So, fun fact: there was a point in time when I had stopped watching anime altogether. This was around the time I went to university to study Dentistry, so around 2015. And I missed out on a lot in the meantime. Like, sure, I’d catch a show here and there, but I wasn’t keeping up with much. I’d hear echoes of Yuri On Ice! breaking the internet and I’d just quietly return to reading about Periodontology. So, of course, I, a proud Fujoshi, failed to notice the absolute gay madness that has been going around for so long in the form of Sports Anime.
Like, this isn’t a troll post. Sports anime are extremely gay-coded for multiple reasons. A lot of sports anime focus on male friendships and the whole adrenaline high the actual sports bring. It’s all very high pressure and intense, with impossible stakes. Couple that up with really, really good-looking character designs and heightened skin ship, and, well, you can see where things can get a little homoerotic.
Listen, I am an OG SasuNaru shipper. I love enemies-to-lovers. Intense rivalries are my love language. So, it’s safe to say I was seriously missing out on the gorgeousness that is sports anime and I take full blame for that. I’m ashamed of my younger self, she ditched the batshit craziness that was the post-Victuuri kiss for her Pharmacology final? Embarrassing.
There is a weird satisfaction in seeing sports anime be so catered to the female gaze when they are such a male-centric activity. Like when you think back at it, jocks who enjoy sports are such a stereotype that’s associated more with straight men than it is queer anime nerds. But why are sports anime so gay? Let’s break it down!
A History Of Anime And Queer LGBTQ+ Content:
So, it won’t be remiss to say that Japan doesn’t have the best history with queer content in general. It’s still a very traditional and conservative country and its media reflects that. However, that doesn’t mean LGBTQ+ manga didn’t exist at all. And I’m not talking about the fetishized stuff.
One of the most famous examples of a gay romance in the manga that I can remember is Banana Fish, which was a gritty crime thriller from the 80s. And it had a huge fanbase, even back then. Despite its triggering content, it ended up touching a lot of people’s hearts with the very pure love Ash and Eiji, the main characters, shared.
But they were an anomaly. The queer anime movement didn’t see much momentum afterward. Sure, we had a few light instances of queer baiting like with Black Butler and Haikyuu! but it wasn’t normalizing gay couples. The only yaoi we had was Junjou Romantica and the like which aren’t great representations of healthy relationships. And it seemed like gay content in the Otaku world would be just that: something for fans to fetishize and nothing more.
That was until we reached 2016 and Studio MAPPA came out with a short sports anime series known as Yuri On Ice!.
What Haikyuu! Promised, Yuri On Ice Delivered
Okay, so the past year I have spent just getting back into the things I loved. Anime was a big part of that. And I realized that my inner Fujoshi was still alive and kicking, after a decade of starvation. So, I got down to it, starting with Yuri On Ice!.
To say that I was shocked would be the understatement of the century. Not because I didn’t know that this was the first sports anime by a major studio that featured two men kissing but because I didn’t know the impact it’d go on to have on anime getting adapted afterward.
The main focus of Yuri On Ice! wasn’t its romance, but Yuuri Katsuki’s performance anxiety. And the way it’s displayed, spliced with gorgeous skating animation and a story of perseverance, it’s so normal. Yes, Victor Nikiforov is extremely extra, and yes, the fact that Yuuri performs a sensual theme for him is very on-the-nose but those are background aspects.
Yuri On Ice! wasn’t special because it showed two men being affectionate. It was special because it showed gay sportsmen suffer through the same anxiety and lack of motivation you and I would feel. It humanized their stories. And paved the way for queer content that was relatable.
Why Are Sports Anime So Gay Now?
Following the success of Yuri On Ice! we had Haikyuu! and Free! become more accepting of its queer undertones. We saw manga like Sasaki To Miyano-Kun and Given get sincere anime adaptations. Sports anime became a mainstay in queer anime communities.
Honestly, why not? Sports anime are so queer because they work. They normalized male friendships. They showed that being affectionate doesn’t mean the characters are inherently predatory or creepy. Sports anime normalized queer stories, and that meant that queer anime fans finally had space for themselves.
One they could be proud of. And I think that’s pretty neat!