Yuri!! On ICE is an award-winning late 2016 anime that is heavily influenced by the real-life sporting events of figure skating, as well as professional and Olympic winning skaters (Gerken, 2018). The series revolves around the Grand Prix, a real high-level competition for senior skaters and the relationship between Viktor Nikiforov and Yuri Katsuki. Viktor is a Russian skater who quits his own career to coach Yuri Katsuki, a younger Japanese skater who caught Viktor’s eye through a video of him mimicking one of Viktor’s routines. The series, through the repetition of the short program ‘On Love: Eros’, explores the relationship between Viktor and Yuri.
When Yuri Katsuki looked through the costumes of his coach in search for a costume for the first skating performance of ‘On Love: Eros’, he comes across a black one-piece outfit with diagonal mesh panels across the chest and back. It has criss-crossing straps, oversized crystals set around the hips and right shoulder, and a black asymmetrical and disconnected short handkerchief skirt with a red underlining. Upon holding it up, his coach Viktor commented, “I had long hair, so my costume suggested both male and female genders at once.” Excitedly, Yuri responds “I choose this one!”. (See Fig. 1, Fig. 2, 2016)(Crunchyroll Collection, 2018) This costume has been designed to merge the masculine and feminine, and is significant in the fact that it shows a male singles skater wearing an outfit that includes an approximation of a skirt and other feminine signifiers, as there has historically been an anti-effeminate sentiment running though figure skating as a whole. To understand the significance of this costume, we will draw upon studies in masculinity and skating for context and then look at the design elements of the costume in relation to gendered associations.
BREAKING THE MALE IDEAL
Figure skating, like other female-led dance and sporting activities, has expressed issues relating to how the male figure is shown and reproduced in regards to protecting the predominantly western male image of a ‘real’ man within the sport. In the 1988 winter Olympic season, the international Skating Union (ISU) and United States Figure Skating Association (USFSA) president Hugh Graham noted there is a ‘mixed image’ that skating provided to incoming male skaters, and thus to improve the image by discouraging the presence of flowers on the ice and a new dress code to encourage a more “sports image” , thus by extension a legitimacy of masculinity. (Kestnbaum, 2003, 119) The protection of this image rises due to the fear of associating men too closely with femininity and the reactionary effeminophobia, resulting in others will not watching, supporting or participating in the sport. Thus, the protection and reproduction of the ‘ideal’ man is encouraged due to the fact that if ‘real’ men participate, it legitimizes the sport as a whole. (Risner, 2009, 59)
Ellyn Kestnbaum states ‘The male skater thus is dismissed as less than masculine by the culture at large by virtue of the simple fact that he skates, and at the same time he is offered incentives within the skating world for performing (in Judith butlers sense) a credible masculinity on ice.’ (2003, 185) ‘Credible masculinities’ is a subjective criteria, often formed based on a set of relational ideals for male behaviour and appearance in line with larger cultural and global values. Raewyn Connell’s theory of power relations between men and cultures states it can be formed at different levels – the Local, Regional and Global. (Connell and Messerschmidt, 2005) Figure skating transcends these categorizations and allows for the transfer of the local and cultural ideal of male masculinities of the west to the global level, that is not as predominant from other cultures who have other gendered ideals. As ‘judges tend to reward male and female skaters for approaching a sex-differentiated idea appropriate to their respective sexes’ (Kestnbaum, 2003) it means that within skating, one could argue that the current hegemonic or popular ideal is of the ‘macho’ man, which aligns closely with western ideals of masculinity. Power is then maintained in rewarding men who perform overtly and only masculine behaviours over those who display effeminate behaviours, with men having to prove themselves through rejecting any and all associations with femininity, or effeminacy in relation to men, including on the grounds of sexuality, in order to prove they are ‘real men’.
The western ‘white, heterosexual, middle class masculinity.’ (Burt, 2009, 151) has a similar masculine ideal that is popularized in Japan, the ‘Sarariiman’ or salaryman. The salaryman is an office worker and breadwinner, who is supported and whose value is increased due to the relation to the housewife. This is an ideal which rose to prominence from the post-1950s economic boom, heavily influenced by western cultures (Taga, 2003). However, there is a growing alternate masculinity among young people in Japan and China where young men are concerned with beautifying, wearing makeup, and cultivating a slighter and paler figure in contrast with larger and more muscular men, in effort to be attractive to women. (Miller, 2006) (Frühstück and Walthall, 2011) (Wu, 2003) This ‘soft’ masculinity can be an alternate reading on what it means to be masculine, and one that has history in the East. In China, this was characterized by ‘Wen-Wu’ an ideology that is difficult to translate but can be thought of the compilation of intellectual and physical prowess paired with restraint. This is where ‘The “anti-masculine” became the supreme male form’ and ‘Masculinity seemed to lie in their intellectual ability or artistic creativity rather than their physical strength, wealth, aristocratic background or other attributes’ (Louie, 2003, 19). In Japan, a similar signifier lies in Yin-Yang, where masculine and feminine elements are thought of as part of a whole, and that to be a man, effeminacy also had to be cultivated. As noted by Richard Light, expressing self-control, tolerance and endurance is a closer reading of prized masculine traits in Japan, and as a coach of a university rugby team he notes that ‘the players recognised that theirs was a form of masculinity of “big strong and smelly” rugby players lies in stark contrast to the masculinity of the pale slight boys wearing eye makeup and carrying expensive designer bags in Shinjuku.’ (2003, 106)
MASCULINITY AND SEXUALITY
In relations to sexuality, heterosexuality is encouraged as a way to prove one’s masculinity, as having a male object choice would exclude one from being a ‘real man’, as they would presumably share the same object choice of women. In skating, this can be seen whereby some skaters having to give explicit statements on their heterosexuality to legitimize their standing in the sport, or the compulsory opposite-sex pairings required in Ice Dance and Pairs skating. Historically, male-male relations were widely noted in Japan before the 19th-20th centuries, with specific cultural practices described as brotherly or mentorship without vilification (Leupp, 1995). However there was a decline in tolerance to non-heterosexuality in line with western colonial expansion and globalization, resulting in a similar outlook on a global scale.
