WARNING: This review contains (some) spoiler elements — without which the problematic aspects of the show could not possibly be discussed — and makes use of language that is not entirely PG-13.
Proceed at your own risk.
Ahh, Yuri!!! on ICE. Possibly the highest-praised, most-watched anime of this season.
So popular it is, I’ve had to blacklist like eight different tags on tumblr to spare my eyes of it. This thing is fucking everywhere. And don’t get me wrong, its popularity is not the problem here; hell, I was expecting to be right aboard the bandwagon, right at the front, driving the goddamn train.
When I made my list for stuff I’ll chew this season, it was right at the top in terms of anticipation; from the synopsis alone, it sounded exactly like my kind of thing — figure skating is an old love of mine, and the promise of beautiful animation drew me right in. (Though IRL I prefer watching female figure-skaters, it’s still a novel thing in anime, and, well. You take what you can. Discounting Onna’s brief figure skating scene in Death Parade, and maybe some romantic “let’s go skating” type of dates in shoujo, I legitimately cannot remember seeing it elsewhere off the top of my head.)
And I tried to stay optimistic about it. An optimism that lasted about two episodes, until the crass, bleak humor (weight jokes, really? frig right off, mate) and the wildly fluctuating quality of animation began to make it jet-pack right outta this mess.
Little did I know, those two things would end up being the more minor of my issues with the show.
STORY & CHARACTERS 「 1 / 10 」
Don’t let the synopsis fool you; this is not an enjoyable tale of sportsmanship and high-voltage rivalries that make sparks fly on the rink. Russian Yuri gives up on winning back Victor’s tutelage before the season is even half through (and he never had it to begin with, turns out).
Even if that doesn’t particularly bother you (and you’re here just for the hot guys and the homoerotic subtext that “isn’t subtext at all”), the whole thing is extremely ill-paced: important plot (ha, plot. what plot?) elements are only mentioned as an “Oh, yeah, by the way---” kind of afterthought, while moments which are supposed to be either tense / suspenseful or dramatic fall flat. It’s very shoddy work, and while I was still willing to forgive it, the show did two things: fucked up in the animation department, and then the...”romance” happened.
Let’s be very clear on one thing here: if you’re straight, you write gay relationships — especially those involving characters of the sex opposite yours — at your own risk.
Because 99% of the time you will fail, and you will fail hard.
People like to praise the show for being “progressive” (and about a bajillion other terms that mean the same thing and are mindlessly thrown around) in including (and centering its focus on) a canonically gay, canonically engaged / soon to be married couple, they fail to recognize (or willfully ignore, and I’m not sure which is worse) the problems with Victor and Yūri’s relationship. In plain English: this is a gay couple written by a straight woman. A gay MALE couple which has your stereotypical heterosexual dynamics.
I feel the need to stress this.
Stereotypical. Heterosexual. Dynamics.
You see, despite what you’d think, relationships between people of the same sex don’t work the way stereotypical straight ones do. Hell, most healthy relationships of any kind don’t and shouldn’t work like that. It’s a common misconception that gay people mimic straight ones and it bugs the shit out of me. Most depictions in media (which are not written by actual gay people, that is) give in to this misconception, and from thereon it becomes clear at who the product is aimed at. A little like lesbian porn, if you will.
(Hint: it ain’t for the lesbians!)
Let me put it another way: this is little more than veiled yaoi, and it’s not particularly tasteful yaoi at that.
Not only does Yūri refer to himself as the “woman” who seduces the playboy, they even fit your standard seme/uke stereotypes, with Victor being a hetare/wanko seme (a devoted loser, basically) dressed as a “cool” type at first glance, and Yūri being the sasoi (seductive) uke dressed in an “everyman” type’s clothes. Hell, these combinations of character types, as well as the dynamic between them, literally form one of the two most basic, stereotypical types of relationship found in the genre.
And, you know, this would’ve been less of a problem if at least the characters were interesting beyond this. It wouldn’t have made it forgivable — I hold the opinion that you should be honest about what you do and especially about what you write, and trying to sell me yaoi labeled as a “good romance” is a filthy, filthy lie — but it would’ve made it bearable. Perhaps even slightly enjoyable.
Unfortunately, the characters weren’t interesting.
It’s like the author opened up tvtropes, cracked her knuckles, and set about finding and writing the most basic characters she could, structuring each of them around a particular trope or “type”. Everyone in this show is flat, and I don’t mean in terms of breast size. There’s no character development, either, despite what some fans of it will try to tell you (though this doesn’t particularly bother me in a show, to be honest, so this at least is a neutral point in my book); it’s all one big onion, making me more frustrated with every layer I peel and put aside.
