If you’re anybody who is anybody within the anime community, you will have undoubtedly seen this handsome pair somewhere along the line. In all my years within this online community, never have I observed a single show completely sweep fans off their feet within one single season. The worst part is, I can’t even argue with how the staff at MAPPA have accomplished such a feat. Without any further ado, here are my thoughts on the show that needs no introduction: Yuri!!! on Ice
Yuri!!! on Ice
12 Episodes | Comedy, Sports | Animated by MAPPA | Dir: Yamamoto, Sayo
To say that Yuri on Ice was well received would be the understatement of a lifetime, in all of my years among the anime community, never have I seen a show become so incredibly loved in such record time. However, in the plethora of fan-art, screenshots taken out of context and the thousands of ship names, the actual plot of the show can get quite well hidden among the internet.
The Premise of the Show
Yuri on Ice is a sports show that follows the failing career of Japanese figure skater Katsuki Yuri. Having under performed in yet another professional qualifier, Yuri becomes disheartened at his chances of becoming the skater he had always envisioned. Within those visions was a constant idol, Russian figure skating legend: Victor Nikiforov. Not only were his skating performances in the shadow of his idol’s movements, but evoked Yuri’s sole dream to stand on the podium with the gold medallist himself. Retreating back to his local ice rink seemingly alone with his thoughts, he skates another Victor inspired routine without the pressure of the arena. Having been secretly videoed and uploaded worldwide by one of his friends, Victor himself notices the small semblance of a spark within the emotional Yuri and offers to stand down from the professional rink to become his coach!
Now with one of the greatest figure skaters of all time flying in from Russia to become his full time coach, can Yuri keep up with his pace? Arriving not only with a new, complex routine to skate but the attention of every name in the business, all eyes are on this unexpected duo. Undoubtedly, this moment will go down in history, but will the nature of the words written in those books be of success or tragedy?
Surprisingly engaging, even for non sports fans
As a viewer who, admittedly, is not the greatest sports fan inside and outside of anime, Yuri on Ice never ceased to impress me. Sports central narratives will often hone their focus onto character development and attempt to create a bond between the main character and the audience. Once the initial connection has been made, the writers can then send their protagonist into a sports team of various personality types. This formula can be seen in shows such as Free!, Days (TV) and Kuroko no Basket, all fantastic shows and a good representation of the sports genre. However, this can sometime alienate audiences that are inherently opposed to the idea of watching conventional sports.
Figure skating (certainly in England’s case anyway) is not a conventional sport. Unlike team games where a central protagonist can be slotted into a team of personalities, figure skating is a solo activity and a performance to the audience that only one person can carry out at a time. The way that Yuri on Ice has become so universal in its fan base and genre definition is its ability to work around the preset “rules” of the genre and create something fresh. While Yuri does not play in a team for a common goal, you cannot honestly say that he embarks on this journey alone, and this is what makes this show fantastic.
A Cast that is Relatable, Complex and Rich in Character
The nature of a “World Cup” set up enables the show to easily and realistically present an incredibly diverse cast of characters. Physically coming from all over the world, this is how there are so many ship names for Yuri on Ice. In the flood of high school settings and region qualifiers, it’s actually surprisingly rare that we get to admire such a wide variety of backgrounds and personalities. Whether this is the case in the real world or not, all of these figure skaters seem to have very close relations with their competitors. Often seen at social gatherings or captured on the social media within the show’s universe, near enough every character dynamic conceivable is given its screen time.
Reigning supreme over the large multitude of characters is the show’s three key characters of Yuri Katsuki, Victor Nikiforov and Yuri Plisetski. Set up in the very first episode, the story focuses most of its time on the “rivalry” between both Yuri’s. Not only are their personalities distinct in nature and a harsh clash, but their shared name truly offends the young prodigy. Unlike the typical rivalry arc where the lesser being surpasses the greater within a frame of self-improvement, their abilities are quite evenly matched throughout the entirety of the series. After beginning with his new coach of Victor (while there are moments where one feels drastically weaker than the other), their performances never fall below expectations and are a true testament to the difficulty of the sport. Each of these characters provides somewhat of a driving force for the other but is not presented in a conventional way.
An Absolute Production Nightmare
Most of my information in this section is courtesy of SakugaBlog which I cannot recommend enough. If you want an incredibly in depth and accurate viewpoint into the background of Yuri on Ice, this site is a great resource. Especially useful for me in this review was their post on How TV Anime Works (or Doesn’t Work), I highly suggest you have a look through this article as it really shows visually how drastic the state of this show’s production was.
