Thoughts on Yuri!!! On Ice

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Sometimes it’s hard to predict what will become the hit of the anime season. Sometimes it’s easy; adaptations of popular shounen manga are obvious choices. If someone were to tell me that Yuri!!! On Ice would become the Sword Art Online of the Autumn 2016 season based on synopsis alone, I’d be moderately surprised. It provides a degree of variety with the focus on a mostly male cast and figure skating as a central subject, but nothing about it looks too out of the ordinary. I wasn’t originally planning to partake in Yuri’s icy escapades, however circumstances with poor alternate choices, along with a growing curiosity at its popularity, inspired me to at least give it a shot. From the very first episode, I knew I was in for a treat.

There’s an energy, an enthusiasm to Yuri!!! On Ice that makes it irresistible to watch. The quick pace of humor and character interaction, combined with a likable cast of different home-brewed fellows gives the show a warm atmosphere that’s reminiscent of a well-conceived story. The stamp of something grand waiting in the distance provides a lovely amount of anticipation. Combined with a balance of serious and lighthearted moments, situations become far more enjoyable to watch and more tender for ensuing drama and/or plot twists. I can honestly say that the first few episodes of Yuri!!! On Ice had me believing that the show was worth the positive ratings it was constantly receiving on a daily basis.

Then they moved on to the tournament arcs. And the show got really dull.

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Allow me to point out a few things that seem to be what the majority find the most appealing about the show. First and foremost, Victor and Yuuri’s relationship. It is essentially the major focus of the show, aside from the development of the star character, Yuuri. A point that is hammered on very early in the show is Yuuri’s (and everyone else’s) appreciation for Victor and his accomplishments in the rink. He’s the best there ever was and no one would likely ever surpass his level of success. When Yuuri gets the chance to directly work with him, his excitement and insecurities multiply by a thousand, and this type of reaction and the results of it help establish Yuuri as a relatable and strong hero. To have him see Victor as more of a human being along with the manifestation of a goal, instead of an all-encompassing god figure, is a good way to develop a relationship and have them develop an inseparable bond. Of course, it doesn’t stop there. The argument that I’m trying to make is that it probably should have.

I do not see Victor and Yuuri as a couple. I do not think they have good chemistry and I found no point within their time spent together where they ever really seemed to bridge the gap romantically. Many would argue that the constant emotional monologues they have with one another, along with the repeated intimate physical comforting, does this for them. But is that really indicative of a romantic connection? One could do the same thing with family members or close friends. I felt the relationship between the two in terms of Yuuri wanting to attain Victor’s level of finesse and grace, and Victor’s desire to craft Yuuri into a better person as both a new experience and a form of appreciation, to be a much stronger point of view. Instead, the viewer is given a lot of homoerotic fan service that never really feels founded. I even recall thinking to myself during the third episode, “Wow. If Yuuri was a girl and Victor treated him like this, he’d be labeled a sexual harasser.”

If not for the relationship between the star couple, it’s the animation that is constantly praised. While definitely better than the average standard, Yuri!!! On Ice does not have top-notch animation. It has impressive detail occasionally, but with a certain mindset a lot of what one would initially consider impressive becomes a little more grounded. For example, the skating scenes look as if the characters are moving around at impressive speeds, but what’s really happening is that the camera is simply moving its point of view to another part of a much larger picture, while the character is animated in relatively the same place. This doesn’t happen with every scene during, as there are a number of close-up shots and occasional skate tricks. Still, with the amount of times it is shown, it becomes less impressive. At some point, watching the same routine simply became a game of “Where’s the camera facing?”

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Outside of the more competitive trials, the visuals tend to fluctuate depending on the weight of the situation. As one would expect, tight scenes with a lot on the line tend to emphasize the colors, detail, and expressions on characters’ faces and bodies. The only reason I say “bodies” is because of the fan service. There’s a nice touch to Victor’s eyes that I find bemusing, almost like staring into a rainbow reflecting off a glacier. Character designs are nice and varied, with performances emphasizing their key detail (whether this is good or bad is debatable). Even if the animation isn’t amazing, there’s still a lot of effort put forth into making (most) performances as smooth and impressive as possible. Yuri (Note the number of u’s) has a few performances that genuinely impressed me. The dexterity of his body and the fine-tuned precision of his set, full of grace and blissful strength is among my favorite scenes in the entire anime. Small details such as the sound of the skates hitting the ice and the cruising all adds charm to the realism of the show, even though the story feels a little too “swan song.”

