Anime: Yuri!!! on ICE
Original Run: Oct 6, 2016 to Dec 22, 2016
Genres: Sports, Romance, Drama
Japan’s ace figure skater, Katsuki Yuuri, is in a slump after a crushing defeat at the Sochi Grand Prix Finals. The disastrous turn of his career prompts him to return home to recuperate and assess his future path. At the age of 23, he’s older than most other skaters and not likely to last much longer. His already bleak situation is not helped by his tendency to stress-eat and gain weight easily.
But when a video of Yuuri skating the routine of reigning figure skating champion Victor Nikiforov goes viral, the man himself seeks Yuuri out and proclaims himself Yuuri’s coach. Being coached by his long time idol might be a dream come true for Yuuri but the world wants Victor back in action and some of them are willing to fight for it.
And even if Victor stays, the competition is strong and Yuuri’s worst enemy has always been himself.
Look at that, I’m reviewing a show that’s not at least a couple of years old. The credit/blame for that goes to the February OWLS tour whose focus on Yuri On Ice prompted me to watch the damn show before the year was over. Still, I’m more than fashionably late to the party. Figure skating is one of the few sports I’m not bored to tears watching and the only anime I’d seen about it was Ginban Kaleidoscope, which I liked. I went in expecting a sports anime with a dash of romance and got exactly that but also ended up in an emotional rollercoaster that blew me away.
This anime’s greatest strength lies in its protagonist Katsuki Yuuri and his turbulent journey as he tries to cope with the past and strive for the future while holding on to the present. And yes, most of this is portrayed through the skating which is nothing short of stunning. Yuri on Ice imbues its sport with a wide range of emotions that echo the thoughts and feelings of its respective skaters. Each routine is emotionally charged to the nth degree, making them forceful enough to make your heart race in tandem with the skaters.
As for the competition angle, Yuuri’s journey is not as predictable as it could have been. While it’s easy enough to figure out that he’ll make it to the Grand Prix Finals, the way there is littered with obstacles, the greatest of them being Yuuri himself. Refreshingly, there are no villains in this show, no one skater who’s a looming threat that must be beaten. Each of Yuri’s opponents are charming in their own way and portrayed as passionate skaters with dreams and goals of their own. Instead, Yuuri’s challenges are his own debilitating anxiety and lack of self-esteem, and the crippling effect they have on his psyche is depicted faithfully.
While Yuuri and his career is the driving force of the story, its heart is his developing relationship with Victor Nikiforov, the Russian figure skating legend who ends up becoming Yuuri’s coach. Rather than disrupt the flow of the sports angle, the partnership and eventual romance between the two blend seamlessly into the narrative, both aspects intermingling and playing off each other. It’s interesting to see the lives of two fundamentally different, flawed people become intertwined through their own, often clumsy, actions and desires. And yes, I am extremely glad to see a queer relationship that does not suffer from the usual pitfalls and stereotyping the yaoi genre suffers from. Victor and Yuuri aren’t defined by their sexual/romantic orientation and their burgeoning love is treated with the respect it deserves. That’s a wonderful thing to see and gives me hope. I’m not saying this is the only anime or the best one to do this; just that it’s great to see a mainstream sports anime be bold enough to go past rampant queerbaiting.
I don’t have much in the way of criticism for this show, except that the chibi sections seemed odd and out of place. I thoroughly enjoyed all 12 episodes and was caught up in Yuuri’s life from start to finish.
Though Yuri on Ice has a fair number of characters, only a handful of them get any significant development. But the remarkable thing is that even the minor characters with far less lines and screen-time than the main trio all have a sense of individuality to them, particularly the skaters. We may not know their detailed backstories but we do see their ambition and drive as they skate on the ice. They’re all memorable to an extent, both the skaters and non-skaters. While some character quirks may seem over the top, such as Chris’s extreme eroticism on the ice, it still manages to make them entertaining. Most of the secondary characters are good enough to warrant more focus but thanks to the one cour runtime, we see only a fraction of their potential.
Moving on to the main characters, first we have Katsuku Yuuri, a 23-year old Japanese figure skater and the star of the show. Yuuri is an extremely sympathetic character because he is tangibly human. He battles with anxiety and depression and has a rather pathetic image of himself. While he is a decorated skater in Japan and good enough to make it to the Grand Prix, Yuuri has a tendency to focus not on his strengths but his weaknesses to the point that he drowns in his worries. At the start of the show, he’s a hot mess and even when he gets better, the issues never go away. And that’s great, not because I want Yuuri to suffer but because this kind of thing doesn’t just disappear in real life either. It persists and haunts, and we see that in Yuuri for whom each competition is a fierce battle with himself. It’s hard to see him as anything but admirable because he fights on despite everything. His growth throughout the story is excellent as well. It’s a gradual process; neither Victor nor a few successes can magically make him confident overnight, but all the same, we get to see Yuuri’s faith in himself build in slow bursts that set into something more solid by the end of the show.
Next up is Victor Nikiforov, skater extraordinaire and absolute enigma. Victor is a five-time world champion who’s practically revered in the figure skating world. As such, his sudden entry into Yuuri’s life as a coach is rather suspicious. His motivations remain a mystery for the majority of the show and even when they’re revealed, it’s done in steps, each one adding a new dimension to all of his prior actions. Victor is as fascinating a character as Yuuri. A genius athlete lauded for his accomplishments, Victor shows us that mere success is not everything in life and it is indeed lonely at the top. Neither are novel ideas but they’re portrayed with skill and taste. Rather than an impulsive, implausible act of charity, Victor’s coaching of Yuuri is eventually revealed to be the combined result of his own search for inspiration and the lingering memory of a past encounter. In terms of personality, Victor alternates between charming and foolish, ultimately painting the picture of a flighty, lonely, strong-willed man who’s terrible at connecting to others.
Finally, we have Yuri Plisetsky or Yurio, another Russian skater who’s notably younger than the others and is only really starting to enter the golden days of his career. Yurio is an angry, angsty teenager and he makes sure that everyone knows it. The first impression he creates is less than favorable and throughout the show, he has several moments that show him in a less than positive light. And for the most part, this negativity is deserved. Yurio does have a long way to go before becoming what can be called a decent person. His tendency to brutally last out at others with unnerving frequency combined with his deliberately hurtful comments make him hard to like. But there’s more to Yurio than the anger and there are several hints in the story that makes it clear that he’s well-meaning enough under the grouchy exterior. He’s terrible at showing it and there’s no excuse for some of his actions but on the whole, he’s a good kid with a complicated thought process. He also exhibits some tsundere characteristics but that’s neither here nor there.
Art and Music:
Yuri on Ice is rather inconsistent as far as animation is considered though that seems mostly deliberate. It alternates between stunning, good and average, interspersed with chibi segments. The skating routines are the true jewels and while they’re not all of the same quality, the more important ones are nothing short of brilliant. Even for the rest, you should be good so long as you don’t pause in the middle of a skate. Character designs are quite diverse.
Being an anime on figure skating, good music is a necessity and Yuri on Ice delivers in that regard. The opening theme, History Maker by Dean Fujioka, is an English song that’s dynamic and memorable, particularly the chorus. The ED, You Only Live Once, has a catchy beat. The music for each of the figure skating routines stand out and fit their respective characters well. Yuri on Ice as well as the Agape and Eros routines stand out among them.
Yuri on Ice is innovative, daring and gripping from beginning to end. The highlights are the character development of the main lead and the relationship between him and his idol/coach