Figure 3: Blades of Glory (Paramount Pictures, 2007)
Figure 4: Adam Rippon (Figure Skating Wikia, 2018)
Figure 5: Nathen Chen in Vera Wang (How and Getty, 2018)
Homosexuality and effeminacy are often equated, which is often to the detriment to male performers – especially those who may fit the stereotype of an effeminate gay man. Media reflects these relations in interviews with now the ‘first openly gay’ American Olympic skater Adam Rippon and Johnny Weir and there has been historic abuse for those who were deemed too effeminate, whether they were homosexual or not. (Oakley and Rippon, 2020) (Orsini, 2017) (Eoin O’Callaghan, 2018). In Russia, men study ballet, an often conflated marker of effeminacy instead as a form of national pride as ‘For the soviets, ballet thus represented a “Russianness” available to all social strata rather than confined to the elite and, often, specifically feminine tastes as it does in the West’ (Kestnbaum, 2003, 111) it is noted that many skaters also use ballet to train off-ice, including in Yuri!! On ICE, to build strength, balance, and grace. (Kestnbaum, 2003) (Boucard et al., n.d.)
Other media representations often address this issue as a punchline, such as in the parody film Blades of Glory (2007) (See fig. 3) where two disgraced male figure skaters pair up to create a doubles team, but both play into the stereotypes of the macho and soft masculinity while still maintaining a veneer of homophobia and roughhousing that makes their continued contact and performance palatable for the western audience. Same sex pairings are rare on ice, and it is still only recently that there has been a same-sex pairing shown in mainstream media show Dancing On Ice. (ITV News, 2019) Same-sex pairings have been seen at unsanctioned ISU competitions, for example at the Gay Games which has been in operation since 1982 and have provided a space for LGBT+ inclusion in sport. Even Yuri!! Only shows a same-sex skate at the gala after the Grand Prix winners have been announced, in the ending credits of the season. While not being explicit in stating the fact that Viktor and Yuri pair become a gay couple, it is heavily implied through the exchange of rings later in the series, and the closeness that the two share on screen. Throughout, there does not seem to be a negative focus on the relationship or stigma attached to the effeminacy that is displayed, or perhaps the stereotypes that are played into – both in the western sense of equating non-heterosexual relations to the heterosexual counterparts, but also drawing upon the Japanese history of same sex brotherly bonds and ‘soft’ masculinity. As it is never brought up, it ceases to become a focal point of the anime and is depicted as normal relations between the characters. This makes Yuri!! significant in the fact it is a normalizing and using the ‘ghosts of past performances’ (Burt, 2009, 156) where the meaning is only derived in relation to the prior performances of the same kind – here meaning it is significant in the fact it is one of the first forms of media that popularizes, without statement, the effeminacy of male figure skating and the non-heterosexual relations between them without stigma. COSTUMES AND PERFORMING
For competitions, skaters increasingly ‘hire professional sound technicians, choreographers, and costume designers’ (Kestnbaum, 2003) to outsource and upgrade their performance on the ice. Where once a lot of costume was made by the skaters themselves or other non-professionals in their circles, increasingly there are many designers who now partner up with skaters to professionally make and design the costumes for high-profile events such as the Olympics. One example is Vera Wang, who outfitted Nancy Kerrigan in the 1994 Lillehammer Olympic games and is currently costuming Nathen Chen, and other notable designers include Jan Longmire and Lisa McKinnon. (I, Tonya, 2017) (Wang, 2007) (Ryan, 2018) Wang, like some other designers, used to skate themselves before turning to making and designing for others. There are no rules concerning the sourcing and making of the costumes, put many at a disadvantage when custom outfits can range from $500 onwards, and this has been noted in media and by skaters themselves.
