Yuri on Ice!! Review — The La La Land Of Anime

And just like La La Land, it was born to make history.

You know, I’m starting to realize more and more how bullshit my policy on avoiding popular opinion of an anime before I make my own actually is. Between my desire to keep up with what’s current along with my “nerdy friends who take this hobby seriously enough to the point that they pay attention to the many in-between animators that KyoAni use” flooding the social media sites with tributes to shows that haven’t even come out yet, I’d have to seal myself in a bunker without wi-fi to avoid the impact that Yuri on Ice has had on the community. It’s not as popular as Re:Zero or ERASED were in their prime, but the show benefits from more than just a little luck in regards to it taking the anime world by storm. With sakuga and anime production in general being an increasingly important part of a fan’s life, LBGTQ issues being an increasingly important part of a regular human being’s life, fujoshi making up more and more of the fanbase in general, and the opening flat-out stating that this show was born to make history, the only people who don’t watch this show are the ones who state that it’s too gay for them. I should know considering only one of my real-life anime friends actually watches this thing.

So what exactly is the plot of this legendary show, you may ask? Well it’s pretty much just every sports show ever only with adult characters and it’s not paced like Stephen Hawking trying to win the rocket-powered wheelchair race. You have a young Japanese dude named Yuri failing to make it big in the ice-skating rink and deciding to vent off frustration by getting fat and doing a routine in his free time that his Russian idol, named Victor, was famous for. However, said routine gets uploaded on the Internet thanks to Yuri’s annoying friends, causing Victor – who’s in a bit of a funk due to being past his prime – to spend his pre-retirement days training the Japanese youth to be the new star of the ice world. However, a snot-nosed kid who’s also named Yuri (the Russian spelling) wants Victor to teach him himself, and from there on you see the two training to compete in the Grand Prix of Figure Skating as well as the thousands of yaoi fanfiction being written with every frame used to depict the journey.

I found the keys to Eric Cartman’s clothes

Yuri on Ice reminds me a lot of Damien Chazelle’s films, particularly how most of the praise and acclaim comes from the actual production and directing, with the story mostly being a bunch of emotions that are handled in unexpected ways. Whiplash was a story about a student and a teacher having a mental war with each other in order to push the former to his limits, and La La Land is a story about two lovers inspiring each other to achieve their dreams whilst wondering whether they can be together whilst doing so. I’m not a fan of Chazelle’s movies personally, but I know a lot of people are, and I’m pretty sure a majority of this show’s audience intersects with that audience as well. You have to be into emotional storytelling to appreciate what Yuri on Ice goes for because that’s really all it has beyond the gay jokes: men embracing their femininity in order to achieve dreams that can only be discovered through the rink. It doesn’t actually say anything about ice-skating or LBGTQ issues beyond portraying it positively, and the characters are all either happy go-lucky or do such a good job of seeming happy go-lucky that you can’t really believe they’re facing serious personal issues even when they say they are.

I will say though that even if you take into account what it’s going for, the execution is kind of rough at the start and gets better over time. I understand the humor is not for me, but please explain to me the reason why characters have to be spouting exposition during the ice-skating scenes. When they’re getting into the characters’ heads like if Makoto Shinkai directed a sports anime, sure maybe you need to clarify some things to the audience. But why on earth do they have to describe moves that I can clearly see? For a studio as talented as MAPPA and a director as talented as Yamamoto, you’d think they’d understand the importance of letting the actual animation tell the story, but I think only the first and last ice-skating scenes of the series had people keep their mouths shut.

And there are alot of performances in this show to the point that it starts to get silly. None of the characters aside from the two Yuris have any relevance to the main plot, so when the show devotes large amounts of time to their moves and arbitrary backstories, I realized that they only existed so that the animators could fill in the obligatory twelve-episode count whilst showing off at the same time. They’re not bad or anything, but the only one I even remember by name is JJ, and that’s only because it’s a really easy name to remember. Well that’s a bit of lie. He is also very memorable in regards to how the show constantly screws him over despite nothing really negative about him or his routines sticking out to the point that you’d swear that he signed some sort of devil’s contract in order to make as many appearances as he did. But let’s be honest, despite the show trying to give him some connection with Victor, he only exists as a convenient obstacle for Yuri and nothing else.

