Reeling from his crushing defeat at the Grand Prix Finale, Yuuri Katsuki, once Japan's most promising figure skater, returns to his family home to assess his options for the future. At age 23, Yuuri's window for success in skating is closing rapidly, and his love of pork cutlets and aptitude for gaining weight are not helping either.
However, Yuuri finds himself in the spotlight when a video of him performing a routine previously executed by five-time world champion, Victor Nikiforov, suddenly goes viral. In fact, Victor himself abruptly appears at Yuuri's house and offers to be his mentor. As one of his biggest fans, Yuuri eagerly accepts, kicking off his journey to make it back onto the world stage. But the competition is fierce, as the rising star from Russia, Yuri Plisetsky, is relentlessly determined to defeat Yuuri and win back Victor's tutelage.
I write this as a gay adult man who's actually interested in proper M/M romantic representation and as someone who's jaded of queerbaiting and stereotypical heteronormative gay relationships in the shounen-ai genre. So when I was drawn into the hype that YOI offers a compelling storyline which extends beyond cheap queerbaiting and homo-fanservice, I was intrigued to say the least.
I am going to do my best to be entirely unbiased. There are certain redeeming qualities to the show that I think deserves mention.
a) Ethnic representation: It isn't often to see America being represented by a Latino, to see prominent cast members from Russia,
Thailand, China, Switzerland etc.
b) Proper treatment of women: Women are not objectified with melon boobs without any form of agency at all. Common anime tropes of the possessive brother veering into romantic desire of his sister are effectively established and subverted accordingly.
c) Accurate representation of anxiety and its debilitating effects onto one's psyche, projecting insecurity, doubt and unworthiness onto everything around you.
d) the soundtrack is well composed and suitably appropriate.
e) effective narrative turn of events in the later episodes that cast light on why certain earlier events transpired the way that they did.
Now, moving on to the problems (SPOILERS INVOLVED):
Horrible ambiguity involved in the main M X M relationship. Frankly, it's disgusting. The relationship between the two characters was never firmly established as fully canon; but there were so many moments between them that comes across as queerbaiting; but never realised as a full-fledged canonical couple that is settled beyond a doubt. The kiss is censored, the rings are dismissed as "Onajimai you" (for good luck), and even if we were to believe that they are "engaged" at some point, the conversation between Victor and Yuuri at episode 11 and 12 was so formal, as though between a coach and his student, that it just isn't the way a fiance would speak to one another! It vacilliates between intense homo fanservice ("So Yuuri, what are you going to do to make me excited?" and outright denial of their relationship, where Yuuri insists that OURRELATIONSHIPISNOTLIKETHAT. It's pretty sad; the show's entire premise is centered on Yuuri finding his sexual maturity and confidence in himself, as well as displaying his "love" of Victor to the world, however, there has NEVER been an explicit declaration of love, only outright denials and public displays of affection are either censored such that there is room of ambiguity for what it is, or veering on intense bromance.
To those people who claim that the ambiguity is what drives the homoerotic tension of the show, I ask you as a gay person. Would you have said the same thing if the couple was a heterosexual couple? You wouldn't, precisely because ALL shojo anime, even if it operates on some level of ambivalence or ambiguity, is always resolved with an outright declaration of romantic intention - it's what makes the scene magical, or romantic. Love is something that should not be hidden, and if this was a shojo show, we would be accusing the creators of playing us for fools. So why are we applying a different standard for YOI? Why is it possible for JJ in episode 11 to declare that he's going to marry his girlfriend, whereas Yuuri and Victor have to hide their relationship, their supposed engagement as "onajimai", good luck charms?
Secondly, as a sports anime, it fails on the exact reason that I've mentioned above. Every single sports anime ranging from Free to KnB is all about being CLEAR, CONCISED and DETERMINED on the desire or the goal that you aim to achieve; ie this is what I want, and this is what I plan to do in order to get there. Rather, in YOI it's all about Victor Victor, it's not like that it's not like that. Well then, Yuuri, what exactly is the nature of your relationship? The true nature of their relationship is never fleshed in full, and as a sports anime, the skating scenes were repetitive and unnecessary - is it really needed to cramp 6 skating performances in one episode, of which it pretty much looks the same with bad animation anyways? Plot is almost non existent as well; and seems to exist solely to push for fanservicey elements between the two protagonists.
