That’s what she said?! Kubo Mitsurou and the kiss(?)

Today, I’m going to look at what Kubo Mitsurou has said about the scene at the end of episode 7, where Victor had a surprise greeting for Yuuri as he came off the ice after his Cup of China free skate. Well, I’m stepping right into a minefield here, so I might as well just take the plunge:

yuri_kiss

Personally, I believe it was a kiss, for reasons I’ll go into below. That being said, I fully support anyone who believes otherwise, which brings me to my next point.

What I’m really concerned about is the view that “Kubo implied that it was obvious”—especially when this is used to bash fans whose interpretation of Yuuri and Victor’s relationship is not the same as the dominant one.

A brief history of what Kubo actually said

It was not a surprise when social media erupted after this episode. In particular, numerous overseas fans reached out to Kubo to ask whether it was a kiss or a hug. But despite an early tweet about something “synching” with the popular Japanese drama Nigehaji: We married as a job—where the lead couple kissed for the first time that very week—Kubo spent the next few weeks deflecting the question. The creative team wasn’t, she maintained, going to compel anyone to read that scene in a particular way; instead, she kept asking everyone to decide for themselves.

  1. “Is it just me or was there something that was synchronised with this week’s Nigehaji?” (twitter, Nov 17, 2016)
  2. “We don’t want to force people to read it in a particular way. Please be courageous and decide for yourself.” (Yuri!!! on ICE special, Abema TV, Dec 8), which she then reiterated on Twitter later that night:
  3. “In the end we’re not going to tell anyone what to think, or rather, compel anyone to interpret it in a certain way. So please decide it for yourself.” (twitter, Dec 8, 2016)

(Note: my own translations)

In the first interview published after the show ended, however, Kubo said something more:

“It’s kind of interesting, because Japanese people never asked about it, while foreigners straightforwardly ask ‘so which one is it!?'”

(Note: translation by toraonice)

It did not take fans long to claim that “Japanese fans didn’t need to ask because it was obvious!” You can still find this claim in discussions and arguments today.1

What is Kubo’s message?

But I don’t think that’s the point Kubo was trying to make. The creators may indeed regard it as obvious, as a lot of people in the fandom do—the comment about “synching with” episode 6 of Nigehaji only seems to confirm that.

nigehaji
p.s. I’m loving this show—it’s really cute, but also incredibly heartfelt!

However, the idea that “Japanese fans didn’t need to ask because it was obvious”—and the related “Kubo implied that it was obvious”—is, once again, an interpretation born in the Western fandom. Time and time again, Kubo has laid out a different logic behind their decision not to clarify exactly what happened: they want fans to decide for themselves what it was.

But why would they do that? Viewers have come up with a range of explanations, including concerns over media censorship, the desire to appeal to as many people as possible and the straight out charge that the creators were, indeed, queerbaiting. Many people have already addressed the merits and demerits of each of these explanations far more articulately than I would be able to. Hence, I would like to bring the focus back to a second tweet that Kubo posted on the night of December 8 instead.

“No matter what real people think about this anime, within its world no one is ever going to be discriminated against because of what they like. And that is something I will always protect.”

(Note: translated by toraonice)

Most fans probably remember that tweet very well. Tanslated within hours, it quickly made its way around the fandom as proof that Yuri!!! on ICE takes place “in a world without homophobia.” The idea itself seems to be well-supported by the show itself, given that we never see or hear anyone, not even a side-character, give an “OMG! That’s so gay!” reaction.2

What’s really interesting about that tweet, however, is that it was made following some angry and frustrated replies that Kubo received to her earlier comment about “letting everyone decide.” As toraonice also pointed out, people were accusing her of being “vague on purpose ‘to keep the fanservice on the level of queerbaiting without confirming anything serious’,” and this second tweet may have been, in part, Kubo’s answer to some of those complaints.

