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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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?