Fansplaining: Fansplaining!!! On Ice

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Podcast Episode
Fansplaining
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Episode Title: Fansplaining: Fansplaining!!! On Ice
Length: 1:02:34
Featured: Lauren Orsini
Date: January 11, 2017
Fandom: Yuri On Ice
External Links: Episode at Fansplaining.com
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Fansplaining: Fansplaining!!! On Ice is a podcast by Flourish Klink and Elizabeth Minkel.

For others in the series, see Fansplaining

Introduction

Elizabeth and Flourish interview Lauren Orsini, a journalist and anime expert. Topics discussed include different generations of anime fandom in the United States, the way language barriers affect the transcultural conversation, depictions of gay men in anime, and — of course — Yuri!!! On Ice. They also take reader mail and discuss the term “beta reader” and the less-common “alpha reader” in fanfiction communities.

Links

Topics Discussed

  • Waves of anime fandom
  • Mainstreaming of anime and the meaning behind the word 'otaku'
  • The appeal of Yuri on Ice in both Japan and America
  • Issues of transcultural fandom including fans getting things wrong
  • Boy's Love and yaoi tropes, including assault as a storytelling element or unrequited love
  • How Yuri!!! On Ice appeals to a broader audience than BL or yaoi stories typically do
  • How a Japanese audience will continue to be prioritized over American audiences for anime
  • A fan letter about the difference between a beta reader and an alpha reader, where alpha reader is a much less common term in fandom

Excerpts

FK: Because everybody… because not everybody but a large proportion of people… because some folks in fandom are really into Yuri!!! On Ice, some of whom have never been into anime before, some of whom are returning after a long time, and it seems to be a THING. It’s a THING. It’s a moment!

ELM: For the uninitiated, Yuri!!! On Ice is an anime, there has been one season, twelve episodes, it’s about figure skaters…

FK: Yes.

ELM: And people are really into it, lots of people I know, even people outside fandom I’ve seen have gotten really into it, or people I think of as outside my fannish spaces, who I know don’t spend time on Tumblr or read fanfiction and whatever, I’ve seen people…I know, just pop culture would do it too. So. That being said, it’s not something that we’re actually in the fandom of.

ELM: So we wanted to talk to someone who not only was into the show but also is an anime expert and so we thought of Lauren Orsini, who is a journalist that I’ve known for awhile, who is…her blog is The Otaku Journalist, and she writes about anime in particular and also cosplay and I think she writes some in consumerist… like, I don’t know, figures? Action figures feels like the wrong word.

FK: That’s not the wrong word. I mean, it’s some action figures…I know what you’re talking about.

ELM: You know what I mean? Stuff like that.

FK: Collectibles.

ELM: Collectibles! That's better. She writes about it for Forbes, mostly. So it felt like she’d be a really good person to come on because she obviously observes this stuff as a journalist, also is fannishly invested, and I would say that we…I had some hesitations saying, “Oh, we’re talking about a fannish product from another part of the world, do we wanna talk to an American about it?”

FK: Yeah.

ELM: And you had no hesitations about this.

FK: [laughs] Well, I actually… I’m really excited to hear from her about it because I think that she has a lot of perspective on the way that it’s different to be an American fan of an anime than it is to be a Japanese fan watching it in the context of Japan. And I think that it’s important to foreground that, because that’s really what we’re talking about in this context more than anything.

ELM: With a caveat, I would say, of, we also want to talk to Japanese fans. Right? So…

FK: We’re working on that! Actively working on that.

ELM: Thank you so much for coming on. OK. So I think we should start with backstory, just for if our listeners aren’t familiar with your work. Do you want to give a little fan and professional summary and how those intersect?