Personally, there was one specific reply that caught my eye. I won’t post exactly what was said, but there was a heated comment that referred to the discrimination that a certain group of fans face in Japanese society. I suspect that this line may have been the final trigger that prompted Kubo to talk of protecting a world in which “no one is discriminated against because of what they like.”3

kiss-him-not-me
Unlike Kae from “Kiss Him, Not Me.”

In other words, Kubo wasn’t specifically talking about homophobia in that tweet; rather, she was talking about the issue of discrimination a bit more generally.

Kubo, Yuri!!! on ICE, and the issue of discrimination

This brings me to the real point I want to make. To be honest, I actually do not have a problem with fans arguing “it should be obvious.” As I noted above, I personally believe that it was a kiss, and not just because of the Nigehaji tweet. Narratively, given how much skinship there had been between them by that point, I just can’t see Victor thinking that anything less than a kiss would surprise Yuuri. The bigger question is what the kiss actually means, but there, I’m going to take the creators’ stance: everyone should interpret it for themselves.

The more important message, however, is that everyone should be free to interpret the show however they want, and no one should be discriminated against for doing so. In other words, everyone can believe what they want about the kiss and about the relationship, but no one should try to force their own interpretations on others. And this includes not only the fans who believe that Yuuri and Victor ended up being engaged by the end of the show, but also those who believe that they didn’t. It also includes those who are ecstatic about their interpretation, and those who have serious reservations. As far as I can tell, there are viewers across the entire spectrum.

yoi-chart
By “romantically involved,” I’m referring to what the average person means by a romantic relationship: an exclusive, sexually intimate relationship.

What worries me is that fans who don’t place themselves near the top right of this chart have been and are being attacked for their beliefs. I don’t mean congenial discussions that end with “let’s just agree to disagree”; rather, I’m referring to personal attacks involving name-calling and slurs such as “homophobic” and “dumb.” I’ve been subjected to such attacks myself, though nothing compared to what other friends have experienced. I normally respond to everyone who engages with me on this blog, but I’ve chosen not approve those particular comments because they attacked me directly instead of addressing what I’ve written or said. Instead, let me say a few brief words here.

I don’t believe Yuuri and Victor are in the kind of romantic relationship most of the fandom does. I’ve been quite up front about it even as the series was still airing, right from episode 7. But why should that necessarily mean that I—or anyone else not in that top right quadrant—am homophobic, or dismissive of LGBTIQA issues? As I mentioned to a friend last week, the way I interpret Victor and Yuuri’s bond would fall under “that’s a queer relationship” to some people but not to others. However, laying it all out requires a more detailed discussion of both sexual orientation and romantic orientation, so I’ll leave that for another time. Let me just say the following:

I love the relationship between Yuuri and Victor. I love that they inspired each other to continue skating. I love how we saw them growing closer, so close that they both decided they couldn’t live without each other. And I love that Kubo has indicated that they are “soulmates.” But above all, I respect Kubo for what she wrote about discrimination on December 8.

yuri_rings

In closing

When I started doing research for this series of posts, I honestly did not think that looking at “what Kubo has said about the kiss(?)” would have me touching on how fans are behaving towards each other. A couple of friends I sounded out advised me to focus on how people have started attacking Kubo because of the fandom has previously misinterpreted what she said, and I fully intended to do so. But as I dug deeper into certain parts of the fandom, I increasingly felt that her tweet about discrimination was linked to behaviour I kept coming across, and I wanted to address it.4

I’m not trying to point fingers at anyone in particular. I just hope that people across all fandoms recognise the behaviour I am referring to, and, where possible, work towards making sure it doesn’t happen around them. A disagreement over how to interpret a fictional series is not something that should lead to personal attacks and acrimony. I’d much rather enjoy media and experiences that make me happy, or otherwise add something to my life, wouldn’t you?