Pacing is important. Very important. Without proper pacing, a show can go from incredibly vibrant and affectionately marinated to repetitive, episodic gruel. Yuri!!! On Ice realized right before the tournament arcs that it was only one-cour, so it set the speed to ludicrous. Events transpire at the blink of an eye, with characters appearing and disappearing without a second thought. Don’t you worry, though, as the anime will make damn sure you remember every single one of them. Motivations, flashbacks, random events that mean nothing to the viewer pop up and take center stage for anywhere from five minutes to five seconds. It gives them all the charm of being “the siscon” and “the excessively sexual one” and “the stoneface.” Yuri!!! On Ice marks off each box on its “To-Do Chart” with things that are obvious in trying to tell a good story, even if it means cramming them all together in a box that just won’t fit. The episodes begin to feel shallow, the interactions between characters even more so. Like the anime is simply doing it because it feels it has to or else the audience will grow bored. It is also here where Victor and Yuuri’s relationship feels the most plastic.

My irritation with the direction the anime took didn’t ultimately affect my appreciation of the more major characters. Victor is both a likable character and an accumulation of every bishie fan’s hopes and dreams. I feel the anime takes advantage of this too much, but I digress. The real stars of the show are Yuri and Yuuri, as both start from their own low points to achieve a sense of self-satisfaction. Yuuri’s position, as I’ve noted on several occasions, is among the easiest tropes to develop; having a weak person become confident and strong. Cliché or not, I felt the way the anime handled his development to be fairly enjoyable. Again, the mentor position Victor has in his life is a very strong focal point, along with the push he provides in helping Yuuri grow as a person. Yuri is a somewhat different case, as he goes more for the “Silver” route. A cocky asshole in his fair youth, the Russian successor to Victor has a journey of finding out what he truly desires to achieve with his life, along with finding the support system to help him along the way. While he doesn’t get nearly as much screentime or development as Yuuri, Yuri still holds his own as an independent character. His design reminds me a bit of Raiden from Metal Gear Solid 2, but that’s unimportant.

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Something the masses don’t seem to focus much on is the story, which is likely because it is incredibly straightforward and cliché. A typical (late) coming-of-age story about redemption and personal glory with a competitive spin. It’s not exactly the strongest point, as the pacing is sure to convey. Still, I can’t ignore all the story managed to do to pull me in within the first few episodes. It had that level of depth and intrigue that made it interesting without thinking it will inevitably flop by the midway point. Feeling as though the story was really important by that point, however, is a mockery to the tango being performed by every character ever shown in a giant, messy culmination of human flesh taking place in the middle of a sumo ring.

Yuri!!! On Ice really could’ve benefited from an extra cour. The rushed second half could’ve been slowed down and fine-tuned to adjust to all that was left coming, along with showing each characters’ quirks at a more comfortable speed. The way it is shows that the anime wanted to fulfill every fantasy the audience expected of them, and while some ate that fattening cake right up, others are allergic to cake. I’m not, personally, but I don’t like the stuff regardless. Yuri!!! On Ice will go down in my mind as yet another overhyped anime that got off on displaying all the right stuff at the right time. The only difference here, though, is that it could’ve been so much more.

The rating for these titles and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

Have a very merry Christmas!

11 thoughts on “Thoughts on Yuri!!! On Ice

  1. I’m glad I’m not alone in the whole “I don’t see Victor and Yuri as a couple” thing.

    I’ve been slammed by people multiple times for making the claim that they would never bridge the gap romantically, in a way that was more than suggestive, way back when the show was in the “kiss” stage of the story and I still believe my claims to be true.

