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.
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?”
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.
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!