Normalizing homosexuality: Doukyuusei vs. Yuri!!! on Ice

It’s no secret that homosexuality in Japan is stigmatized. This is directly reflected in anime where any depiction of gayness stops short of affirmation, leaving fans to put the pieces together. Some of this is certainly a cynical maneuver to stir up the fanbase but it also stems from a societal repression that being gay should be kept on the down-low (and further, a deeply-rooted sexual repression in general).

What’s interesting about repression is that it creates a dichotomy of extremes. In interpersonal relations you’re conditioned to avoid stigmatized topics but simultaneously depictions of the stigma in the media are grandiose, risqué and overtly glorified. It’s a release from the stigma so far removed from reality that it risks becoming fetishized. This is what has happened with yuri and, I’d argue to an even greater extent, yaoi. We’ll be focusing on the latter here.

Yuri!!! on Ice has been lauded for its depiction of a consensual relationship between two adult men. By all accounts it stands out from the sea of high school-focused BL series in that regard but when watching the series I couldn’t help but feel it wasn’t quite pushing the boundaries that people claimed it was. It’s scared to proclaim its characters as truly gay at every turn, leaving it to the fans to fill in the gaps. The kiss is obscured. The proposal is teeters around the idea of actual marriage with its non-affirmative language. Homosexuality is never addressed head-on, only as a fantasy.

Granted, Yuri!!! on Ice manages to have plenty of moments where its characters aren’t fetishized objects of desire but it’s not immune to it either. It still feels like it overcompensates for a cultural taboo by sexualizing its characters. This isn’t to say that sexualization isn’t present in anime portraying straight relationships but it’s not to the same extent. Simply put: straight characters are allowed to be “normal” more often than gay characters. Which brings me to Doukyuusei.

There are few depictions of homosexuality I’ve seen in any medium that are as normal as Doukyuusei. It’s awkward and messy, two people stumbling through mutual feelings as they grasp for a wall in the darkness. It’s uncomfortably real. Everyone had to deal with conflicting emotions in their teenage years and these two are no different. The fact that they’re no different is as progressive of a message as such things get, especially for a Japanese audience. Repeated for emphasis: Hikaru and Rihito are just two teenagers dealing with feelings.

Doukyuusei doesn’t make a big deal of it. When the two characters realize their mutual feelings and come to terms with them they begin dating; there’s no beating around the bush as is common in BL. There’s no glorification, it just is what it is. Sure, there are moments where they must face the stigmatism of society but it’s not used for dramatic effect. There’s no scene of overt fanservice or swelling orchestration to snap you out of the film’s reality, nor does it point fingers at how gay the characters are. It’s played straight, organic, normal. Yes, straight: you get the sense that if this were about a boy and girl it’d be depicted no differently.

Going forward, we need more stories like Doukyuusei that push the message that love is love and love is normal no matter which way you swing. It’s all ultimately the same. There may be different ways of coping with your feelings due to society’s stigma but we should be pushing media that breaks down those barriers. This isn’t to say that there isn’t a place for the Yuri!!! on Ices of the world (and indeed I find it to be a fine series) but I also can’t agree that it’s a progressive view of homosexuality when placed next to Doukyuusei. The best way to smash taboos is to present the taboo as being nothing but normal.

21 thoughts on “Normalizing homosexuality: Doukyuusei vs. Yuri!!! on Ice

  1. I definitely appreciate this post! Aso someone that has not only read the Doukyuusei manga and it’s sequels as well as watched the animated film that was released, I wholeheartedly agree that it is a shining example of the tasteful depiction of homosexual relation ships in Japanese media.

    I especially love that the series doesn’t focus on fetishizing the relationship between Sajou and Kusakabe, instead focusing on their budding relationship. We literally get to see both men fall in love for the first time and it’s not anything magical, it’s awkward and full of ups and downs… even the characters themselves are surprised by their growing affections for one another.

    Right now YOI is flooding the community and ppl fail to realize that there are other BL series out there that showcase health same sex relationships! This post brought back so many memories and I think I might have to go back and revisit the series all over again!! Awesome post!!!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I haven’t read the manga but I might need to because I *need* to know what happens next.

      I’m honestly hoping we can all have a post-mortem on Yuri on Ice once the hype dies down. This is probably my last post on Yuri on Ice since I’ve said what I wanted to say but I look forward to seeing where the discussion leads in the future.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You absolutely have to! The first sequel follows Sajou and Kusakabe through their final year in high school and the second sequel follows them after they graduate and start following their dreams. Both sequels retain the same feel of the first volume and I really loved watching them become much more comfortable with one another and their relationship.

        Oh there’s even a special short chapter that was released along with the Blu-ray release of the film and it is adorable!

        I don’t think the hype is going to die down anytime soon, but I’d definitely love to read what you have to say about that when the time comes. While YOI isn’t the first of it’s kind, it definitely created a climate for discussion of homosexual relationships, which is much needed in the community!

