been marrying for love, but the traditions still stand. While being homosexual isn’t bad by itself, same-sex relationships diverge from this concept. Being in a same-sex marriage breaks from tradition and from the expected gender roles (Kincaid).
This may not seem like a big deal to some of us, but there is enormous social pressure in Japan. In other countries like North America, individuality is celebrated. But in Japan exists the idea of “group harmony”- that the happiness of the whole group is more important than what one person wants. This makes it more difficult for Japanese people to come out and have alternative views. They fear the social implications and disappointing their family or parents (Kincaid). Homosexuality might not be very accepted in society, but what about the popularity of yaoi and yuri? These two genres do help spread the idea of homosexuality to Japanese society, making people more aware of LGBT relationships. However, the problem with yaoi and yuri is that many of the shows are just seen as fan service. The homosexual relationships in them are usually not considered real or valid. This sends a mixed message to the public, especially LGBT individuals who want to have a legitimate relationship with someone of the same sex.
One of the many positives things about Yuri On Ice!!! is that it challenges traditional gender roles and the current trends in yaoi. Yuri and Viktor have a meaningful relationship that goes beyond just sex or fan service. There have been more series like this lately, which is a good sign. Maybe people in Japan can start seeing the deeper meaning in LGBT relationships, and start considering them as authentic.
Although Japan has its own problems, it is slowly moving in the right direction. Even if others give you looks, or gossip, being publicly gay in Japan in legal and there are some laws protecting against discrimination and harassment, unlike in Russia. If Yuri and Viktor did get married and wanted to settle down, Japan is the best choice between their two countries of origin.
Flight- Dreaming Of Change
In many ways, LGBT individuals are almost always underdogs and have been for centuries. In countries with set-in-stone traditions and gender roles, like Russia and Japan, breaking from the norm and pursuing your own goals may be considered greedy. But pursuing your owns goals and affirming your identity is natural- it part of being human. And so is change. Hopefully, the dreams of the LGBT community take flight and countries that are not accepting of homosexuality will start to become so. Oppressing people does nothing but create hate, which already exists abundantly in our world. Instead, awareness needs to be spread through every medium possible, so people can become used to the idea of homosexual and divergent relationships.
And Yuri On Ice!!! may be just the anime to help do that.
Help spread even more awareness by reading other posts from OWLS!
Arria Cross (Funjinsei)- A YURI ON ICE DREAM: LOVE IS LOVE, GAY OR NOT
Remy Fool (Lily Garden)- A Lack of Communication and Its Implications as Seen in “Yuri!!! on Ice”
For a full list of the bloggers contributing to this month’s blog tour, click here.
Aliasis. “Being Gay in Japan: The Ups and Downs.” PairedLife. PairedLife, 14 Aug. 2013. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.
Editorial Board. “Fueling Homophobia In Russia.” New York Times. New York Times, 19 Jan. 2016. Web. 5 Feb. 2017.
Khazan, Olga. “Why Is Russia So Homophobic?” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 12 June 2013. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.
Kincaid, Chris. “Homosexuality in Japan.” Japan Powered. Japan Powered, 23 May 2016. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.