It’s a parade of stereotypes, flattened to absolute thinness.
The comedy, what little of it is there, is...lackluster. Downright terrible at times, really. And not in a good, shitty pun kind of way. Likewise for the dramatic moments, which manage to be boring rather than induce an “oh no my babies!” reaction.
ART & ANIMATION 「 2 / 10 」
Oh, god, where do I even begin.
Look, I know I cannot expect ridiculously HQ animation in every episode of an anime, not every studio is ufotable — who at this point can probably open their own damn bank — but if you know your budget is not that large, you generally do two things: conserve it so it’s steady throughout and bring out the big guns on moments that truly matter. You’d think those moments would be the skating montages and maybe the Big Damn Kiss moment, but...they aren’t. I mean the kiss itself was decently animated, if cowardly camouflaged, but the skating montages? No. Instead we got HQ animations of Victor’s (admittedly shapely) butt.
And it’s not even that big of a loss, in retrospect, which is where another big problem arises: whoever choreographed and thought up these routines did a very shitty job. Sorry not sorry about the language but, honestly, subtlety can’t convey how bummed I am about this. Part of me was glad to not see this much bad choreography in HQ, even though that would probably have helped it be at least somewhat better.
Considering they got an actual former figure skater in on the job, this is a huge let-down.
The moves are repetitive, and the fact that frequently the animation wasn’t at least half as good as it could’ve been, made pretty much every skating montage — except perhaps the one Yūri does when copying Victor’s old routine, which I begrudgingly admit was nice — extremely disappointing.
Similarly, the character designs are poorly done (beyond every character fitting a certain Character Type™, so that the myriad of fangirls can Pick A Favorite — which is unimaginative, but not bad by itself). I expect a certain flamboyance and creativity when it comes to figure skating, but here the costumes just ended up looking either badly sewn-together or silly, the kind of thing a kid would wear for Halloween, or both. Kitschy, for all its oddities, is not a word I generally associate with the sport. And it’s one that I frankly wish I don’t have to associate with it ever again.
The lack of consistency in animation, the bad choreography, the designs that alternate between ridiculous and boring, make for an absolute cringe-fest. Surprising, considering the director, but I guess all of us have bad days.
SOUND 「 5 / 10 」
The voice cast was...nice, I suppose (I don’t remember anyone’s VA but Victor’s, and that’s because I’m a fan of Junichi Suwabe). The soundtrack on the other hand is extremely forgettable — I genuinely only remember the opening, and even that very vaguely; I didn’t particularly like it and thus tended to skip past — so I cannot pronounce myself there. Generally sound doesn’t matter much to me past the VAs’ performances, as this makes for a huge part of the characters, but in a show that is (supposedly) about figure skating, this did come off as something of a disappointment. Music should complement a routine, even add to it, but here it did a big whoop of nothing.
ENJOYMENT 「 1 / 10 」
If it wasn’t clear enough — I did not enjoy this. With every new episode I felt my horror increase as the show kept getting worse while at the same time somehow amassing an even bigger fanbase and even more praise it was, in my opinion, deeply undeserving of.
Yuri!!! on ICE is not a good anime. It’s not even a mediocre one. It’s terrible, even if only because it tries to pretend it’s something it’s not: an effort to be inclusive. I’d call SJW bullshit on this, had it really been aimed at actual gay people and not at the hordes of gullible fangirls who want to feel good about their fetishization of homosexuality, who have found in this series a virtual gold mine that they can point at and present as proof they “support the gays” when confronted or otherwise called out.
Actually, you know what, I’m gonna call SJW bullshit on it anyway. Many of its fans, from what I’ve seen, tend to fall into the category of straw, third-wave feminists. The author (Kubo) strikes me as one, too.
OVERALL 「 2 / 10 」
I’d sooner shoot myself in the foot than go near this again. I’m probably going to eat my pride and beat my completion OCD into submission when the second season will air. And it will air, don’t doubt it — this has birthed a franchise that has the potential to become more milkable than SAO.
I guess there’s some sort of sweet, vicious sense of retribution in the capitalization off of its thirsty fans (anything can become popular if there’s a plain enough self-insertable MC or the chance of two guys touching dicks — and YOI manages to deliver both, as switching Yūri’s gender does fuck-all to change the story, so really, in a sense it’s a show for everyone), but it’s a small comfort that cannot wash out the bad taste I’ve been left with.