        LOL sorry if I wrote too much, but I absolutely love BL manga like Doukyuusei so when I saw this post in the WP Reader, I knew I just had to leave a comment! Again this is a fantastic post! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love the discussion that Yuri on Ice brought to the table in the community. It gave people a show to rally around. Even if I think the portrayal is more innately flawed than most I still think it’s a healthy series for the community.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. (Had to rewrite this, so it may not come out as clear as last time)
    Wholeheartedly agree, with the added example of Avatar: Legend of Korra and that being lauded as progressive for its romance between two female characters at the end. But it’s only implied with them touching hands, and I’m not sure the validity of this, but sadly it wouldn’t surprise me if it was true, that they were restricted from having Korra and Asami kiss and cement the idea that they were a couple now.

    It’s also irritating having to deal with people who treat anything other than hetero shipping as mere fantasy (like there’s isn’t?) rather than basing ideal pairings on chemistry and nuances between characters. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve almost grown weary of “traditional” types of romances. Adding more types of romances = more variety = more ideas and stories = more relatabiliy and confidence for people = more engagement with the material.

    The sooner homosexuality becomes normative the better.
    (Couldn’t remember exactly how I worded this last time, but that’s the gist of it from what this over-worked and tired brain can recollect).

    Great post!
    ~ Ace

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Don’t worry, the point comes across very clearly. 🙂

      I think that it comes down to what is deemed “okay” to put on TV most of the time. You’re left with having fans read between the lines and while that’s fine I think we can do better as Doukyuusei shows. This is why we need to break down the barriers preventing this.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Yeah, but, like, Dokyuusei is a movie. You can protect your innocent children from teh gay cooties by not taking them to the cinema, while you can’t protect them from the TV, even if a show airs at 5AM or something. ANN sometimes publishes complaints about indecent anime, and it’s a bit funny that someone was offended by the masturbation in Osomatsu-san, or that smoking teenager had to be obscured by a heavy shadow in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure because some regulations, but they have some values there that can’t be that easily changed.
    I’m not defending YOI by any means, I’m indifferent to it (like to all anime about boys doing sports), but I feel like showing the level od intimacy Dokyuusei was capable of is not that easy on TV. And TV anime just are more popular, for many reasons (one of them has to be availability, waiting for even an early movie rip is killing), so they will naturally be more discussed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment!

      I understand that it’s a limitation that because Yuri on Ice was on TV they had to censor it but I’m also positing that it’s that stigma that needs to be broken down. We should be able to have television shows that depict gay romances alongside straight romances. There’s a long way to go with that and I think Dokyuusei, while being a movie, could be a helpful cornerstone if it was being discussed more. I totally understand that YoI is more accessible and thus easier to discuss though.


  4. Zeria

    I’m a pretty big fan of yuri and other queer themes in anime/manga in general and I echo some of your thoughts on YoI. I liked the show a lot and it definitely pushed the boundaries as far as female-aimed sports anime go, but the idea that it was the first explicitly queer, non-fetishized anime drove me mad. Shows like Aoi Hana, Wandering Son, Sasameki Koto, Utena, and more were focusing on queer people long before YoI without fetishizing their characters. I think YoI has a lot of value because of how popular it is, and because it avoids a lot of the more problematic elements of BL anime, but it wasn’t the perfect example of queer representation that many seem to uphold it as. Part of my annoyance though is probably just that BL is so much more popular than yuri.

    And on the topic of Doukyuusei, I have to agree. I watched it the other day, and while I have to say that I probably like YoI better, Doukyuusei was much better representation. I don’t think that every show dealing with queer characters needs to feel like it would work just as well with straight characters. Queer people obviously live different lives, and have different experiences. But Doukyuusei was nice in how it avoided fetishization while also avoiding “being queer sucks” torture porn. It was just a fun, cute romance movie, and it’s definitely the kind of thing we need to see more of.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I definitely agree that YoI was better than your standard BL anime in its representation, even if I have my issues with it. I also am glad it got popular. It brought a lot of fresh blood into the community and sparked some great discussions which are still active to this day.

      You’re right, not all queer shows need to be in-line with straight characters. Rather I think that they need to be treated with the same normality as I believe Doukyuusei did very well.


  5. weebtopiablog

    Glad to see that there do exist some more tasteful depictions of homosexuality in the medium. A recent example from my watching history, Oregairu, really bugged me. The main character Hachiman clearly finds his male classmate Saika much more attractive than any of the girls in the main cast, and it seems like the feeling is mutual, but that’s about it. The show seems to assume that the audience won’t take the attraction seriously solely because it is two male characters, which says something about the surrounding cultural attitudes.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think Yaoi in general just shows us how homosexuality is seen in Japan. I saw in some documentary a few months ago, how homophobia is not something as clear there as it is here. In Japan you don’t get people going:”Being gay is bad!”. They actually see it as something ok, but their only exposure to it is in the form of works of fiction. For a lot of Japanese people, being gay isn’t even a thing. How Yaoi is even a genre is both a cause and a consequence of that.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I found it. It’s that episodic documentary with Ellen Page about homosexuality in various countries. I’ve only watched the first episode, wich is the one about Japan:

        The subject i mentioned pops up here and there some times with different people.

        Liked by 1 person

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