    The feelings and romance are all implied fan-service and I find it hilarious that even the reviewers on websites such as ANN are downright claiming it to be a confirmed pairing between the two characters.

    Aside from that, I pretty much agree with your comments on the story as well. It’s fairly cliche in its structure and its general approach, but I still enjoyed it immensely because of how beautiful and well choreographed I found the skating sequences to be, even if, as you said, it was a huge game of camera manipulation.

    I also found Yuri’s character arc pretty compelling as a redemption type of story, and I liked the characters as a whole to make up for the weak points in the story.

    It’s not a perfect show by any means, and it definitely was stronger in its earlier episodes, but I still had a pretty great time with it overall.

    Nice review overall. It’s refreshing to see a review of this show that matches more with own perspective. Thanks for your thoughts on this, and a very Merry Christmas to you!

  2. Really nice review and I’m glad you wrote out your impressions on the pacing which you had said was the most critical issue of the show. I liked your initial enthusiasm as you talked about the first few episodes of the show before undercutting its promise with the issues that arise directly afterwards. As is usually the case, we’re on the same page about this show however the one thing I’ll play devil’s advocate for is whether or not a second cour would have helped the show any.

    While the rushed pacing and the ‘to do chart’ characters (I laughed at ‘the excessively sexual one’) definitely detracted from the show, I don’t know how much better off it would be if it fixed those things. As you say, the way the show handles Victor’s and Yuuri’s relationship is so suggestive and fan-service-oriented that I’m not sure any number of episodes could truly fix the show if that’s how it wanted to handle itself. It would be a marked improvement for sure but if that were to remain the same, I think its greatest flaw would go unanswered.

  3. Hello,

    I found this while looking for reviews of YoI that don’t praise it to the high heavens. I’m happy to know that I’m not the only one who found the series overrated. I really agree with your points re the show becoming boring and the Viktor/Yuuri relationship not being convincing enough. For me, the latter point stemmed from how the show didn’t properly flesh out Viktor. His thoughts/motivations were left pretty vague. Since the show is mostly from the POV of Yuuri, the lack of information about Viktor makes it feel like Yuuri himself doesn’t know much about Viktor and thus his side of their relationship comes across as a fulfilled celebrity crush fantasy.

    For me, the show tried to be both a sports anime and a romantic drama and simply ended up falling awkwardly in the middle without being a good example of either. As a sports anime, I couldn’t root for Yuuri since it felt like the side characters had better motivations towards the sport than him. Yuuri’s, which leaned more towards being able to stay with Viktor rather than revolving more around the sport and the competition itself, makes him come across as a bit weak and wishy-washy. It doesn’t help that his inclination at giving up prior to Viktor’s appearance (he let himself go, gained weight, and it’s somewhat implied that quitting skating and helping out at his family’s inn was an option for him) makes it a bit unbelievable that he’s an international-level athlete. Also, if YoI was aiming to be a good sports anime, I felt like introducing Yurio as a strong rival character and then suddenly throwing him back to the background was a poor choice and a waste of a potentially good and useful character.

    As a romantic drama, the lack of development between Yuuri and Viktor’s relationship simply made the show unconvincing. The two were suddenly presented as a couple despite the lack of build-up scenes showing how theie relationship actually got there. Also, since Yuuri and Viktor were not fleshed out (particularly Viktor), it became difficult to be invested in their story. For me, if I don’t care for characters just by themselves, I couldn’t care less about their relationships between them. Maybe if the show focused on fleshing them out and properly showing the progression of theri relationship instead of using up their limited time throwing in a huge cast of characters and showing their entire (badly animated) dance routines, YoI would’ve been an effective romance.

    To be honest, I’m really surprised by the praise this show has gotten. People say the Viktor/Yuuri relationship is so “natural” and not fanservice-y despite how it’s full to the brim with it. Heck the studio made the bishonen scenes of the characters a lot more beautiful to look at than the actual skating scenes and Viktor flashes Yuuri in the first damn episode. Fans constantly praise it for not being BL or yaoi despite how it uses lots of the tropes found in those genres. It also doesn’t make sense because BL or yaoi don’t even equate to a bad story. There are bad BL/yaoi and there are good ones. Heck I’ve consumed titles from those genres through the years that could easily beat YoI’s writing any day. YoI’s plot is basically staple BL without the sex.