LO: Sure! My name’s Lauren. Sometimes I go by “The Otaku Journalist” online because I’ve been running a blog for seven years called Otaku Journalist where I write about anime, careers in geekdom, how my fandom intersects with my professional life… on the surface level, I write about anime and other fandoms for Forbes, I review for Anime News Network, I wrote a book on cosplay, I also do other things…

ELM: So I’m thinking about the time, so then we were all children and teens around the same time. I do kind of feel like when we were, especially around that age, middle-school age? There was a lot of anime in American popular culture. Is that a good assessment, or…?

LO: Well, we talk about anime fandom in waves. And if you had gotten into anime at the same time I did, you would be called a fourth wave anime fan. Yes, it’s just like feminism. [all laugh] Our generation of anime fans is called the Toonami generation, because Cartoon Network started running something called Toonami when they were putting Sailor Moon on TV, Gundam Wing went on TV, Dragonball Z. And a lot of people got into anime with that as their gateway. You can often determine when someone got into anime when they say what their favorite show was or what their first show was.

LO: Yeah, I remember being so shocked that Ant-Man was really popular in China and not here. And you know the same thing’s happening with Yuri!!! On Ice, where two fan communities will have a completely different reaction about the same episode. I’m thinking of Episode Seven, which the director, Sayo Yamamoto, has spoken about, in fact. Because Episode Seven was supposed to be a big piece of fanservice. Victor surprises Yuri— can I say it? It already aired— with a kiss! The kiss is not seen, it is obscured. I wanna know what you guys thought about this.

FK: I squeaked!

ELM: I’m on Episode Three. So…in the last episode, it wasn’t about that episode, though, but it was about the finale, we talked about, because it was right when that came out, and we were watching people having a lot of strong reactions, mostly what we saw was—I think we both saw this, is this right, Flourish, the people defending different cultural norms and standards. So it was like, all I saw was response, people being mad that they weren’t being shown more. Does that make sense? There was a lot of double negatives in there.

LO: OK. So, yeah. I guess in America, or North America, I’m not sure, maybe we expect more…but the thing is, when Episode Seven came out, Japanese fans instantly got it. They were like, “Thank you SO MUCH for making them kiss!” And then the director Yamamoto had to come out and tell Americans, “They DID kiss. That's what happened. They kissed. You didn’t see it exactly, it was kind of obscured, it was a stylistic choice, they kissed!” In fact I have friends who are like “I wish they would just kiss already!” I’m like “Yeah… they did, in Episode Seven!” They’re like, “Nah they didn’t! That coulda been anything.” Americans are watching this show a lot more literally, and Japanese people are getting more implication. I’m not sure why that is, and I’ve seen things like, “Oh, well, in Japan they can’t show this, their censorship laws…” That’s not true.

FK: Isn’t it complicated when it is something like Yuri!!! On Ice which it seems like is coming right into the middle of American fandom’s, like, ideas and tropes and expectations. It seems like a lot of the reasons why many people like Yuri!!! On Ice, myself included by the way, was because when I was watching it I was like “Oh, this has all of the…this is like a tropey fanfic!” I could really imagine this as, this is like an ice skating AU. It’s delightful! “Oh look, how wonderful! And someone else wrote it and it’s great, hooray!” And so then it seems like that might not actually be what’s going on for a Japanese fan looking at it. So my interpretation of it is then tied into all of my feelings about slash fanfic and AUs and the politics of that, right, with regard to the kiss…seeing that as censored maybe is a reaction more to the way things are censored in the US, in certain ways, than anything that’s actually going on in Japan, but then if it’s hard to split them apart…I don’t know that I’m really making any point here. I think I’m just going on at this stage.

ELM: That made a point to me! I don’t know. I’m curious to know, cause you and I are kind of from the same background, but I know Lauren and I have talked about this in the past, about how we are not coming from the same fannish place. I don’t know if you, do you read fanfiction?