I’d advise to not pause during the skating scenes because my god these faces are hideous

The large number of ice-skating scenes used to fill up the time brings it own annoyances as well. Animating even one of them would be a huge challenge to your average studio, and I’m pretty sure this show tried to fit in no less than twenty of them throughout the entire runtime. This leads to a lot of reused animation, noticeable choppiness, and convenient shortcuts like pulling in on the person’s face at a critical moment or cutting to another character watching the routine after a few seconds, like a porno director who’s clearly new at his job. And because the ice skaters only stick with one or two routines during the multiple stages of the competition because we’re trying to keep some sense of realism to avoid turning into Prince of Tennis, I had to sit through Yuri doing the same Eros moves to the same music every week to the point that it felt like I was watching the same episode over and over again, only with slightly different plot details, Endless Eight-style. In a sense, maybe it’s a good thing I don’t care about the other characters and thus can’t remember their routines after they finish them, because I’m pretty sure they got stuck with repetition syndrome too, and yet every time Yuri (that’s the Japanese Yuri, not the Russian Yuri) wasn’t doing the actual skating, it all felt fresh in my eyes.

As for the plot-important characters, I can’t really say much about them because whatever depth they have is drowned out by how much they conform to their initial stereotypes. Victor is occasionally wise, but mostly a naive gay jackass. Yuri is occasionally deep, but mostly a naive confused happy man. And the other Yuri from Russia is occasionally respectful, but mostly a shark-toothed rival who may or may not be gay. I didn’t really care one way or the other whether they would succeed in their goals, since the only reason they have for doing so is because that’s what they want out of life. That’s not a bad reason, but when you compare it to the named extras who want to impress their loved ones or have a country’s name to live up to, that’s pretty damn weak. Yeah yeah, it can be argued that these characters are doing all this ice-skating in order for their gay marriage to come true, but given this show’s high comedic tone in general, you could say that their goal in succeeding is to have a statue of themselves built in the center of a mountain and it’d have just as much impact.

JJ sure has a lot of fangirls for someone who just can’t compete

Disregarding the fanbase and other outside influences, my opinion of Yuri on Ice is that if you’re willing to accept that anime is going to continue the legacy of Hetalia for a long time to come, like shows about male characters embracing their feminine side, aren’t automatically opposed to bare-bone narratives, and enjoy staining your pants at what my female friends call “vivid brilliance”, then I can recommend it. I don’t think it’s very rewatchable even by those standards, but like I said, I’m into this sort of storytelling, so you should trust me about as much as you’d trust your mother when she assures you that everything is fine despite the very sharp-looking knife in one hand and your father’s dismembered head in the other.

Minor Quips

  • Did people really get in a fuss regarding the show’s name and how it’s not about lesbians showing skin on the ice? Yuri is a male name too, y’know.
  • So how well did this show do in Japan anyways?

22 responses to “Yuri on Ice!! Review — The La La Land Of Anime

  1. Nice review. While I really love this anime and the characters I can see a lot of the legitimate criticisms people have had about the show clearly explained here. Thanks for sharing.

    • Eh, I DID think that both Victor and Chris Giacometti have sort of nice asses at times. Then again I know I probably have a pinch of bi in me, so didn’t worry me too much.

  2. “Did people really get in a fuss regarding the show’s name and how it’s not about lesbians showing skin on the ice? Yuri is a male name too, y’know”

    People knew it was meant to mean a male name from the beginning, but the joke was born when obviously the show configured itself as centred around teasing/actually developing a male gay relationship. Then it immediately got old.

    As for the rest, personally I enjoyed the show a lot. It definitely was nothing especially original in itself, but the skating sequences were very good (and prompted me to seek real life ones and learn to appreciate them a bit more than I used to before) and there just was this general air of optimism and joy around its cast that made for a relaxing view for me. It wasn’t deep, complex or anything (except for the really clever narrative trick it pulled in episode 10, that was really neat); it was merely lighthearted fun, but worked like a charm here.

    • Think I started warming up to the light-heartededness around the halfway point or so, because that was when the ratio of narration describing the actual moves (unless it was the announcer) and describing what the characters were feeling at the time leaned more towards the latter. That and the gay jokes got to the point where I was sarcastically laughing at them.

      Still can’t summon up any motivation to ever watch this show again though. As soon as I turned off the final episode, I decided the only way I’d watch any more Yuri on Ice is if a sequel got announced.

  3. Pingback: In Case You Missed It | 100WordAnime

  4. I agree with most of what you say but Damien Chazelle’s work is not a good analogy. Yuri on Ice is steeped in sentimentality. Where as Chazelle’s work deals with boiling hot passion. Passion requires sacrifice, dedication, risk, and loyalty, which is demonstrated in Whiplash and La La Land. Sentimentality does not. What did Yuri sacrifice? Pork Cutlets, lame. Were Yuri or Victor ever truly dedicated to ice skating? Not really, they were too busy hugging each other. Was their loyalty to each other or ice skating ever tested? No. What would Yuri risk if he lost? Nothing. What did Victor see in Yuri? A happy drunk? Which is why, Oscar Wilde said, ” A sentimentalist is simply one who wants to have the luxury of an emotion without paying for it”; https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2012/10/oscar-wilde-on-sentimentality-or-why-i-still-dislike-mumford.