    In terms of animation, ep 1 looked stellar but then the quality went downhill rather quickly right after. Money shots (pretty boy face shots) were consistently animated well but the skating sequences suffered as the show progressed. It’s depressing cause one would expect that a show focused on skating would shine in these scenes.

    With YoI mediocre writing and animation, if it didn’t have a gay ship, I’m pretty sure it would’ve been easily ignored and forgotten by most.

    • Good to know there are more out there that realize how overrated and underwhelming this anime actually was. The story and general plot were boring and cliche, most of the characters would either be unimportant or uninteresting also easily forgettable with almost no character development or importance to the plot, along with everyone being walking archetypes & tropes.

      Yuri and Viktor’s relationship felt so shallow and transparent, their dynamic was eh…more or less not really entertaining in my opinion. We learn almost nothing about Viktor himself and Yuri was…okay. Not bad, but pretty bland in terms of character the way I saw it, mainly due to the fact that his character being a “down on his luck guy trying to better himself” thing has been done over a million times (and done better by other anime). The way the story progressed was indeed sloppy and had some of the worst pacing I’ve seen in an anime.

      I was actually pretty surprised by how many reviews I’ve seen of this show that seemed like people were just tripping all over themselves to shower it with praise. It was very misleading and it turned out to be a complete waste of time. It’s both sad and hilarious how people say this show is “amazing” because it doesn’t “fetishize” the relationship between two males just for the fact that it doesn’t label itself as a BL or yaoi but completely dismisses the fact of how much a BL/yaoi this show actually is. No matter how much people sugar-coat it, it’s basically a really bland BL/yaoi. But I’ve honestly seen a lot of BL/yaoi with much better stories and more likable characters.

      Also, yeah, if Yuri were a girl the whole relationship between him and Viktor would seem really forced, uncomfortable and weird. The show would have easily been forgotten if it was like that.

      This was a really nice review! Great work!

    • I’m crying in joy reading your comment. Me and friends are feeling so alone to have the same thought.

      I’d add that even as the routine “self confidence” thing it didn’t really worked out, since Yuuri seems to magically trust in him after few episode, without real evolution. Yurio is works way better.

      Another point is we follow each character from really far, never near them, with them.

      Thank you thank you thank you.

  4. I feel like people only watch this anime because it’s loaded with fanservice, but If i told amyome this I’d be called homophobic.

  5. I remember watching YOI on holiday break because people on my social media feed would constantly say, “OMG YOI made me cry!!” or “Yuuri/Victor is the best pairing ever”. I promised myself not to fall for the anime hype because I always end up disappointed so I broke my rule, watched it, and I once again ended up disappointed.

    The ONLY positive thing I’ll say about YOI is that it’s not another cliche high school anime. They have a huge diverse cast, but most are either forgotten or minor. I even forgot about “JJ Style” after I finished the anime.

    Aside of the lack of chemistry of Yuuri and Viktor. There were other characters I had problems with.

    1. I thought the the relationship between Michele and Sara was kind of creepy and borderline incestuous. The fans dismissed his possessiveness as “brotherly protection”. Even when she called out on him for it, he still behaved really possessively towards her.

    2. The fact that “Yurio” called an 18 year old girl an ugly old hag, it pretty much rubbed me the wrong way because she is STILL very young. Even if he did it “lightheartedly”, I still find it really offensive.

    I kept my honest feelings about it for so long because most of its fans are from the LGBTQ community and are really young. As a bisexual fan, I wasn’t really impressed with it and it’s one of the most shallow pairings I’ve seen in anime.

  6. I do agree on your thoughts regarding Victor and Yuuri’s relationship. I felt that it really never was shown to develop in that way to be romantic like many are saying. To me, the show focused on Yuuri and Yurio’s development as characters and skaters. Not that Victor was a bad character. However, I found the development or Yuuri and Yurio much more interesting.

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