Yuri!!! On ICE was one of the most anticipated animes of 2016 and upon release quickly became among the most successful. It follows the story of 23-year-old figure skater, Yuri Katsuki, as he tries to rebuild his career after a devastating defeat at the Grand Prix Final. This is a fun yet emotional journey, as we follow a seemingly simple character and his quest to be the best figure skater in the business.
But underneath this sports movie is a love story, one that could fall under the genre of yaoi (or in other terms ‘boys love’). Yuri, who has idolized Russian figure Victor Nikiforov all his life, soon meets him and due to a series of rather fortunate events, grows close to him and falls in love with him. Their relationship is developed very smoothly, as the anime takes the time to build a trust between the two characters and not shove gratuitous sex like many other yaoi shows are guilty of.
I am not very fond of yaoi shows, considering that most of them are mainly fangirl bait and do little to truly represent LGBTQ people in Japanese society. One anime that I did like, Super Lovers, is guilty of this although it, unlike many others, has a compelling and well written plot. Yuri!!! On ICE is different in that it focuses on the characters and their arcs. When Yuri and his love do get together, it is a natural course of action and one that came through meticulous character development, something I greatly appreciate.
I found myself binge watching this series, and then deciding that I wanted to do an episode-by-episode breakdown just to cover the plot in all its glory. The goal is to do a detailed retrospective of what went right and what didn’t. But before I dive in, I must warn all readers that while this is a fun anime it does cover sensitive topics. Sexuality and its representation in the media is one thing I will cover at length throughout the season. I will also talk about depression and other culturally sensitive topics. If this interests you, then let’s begin. But before that, I must give an obligatory spoiler warning….
0:00 The episode begins with a voice over narration from Yuri who is watching Victor skate. He mentions that Victor has always surprised him and never disappointed, sowing the seed for Yuri’s admiration of the skating legend. The shot of Victor skating is very beautifully done and the attention to detail is mesmerizing. The skating almost looks real and you can tell that the producers really did their research when it comes to technique and style.
0:20 The theme song is quite nice actually. The visuals present are rather simplistic but it sure that keep true to the theme of figure skating. And it’s in English so it’s easy to understand. Here is a full link.
1:52 We’re now at the Sochi Grand Prix Final. Victor Nikiforov has just destroyed the competition and won gold. Japanese skater, Katsuki Yuri, flabbed his performance and ended up in last place.
2:32 Here’s a really cute introduction of the main protagonist. Unlike many animes that I have seen, the contrast between the normally sized animation and the chibi version is very well done. There are no awkward breaks in between and the story isn’t put on hold. In fact, this little segment adds onto the character as we get to see Yuri’s reaction to his misfortune, although it is done in a humorous manner.
3:48 We get a not so nice introduction to Yuri Plisetsky, who is the gold medalist of the Junior Grand Prix Final. He looks a bit unkempt and very mean looking, a stark contrast to the softer and more docile-looking Yuri K. Yuri P. threatens Yuri K. and tells him that there is only space for one Yuri in the senior division competition.
It’s interesting how a Russian skater would know Japanese…..I know this is an anime but part of me would have liked it to be a bit more realistic with the language barriers that real life skaters would face. Anticipate me grumbling about this in later episodes.
4:27 Yuri K. meets reporter Mooroka who tells him not to quit. A nice little segment to keep the main protagonist on his toes and thinking about his future after a rather public and embarrassing flop…
4:57 Yuri P. and Victor shown walking side by side, hinting that their relationship is a bit more intimate. The transition between Yuri K.’s conversation with Mooroka and this segment ties together Yuri’s future as a professional ice skater all the while foreshadowing both Victor’s and Yuri P.’s impact on him.
5:11 The first time Yuri K. and Victor make contact. We will find out in later episodes why this scene exists. But Victor treats Yuri like he would any other fan asking for a picture. Yuri isn’t having it though, mostly because he is embarrassed that he failed so miserably in front of his life long idol.
Five minutes in and we finally get the title of this episode. “Easy as Pirozhki!! The Grand Prix Final of Tears”. That really doesn’t roll off the tongue easily *yikes*
5:39 We’re at Hasetsu Station, one year later. It’s been five years since Yuri visited this station (it was mentioned earlier that he took some time to train in Detroit). The station is decorated with pictures of Yuri, piling on the pressure for him to do well and also elevating how devastated he must feel for losing at the GPF. We also meet Minako, a cheerful character. She almost can’t be taken too seriously but she’s still likable.