In essence, the director of Yuri on Ice – Yamamoto, Sayo – is notorious for her over ambitious ideas and somewhat hellish production stages. Despite this, you cannot deny that this method has worked wonders, producing shows such as Michiko to Hatchin and Lupin the Third: Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna. Her name is one to respect and has proven on multiple occasions that her prowess as a director is incredible.
Due to the constantly moving nature of Ice Skating, this is undeniably a hell of an animation task and it has shown that shortcuts had to made to ensure the episodes get released in time. Especially in the case of Crunchyroll where I personally watched this show. Receiving Japanese source footage and having to translate this in time for the promised airtime is a monuments task and can only be achieved if the CR staff have a reasonable amount of time for translation. As a result, this ended up with a less refined/polished of episodes versions being published, and fans of the show didn’t take long to notice. Personally, I don’t think this is too much of an issue now that the show has finished airing. The topic has been realised and the completed footage is now available, sure it’s a shame from a production standpoint, but it isn’t unheard of. While this may be the first time that a large mass of fans have noticed the incredibly unstable nature of Anime Production, it’s not as if it hasn’t been going on for decades…
Why is Yuri on Ice being called “Tumblr Bait”?
So to sum up this question as a whole, this show is an excellent demonstration of the power of “manservice”. As a play on words with the popular term of fanservice, this show does not hold back in its capability to present some very adult themes (without breaking its PG-13 rating). Without actual evidence to back this claim up, I would hazard a guess that a large majority of Yuri on Ice’s viewership were more concerned with the relationship between Victor and Yuri over the actual result of the Figure Skating tournament. Is this a bad thing?
In some aspects of critical analysis, you can say that if the show were conceptually envisioned purely as a figure skating story, this could be considered a failure. In that regard you could argue that this show has failed to convey its initial messages and narrative. However, this show’s focus on dialogue and character interaction completely blows this idea out of the water. While this show’s animation team clearly focuses most of their efforts into the skating routines and intense performances, this show actually excels outside of the rink.
Victor and Yuri’s relationship is incredibly gay and has been considered ‘Yaoi Bait’ since the broadcast of the first episode. When your two male character’s fateful encounter is set in a hot spring with a 27 year old naked Russian man, it’s difficult to argue that Yuri on Ice’s sole focus was on the sports aspect. From a cultural and progressive standpoint, this is one of the show’s most powerful features. Not only does it present an openly emotionally in-tune relationship between two men, but as an interracial “couple” as well. Being progressive is an excellent way to garner attention from anime fans because the entire nature of progression is to bring something new to the table. Whether you are a fan of this style of character or not, their relationship is developed exquisitely and is a strong aspect to this show’s commercial success and critical reception.
A Pleasant Blend of Comedy and Drama
One way that I didn’t expect to react to this show was through laughter, genuine laughter. With a show tackling such a multitude of themes, it can be difficult for your audience to not feel bogged down in metaphors and visual symbolism. Thankfully, this show encompassed a strong balance between the powerful and lighthearted moments. One way this was achieved was through the competitive bracket having days off after a long bracket. As mentioned prior, these moments where the characters get to engage with one another and accentuate the clever writing of the show is where most of the audience felt it was at its strongest.
For a sports genre to work, the audience must be able to connect and empathise with at least two of the characters within the competitive scene. Only one person in the tournament can be the winner, and only three characters get to stand on the podium. Without the viewer-character connection, the impact of certain character succeeding and failing all falls apart. It truly makes me happy to say that I cared deeply for at least five of the characters within this show and only really disliked the character of Christophe. This is how Yuri on Ice created such an impact-full story and kept viewers watching to the very end. Without these sequences of a slower pace and a focus on comedy and character development, this immense connection with each character would have been lost and the show as a whole would have been a semblance of what we see today.
Yuri on Ice is a fantastic show and was one of the strongest of the year – going up against some hefty competition. However, does it deserve the incredibly overwhelming praise that it has received? Personally, I would argue that it is a little over the top, while it was certainly a solid show that was somewhat well executed, I feel that audiences can become overwhelmed when a show’s ability to hype up its own story is done well. The art and animation was pretty good but not the strongest of the season *cough flip flappers cough*, the characters were engaging and the overall story was entertaining. Yuri on Ice is a great show and is a must watch for fans of the sports genre and those pursuing characters that represent a less conventional view on relationships.