This review contains spoilers!
Mitsurou Kubo‘ Yuri on Ice has been, without a doubt, the dark horse of the Fall Anime Season 2016. Based on the title, it seemed yuri bait. Based on the visuals and PVs, it seemed yaoi bait. Turned out it was neither: it’s a slow burn romance from the very beginning. But more than anything, Yuri on Ice is a realistic portrayal of ice skating, and the important role confidence plays when competing in such high elite competitions.
Yurio on Ice
While having a particularly wide cast for a 12-episode series, Yuri on Ice mainly focuses on the trio formed by Victor Nikiforov, Yuri Plisetsky, and Yuri Katsuki. Each one of them represents a different type of skater, and a different way of thinking about this sport.
Being the main character, Yuri Katsuki works as the narrator for most of the events of the series. He’s the first character we are introduced to. He’s a professional skater who has lost all motivation and self-confidence. Yuri struggles to find passion in ice skating, and despite being young, he feels like his best days are behind him. He also suffers from anxiety, and despite his growth, the series often uses his character to showcase just how nerve-wrecking this type of individual competitions can be.
Yuri Plisetsky (‘Yurio’ from now on), is the complete opposite of Yuri. Yurio is highly ambitious, which reflect in him being very hard on others, but especially on himself. At first, he’s introduced as being self-absorbed and a bit of a jerk, but it’s also quickly revealed that he’s got some issues and insecurities of his own. Yuri has Victor as a positive life-changing influence in his life, but Yurio doesn’t really have anyone to guide him. Sure, he has his coach, and Victor and Yuri are still his
gay parents friends, but most of Yurio’s growth is achieved on his own. At the end of the day, it’s only fair that he won the gold medal. After all, Yuri!!! On Ice is about both Yuris.
Victor also has a very important role to play besides being both Yuri’s support, but he’s easily the most mysterious out of the three. We don’t really know much about Victor, and he doesn’t seem to talk much about himself. It’s pretty likely that Season 2 will focus a lot more on his character and his career as a figure skater. The side-characters brought a lot of charm and fun dynamics, although it’s not until the Grand Prix final that we finally get to learn all their personalities, and basically why we should care about them. In that sense, the series could have used a little more focus on the introduction of each one of them and their motive/goal, and the same goes for Yuri’s family back in Japan. Some of these side characters were quite forgettable, while others like the adorable Phichit, J.J. and Otabek were always entertaining to watch.
It’s not Yaoi, it’s not Shounen Ai – It’s Sports
This is a topic I addressed back in the beginning of the year, when Haruchika came out and revealed a gay main character in its first episode. Just like Yuri!!! On Ice, Haruchika did not have a “yaoi” or “shounen ai” tag in it. Because of this, many viewers were “shocked” by such revelation and instantly dropped because “ew, no one warned me it was gay, and as a straight person, I cannot watch this”. Despite giving many blatant hints, Yuri on Ice does not textually confirm its homoerotic themes until Yuri and Victor share a kiss in Episode 7. By that point, viewers were probably way too invested in the story to drop it at that point. To this day, the anime is still tagged as ‘Sports’ and ‘Comedy’ on MyAnimeList, and only ‘Sports’ on AniChart.
An anime featuring a serious gay relationship is always a reason to celebrate, but it’s especially relevant in sports, a genre that is sadly filled with queerbaiting. Just taking a look at different anime fandoms, the ones that usually have the most slash shipping come from sports anime (Free!, Haikyuu!, Kuroko no Basket…). Since these are series were most of the cast is male, the creators are prone to taking advantage of the situation by delivering ambiguous scenes that are enough to prompt fujoshis to buy merch, yet can still pass as “friendship” so as not to scare away male readers. It’s for this same season that, in this same season, we can also see the ambiguous lesbian relationship in Izetta: The Last Witch or the straight-up yuri bait in Sound! Euphonium. It’s sad, but the reality is that queerbaiting is even worse, way worse, in anime.
And that’s why Yuri on Ice is so important. The reality is that Western TV shows are miles ahead Japanese animation when it comes to LGBT representation. However, Yuri On Ice‘s popularity and financial success could change things. Yuri on Ice can give manga and anime creators enough confidence to create explicit, textually canon same-sex relationships. In many ways, Yuri on Ice CAN make history.
However, Yuri on Ice is about a lot more than Vikuri. It’s a realistic series about sports competition, and the anxiety and pressure it can bring. The series does not have ridiculous, over the top sequences (looking at you, Kuroko no Basket), and skaters don’t spend half the episode having internal speeches all while making one only move. In that regard, the thought process of skaters in Yuri on Ice is believable, and their thoughts and emotions affect each of their moves directly. This is mainly shown through Yuri’s anxiety and the way Victor’s presence affects his confidence, but it’s also seen in other characters. It’s not only lack of confidence that can affect a performance, but also being overly confident, or even arrogant. Episodes 11 and 23 show this brilliantly with both Yurio and J.J.
Furthermore, Yuri on Ice also ventures to talk about topics that are often overlooked in this type of anime, such as coaching or retirement. In fact, the main focus of the season finale is not on who wins gold, but on what Yuri and Victor decide for their skater-coach relationship. Finally, something that Yuri on Ice also does very well is building the atmosphere outside of the competition. The series creators’ have done an excellent job in scouting real life locations. As a result, the similarities with real lie from both the cities and the TV coverage help bring the series to life.
Studio MAPPA owns the Fall Season 2016
2016 could be summarized as the year of anime studios battles. A-1 Pictures surprised everyone by going with an unusual type of anime for them with ERASED. White Fox was on every anime debate week after week for the special, meticulous treatment they gave Re:Zero. And, in the summer, veteran studio Bones left everyone in awe with their spectacular, jaw-dropping animation in Mob Psycho 100. MAPPA has decided to join the party for the Fall Season by delivering not only an original well-written story, but also for providing a lot of care in the animation of the skating sequences. Some of the series’ best animation work can actually be seen in the opening, ‘History Maker’.
In fact, Yuri on Ice almost felt like watching a movie at times. There’s a lot of care and attention to detail in the scenes when Yuri is in Japan to make it feel as homey as possible. And, as I already mentioned, the scenes from when they were walking around world cities made everything feel that much more real and alive. The character design is also to be praised here (especially Victor’s): each character also reflects their nationality and personality, making for a very diverse cast.
The ‘See you next level’ title card at the end of the final pretty much confirms a Season 2. And it’s not surprising, really. A sequel has been speculated for a while, as it always happens with original series that become this successful. Is a second season necessary? It is after the finale, but Yuri on Ice could have perfectly had a good, closed ending if only some little things about the finale had been changed. In fact, some things from the finale were a bit iffy, and that along with the final rushed minutes make it seem like something was changed to make a Season 2 possible. Not that I’m complaining – like I said, there are many things we have yet to see (mainly, Victor’s character background).
While the value of having a well-represented, healthy same-sex relationship cannot be diminished, Yuri!! On Ice is more than anything a very entertaining series with great character development and a realistic approach to sports competitions. It’s not even a series about two men falling in love, but about people who love ice skating and who are not afraid to rely on each other to get better and make history together.