    It’s the music that brings emotion to the Yuri on Ice; not the plot or the characters. The music in the show is arranged to pull strings on your heart; http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20150918-why-music-has-a-hotline-to-our-emotions. Hence the show spent a fortune on bringing in talented music arrangers.
    In many ways, the anime seems to be an info-commercial for the soundtrack. Without the music, it would be too obvious that Yuri on Ice delivers the same cheap sentimentality that your typical Hallmark movie does.

    Therefore the reason why BL fans like Yuri on Ice so much is because its familiar. Each character in the show is defined by tropes. Each relationship plays out in a trope manner. Due to show overusing tropes as well as it being hyped in the anime world, they “liked” it. This plays right into a theory called mere exposure effect, “if a person is show an idea, thing, or place enough times, they will grow to like it”; http://marketingland.com/6-conversion-principles-can-learn-mere-exposure-effect-140430.

    Other than that your issues with the show isn’t different from most non-BL anime fans & ice skating fans in Japan. I’m happy to find a Westerner who is praising the show for being “progressive” and that it’s some organic runaway hit in Japan. Most US and Japanese anime fans (who actually like animation) didn’t enjoy the show as it was hyped to be. The least critical liked everything except the BL elements (to which they believe was put in the show just to sell merch). The most critical Japanese anime fans consider the show’s plot and script akin to fan fiction.

    Anyhow to Japanese people, fantasy does not equal reality and nor do they require fantasy to match a PC ideal (it does for Americans, which pressures Hollywood to create “positive gay, minority, or women” roles in films). If animation is done very well, Japanese will watch it even if it goes against their own moral values. To them, fantasy is judge purely by its ability to entertain the viewer.Being so a Japanese person can love BL and be super homophobic. A Japanese person can be gay or accept gays but hate BL. A Japanese person can be homophobic and anti-BL but enjoy high quality anime/manga that features BL or gay characters. By the way, Yuri on Ice comes on around 2 am in Japan and its rated R-15. Airing so early in the morning is the only way they could have such BL elements. Japan wouldn’t let the show air as is during daytime or evening times. It would have to be edited.

    In general though, BL is severely disliked in Japan due for it being a commercial money grabbing driven genre. BL elements help drive merch sales because BL fans will obsessively collect all merchandise. So any anime that plays into BL elements is seen as selling out. Therefore, Yuri on Ice isn’t seen as being “progressive” in Japan (due to this cultural misunderstanding, a lot of Japanese fans are annoyed that Westerners use this show as proof that Japan is a gay accepting culture) but moreso BL bait. Therefore Japanese society’s attitude towards BL elements is similar to how Americans feel when a movie has too much female nudity.

    Some former fans are becoming jaded with the animation quality because many are starting to accuse Mappa of “トレパク” ( torepaku, which is tracing another work without permission ) poses, scenes, animations, and backgrounds from photographs or videos without permission; https://matome.naver.jp/odai/2148173106725339901?page=%3Cfont%3E%3Cfont%3E2%20%3C/font%3E%3C/font%3E, & https://matome.naver.jp/odai/2148246433045372901, in Japanese. Here’s a side by side comparison video of the ending skate scene with a live skating performance, https://twitter.com/sumairu3/status/812172387605090304; click on the “view content” button to see it. Finally there is a twitter devoted to finding tracing allegations of Yuri on Ice! and pestering Mappa to answer them; https://twitter.com/yumeno33. If an anime uses something as a reference, its generally noted in the ending credits. However, there are no ending created towards these works. So this is where the accusations stems from.

    The ice skating fans felt like the show got a lot of technical stuff wrong about ice skating and hated that it painted male ice skaters as effeminate. Other fans are upset about how expensive the blurays are; about $70 for a disc with 2 episodes. Each Yuri on Ice Bluray preorder comes with a chance to get first serve tickets at a Yuri on Ice convention. Which means, BL fans will buy multiple copies to secure a spot. Too much Yuri on Ice merchandise is coming out in Japan. So the whole series is starting to feel like a cash grab. Much like you, I don’t think this show will endure and become a classic.

    By the way, many female Japanese fans of the show don’t think Victor or Yuri are gay. They say Russians men hug and kiss their close male friends. So Victor’s treatment of Yuri isn’t gay in the least because foreigners are more affectionate than Japanese. Not to mention that Mappa (the anime studio who made the show) says the show isn’t BL animation. They see the BL elements there for “entertainment” purposes only. Because the animation and music is of such high quality, they feel that Mappa had no choice but to include BL elements; in order to get money to cover the production costs from the sell of goods and dvds. So again due to this commonly held belief, the “progressiveness” of the show is lost on the Japanese.

