What a ride that was. I know I usually have a 6 month gap, but this finale was such an online event that I wanted to get this post out pretty damned quickly.
Like many people who have been watching Yuri!!! On Ice, I was there desperately trying to access Crunchyroll to watch the finale as soon as it came out. Therefore I was one of the many people who caused Crunchyroll to devolve into technical difficulties. Whoops, but totally worth it.
I have been watching anime for years, but I don’t think I have come across a show that developed such a specific cult following as Yuri!!! On Ice. Maybe that is because this is the first time that I have been part of the conversation. I have been listening to the music, reading articles and wiped many teary eyes along with many other members of the online community.
Why has this anime struck such a chord? And why was this the anime that drove me to seek sanctuary with fellow followers of the show?
Firstly, as far as I am aware, this is the first anime series that depicts the world of male figure skating. That alone makes this fairly unique, but what’s extra shocking is how accurate the makers of this anime have made this.
Sure, there are flouncy costumes and choreography that can come across as feminine. This show makes no bones about this. However, the sheer amount of mental and physical work that goes into their performances is depicted perfectly.
In fact, so much of this looks into how mental strength can effect the performance of the skaters. This is Yuri’s main professional roadblocks: the yips (to borrow a term from tennis). When we first meet him – Yuri is crying in the toilets having come bottom of the Grand Prix final event. He introduces himself as a ‘dime a dozen’ skater and it is this constant mental flagellation that holds him back.
Let’s take stock here – he was 6th in the world and the number 1 skater in Japan. He is by no means an average skater, it’s just that the echelon that he finds himself in are world and continental champions.
Not only does is this a sports anime that depicts Rocky style physical preparation, but it also goes into the mental rebuilding that Yuri has to go through with the help of his new coach.
Which leads us into…
The phrase ‘It’s Canon!’ resonated around the fans when it was official that Yuri and his coach Victor were an item. So many of these shows will feature a cast of attractive men (or women in female-lead sports anime) and just rely on the fans to ship people like crazy.
What Yuri did was to actually allow it to properly develop and reach the point that, by the end of it, Victor and Yuri are engaged to be married. Also this happened in the finale, which left my eyes stinging through happy tears.
However, despite the fact that we have them embracing, holding hands, exchanging rings and engaging in displays of affection, the thing that makes Yuri and Victor all the more amazing is how natural it is. This relationship isn’t played for fan service, it just is. We see them build through their conversations, disagreements and tears to become this strong unit right at the end.
There is a whole moment where Victor, as coach, decides that he needs to shatter Yuri’s heart to help him with his skating. Victor, the lover, at this point didn’t understand Yuri enough to know how much this would backfire. We have a similar moment at the end of Episode 11 where Yuri makes certain assumptions about Victor’s ambitions to the point that they have a period of coolness between them.
Which leads me on to…
We only spend a meaningful amount of time with three people. Yuri, Victor and Russian wunderkind Yuri Plisetsky. However, this is a world full of many individual competitors and somehow the makers of Yuri manage to make you feel that you more about some of this smaller characters in about 5 minutes than Bleach did with many many episodes.
One way that they managed to do this is with the excellent use of music. If you know even a little bit about figure skating then you will know that each skater is required to skate twice in a competition, each time to a different piece of music.
Thus, we are able to get so much information about these skaters from just their music, which doubles as their personal themes e.g. JJ thrives on fan attention and has way too much of an ego, Michele is very much in love with his *cough* sister and Minami is youthful and full to the brim with excitement. If you ask me Czech skater Emil has the best theme with the sci-fi sounding ‘Anastasis’, but I might be alone there.
We have limited interactions, but we quickly get to know their individual quirks and drives. Some, like Thai skater Phichit, get more fleshed out than others. However, I am hoping we get more information about the likes of Emil, Seung-Gil and Otabek when this gets into Season 2. Please let there be a Season 2.
You cannot make a good figure skating series without outstanding animation, otherwise how the hell are you going to make the skating sequences beautiful to look at? So much of figure skating is based around the beauty and the presentation and, thankfully, Yuri!!! On Ice doesn’t fail to deliver on this.
We are talking about animation so fluid that there are times where it looks like you are viewing a show that has used rotoscoping. Not only that, but the use of camera angles and shot placement is unlike something I have ever seen in an animated show.
It shows that a proper choreographer was involved in the designing of these short and free programs since they have been able to point out the best angles for jumps, step sequences and spins. You can say the same of the scenes at the end of Episode 10 where certain characters get drunk and end up pole dancing.
There is not a moment that goes by in this anime that is not gorgeous to look at, but it really is those skating sequences where this show shines.
In summation. As a gay man who watched a lot of ice skating on TV as a kid, this is the first time I have watched a show where I feel that I am the perfect target audience. By the sounds of the voices online I am not the only person who feels that way. I mean, this is a show that has been able to trade Easter Eggs with South Park (just look at the Cartman style get-up that we saw in the finale).
There is something deeply special about this show and whilst some are not happy about the way the finale left things open – I thought it was the perfect way to end the show.
See you on the next level Yuri!!! On Ice.