Lastly, the anxiety that Yuuri experiences is becoming a tired, recurring plot device that is losing its effectiveness. in EVERY single relationship conflict, it's always Yuuri who causes the conflict, due to his anxiety such that you can almost distill it down to a formula: Yuuri's anxiety causes some form of misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the situation -> They fight -> Cold War -> They get back together after Yuuri skates. It's never Viktor who begins the fight, speaking of which, we still do not know anything much about who Viktor is as a person; he exists as some cheap 2 dimensional perfect character that is there to lift Yuuri from his anxiety like some Godsend. Asides from the fact that he seems a little clueless on handling Yuuri's anxiety, he doesn't seem to have any flaws as a human being.
Lastly, please please please do not every compare this to No.6 where the relationship is explicit, sensitively drawn out, and the characterisation and relationships are honest and sincere, without any cheap queerbaiting at all. Due to its cheap exploitative queerbaiting, which feels deceptive - despite getting "engagement rings" in 10, their relationship at 11 and 12 was so horrifying formal, without any of the characteristic warmth of newly engaged - it deserves nothing more than a 5.
And for goodness sake, please do not mention that the kiss HAD to be censored due to Japanese media laws. I studied media in Japan at one of Tokyo's top universities. There is no such law involved; Shinsekai Yori and No.6 had explicit M/M kisses and they were aired on TV you know.
Once upon a time, there was a young man with a big dream. He idolized a famous Russian skater named “Victor Nikiforov” and hopes to skate on the very same ice as him. Initially, that dream sunk until Yuri was able to impress Victor by imitating his routine at perfection. You can guess what happens next. Victor is so impressed that he decides to be Yuri’s coach at the upcoming Grand Prix Finals.
As an original TV anime, Yuri on Ice doesn’t suffer from adaptation issues. It’s also directed by Sayo Yamamoto, known for her work Michiko to Hatchin, Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko
Mine, and Space Dandy. Expectations are considered high with her talent. In fact, this was one of my most hyped show of the season. We don’t get a show about ice skating often so it’s also a breath of fresh air. The fact is, Yuri on Ice initially had a deceptive title for the Western audience. Don’t let that fool you though because Yuri on Ice is a show that goes beyond expectations on the ice rink.
Starting off, the first few episodes introduces our main protagonists. Yuri Katsuki is the 23-year old main male protagonist who has been skating at a young age. Although not hailed as a prodigy, Yuri’s determination and personality earn him praise and friends. His weakness lies with pressure as he is known to mess up at crucial moments. Early on, we can see this easily as Yuri even has self-doubt about his own body. In essence, Yuri is a good natured guy that most of us can relate to and has a lot of potential that is just waiting to be unlocked. That brings in Victor, the key to making Yuri into the next big thing. The 27-year old figure skater has gained international recognition for his talent and won numerous championships. (In fact, 5 consecutive Grand Prix Finals!) As such, you can expect that Victor has countless fans around the world. He’s also Yuri’s idol and him becoming his coach is a dream come true. Victor’s philosophy and key to success is to surprise the audience and the skaters themselves. As he puts it, “Do the opposite of what people expect, that is the only way you will surpass them!” Indeed, Victor can seem like a tough coach but genuinely hopes Yuri will be a success. The duo has some of the best chemistry in the entire series that begins as a professional relationship, to friends, and to even intimacy.
In the world of figure skating, you can expect a lot of competition. It’s not just from Japan or Russia but also countries from all over the world. The most prominent rival that Yuri faces is a young man from Russia named Yuri Plisetsky (known more as Yurio when he’s in Japan). Unlike Yuri, Yurio is already a hailed as a prodigy with his achievements such as three consecutive wins at the Junior World Championships. His personality is also more of an antithesis compared to Yuri as he is more arrogant and takes pride in his abilities. During his time in the show, we can also draw a parallel similarity between him and Yuri. Both seeks to make big names of themselves in the figure skating world. Both hopes to surpass their own limits and crafting their skating style to perfection. However, what really separates them both is how they seeks to accomplish this. The show chronicles both of their roles as rivals although there are also times when they act more as casual friends. In the meantime, Victor is portrayed as a playboy coach. The way he trains Yuri expresses passion. In fact, Yuri’s skating style and theme revolves around love (or dubbed more as “ero”) There’s obvious sexual chemistry between the two that can be interpreted beyond a professional relationship. Anyone can interpret it differently but it’s undeniable that there’s more than them just being student and teacher. As the story unfolds, we can see how their relationship progress both in and out of the ice rink. There’s even physical examples that shows how close they really become later in the story.
While the show highlights Yuri, Yurio, and Victor and the main characters, others in the show also should deserve some recognition. Most easily recognized are characters such as Otabek Altin, China famed skater Guang-Hong Ji, Switzerland’s Christopher Giacometti, Canada’s Jean-Jacques Leroy (“JJ”), Thailand’s Phichit Chulanot, Korea’s Seung Gil Lee, United States’ Leo de la Igelsia, among others. Each of these competitors has their own unique talent, skating style, and personality that really brings the show larger than life. I also have to emphasize on some of the unique background storytelling about them in particular with Christopher. JJ’s narcissism is also hard to ignore both in and out of the skating rink. What’s most impressive about these characters is how each of them tries their best to impress the audience and viewers. They all have reasons to win and be the best that they can be.
So why should you really watch Yuri on Ice? The show has the sports competitive atmosphere but every now and then, the audience will definitely notice the character relationships. It’s very human and can be fierce at times. At its core, Yuri and Victor will draw the most attention. Even at times, the show pushes the BL tones to overdrive. However, that really shouldn’t hold anyone back from watching the show because Yuri on Ice is so much more than about male butts and fan service. As a straight male, I had no problem enjoying this show for what it has to offer. The way it capitalizes on the competition, characters, visual dynamics, themes, and directing is worth every minute. Even the pacing works out quite well as it doesn’t waste much time getting to the point. Comedy is also straightforward and although can get rather awkward at times, it still effectively delivers with character chemistry and reaction faces. (how can anyone not laugh at Yurio’s priceless expressions?!) In retrospect, it’s a show that is here to entertain.
Adapted by studio MAPPA, Yuri on Ice is built on creativity and realism. There’s many sides you can see this but the most prominent elements that makes this show visually stunning is the directing. If you look closely at the show, the human body movements is directed at a very intense level. Every time a skater enters the rink and performs, we can see how the camera angles capture their every movement. Each skater has their own unique style as well and it also spells out their personality with their performances. Quality wise, the show also has strong production from the setting, character designs, to the choreography. Of course, Yuri on Ice isn’t without fan service. Most of it is expressed by playboy coach Victor and the bath scenes. But like I said before, this really shouldn’t hold you back from giving the show a chance.
If this show wasn’t impressive enough, Yuri on Ice also excels with its soundtrack. The OP song “History Maker” by Dean Fujioka is creatively directed with a catchy male tone. In addition, the theme song captures another theme of the show about making memories on the skating rink. The soundtrack and OST during each performance also knows how to impress the audience with by the character movements that supplements with their style. Character voice mannerisms throughout the show is also memorable. Who can forget about Victor’s seductive voice or Yurio’s silly arguments with his Yuri? However, what’s most important is that the soundtrack, voice, and theme songs brings out the best of this show to a realistic level. Even though they are professional skaters, we can see how human they are like any ordinary person as well.
Ah Yuri on Ice, a title that isn’t what it seems. The promotional poster is what it is and what you’ll expect. Coming into this show, I had high expectations with the talented staff involved and didn’t have an ounce of disappointment. Perhaps the show isn’t suitable for everyone’s tastes or style but I would recommend it to anyone. I’m not an expert on ice skating myself but watching this show got me genuinely interested in learning more about the sport. This TV anime takes ice skating and character relationships to a new level that is phenomenal. With a hint of “see you next level” for second season, I just hope it gets a continuation to make more history.
2013's Free! has been called many things but perfect. But what's undeniable is that it helped broaden an avenue in mainstream media for more works that's been aptly described as "manservice" by the general anime viewing audience, by re-popularizing a genre of anime that's usually well tucked away, only seeing the light of day from those that go out of their way to seek it out. Yaoi isn't exactly new to the medium, but there's no denying that with the cultural shift towards LGBT acceptance occurring in the latter half of the 2000s and onward, that it's becoming a more blasé than taboo facet in
media. Just in 2002, t.A.T.u.'s "All The Things She Said" music video was banned by several broadcasters and countries for its "controversial" content where two women kissed. And today, we have Miley Cyrus dry humping everything and it barely registers a shoulder shrug from most people. If being desensitized have done anything positive to our current society, it's allowing others to express themselves openly without it being harshly shut down by a majority rule, which also carts over to anime... well, kind of.
Anime has always been pushing the boundaries of what's considered to be acceptable content for decades. It's a medium that strives in its brazen depiction of whatever it chooses to highlight. And no, I'm not just speaking on the mid 2000s boom of lolicon fetishism, I'm talking about all the way back to its humble beginnings, with titles like Belladonna of Sadness making waves in 1973 with its phallic imagery and sexually charged content that could still be seen as provocative, even by today's "no boundaries" standards. Content that ultimately went on to inspire the works of many creators, with one notable example being acclaimed scriptwriter and director, Kunihiko Ikuhara; a man who's also credited for bringing an artistic touch to themes of sexual liberation through his various hyper-stylized works. Sexual decadents and open expression have always been a part of anime's arsenal, the only real change is how frequently it's being used.
Which brings us all the way to Fall season 2016, which alone has 4 to 5 anime titles that either overtly or hinted at homoerotic relations in some way or another, while just a decade ago, receiving 4 to 5 titles with these undercurrents in it within a year's time was a milestone. Our rate of connectivity and sharing information has naturally led to less miscommunication and more understanding of others, which include acceptance of different preferences, sexual or otherwise. And the further we skyrocket into the 2010s and onward, the more apparent that's becoming. And no better indication of that could be seen than by simply viewing the unresponsive reaction given by viewers who don't bother to make this connection at all, instead latching onto the idea of "omg, the animation is so pretty" in more words or less. What was once considered indecencies is now just the everyday norm of mainstay entertainment.
And in some ways, Yuri On Ice could be seen as another byproduct of this trend, if only to a much more abrasive degree, positioning men in suggestive poses while participating in a sport used as a vehicle to portray who they are as people. And where something like Free boasts eye-grabbing swimming sequences, Yuri On Ice capitalizes on ice skating scenes that dwarf the efforts of most animated TV productions. Too bad it isn't enough to distract from the fatal flaws that plague the entire production. You see, Yuri on Ice tries its damnedest to shed light on its cast; a cast that is constantly reduced to doujinshi deviant art-bait clippings despite its honest efforts to mold them into believable personalities.
But the question is, does Yuri on Ice justify it? Is there a base purpose for its shounen-ai fluff to be there? I may not be a fan of Ikuhara but there's no denying that he has a message to deliver with every one of his works. They're provocative but never lacking in a purposeful message. There's always a constant need to stress freedom of expression with homosexuality itself just being another extension to further emphasize that idea. Self-indulgent at times but justifiable if you care for what he's trying to say. But what about Yuri on Ice? Does it actually justify these men intimate devotion for each other or is it just trying to fetishize everything to draw out a marketable audience that usually takes in this content at their own leisure? Is there a purpose here outside of being titillating manservice? What I'm trying to ask in the most ignorant and offensive way possible, is Yuri on Ice just being gay for the sake of being gay?
— Views episode 6, guy figure skating grabs his ass "I think I'm gonna come"—
Well... I guess that answers my question.
Yuri on Ice is a harmless fanservice pastime dressed up as a coming-of-age story and cut from the same cloth as any other sports tournament anime, let's stop pretending otherwise. The sooner we kill the pretension that it's something more profound than that, the faster we could sit back and enjoy it for what it is; a fun, easygoing yaoi-bait show with pretty boys trying to balance characterization and fetishism on the same pedestal.
And as yaoi-bait entertainment goes, Yuri on Ice is definitely a show stopper when it comes time to take the games to the ice. Brought to life by Mappa, a young studio renowned for their presentation and audiovisual prowess, Yuri on Ice is yet another notch under their belt, boasting ice skating scenes so free-flowing that at times it's easy to believe that they might have been rotoscoped. And it's this selling point that got most to give Yuri on Ice the stamp of approval and understandably so. You don't really get this much effort from an animated TV production on a regular basis. But do I think that's reason enough to warrant all the appraisal it has gathered? Of course not. Those 5-minutes per episode aren't a saving grace for the other 15-minutes, especially when those 15-minutes often spend its time being a mishmash of basic fanfare for literally every sports story ever conceived or a roulette spin of yaoi/comedy for those who care for it.
Half of the ice skating involves many other elements, such as panning in a fashion to copy news cameras following the competitors interlaced with shots of the audience reaction to round it out. And when you realize that on top of that the actual dances are just being copied and overlayed onto different backgrounds, except for some slight tweaking here and there to make it less obvious, even this show's highlight operates on a limited dispensary. This isn't to knock the integrity of the ice skating scenes, they're still the show's best take away, but it really isn't all that it's cracked up to be. And honestly, that aspect of it doesn't even bother me since the changes make every encounter fresh. What does, however, is its half commitment towards its characters in one direction or the next.
Trying to build legitimacy for its characters while simultaneously reducing them to objectified pretty boy specimen for the sake of manservice has left Yuri on Ice in a gimmicky realm where all of its achievements could only muster up to being "that show with the really nice ice skating scenes." A sentence worse than death for anything looking to stand the test of time. From nobody's fault but its own, this anime has effectively built itself a glass ceiling that it could never surpass.
But enough of me taking the piss out of this show, let's go over the basics that it chooses to cover and what good it was able to do.
In the world of competitive figure ice skating, Victor Nikiforov stands as the person to beat, being a beloved and envied figure throughout the sport's industry, as well as a person of inspiration for newcomers trying to break into the field. With an elegant physique that exudes self-confidence and a natural knack for the sport, Victor is the complete package. One of the countless people that adore him is our main character Yuuri Katsuki; a novice ice skater who idolizes everything about him, to the point where his sole dedication to the sport of figure ice skating derives from the infatuation that he has for the otherworldly reigning campaign that's always occupying his TV screen. And through a whole lot of dumb luck and perfect timing, Yuuri find himself in a once in a lifetime opportunity where the very person he idolizes decide to choose him to be his protege. And from there on out, the rest of the story is dedicated to seeing their blossoming relationship as it coincides with the world tournament that wraps up everything within it.
Along the way, we're introduced to a bevy of flamboyant personalities, each given a simple enough motivation for why they want to be on the top, with some even getting a bit of limelight for themselves. And because of the tournament format, there's always a sense of things moving towards a finality, which paired well with the 12 episode run-time. But perhaps the most impressive part of the show, at least to me, wasn't the ice skating but what it came to represent for those performing it.
Instead of solely relying on appearance to sell the personality of the characters involved, Yuri on Ice wisely chose to use their ice skating performances to do most of the talking itself. By understanding that these ice skating performances are distinguished by the various mannerisms and gestures of the characters, the show found a clever way to feed us information about them without the need to explicitly state it through expository dialogue. As lowbrow as that scene I previously referenced in episode 6 was, it still gave us an idea of Chris Giacometti's self-confidence in his sexuality as well as his more methodical mindset on taking his time to reach his audience, as oppose to the more quick flashes that our protagonist often employs to make up for the lack of sex appeal that he feels makes him inadequate. And a lot can be said about the brief moments we see Victor and his demanding presence on the ice that at once is technically difficult but also done nonchalantly, demonstrating his carefree disregard for the kind of ability that other ice skaters would kill for. Or even Yuuri's rival Yuri Plisetsky and his attempt to find duality with himself by going against the grain to soften up his performance, despite his fiery personality. This also applies to characters that take on minor roles, such as this show's Jojo stand in, Jean-Jacques, with his cockiness translating into a showboating spectacle.
The theatrics, choice of techniques, tight turns, and loose gesture, all coalesce into a final form that define who that person is on and off the ice rink.
And perhaps this very thoughtful decision to characterize the characters' personalities is also the reason I find the whole thing to be a waste. Because despite itself, Yuri on Ice was a show that was never meant to appeal to me. So where I would usually outright dismiss something like this, it just so happens that there were nuggets of detail within it that I found appealing. An appeal that required me to drudge through content that I couldn't psych myself into caring for no matter how hard I tried.
And really, it didn't have to do much to make me like it, just either muffle the shounen-ai content down to a realistic degree or stop dancing around the idea and just fully embrace it. The show is suggestive of the possibility of there being an actual sexual interest between the main leads but at the same time, it only cock-teases this idea to maintain the illusion of the fiction it wants to sell. And once again, excuse my politically incorrect wording but if you're going to be gay, be all the way gay goddammit. Stop pussyfooting around. I don't need some full blown orgy like Sausage Party's celebratory ending, all I want is a clear yes or no for where they stand, none of this "just gay enough" gray area. Is it so hard for a male homosexual relationship to be taken seriously for once?
Now with all that being said, is Yuri on Ice worth the watch? Yes, but only if you have nothing else in your catalog. As it stands, it's not something I see any need to jump into. Yuri on Ice is that intermediary show that you pick up to pass the time on your way on to better ones. What it has that works is its wonderful ice skating scenes and the usage of it to inform the audience of who the characters are, as for everything else, it's either standard for its genre or serviceable to a very niche market.
Yuri!!! on Ice is a sports anime. That’s what it’s listed as, that’s what it was first promoted as, and it’s how I would believe the series creators wish it to be seen. But Yuri!!! on Ice is so much more than just a sports anime. If you’ve been anywhere around the anime crowd online (or even out of it, sometimes) in the past twelve weeks, then you’ve probably heard about the “gay figure skating anime” of the season.
The biggest question I’ve seen around is, “what’s so good about it?” It’s just gay. It’s just pandering to fans. It’s just this, just that. So it’s
a lot of things. Here are some of them.
(NOTE: no massive spoilers but the nature of the relationship between Viktor and Yuuri does get touched on briefly.)
(for a summary of points skip to TL;DR)
Yuri on Ice features a plot that is, to me, fresh and unique for a series about sports.
From the get-go what sets it apart from your typical sports anime is clear. To start with, our main cast is not in high school. Although one character in the trio is a teenager (he’s 15, to be precise), the main focus is on our protagonist and his coach, who are 23 and 27 respectively. Having mature, full-grown adults lead the narrative means that there are a lot of stereotypical conflicts that can be avoided, and it gives the show a different flavor. There’s no “what to do after graduation” or “my favorite senior is leaving” subplot, no “we’re young and stupid and we’ll do anything to win” motivating factor- the tone of the series is a lot more realistic and the story itself is grounded by it.
The other distinguishing factor is, our main character isn’t inexperienced or “bad” at his sport. Despite what his personal narration might have us believe, he’s essentially Japan’s ace in figure skating, and talented enough to make it to the world Grand Prix final by himself. He’s not learning figure skating over from scratch - he’s learning what he loves about it, and why he skates.
Moving on to the matter of the plot, we’re given a scenario where someone has fallen out of the spotlight, hit a road bump in the journey of life. Katsuki Yuuri is 23 and good at what he does but he’s missing something. He’s not confident. Yuri on Ice is about how he finds that something, finds the will and wish to keep fighting. In that way, it’s the best kind of “motivational story”, the sort that says you don’t just have one shot at life when you’re a teenager and ready to Take On The World, that says you can turn things around at any time.
Yuri on Ice encompasses various themes, such as love (in all its shapes and forms) and life (how to live it, how to love it). It also embodies key messages which I think are highly relevant to our modern world, such as how life doesn’t end after you pass your teen years and hit your twenties, or that you are more than your fears and anxieties. There’s always a second chance. In that way this series carries a message that is sure to instill in its viewers some hope for themselves. It’s riveting, optimistic, and endearing, while maintaining a mature, fairly objective perspective.
In terms of actual plot there’s not much I can say for fear of ruining the story, but one thing I have to commend is how a certain reveal in the later half of the series becomes a massive plot point that changes our perception of one very special main character. This isn’t a story that’s predictable by any means. Just like Viktor Nikiforov, who lives to surprise his audience, it seems Kubo (the series’ original creator), too, loves taking her viewers by surprise. Yuri on Ice is unpredictable up until the very last moment, and that makes it an exciting experience for first-time viewers. And while unpredictable, it also makes heavy use of foreshadowing to drop plot points and details that might confuse you at first, but all make sense when given context in later episodes. Rewatching the series is another experience in itself because you do it in an almost entirely different light.
But I haven’t addressed the elephant in the room yet, have I?
Yuri on Ice is gay. Yes. It’s gay as hell but it’s also subtly gay, quietly gay, it’s gay without it being the main point of the story, it’s gay but not once does it allow the queerness of its characters to define itself. You’re given a romance between two males that isn’t fetishized, exploited, mistreated. It’s a romance that’s written with respect, and I have to commend Kubo for that. There is a turning point near the middle of the series that really spells things out for you, and after that every interaction between the two characters involved is painted with love, care, and adoration. The nature of their relationship is never outright stated in-series, yet it’s clear as day how they feel for each other.
(Bonus: Kubo herself stated indirectly through a tweet on her official twitter account that Yuri on Ice is, basically, a world without homophobia. The love portrayed here is organic, normalized, and treated with respect. It’s a beautiful thing.)
Which brings me to another point about the storytelling in Yuri on Jce. If you grew up used to western media and their habit of favoring straightforwardness over subtlety, then Yuri on Ice might strike you as funny. They never say they’re in love! So who’s to say they really are? That argument could be valid in a show produced in the west, but Yuri on Ice is a piece of eastern media. Subtlety is the name of the game here. But fear not, it still delivers when we need it to, and the little quirks and affectionate interactions it divulges are priceless and wonderful.
On the whole, the pacing for the series may seem a bit fast at times, but given that it’s a one-cour series with such high ambitions I think it’s to be expected. Perhaps with more episodes we could’ve had more time to develop our side characters. Perhaps with more episodes we could have more scenes off the ice. But MAPPA wasn’t given that liberty, and I think they made the best of what they had. Apart from slight pacing issues I think Yuri on Ice’s story is brilliantly constructed, unique, and heartfelt. It’s imbued with positivity without being cheesy or overbearing, and remains mostly grounded in reality. While the story is mostly serious, it gives us moments of pure comedic gold at times and manages to jump from one atmospheric moment to another without much of a problem. Watching every episode is an emotional rollercoaster - the best kind where you don’t fall off and the loops don’t make you feel sick but give you a nice, heady rush.
Yuri on Ice is a narrative that manages to be completely sound, utilize foreshadowing effectively, and draw parallels between moments in older episodes and newer ones. The ending, without spoiling anything, manages to be completely satisfying while thoroughly offensive at the same time because of how good it is. Everything comes full circle. It does everything in the book of Good Narratives right. It’s an alarming feat for a one-cour original anime series.
Yuri on Ice is a sports anime that transcends the boundaries of sports anime with a unique new narrative and organic, character-driven conflict. It balances out comedy and serious moments with careful maneuvering of scenes and plot points, and features a gay romance that doesn’t override the main narrative but rather becomes part of it. The themes of the series are uplifting, meaningful, and carefully woven into its plot. Overall, it’s very well-written and definitely worthy of a 10 in my eyes.
Yuri on Ice’s animation in episode 1 is probably one of the most gorgeous things I’ve ever laid my eyes on. Of course, that’s because it’s the first episode, but we can, for the most part, apply that notion to every frame after that for the next 11 episodes.
I’m going to address the art and animation in Yuri on Ice in two separate categories: general art and animation, and skating art and animation.
First, as Yuri on Ice is an ice skating anime, naturally a lot of screentime is devoted to elaborate skating choreography and routines. Stay Close To Me is easily the best-animated, and if you’re looking for something that properly represents what Yuri on Ice as an aesthetic piece of art is, then that performance in episode 1 is definitely the way to go. However, the quality of skating segments does falter sometimes as the series continues.
But wait! Yuri on Ice isn’t a Dreamworks Animation production with a USD 160,000,000 production budget. In fact, it’s got a budget of perhaps USD 1,500,000, which is straight up 1% of what western blockbuster animation movies get. Now, add on the fact that figure skating is a sport where you’re constantly moving, where you’re basically dancing on ice - there’s a lot more nuance the animators had to capture in their animation than, say, a jump for a smash-hit in badminton or a dash across the court in basketball. So the characters may have been off-model at times, so the camera pans might have come off as flat after a while- trust me when I tell you that Yuri on Ice delivers where it really, really needs to. It delivers.
Moving on, let’s talk about general animation. Off the ice, the characters are generally well-animated and detail is given where it’s needed. The series also plays with a lot of different lightings, using contrasting cool and warm color palettes generously to dictate the feel of a particular scene. Due attention is given to close-ups; you can always tell when a scene is important because of the sheer amount of effort that goes into animating every minute detail.
And it’s not just generic detailing, you can tell they’ve really thought things through and settled on what they want to emphasize in certain scenes. It’s the little things, like the tremble of a hand, the glint of metal, the soft shine and faint pink tinge of lips in motion, that tell you that these animators care about what they’re creating. Yuri on Ice is a series animated with love.
I’m giving it a 9 in this category.
The soundtrack of Yuri on ice is great. It features a wild array of instruments, music genres, and styles. I'm not an expert in music, but considering they had to have upwards of twenty, thirty individual songs made for the routines alone, each one is pretty well produced. If you include the simple, lilting piano OSTs that play during emotional scenes, then you're good to go on a trip that will bring you to tears. Either way, you're bound to end up with a favorite or two at the end of it all.
That aside, for the sound effects that came from skating they recorded the sound of the choreographer they worked with’s skating, so each scrape of the blade on ice, each sharp thud with a land, all of these are almost frightfully real.
The tight sound effects and wonderful OSTs, combined with tasteful timing and appropriate music choices, add to the immersive experience of watching Yuri on ice. Sound gets a 10 from me.
See: Katsuki Yuuri.
—is what I’d like to say, but I’m obligated to go in-depth into things, so I'll do that.
The characters in Yuri on Ice may seem like cookie-cutter models at first, but as the story unfolds you learn more and more about their personalities and motivations, and (cliche though it sounds) they really will surprise you. Particularly Katsuki Yuuri, who is, I would venture to say, the most well-developed, realistic, and sympathetic character I’ve seen in recent years. Don’t let his weak narration in episode 1 fool you - you’re in for a wild ride with him as the protagonist of the series.
While its characters have their fair share of strengths and flaws, Kubo takes it a step beyond so as to hint at what exactly led them to be the way they are today. Everything is deceptively simple on the surface and deep as Mariana’s Trench when you look closer. I think what really makes these characters work is that they’re genuine. They’re real. Katsuki Yuuri may have anxiety, but he hates losing. He’s headstrong. He’s bad at dealing with fans. Viktor Nikiforov may have lost his way in life but he’s still fighting, he’ll still do things on a whim and try his hand at everything and anything. He has a dog. The dog is his best friend. He took the dog with him when he leaves on that whim.
Our main cast is lovable, but the side characters, too, get far more development than you would expect from a one-cour anime. Yuri on Ice treats every character with respect, with love, as though each one deserves all the time on screen in the world (though they don’t get it).
Being an anime about the international figure skating scene, we’re introduced to a lot of characters from different countries. None of them fall into the pitfalls of stereotyping by nationality, thankfully, and they’re all lovable and have their own quirks and personalities. When the series hits its peak, we also learn that they have their own motivations for winning. You can tell that Kubo hasn’t slacked on anything, not even with writing so-called minor characters.
Of course, when we put this all together, the dynamic between everyone is sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartwarming. Yuri on Ice succeeds here by making the rivalries between everyone friendly rather than toxic. There’s no murderous subplot or decade-long grudge hiding under some amicable smile. They’re just a bunch of teens, young adults, adults, that want to win, but want to stay friends through it all. The consistently supportive atmosphere means things almost never turn sour between anyone (though for story’s sake we do get to see some conflict break out between our main cast), and we can enjoy the series the way it is without unnecessary drama or conflict.
To put it one way, Yuri on Ice has no antagonist, but it still manages itself so well because Katsuki Yuuri is his own antagonist. He is his biggest hurdle. He is what’s holding him back. And a lot of conflict stems from how he views himself and those around him, which is not only a very organic way to create character-based conflict, but also painful to watch, because Yuuri is painfully relatable to almost everyone. He’s an incredible character, and the growth he sustains throughout these twelve episodes is awe-inspiring.
Of course, not forgetting our world champion Viktor Nikiforov! He’s the hot foreigner who is s whimsical and smooth and, well, hot. But he’s a lot more than just hot, as the story eventually reveals. Viktor’s growth is shown in a more quiet, subtle way than Yuuri’s, but it still happens, and the landmarks for it are Big. He’s also another breaker of anime character molds, though because his growth is tied into the narrative I can’t say much on the specifics.
In short, Yuri on Ice’s characters are genuine, relatable, and crafted with love and care. While being a diverse group of people, they avoid both racial and general anime stereotypes, and for the main cast great care is put into the development of their multi-faceted persons. These are not flat characters, they are the sum of their experiences and memories and imperfections. Also, Katsuki Yuuri should win an award. Some kind of award. Anything’s good.
So, a 10 here, too.
I have not followed an anime week-by-week through its airing season since Kekkai Sensen happened, and even then sometimes I forgot that the subs were out and would watch it two or three days later. Every night for ten weeks now I have stayed up until 4 a.m. to catch the live broadcast of Yuri!!! On ICE. It’s ridiculous how much this show has affected me. It’s made my life 300 times better and ruined me. To see a world where homophobia doesn’t exist, where mental illness is treated as something normal, and not a weakness, is something I never thought I’d see in an anime in my life. Kubo Mitsurou is a blessing to the world.
How could I give this anything but a full 10/10? I’d be lying if I cut the score any lower than that.
(BONUS- messages Yuri on Ice carries with it because I’m a sap:
-you are more than your mental illness
-your failures do not define you
-it’s never too late to pursue your dreams and turn things around, whether you’re 15, 25, or 50
-love does not complete you. It makes you a better whole
-true love exists
-there is a place you can’t reach unless you have a dream too large to bear alone)
Yuri on Ice’s opening theme, History Maker, is a more accurate summary of the series than I could ever come up with myself. It’s really made history, in so many ways that I couldn’t possibly list them all at once. It’s taken what might be considered a niche sport and turned it into something wonderful and beautiful and, importantly enough, possible to appreciate for a bunch of anime-watching folks that probably were just looking for a good time.
This is a review, but it’s also a request. If you’re here, on this page, reading this right now, and you’re sitting on the fence with the spikes digging into your butt, wondering, “should I watch Yuri on Ice?” then I implore you with all my heart to give it a chance. It’s so much more than what the horrible people who call it shameless pandering and fanservice will ever be able to understand. The reviews here are not an accurate reflection of how the fans of Yuri on Ice feel about the series as a whole, and I am willing to bet majority of those who laughed at it for being “yaoi” have seen exactly three and a half seconds of the first episode.
This series is a work of art. It saved 2016.
See, Yuri on Ice is that best friend you never knew you had. You’ve been looking for them all along, you just never knew it.