LO: I absolutely do. And what’s interesting is I haven't really felt the need to read any for Yuri!!! On Ice, because it just feels like all the cards are out on the table. I don’t need to, to get wish fulfillment from Yuri!!! On Ice. Meanwhile I read and in fact write a lot of fanfic about other anime. And a lot of anime has this…begging for scraps. So I feel like people got really greedy with Yuri!!! On Ice. But also, before Yuri!!! On Ice there was BL anime, Boys’ Love, sometimes called yaoi, and this stuff is super exploitative and it feels like it’s from another generation, maybe? Just another time. So there will be a very large man, he’s shown as larger than other people, he has big hands, and he is called the “seme.” Which…I’m not sure if it has a literal translation except, like, the pitcher in baseball. And then there’s a man who’s very effeminate, he looks like a woman, maybe he acts like a woman, has feminine hobbies, he likes to cook, he’s physically small in stature, he is called the “uke.” You could think of that as the catcher. So the pitcher and the catcher...

...Anyway, when Yuri!!! On Ice was airing, nobody wanted to get excited, cause we knew it was gonna be one of these two things. We knew either Victor and Yuri’s love would go unrequited and we would be forced to write fanfiction to kind of guide the story the way we all knew it ought to have gone, and the other way is that there would be something uncomfortable and 90s about the relationship. Like maybe Yuri would be about to be raped by another skater or something and Viktor would come to his rescue with his giant hands. These were just the two ways to think about gay relationships in anime before.

ELM: I feel like it just continues to be things that some people want to read and write about, so it’s like…eh, you know?

LO: It's just very exploitative, it’s nothing to do with real gay people. You think gay men watch yaoi or BL? No, they usually do not. I was just watching Ellen Page’s Gaycation, where she goes to Tokyo and she talks to people, and there was one man who was saying that he thought that BL was really exploitative and it made him feel very uncomfortable watching it as a man… however, a lot of gay men are watching Yuri!!! On Ice. It is completely different. It’s just we’ve never seen an anime like this that talks about a gay relationship in a non-exploitative way, but is also undeniably a gay relationship, as opposed to just a longing look while on the soccer field.

LO: A lot of it’s just crap! And I think people are going to be like “Oh, well, after Yuri!!! On Ice I want to pick up another show,” and they might just pick up something and be like “Oh, well, this isn’t interesting. This isn’t anywhere near as good.” We only get shows as good as Yuri!!! on Ice like four times a year.

ELM: Do we think people will stick around for those four shows, or…? What I’m hearing from you and what I’ve observed from the fandom, it seems like a lot of it is because it’s a gay relationship, a lot of what appeals to people. So if that’s pretty rare I kind of get the sense that, are people gonna want to stick around for subtext? And no text?

LO: It will all be subtext. But can I recommend something for people who liked Yuri!!! On Ice? My other favorite show, Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju. Maybe we’ll have to write that down.

ELM: So here’s something, one more transcultural question that I have. You’re talking about this clash between American perceptions, or Western, Anglo-speaking perceptions and Japanese perceptions, particularly of explicitness or depiction of romance. Do you think that the American voices in this conversation are going to…are the people making this show and future shows, if they’re taking a longer view of this, going to be listening to the American fans? Because American fans are obviously very very loud, obviously speaking in a different language, but it is a language that many people speak! You know what I mean? I definitely see, I spend a lot of time watching creators, you can look for the influence in their response to these conversations, and I’m wondering if you see any of that bouncing back. Or do you think it’s so established in Japan that nothing can penetrate that.

LO: You know, as more and more shows are picked up in the US by streaming services like Netflix and Crunchyroll, it has become more important what American fans think of things, especially if they’re spending, if they’re putting their money where their mouth is. It used to be that what the foreign audience thought did not matter at all, and it matters more and more now. And also there’s just some sort of prestige with having American fans. It’s something a lot of people look forward to. “Oh, I can go to a convention in America and see Boston!” Which yeah, I got to interview a creator once who was like, “I’ve always wanted to go to Boston cause Aerosmith is from there!”

Fan Responses

Anonymous: I loved your YOI episode but I was disappointed with Lauren's characterization of yaoi. There're a lot of yaoi out there that doesn't adhere to the tropes she described, some even subvert those tropes. Yaoi readers want to see better representation too. Every yaoi fan I know loves YOI. I think a big part of the show's popularity has to do with the massive yaoi fanbase rooting for it.