6:25 Another cute segment explaining Yuri’s downward slope after losing at the Grand Prix Final; he lost the national competition and didn’t make it to any of the others in the season. It also serves as a bit of exposition as to the immediate events after his loss. This is another well done break for exposition that does not take away from the story but actually adds to it; although this is also aided by stellar visual transitions.
7:42 I swear, Victor is one of the most handsome anime characters I’ve ever seen. He’s sexy and he knows it, which is cool in comparison to Yuri’s more reserved nature. There’s a parallel to be drawn here. Victor is busy winning all his competitions while Yuri is busy losing them.
8:50 Yuri has put on a lot of weight, like a lot! It’s good that the writers are taking into account Yuri’s confidence problem and how that would affect his behavior. A major loss like he had is enough to make anyone depressed, so it’s nice that the writers address this.
10:05 The aerial shot of Hasetsu is aesthetically pleasing. This anime’s production level is off the charts and the little details over houses, natural structures and even people really bring it to full circle.
11:15 We’re introduced to Yuri’s childhood idol, Yuko-san. It’s nice that we have a female character who has a positive impact on the male protagonist. Yaoi animes rarely feature female characters in prominent roles. This is so that the male love story gets maximum focus. Although Yuko does not take a main character’s role in later episodes, she still remains an essential character to Yuri’s growth.
12:24 Yuri’s fixation with Victor is still there. This slow build up to their relationship is essential. It ensures that their relationship in later episodes does not feel forced. We see that not only has Victor influenced Yuri to skate, but the latter gets a dog exactly like the former’s….and names it Victor! Victor influences Yuri’s life choices and they haven’t even met. Imagine what will happen when they do…
13:37 The start of Yuri’s first skating performance in the show. This is a cover of Victor’s championship program. Despite being depressed about his loses, Yuri still gives his all in this short performance further solidifying his love for skating. We get a play by play comparison of both Yuri and Victor skating. while Yuri is indeed passionate, the difference in skill is apparent even to me, someone who knows nothing about the technicalities of figure skating. Victor’s performance is more refined and more graceful. You can understand why he is so successful. This shouldn’t come as a surprise though, it is his routine to begin with.
14:12 Ok gotta pause for a while here. A couple of scenes back, we see that Yuri has gained a ton of weight. But in this shot he looks…ok? It’s like the weight magically shed off. And not just that but he is skating as he normally would. I guess I gotta leave this to Anime LogicTM but it would have been nice to see how the weight gain affected his performance.
17:28 Yuri addresses why he’s gone back to skating. Moping around isn’t doing him any good so he’s moved on and is striving to do even better. Although one does not simply “get bored of being depressed”. It’s an active struggle to snap out of it and pick yourself up.
17:57 Introduction of the rest of Yuko-san’s family. Axel, Lutz and Loop who, I assume, are her triplets. It’s cute how they’re named after skating techniques. In comes their father, Nishigori.
It’s an…interesitng…choice to have them make fun of Yuri’s weight gain. I do not live in Asia so I wouldn’t know but from what I’ve seen in the K-pop world, weight is a huge deal among both male and female entertainers. People go on life threatening diets just to cut off the weight that people make fun of. Not just there but all over the world. To have these characters make fun of Yuri for gaining a bunch of weight doesn’t sit well with me, considering the fact that he was depressed for like a year (which led to the weight gain). Mainstream media should be careful to properly address mental health and how it relates to physical health instead of playing it off like a joke. /rant
19:15 Yuri gets a message from Nishigori that his cover of Victor’s free skate program has gone viral after being uploaded online by the three triplets. This is quite the realistic setup for Yuri to get on Victor’s radar.
19:50 We actually get a shot of Victor watching Yuri’s cover, and his immediate reaction to it.
21:16 Victor introducing himself to Yuri (naked, mind you) is cute. He does it flamboyantly, which is very different from Yuri’s awkward yet utterly scared reaction to seeing his idol in an intimate position. Victor says that he will be Yuri’s coach and promises to help him win at the upcoming Grand Prix Final.
And that is the end of the episode! A lot happens in it, but it’s essential to the plot. This is also a really good introduction into all the characters that will matter in the long run. The episode also does a good job of displaying the evolution of Yuri’s admiration of Victor. It feels natural and periodic rather than sudden and forced.
For anyone who wants to re-watch or even start watching this series here is a link to Crunchyroll’s YouTube page where you can watch it for free! Until next time….