You never really know what you’re going to be into when you’re younger, but here we are, watching gays in anime and loving it. Like I’ve said before, sometimes we’re talking politics and getting heavy, other times we just want to see two boys kiss in costume. We’re all complicated people, and I stopped caring what strangers think of me a long time ago, so take it or leave it.

But besides the getting my fan serviced, I think there’s a distinction to be made, specifically between what I feel are the two top contenders for the “Gay Sports Anime” genre that’s all the rage. In one corner, you have the previous heavyweight champion of gays, Free!. In the other corner, the rising star with a dream, Yuri on Ice.

On the surface, the two shows might be identical. Take a emotionally shy person, pair them with an outgoing person, give them a genderfluid sport to compete in. Insert rival and some fan service, and you have a recipe for Tumblr fame and fortune.

But I submit to you, my very small readership, that the two shows are vastly different, and that one is significantly better than the other. Their can only be one champ in the Gay Sports arena, and I think I know which one is going to leave with their glove in the air. Follow me on a sensuous slow smolder as we get hands on with Free and Yuri.

Free the Gay

For those out of the loop, Free becoming a series was a bit of a phenomena.

Legend has it that Japan had released a commercial with the characters that would later come to the show. The ad was only 30 seconds long, but when the internet discovered it, it was love at first back stroke. Intricate and detailed back stories, names, character bios, and fanfics emerged – mainly on Tumblr, as people started to work with the characters. Already, it was mainly about the fan service, but there was enough of a tidal force to get the attention of Kyoto Animation. A twelve episode series was announced shortly after. They could smell blood in them water.

The implications of a fanbase creating something out of essentially nothing is interesting on its own. Nothing. The people collectively decided on something they wanted, and a studio made it happen, more or less to their specifications. That’s pretty impressive, and it gave the anime a unique identity. It was a product of the will of the fans, more theirs than just something a studio released hoping that people would like it. Hell, there were established characters and traits before anything was official, and as far as I’m aware, the studio looked at the feedback and inspired their characters off of what they saw on Tumblr. Don’t fix what isn’t broken. That could have been a terrible mistake, but it turned out all right for the anime. People are really enjoying it.

However, despite its incredible production story, I still felt like there was something missing when I was watching Free. I understood the implications of the show and that it even existed at all, but that seemed to warrant the creation of something we hadn’t seen before. Instead, there are a lot of repeating tropes that a lot of these type of anime suffer from.

Go ahead and finish the comment you were typing. “Greyson, you’re thinking way too hard about an anime about buff high schoolers mostly naked and all wet.” An excellent observation, but I do this Daydreaming thing for a living, and thus, I can imagine something I would like to see. And I’m not seeing it. The show has a slow startup, not inherently bad, but it takes a while for things to get even a little intense or emotional. I get Haru’s appeal, as someone emotionally closed off that opens up slowly, but it’s hard to relate to him. Sure, he’s funny with how water is like a religious experience to him, but with his robotic approach to life, it sort of takes away from it. He’s emotional and passionate but keeps it to himself, so the audience has to struggle to see it too. He just felt stiff.

What’s more, the other characters feel like placeholders for [insert abs here]. They’re pretty obvious anime tropes. Not inherently bad, but this is supposed to be something a little different – something unique. Hell, the entire appeal of the show from its inception is the characters themselves and how they interact – that and the art style is what drew people to it in the first place. I know people did get attached to the characters, but I didn’t. They just felt stale, drifting through scenes waiting for yaoi to happen to them.

But perhaps most importantly, the show succumbs to that one and only great trope of homosexuals in anime, which is a lack of emotional pay off. That’s what we in the business call “queer baiting”. Shows like Supernatural and Sherlock do this shit all the time, and its frustrating to the fans. Well aware of a fanbase’s desire to ship unlikely character pairs together, especially when they’re same sex, the show throws out ambiguous scenes like throwing a bone to their audience. To me, it’s more like that thing where you pretend to throw a ball for your dog, while just holding it behind your back, and watching them run. These little throwaway scenes let the audience speculate about relationships, but they rarely come out to anything, and more often than not, the characters just have normal heteronormative relationships because the showrunners are afraid of making a majority of viewers feel uncomfortable.

One would think that a show built almost entirely around the promise of having gay characters would spurn this practice, and rightly so. But instead, the Studio is afraid to let that rainbow flag fly. Characters dance around each other awkwardly questioning their sexuality, but never really taking it anywhere. The plot takes a back seat to the fan service, and what you’re left with is a show with the right idea, but no soul. The audience wants the confession, for all of the feelings to come out and be revealed so we can move on to even more interesting stories. Instead, just make up ninety scenarios of the characters catching each other in various states of nakedness and closeness and watch the crowd writhe in sexual frustration(I see you over there, Seraph of the End, you’re not off the hook either)..

Being a tease only gets you so far, Free. The sex is only part of what people are looking for. It’s the smolder that really gets the audience, and that’s where Free falls through.