Fansplaining: Thank you for writing us! This is part of why we’re looking forward to having many future guests to speak about anime and manga in general and yaoi in particular. We’ve found that in other parts of fandom people vary radically in their perspectives on elements of fan culture and media, so it’s no surprise that not everyone agrees on everything about yaoi! Hopefully, as we cover yaoi more in episodes to come, we’ll be able to include more guests with perspectives that differ from Lauren’s in lots of ways and get a wider view. [1]

Anonymous: did it have a reason that you kept saying "the american fans" when you talked about non-japanese fans during the new episode? usually we call it western fans or english speaking fandom depending on if we're talking about differences in culture etc. or something more general.

Fansplaining: Yes! There was a reason (but we’re very glad to get to explain it!) We try really hard not to be American-centric, and part of that also means acknowledging when we’re talking specifically about American fans (and not about other English speaking fans). Lauren’s speciality is in the American sphere, so we wanted to be really clear about that, especially when we were talking about things like Toonami that were American-specific. Some of the things we and Lauren said definitely apply to the Anglophone YOI fandom as a whole, of course! [2]

Anonymous: I was kind of disappointed with your Yuri on Ice episode. You talked so much about anime in general that you only mentioned YoI in relation to those broader subjects. It wasn't a bad episode and I enjoyed listening to what Lauren said but maybe it would have been better to make an episode about anime and fandom in general first? You guys seemed to have a lot of questions about that and without YoI as another subject there could have been a lot more examples with different genres and stuff.

Fansplaining: We’re sorry you found it disappointing! We totally understand that some listeners would want a more general episode about anime rather than centering Yuri on Ice—and that some listeners might want a more specifically Yuri on Ice focused episode without as much about the greater context of anime.

We’ve been considering how to start talking about anime and anime fandoms for a long time now. We chose to “pin” the show to YoI because it’s making such an impact on fan communities that are usually pretty western-focused—we wanted to look at it in that transcultural context, past, present, and future. But like we said in the episode, we’re hoping to talk to other anime experts—we’re ESPECIALLY interested in talking to an expert from Japan re: cultural perspectives. But since Yuri has been so dominant in the pan-fandom conversation in the past few months, now seemed like the right time to talk about that specifically, and it seemed like a good “way in” for a podcast that up till now hasn’t talked a lot about anime. You might compare it to the way that our “Race and Fandom” episodes centered around Star Wars. It’s not that we don’t have interest in talking about Star Wars in other episodes, but the race issues that came up in The Force Awakens were important and good to focus on!

We’ll certainly be talking more about anime in the future, and about other anime fandoms, and Yuri on Ice may very well come up again—it’s not like we’ve hermetically sealed Star Wars away from other episodes of the podcast either. So hopefully we’ll cover more of the ground you’d like to see in the future! [3]

boomboombaronbunny: I was actually surprised by your Yuri!!! On Ice episode. I expected fanworship of the anime and that's not what I got. I was very happy to hear an objective opinion on how grossly portrayed yaoi usually is. I will say her comments on the term otaku was very western and didn't really emphasize how negative of a term it actually is. She translated it literally but missed the cultural context. I'm an adult woman in anime fandom and I hope y'all touch on it again!

Fansplaining: We’re glad you liked the episode—and now we’re very curious to learn more about the term “otaku”! Hopefully, we’ll have the chance to do an episode that more fully covers it. Thank you so much for writing! [4]


References

  1. ^ Anonymous Tumblr ask, Archived version, Jan 11 2017
  2. ^ Anonymous Tumblr Ask, Archived version, Jan 11 2017.
  3. ^ Anonymous Tumblr ask, Archived version, Jan 11 2017
  4. ^ Tumblr ask by boomboombaronbunny, Archived version, Jan 13 2017