The costume for ‘On Love: Eros’ was designed by a Japanese designer Yuiko Sagiri as part of the collaboration of Yuri!! with the dancewear brand Chacott, the collaboration itself named Yuri!!xChacott. Chacott is a dancewear house in Japan that sell and design outfits for skaters, dancers and gymnasts. Thus, by entering into a collaborations Yuri!! creates a realistic representation on screen. The original design is different from the version in the anime is due to the animation studio having difficulty rendering, however the main elements remain the same. Originally the design (see fig. 6) was considered in both a blue and purple shade, as it was originally to be work for Viktor as well as Yuri. ‘While Yuri is performing a female role, she [the director] wanted the costume to feature both masculine and feminine elements’ To evaluate how this is achieved in the outfit, we will look at three main elements: Colour, Texture/Decorations and Form through the predominant western ideal of masculinity. The dominant colour is black, with silver and red accents. Kestnbaum notes that ‘black became a popular base colour for costumes’ in the 1980s following on from the 1970s flamboyant block colours, especially in contrast to the brightly coloured costumes that the women wore in that time. This progression towards darker colours is to aspire to more formal images of the suit as well as the historically middle-class history of the sport, and thus reads more masculine. Both the trousers and torso are black, which is relatively standard for male skaters, the through colour having the effect of lengthening the form. In contrast, the red lining of the under-frill, symbolizes passion and invokes a more erotic symbolism which is enhanced by its placement on the body – it is only seen in flashes as Yuri is skating and as the frill flips up.
The decorations overtly suggest femininity or effeminacy, from the mesh panels from the waist up, the layers of straps, and the large cast crystals. Mesh is used regularly in skate-wear, more predominantly in women’s costumes, to be give the illusion of a more revealing costume, while still retaining modesty required by ISU rules. On the original design the samples include a fishnet approximation, as well as velvet, so there is contrast in the richness in texture of the velvet to the erotic of the fishnet. This eroticism is also heightened by the straps that criss-cross over the panels in an imitation of lacing, reminiscent of corsets, which are restrictive and suggestive of undergarments. This can be inferred as the costume is often paired to the music, and as a modern program, the setting of the costume is also contemporary. It is noted that some men in skating reject the overly glamourous look of sparkly beads and sequins and one current example is the skater Nathan Chen, designed by Vera Wang, (see fig 5, fig 6) which in contrast to Adam Rippon’s outfit is very plain, and completely unadorned by sequins. The form is broken by the frill, or skirt, asymmetric at the waist. ISU regulations state that women must wear a skirt or are now more recently allowed bodysuits while men must wear a one or two-piece outfit but are not allowed to wear tights. (ISU 2016). ‘The required skirt [for females] does not serve the purpose of modesty ( since it will fly up during the movement to reveal the area it is required to cover) so much as a symbolic function, signifying both femininity and formality.’ (Kestnbaum, 47) and when interviewed, Sagiri (2016) stated ‘ I added a frill that looks something like an asymmetrical half-skirt to really nail the effect [feminine elements] during spins. […] I also made the hem asymmetrical so it would move like a handkerchief skirt.’ The skirt then purely serves to signify femininity while breaking the streamlined silhouette and drawing focus to the waist and hips. Overall, the costume draws on the theme of femininity and eroticism, in contrast to the male body that wears it, to perform a duality of gendered expressions that reflects the program of ‘On Love: Eros’ – “Eros” meaning ‘sexual love or desire’ (Cambridge Dictionary, 2020) along with the rapid percussion and instrumental similar to flamenco music, with the accompanying figures of the skate – everything in the short program draws together to reflect the theme of passion. ‘what we see on the ice, the whole packaged program off skating moves, gesture, music and so on, presents the body of the skater as a performance persona that stands as a symbol of a particular way of being in the world, including very much a particular way of being male or female’ (Kestnbaum, 2003, 23) or in fact, showing a new way of being male that encompasses the feminine expression. THE FIGURES It is clear there is a constant dichotomy between male/female relations and the cultural assumption of the value of gendered expressions in representations in the East and West. With the hegemonic masculinity of the macho sitting at the western cultural ideal of masculinity we have explored a alternate expressions of soft masculinity, and how when considered differently effeminacy can be a mark of personal and national pride, separate from stigma and imported values. Yuri!! On ICE presents a cross-cultural introspection into the world of masculinities in the sport of figure skating and presents a normalcy that is reflected authentically through the costumes and pays tribute to the sport. Through looking at the costume for ‘On Love: Eros’, the context, and the original design behind it, we can see at how gendered signifiers can be read in outfits from the world of figure skating to give an alternate reading on masculinity and by extension, identity, effeminacy and sexuality - one that does not devalue effeminacy in regards to the modern male skater.
TABLE OF FIGURES Figure 1: Yuri Katsuki Holding Costume (Ep. 3), 2016 Figure 2: Yuuri Katsuki Dancing Eros (Ep.5), 2016 Figure 3: Blades of Glory (Paramount Pictures, 2007) Figure 4: Adam Rippon (Figure Skating Wikia, 2018) Figure 5: Nathen Chen in Vera Wang (How and Getty, 2018) Figure 6: Yuri!!Chacott, Yuri design by Yuiko Sagiri, 2016 (Chacott, 2017) BIBLIOGRAPHY IMAGES:
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