    Unlike the US, where production costs are recouped solely by selling exclusive broadcasting rights to tv channels, an anime’s profits is solely dependent on bluray, dvd, and merchandise sales. Japanese otakus are prone to having the collector mentality. So fan service put in late night anime shows are there to encourage the Otaku to buy the show’s merchandise. It’s also by its dvd/bluray and merch sales that will determined if a sequel will be made. So Japanese otaku see this less as being exploited but more of monetary supporting a show so they can make more of it. Foreign fans don’t buy blurays or merch (the money they receive from Crunchyroll is peanuts). So it doesn’t matter how “progressive” Westerners found Yuri on Ice; they don’t buy bluray/dvds or insane amount of merch. The fate of its sequel is up to Japanese otakus.

    For example, the best selling anime of the year was Mr. Osomatsu Vol. 1 sold 562,503 copies (http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2016-12-28/top-selling-animation-in-japan-on-blu-ray-disc-dvd-by-series-2016/.110415) priced at $60. This nets around $34 million in sales. The wholesale rate for anime dvd/bluray in Japan is extremely close to the retail price. So the animation companies take most of the profits from the bluray/dvd sales. Before the bluray was released, Osomatsu made $60 million from drama cds and other goods in 5 months (http://yaraon-blog.com/archives/80059, in Japanese). Many Japanese speculate that Osomatsu’s success is due to its BL fans. Which makes you understand why Yuri on Ice pushed its BL elements so far.

    Crunchyroll only has 750,000 paid subscribers, who pays $7 – $12 per month. Which means Crunchyroll makes around $63 million a year, at the minimum (750,000 * $7). A successful anime show in Japan can make half or all of that amount just through merchandise sales in Japan. Love Live has made over $341 million in merch, app, dvd/bluray, figures, and other merchandise sales in Japan.

    There is no way Crunchyroll can match the amount of money that a popular anime series receives from domestic dvd/bluray sales and merch sales. American anime fans aren’t as merch happy as Japanese fans are (Japanese fans will buy 60 rubber straps or pins to cover their ita bag,http://kotaku.com/latest-trend-for-female-geeks-painful-anime-bags-1696146577). This why foreign fans will always be second fiddle to Japanese otaku.

    I understand Japanese quite a bit, have native Japanese friends, and know a lot of Japanese’s perceptions of media. The more I understand Japanese and its culture, the more I view anime as a product rather than a serious artform; which is how most Japanese people view it. Fun fact: Cowboy Bebop was planned from the get-go to sell the music soundtracks, video games, and DVDs. Never done completely as art for art sake. Why? Because bandai didn’t believe they could sell Space toy figures at that time and the last Gundam series (that Shinchiro Wantanabe worked on prior to Cowboy Bebop) had better sales of the music, video games, and dvds than the toys. FLCL was planned with a record company to sell the music soundtrack to the show. Merch sales has always controlled tv anime production in Japan. Therefore anime products are commercially driven and planned as idols groups are in Japan. So anime fans can’t hate Disney or American music for being overly commercial but love anime. They both use the same tactics. This is why I’m not surprise over Yuri on Ice’s BL baiting methods nor its tracing allegations.

    Finally, Manga and books are considered the most serious modern Japanese artforms. Although Manga and books can troll just as bad as tv anime, they are generally called out for doing so by Japanese unlike tv anime. Light novels are considered fluff for kids and are treated similarly to tv anime. But hardcore manga artists and book authors are seen as the ultimate artists.

    • Very interesting perspective. Though I don’t quite understand the label put on BL specifically as just being a money-grabbing genre – especially when you consider the amount of other of fan service regularly put into mainstream anime.

    • MAPPA never said that, skaters love it and comment positively that it’s accurate, etc. As far as I know, 2ch is the only place that got upset about “tracing” at first but that was basically a load of BS for the most part. Most anime use references as well, this is nothing new.

      Here’s a roundtable with one of the director’s friends: http://news.nicovideo.jp/watch/nw2611056
      They see Victor and Yuuri as gay and thought the way their relationship was handled was refreshing. What you say also doesn’t line up with a lot of reactions of Japanese twitter.

      The CEO of MAPPA and YoI’s producer is on record saying he had thought YoI was lose viewership for the BL elements but that Sayo and Kubo fought for it anyway, and because of that courage and pushing those boundaries, it’s understandable why the anime resonated with so many, even if it could make others uncomfortable. He says there was little up to interpretation regarding the relationship and that he sees it as a deep, healthy, loving one.

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