Cool Gay

I am unable to lie about this show, so when I say this show is fucking great, you better believe the words I’m casually typing on this iPad. Hark. Listen. LISTEN to the words coming out of this keyboard right now. Yuri on Ice is so awesome I had a hard time nailing it down in these words.

Because on the surface, it’s just like Free. But where Free lingers on the surface, Yuri on Ice gets way down into the deep end (I am nailing it with these pool and ice references right now, I’m such a good blogger I swear). Where Free is concerned primarily with fan service, Yuri creates a fusion between throwing a bone to the fans while actually having some depth and nuance. “And how might that be,” you type, “that a show about cute boys ice skating and being awkward around each other have any semblance of depth? This ain’t Scorsese.”

And you would be right, it isn’t. It’s something new, the kind of new Free aspires to be, if it grabbed for scenes other than the low hanging fruit (a well placed innuendo, if I do say so myself).

Allow me to explain.

Much like Free, the animation is amazing, especially during the programs and the skating moments. Characters flow and glide across the ice in a way that made me realize they must have really had to put out when it came to animating these characters. Like one hand on the tablet and the other typing up Olympic skating on YouTube. So Free and Yuri have that in common, but good animation does not a good anime make (see my post on Irregular Magic High School or whatever its called). That’s kind of where Free ends for me as far as quality, but Yuri soars beyond that in a chilling Gay extravaganza(nailed it).

Not only is the animation amazing, the performances serve a dual purpose. The first is obvious, watching boys of various body types glide around the ice in fancy, tight-fitting costumes. That one’s obvious, but it also serves to move characters forward and show their development. That sounds like a pretty tall order – remember, in professional skating, a skater probably only has two routines throughout the entire season. So not every performance is different. But they change and shift in subtle ways as the show continues, revealing a lot about the character’s development. What they do is challenging, they don’t make every jump, and they can make minor changes to the routine even in the middle of the performance. Sometimes, people are distracted. Other times, they’re feeling themselves and want to be sexy. Some skate for themselves, others skate to impress others, some are in it for the money. All of this comes out through the choreography and grace of the programs. Its engaging and serves a purpose.

And where Free is only concerned about the characters getting in compromising situations, the characters take center ice in Yuri. Their development and problems are paramount, and those problems lead to compromising situations and insinuate what the show is getting after (that the characters care about each other in a like-like way). Yuri and Victor drive the main part of the story, but all of the other side characters are notable in their own ways and add to the experience. Even the ones we’re asked to dislike because they desire glory or recognition we can’t help but root for on the ice and find something to like about them. People are people, not necessarily tropes.

And check it, I’ve watched both the sub and the dub for Yuri, and they’re both amazing. If you don’t want to be distracted, you should be fine watching the dub so you can focus on the performances without having to read. Hell, I encourage it. Victor and Yurio’s accents are about as good as they could make them, which is pretty bad, but they tried. I think it’s endearing and I end up speaking in a crappy Russian accent for the rest of the day. But if that’s going to bother you, the sub is just fine. You really get a sense for the characters either way.

That might be the most important thing to me when it comes to a show like this – they have to have characters I enjoy. But the show takes the last necessary step to make it a great show. For once, the Studio has some courage and just lets the character be gay. Since I expected to be baited the whole season, it had a really great emotional payoff when the characters get to hug and kiss and be intimate. Furthermore, the other characters are down for it. No one talks about “forbidden love” or being deviant or any of that shit – everyone is just waiting for them to kiss like the rest of the people watching. And it makes sense. With a bunch of hot looking guys in tight clothes being really sexy and skilled on skates, why wouldn’t some of them hook up? Thus, the fan service and the plot share the same space. Free wishes it could be this good.

An unforeseen side-effect of watching the show deserves a small disclaimer. Be warned, the show does a really good job of teaching you about professional skating. It assumes that you don’t know, but also doesn’t treat you like a child either, which is refreshing. If they do have a little info dump, its short and stylized so you’re still engaged, you don’t feel pulled out of the show for it. With your new knowledge, you may start to care about actual professional skating. I already liked ice skating, its my favorite event when the Winter Olympics come around. Watching animated guys try to land their jumps is just as stressful as watching it in real life, if that’s any indication of the quality of Gays on Ice, and I think it speaks to how well the show was made. Sam and I were on YouTube checking out actual skating when we were out of episodes to watch, so be careful. You might walk away with some new hobbies you weren’t prepared for.

Here Are Your Results

Honestly, watch them both. Free and Yuri are both good shows, but I think the comparison is unavoidable. So watch them both and form your own opinions, maybe let me know in a nicely worded comment (I know that’s hard on the internet, especially when you throw any shade on something popular, but maybe we can be nice here, its worked so far). To me, Yuri is the superior show, and its something I think everyone should watch. I have friends that aren’t into it, they say they have no interest. That’s fair, but I’m convinced that if they gave it two episodes, they wouldn’t be able to stop watching and would be just as invested in I am about Yuri and Victor hooking up.

I gotta run, I have to find my Eros somewhere. Free gets three mostly naked laps out of a five. Yuri, nine sensual pork bowls out of ten. It’s that good(I got through that whole thing without plot spoilers! I’m so proud of myself!)