Dec 22, 2016
KayB (All reviews)
Yuri on Ice is, in my opinion, a mediocre anime that was held back more by its topic of choice and the 12 episode limit than the overall directing. It does, however, bring issues from both.

When animating other sports such as ping pong, tennis, and even football, you can often make short-cuts and get away with occasional stiff movements. However, ice skating is a much more visual sport, requiring the animator to be skillful in translating every body movement in order to capture the same sort of magic. As a result, the technical mistakes made in Yuri on Ice leave more of an impression than they would otherwise have in any other show. This was especially apparent in many of Yuri’s earlier skates where many scenes were often choppy and Yuri himself was barely even recognizable at certain points. Is this the studio’s fault? Overall, I would (mostly) say no. MAPPA did an overall excellent job, particularly in the performances in the last two episodes, even including details like Victor spinning around in tandem with Yuri during his skates. The fault here lies more with how demanding ice skating is to animate rather than the incompetence of MAPPA’s well-known animating team. Nevertheless, the oscillating quality of animation still undermines the impact of some of the individual performances, and I can't help but imagine that if MadHouse embarked on this same project that the animation quality and the number of sakuga-worthy scenes would increase.

Furthermore, as someone who is not familiar with ice skating myself, Yuri on Ice left much to be desired. Many skating techniques such as the triple salchow and quads were shown throughout the course of the show, but the show never fully explained why the moves were so difficult and demanding other than showing skater errors (which helps convey an image, but can only go so far). While the skaters practice as demonstrated by their montages, they never practice individual techniques and only serve to create a general picture, so the viewer can only vaguely assume how hard the jumps are and what sacrifices the athlete had to make in order to compensate for it during the actual performances. It removes much of the emotion and thrill that would be there otherwise. Additionally, the development of Yuri’s skating ability was primarily done through a combination of self-monologue and superficial errors. While the latter element was conveyed well, as a viewer I was more interested in seeing more improvement in the overall choreography rather than just in the jumps; I often had to rely on the commentary rather than the visuals in this regard, which is counter-intuitive for a sport like ice skating. Admittedly, Yuri demonstrating his first skate and free skate eventually felt repetitive, and the differences between each skate became less noticeable. This is indicative of real competitions, but it can eventually get droning to watch given how often we see Yuri skate. The monologues is a directing choice that I’m more split on personally. It distracts from the actual performance taking place, but it is in many cases unavoidable given the 12 episode limit and ergo the small pockets of time the characters are given to develop outside of the competitions. I personally felt that certain monologues often interfered with the show, but I can’t think of many ways to address the issue.

This ties into my next point, which is that I found most of the characters to be boring. I didn’t find them visually unappealing since many of them (for the most part) had distinguishable and vibrant designs (and as a Korean, I am grateful that they didn’t design the Korean representative horribly as some anime/manga occasionally tend to do). What I found boring were their personalities, or rather the lack of development and background given to each of them. Whether it’s Otabek, Leo, or Christophe, we’re often granted only momentary backgrounds into each of these characters, during the performances themselves no less when we’re supposed to be focusing on the visuals. I would’ve much preferred that Yuri on Ice follow the footsteps of other great sports manga/anime like Ping Pong and Eyeshield 21 and focus more development outside of the competitions rather than only during them. Yurio’s development was especially affected by this as well despite being the secondary protagonist. Much of the screen time was given to Yuri, so a good chunk of Yurio’s development came from during the skates than outside of it. Even in the last two episodes, both Christophe and Phichit were barely given more than three minutes of screen time for their routines, which is barely acceptable. I can’t wholly blame the director for this though as the 12 episode limit cripples the potential for a variety of possible character development. Regardless, I found it hard to care about many of the supporting cast and what the medals meant to them with only brief, momentary expositions.

To highlight a character, I had trouble figuring out whether or not I liked the inclusion of Victor. It’s certainly an interesting twist to have a role model and former competitor suddenly impose himself on to the main character as his coach, and it is what originally hooked me into the show in the first place. However, Victor is an extremely unrelatable character. The majority of his development is conveyed by his coaching ability juxtaposed by his perceived skating ability. However, the element is already lost since many people have very little experience being placed on a pedestal like that, much less in an area unfamiliar to many such as figure skating. In fact, the setting itself only takes place because Victor was not entertained as his status as a competitor since his ability was so far ahead of the rest. That is a feeling and emotion that already cannot be properly conveyed to the viewers. As a result, while I enjoyed the companionship between Yuri and Victor, I did not find his personal development nor the one shared with Yuri as viscerally evoking as I thought it would be.

To highlight another character, I greatly enjoyed the inclusion of JJ, despite having as much exposition as the rest of the minor characters. Initially portrayed as an unbeatable figure with unshakable pride nailing every jump skillfully without fail, he is the first one to be crippled by the pressure of competing on the grand stage. The difference in the two is so massive that I couldn’t help but be taken slightly aback by the character’s emotions. JJ initially served as a great antagonist through his sheer ability as a skater and his endless confidence, but the director chose to show an interesting development by exploring one of the many elements of being a skater, and what better way to do it than by tearing down the most powerful opponent? This was one of the few developments I greatly enjoyed (though I was miffed that his performance still allowed him to receive a 3rd place), and I would have liked that the show tried to explore more personality diversity this way than through the aforementioned expositions.

I’d like to highlight the third and final character, who in my opinion is one of the better characters in the anime. This character does not exist. What I mean to say is that Yuri on Ice does not have a forced antagonist that is meaninglessly vitriolic. While it may occasionally work in other genres, it often does not work in the sports genre as such characters are usually overdramatized and don’t push the narrative forward in any other way other than to be unnecessarily obnoxious. I realize I am harping on this trope a bit too much when I think it can be done well with proper care (Agon from Eyeshield 21 is a good example of this). That being said, I’m glad that such a character did not exist as he would have run counter to the overall atmosphere of the show and surely would’ve had dragged it down further.

There are a few things I want to mention before I close out this review. This anime had a fantastic soundtrack, and for the international aspect that this anime tried to capture, it was done wonderfully, extracting all types of music ranging from classical to rock. Many of these were not sung by Japanese (or at least I couldn’t tell the difference) which is a great attention to detail that helped make the setting feel more genuine. If there is one minor thing I really disliked, it was how Yuri’s Love Eros skate was designed to model after a katsu-don than actual love. Even for Yuri on Ice’s standards that’s just a bit too silly, and never in any of my times witnessing that skate did I ever receive an image that even vaguely reminded me of a katsu-don. The material for stolen love was even right there in the form of Yuuko. That’s just one example, but the point is that I really didn’t find the Katsu-don imagery that appropriate, an impression that I only grew more confident in each time I saw Yuri skate Love Eros.

Would I recommend Yuri on Ice? Sadly, no I wouldn’t; despite being clearly well-thought and superficially well-made, there are too many core issues ranging from character development to pacing for me to confidently call this a solid anime. The average animation is subpar, almost all the characters are not worthy of any note, and the overall momentum of the plot leaves much to be desired. It is however original, both in the sense of its concept as a whole and the fact that it does not derive from any manga, light novel, or etcetera. It is impressive in that regard, and Yuri on Ice is not anything MAPPA should be ashamed of for such an ambitious project.

Final Note: There's a lot of complaints about how "gay" this anime seemed. While it's certainly suggestive and appeals to the female audience, it's not that bad, and I didn't think it impeded with my assessment of the show.