In any case, this was the second example of “what Kubo actually said” that I wanted to address. As Kubo herself has said multiple times, everyone is completely free to interpret Yuri!!! on ICE how they wish, so please do not attack others who don’t see things as you do. Please also take care not to misquote the creators or take their words out of context—if you disagree with them, it’s probably best to ignore them instead. And with that, there’s just one last case to go—I should be able to get to it within the next two weeks.

NB: This post was edited on March 14, 2017, in order to make my argument about Kubo’s second tweet clearer. —karice


  1. Recently, Kubo revealed that she later heard from some Japanese people that they’d had arguments with their friends over this. Nevertheless, it seems to have happened far less often than in the English-speaking fandom. I will not venture to explain why this is, because I don’t know the female anime fandom in Japan all that well—one consequence of where I lived when I was there is that I was only ever able to observe it from afar. Tora has written a few posts on her own understanding of it if you’re interested. 
  2. There is a whole other debate about (1) just how realistic this actually is, and (2) what this means for just how progressive the show actually is. But this is not something that I wish to address at this point. 
  3. If you manage to identify the tweet and thus figure out what I’m actually referring to here, then I suspect that you’ll raise some concerns about how much I’ve simplified the point that person was making. I can’t deny that, as it involves a debate that I am not comfortable writing about, at least right now, given my relatively shallow understanding of all the serious issues involved. I did, however, come across a blog that covers issues regarding LGBTIQA representation in Asian media. I won’t link to it directly, but if you have an active twitter or tumblr account, feel free to reach out to me on either of those platforms if you’re up for a more in-depth discussion on it. 
  4. edit (2016-03-08): The issue that Kubo was alluding to is actually slightly different to the one I’ve observed in the Western fandom, though the foundation on which it rests is, I would argue, quite similar. Please see this post for a little more discussion on it. At the moment, it’s increasingly looking like I’ll be addressing the issue in more detail in my next post about “what Kubo really said.” 

About karice
MAG fan, freelance translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

3 Responses to That’s what she said?! Kubo Mitsurou and the kiss(?)

  1. sikvod00 says:

    It can be so frustrating dealing with people on social media, lol. Let me first start by saying I think you and toraonice are strong people. You volunteer so much time and effort to translate material so the rest of us can have access to this information. But then ungrateful jerks decide to lash out and hurl insults and slurs…. I’m sorry those terrible things were said to you by these fanatics. I would definitely have just given up in disgust.
    Does toraonice have a Twitter account? I tried searching on their Tumblr page and couldn’t fine one; the @toraonice doesn’t appear to exist either.
    The clash between mostly Western fans, who really desire to see explicit LBQT representation in anime, and Kubo’s “interpret for yourself” stance is almost tragic. This was especially true after I read toraonice’s thoughts on the matter. I really do think she’s on their “side” and happy to defend them, but they’re shooting themselves in the foot by being so aggressive and pushy about it. YOI has undoubtedly helped their cause anyways. It reminds me of politics, where the few decent moderate politicians get unfairly criticized and harassed by the extreme factions of their party despite (cough coughObama). They do themselves more harm than good…
    Also, the whole thing screams of a clash of cultures. Leaving things open to interpretation is likely more acceptable in Asian countries, hence why most Japanese fans weren’t up in arms about the vagueness. But that can unfortunately interfere with the full-throated push for diversity in anime that some in the West want.
    The other complication are people who just want to see more non-romantic relationships. And to be honest, this is the group I can least identify with since I personally don’t know anyone of that orientation. I also used to only care about anime with romance until several years ago. So the best I can do is try to understand and emphasize with them being even less represented than other groups. The “up to your own interpretation” stance lets them keep the dream alive; the characters being gay would deny them that. You have consistently talked about these kinds of super intimate, relationships since Eupho. So I know it’s very important to you and I’m glad you saw it in YOI as well

    Like

    • karice says:

      Thanks for the encouragement! For me personally, part of the reason I can keep going is that I’ve got a pretty good support network…perhaps it’s too strong, since I find myself retreating to translation when I want to get away from real life pressures! But a few people have been of great help, and I’ll really should read/listen to more of their work too, hopefully this weekend!

