Yuri!!! On ICE and Model Dynamics

Yuri On Ice was one of those shows from the season that you simply couldn’t ignore, as it has become a runaway success in terms of social media engagement. I’m still stuck on the fourth episode, waiting to watch the rest as soon as the BD rips come out, but the fact it has become a mainstream, even global success, makes it hard to resist the temptation of analysing what it did right.

I’ve been using the word “model” on this blog quite generously this year, in various posts for various different domains. So it’s fitting (no pun intended) that I write today how Yuri On Ice consciously or unconsciously exploited concrete examples of models to gain itself the following that it has.

First of, there is the model city of Karatsu, which is used as inspiration for Yuuri’s hometown of Hasetsu. Using real-life locations as models for parts of anime fiction has become a common practice in anime production, already for a good part of the last decade. This approach has more upsides than downsides, but I’ve discussed them on here in sufficient capacity already.

The show also paid homage to various legendary figure skaters, their clothes and routines … Real people have been used for inspiration, to the point Yuuri has been quite aggressively equaled to Japanese figure skater Yuzuru Hanyuu. We know what kind of fan would do such a thing, so we won’t discuss them. But I have a proposition here why this is going to continue happening.

Obviously some producers will try to copy the show’s success and come to the same conclusions that I have: own reality, and command attention. The usage of models, be them geographic locations or real people, will continue and only intensify in future productions. That various figure skaters have given the show so much attention and brought in their own fans might be allowed to be seen as a wonderful accident this time around. But when a producer makes plans for a future anime show in which he’ll try to replicate the same modeling trick from Yuri On Ice, then the practice falls under ethical scrutiny.

Previously I’ve shown you photos of my trip to Lake Kizaki, which was one model location for the Onegai! Twins TV series. The house of the protagonists does exist, but it is also private property. This begs the question whether the people living there deserve to have their thoughts on the matter ignored every time a fan takes a photo of their property without permission. The founder of P.A.Works defended their modeling practices from accusations of it inconveniencing neighborhoods, saying their shows are smart about it and avoid featuring locations with private housing. He characterized the fictional Bonbori Festival from Hanasaku Iroha – which was then turned into a real festival at the model location – as a gift to the locals. The problem I have with his argument is that the establishment of this festival dramatically changed the place. Even though the festival is of traditional sort, it is fake in every sense, but accepted because it provides financial opportunities to the locals.

Likewise both the anime medium and figure skaters themselves have more fans to gain from each others’ fandoms, but that doesn’t come without a price. Karice67, who has been a very fervent Yuri On Ice poster on Twitter, had one of her tweets go viral. It was a plea to fans saying they should make distinctions between being-model existences like Hanyuu-Yuuri.

I’m sympathetic, but also afraid that we’re getting more of this kind of approach to marketing sooner than we’d like, and the deviant behaviors stemming from it are going to be relativized and given blessing. Perhaps by figure skaters themselves. The thing to remember here is that fandom exchanges are not unfair trades – some anime fans get to learn about figure skating, and some figure skating fans get exposed to the wonderful world of Japanese animation.

The pretense here is that we’re not supposed to equate the real and fictional. It’s a disturbing step to make, but when it’s producers themselves who are encouraging it then I think it’s better to drop it. I’m willing to bet there’s already a show in the pipeline that’s going to take a closer look at another domain, like figure skating, that has lots of pretty boy (or girl) superstars ripe for model exploitation. These shows will be made for fans to compare models to fictional characters, to then have the option to inconvenience them in real life.

Here’s hoping 2017 does less tourist anime and returns back to being actually creative instead of using models for everything.

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