Yuri On Ice: Born to Make History
Yuri on Ice made its groundbreaking debut on October 5, 2016, and aired its last episode December 21, 2016. YOI added a new dimension to the sports anime genre by focusing on male’s singles figure skating and is the first of its kind. The series follows skater Yuri Katsuki after suffering a humiliating defeat in the Grand Prix Finals and his comeback in the following skating season. YOI has received praise from fans and critics for its beautiful opening sequence, diverse cast and (spoiler!) its depiction of same-sex couple, Yuri and Victor.
The opening of YOI features Dean Fujioka’s single, History Maker (download it from iTunes here) an uplifting and inspiring song that seems to detail Yuri’s sentiments towards his coach and idol Victor Nikiforov. At the time of writing, History Maker has a 5-star rating on iTunes and over 180 reviews. The single combined with stunning skating animations makes the opening a joy to watch and immediately grabbed attention and love from fans, many commenting they would watch it every episode rather than skipping over it. The sequence is up for the 2016 Anime Awards for Best Opening (OP) along with several more awards like Anime of the Year and Best Couple.
Yuri skates an underwhelming performance in the Grand Prix Finals, placing 6th due to nerves and personal circumstances getting the best of him. He meets 15-year-old Yuri Plisetsky, a junior Russian figure skater, while he cries in the bathroom after making a phone call home. Immediately antagonistic, the second Yuri (Yurio) kicks open the bathroom stall, insults Yuri and demands that he retire. Shortly afterward, Yuri gets the opportunity to meet and take a photo with his idol Victor, five-time winner of the competition. However, Yuri slinks away being too embarrassed to face him. We initially think this is the first time Yuri comes face-to-face with Victor, but later discover Yuri gives a very rousing dance performance at the after-event banquet, making personal fans out of Victor and subsequently Swiss skater, Chris Giacometti. Of course, Yuri was completely hammered and doesn’t remember this ever happening.
Yuri returns home and perfectly skates Victor’s winning performance, Stay Close to Me, from the Grand Prix Finals. He’s recorded by Yuko Nishigōri’s three adorable and scheming children, Axel, Loop and Lutz. The video goes viral, much to Yuri’s chagrin, and catches Victor’s attention, along with the world. Victor travels to Japan, now intent on coaching Yuri and making him a champion.
Throughout the show, we meet several international skaters with varying personalities, strengths, and motivations. For a 12-episode series, YOI does an amazing job of showcasing each sub-character with depth, giving the viewers just enough to feel connections with each of them.
Without going into crazy detail about each of them, I have a few minor gripes with some of the storylines involving the sub-characters. The first begins with primadonna Russian skater, Georgi Popovich. His unhealthy and downright creepy obsession with his ex-lover is enough to put anyone on edge in a skin-crawling, teeth-gritting sort of way. While of course, you can’t like every single character, this particular depiction was a little too over the top and fell a little too deep in the creepy archetype. With a little more subtlety, this character would still be as disliked, but with a touch more realism.
The second gripe I have is with the Grand Prix Final free skate performance of Canadian skater, Jean-Jacques “JJ” Leroy. A superstar winning the top podium position in all his previous competitions delivers a downright terrible performance in his free-skate.
Even while caving under pressure, I don’t believe he would have skated as badly as he did. Yuri, who is prone to high-anxiety performance issues didn’t skate that way even in his worst performance. It felt as though the victory was given to the Yuri-duo (Yurio taking first and Yuri second) as opposed to them earning it in a hard-won competition. The ending to the series would have been much more satisfying if JJ had lost by a little vs. a lot. However, his upbeat and sincere reaction to his fans after his humbling loss made me hate him a little less.
To Fan Service or Not to Fan Service
YOI is among the first mainstream anime to depict a same-sex couple. While there was much speculation in the beginning of the series that the moments between Yuri and Victor could simply be boiled down to fan service, by episode 7 it was pretty much confirmed that Yuri and Victor were indeed a couple.
In episode 10, Yuri and Victor make a marriage announcement to fellow Grand Prix Final skaters should Yuri win gold. The announcement was met with both congratulatory praise and disdain; the disdain stemming from Yuri winning gold over the rest of them. Moreso than the actual announcement itself, the reaction from their fellow skaters around the world spoke of acceptance, tolerance, and love. Though the series has been criticized by some for not being realistic on the issue, its idealism is the key takeaway here and that idealism has been praised by a much larger fan base.
Yuri On Ice is one of the best sports anime out there (my personal favorite), not only for the animation but also for its character development and plot. Ending on a high note, with Victor anticipating a return to the skating scene, Yuri will finally be able to compete on the same level as his longtime idol and love. Hopefully, there will be a second season where we can not only see this take place but also see into the backstory of Victor, something not entirely touched on in the first season. Watching the couple’s friendship deepen with emo-Yurio is another bonus and opportunity for comic hilarity.