      Tora does have twitter account, but it’s not one that she’s linked to her translation work on YOI. She might just want to keep it private (and I must say: can’t blame her!).

      The state of the debate over LGBTIQA representation in media in the West is very different from that in Japan. In fact, Nigehaji actually has a couple of gay characters, and I think it treats them both pretty respectfully–at the very least, they’re treated in a similar way to most of the other supporting characters. And if I’m not mistaken, there’s a recent movie with a transgender main character. The 2008 drama Last Friends also has a character struggling with GID, but I don’t recall her really considering transitioning. So I think we can see progress, even though it’s still quite far behind the US. And I understand why people might want to see more representation in anime…but ugh…I feel that they they really don’t understand the medium and its target audiences, and how that affects the situation. For example:

      Accusing her of “queerbaiting” is insulting and even dismissive of cultural differences.

      Yup, “queerbaiting” is something that I suspect is unique to Western media discourse. There’s something called “fujoshi-baiting” in Japan, but it’s actually quite a different thing, because most fujoshi aren’t queer. (According to tora, some of them are actually quite homophobic!) So, one problem I sense is a huge misunderstanding about fujoshi, both in terms of the kind of media they seek and the place they have in society (which are related). And lines are being blurred, actually, because there are some BL mangaka that seem to be going for realistic works rather than just fantasy stuff.

      Basically, it’s complicated…and then there’s a question of where creators who don’t want to focus on romance fit… Ugh…there’s a lot to be said on this subject, to be honest, going back into the history of Western media as well. Remember Scully and Mulder in The X-Files? I’ve had a long conversation with another friend over how fan pressure probably forced that writers to write them into a romantic relationship, to the detriment of the show…

      The other complication are people who just want to see more non-romantic relationships. And to be honest, this is the group I can least identify with since I personally don’t know anyone of that orientation. I also used to only care about anime with romance until several years ago. So the best I can do is try to understand and emphasize with them being even less represented than other groups. The “up to your own interpretation” stance lets them keep the dream alive; the characters being gay would deny them that. You have consistently talked about these kinds of super intimate, relationships since Eupho. So I know it’s very important to you and I’m glad you saw it in YOI as well

      Hm…I feel like I may have emphasised what you’re calling “non-romantic” relationships a little too much? I do like romance! Just from the last year, I’ve enjoyed romantic relationships in Rakugo, Macross, orange, The Great Passage and your name.! But one thing I really don’t like is the way some fans act as if two characters becoming sexually intimate and heading towards marriage is what’s important. To me, what’s great about a good romance is that sexual attraction isn’t the main thing driving the relationship — instead, there’s a joining of minds, so to speak. And once I recognised and internalised that, it wasn’t difficult for me to understand that romantic attraction and sexual attraction do not need to go hand in hand. Perhaps this is what Western audiences can’t accept? (Though I don’t really understand why…)

      The other thing that frustrates me is how audiences are prone to interpreting everything through their own frameworks, without understanding some really important cultural differences. For example, people in the West really do not get the concept of skinship! (NB: I don’t think this guy really covers it all either. It’s something I want to look into a bit more when I can find the time…)

      p.s.

      Re: leaving things open to interpretation
      You reminded me that this really is something Japanese people like to do! I could name a number of live-action Japanese movies that almost made me scream because of this! But there are other cultures who may be even more prone to this: have you ever seen the Israeli film, Footnote?

      Like

  2. sikvod00 says:

    Oh, and to clarify my post above: I fully support seeing more LGBTQ romantic relationships AND non-romantic relationships in anime. Kubo’s viewpoint on the matter with regards to YOI would adequately satisfy both viewpoints. Accusing her of “queerbaiting” is insulting and even dismissive of cultural differences. But anime could definitely benefit from explicitly having more of these kinds of relationships.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: