Dec 23, 2016
12 of 12 episodes seen
people found this review helpful
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.