What Phichit Chulanont's role in Yuri!!! On Ice means to a Thai fan
Disclaimer: this is my personal feelings and some research materials I have done. I DO NOT speak for the entiety of Thai fanbase.
As a Thai long-time anime fan, and casual sports fan/athelte, watching Phichit in YOI is definitely uplifting. To make this post a bit easier to read, I’ll comply a list of things I have learned about Phichit, fan theories, and his possible influences.
Phichit Chulanont’s name and meaning
As written in Thai, พิชิต จุฬานนท์, is quite a manly first name, like a warrior. พิชิต (sounds like Pi-chit) means “to win/to conquer”. จุฬานนท์ (sounds like Ju-la-naon) roughly means “utmost happiness/delight”. Ofcourse like any other Thai people’s first and last names, these Thai words are not to be used in normal everyday speaking language as they are words like those used in very old Thai literatures. Putting the meaning of his name together, it’s something like, “To win the utmost happiness” or, “The greatest delight of victory”. This naming sense is not a coincidence seeing that Yuuri Katsuki also has the word about winning in his name (Katsu = to win).
Figure and ice skating in Thailand
Ice skating is still very new as a hobby or sport in Thailand. The first ice skate rink was built in 1975 by people from Japan who wanted to bring ice skating to Thailand. As many may know, Thailand is a tropical country with extremely hot weather. Winter in the capital city is like warm California spring at best. No snow, and no ice skate rinks at public parks like in the US. It was very difficult to maintain an ice skate rink when it was first built that the rink caused fire and burned down only a year after. Later on, more ice skate rinks were built and more foreigners were teaching the people of Thailand to ice skate. “Figure & Speed Skating Association of Thailand” was formed in 1995 and that was when figure skating really took off as a sport in Thailand. Check out their social media: https://www.facebook.com/fsatthai/. They do know of Phichit and seem to like him, from recent Yuri On Ice repost. You can also see various videos of their atheletes at the same ice skate rink Phichit usually practices at, Imperial World Ice Skating in Bangkok. Phichit is clearly a member of FSAT, you can see their logo on his black jacket in YOI promo group photo. If we go by Phichit’s age in the show, that means he was born in 1996. Only a year after FSAT was officially founded. Being a young organization, this may be why FSAT mostly succeeds in the youth category for international competitions. From my knowledge, Thailand have yet to place in Grand Prix Final for top 6 qualifiers. So, Phichit’s accomplishment of advancing to Grand Prix Final (although fictional), is a big deal for Thailand’s figure skating. For the record, only 3 Asian countries have won medals from Grand Prix Final; Japan, China, and Korea. I do hope the young figure skaters in Thailand get to watch YOI and feel inspired by Phichit to become “Thailand’s future”!
“The King and His Skater” performance
Western YOI fans are probably familiar with this title as it undoubtedly is a parody of “The King and I”, a widely popular musical that tells a fictional story of Anna, a British governess, and her time during the court of the King Rama IV of Siam (now Thailand). Believe it or not, I had only heard of The King and I when I moved from Thailand to the US 14 years ago. The King and I franchise and its movies are banned in Thailand for the reason that it depicted inaccurate portrayal of the highest institution of our country, the king. Lèse majesté laws are very strict in Thailand and any materials regarding this fictional work is not allowed in Thailand. I have watched Anna and the King movie (1999) in the US on DVD and enjoyed it as a film. And while it is a well-done movie and the producer took time to consult with Thailand’s higher ups at the time, it was still banned and never permitted to be filmed in any Thailand’s ground. (See article http://bit.ly/2fX9po8) Knowing this, the fact that Phichit may be influenced by the popularity of The King and I in America during his time in Detriot makes sense. His red and gold skating outfit during his performance of “Shall We Skate” has a striking resemblance to King Rama IV’s attire from the musical. My personal theory is that Phichit chose to skate to songs from “The King and His Skater” in YOI-verse with an intent to bring out a different side of the story. He would play the role of a king who brings Thailand hope and bright future. His red and gold outfit also reminds me of old outfit of Thai warriors who had fought to protect the country in the past.
Phichit took Thai social media by storm
A Thai character in a sport anime?? And he’s not a Thai boxing/Muay Thai master or is there for comical relief?? This is new alright. No surprise that so many Thai anime fans were talking about Phichit. A hashtag for Phichit and his love for food selfies was number one trending hashtag for Twitter in Thailand right after YOI episode one aired. The hashtag, “#พิชิตบริโภค”, translated to “Phichit’s eats” was created by @dc9spot on Twitter and had since then become very popular. Try searching on Twitter and Instagram for hilarious fan-edited pictures of Phichit and his many food items! (See article http://bit.ly/2gSQzmC ) Many Thais have expressed their love for Phichit and praised the anime team for doing research on Thailand’s food and social media culture. We do love taking selfies and eat lots of food! I also participated in this craze and went around in Phichit cosplay when I was in Thailand for a vacation and take all the food selfies in one day. (See http://pisaracos.tumblr.com/post/153550403527/dont-let-your-memes-be-dreams-went-around )
This is the first time I have ever been so invested in an anime character, emotionally. Yuri!!! on ice is already changing the anime history and I cannot wait to see what else this series will bring us. Although I know that since Phichit is not a main character, he will probably not win the gold medal at the Grand Prix Final. But I still want to see his journey, his performances, and his interactions with his friends. I’m very proud of him as a fellow Thai, and very happy to see how well-loved he is among YOI fans around the world. I hope you continue to support and love him!