Tentacle-Free Anime: "Yuri!!! on Ice" (2016)
- by Kazekun, 30 January 2017
Few anime can boast making history, and yet right as the opening credits begin to roll and the theme song begins to blare Yuri on Ice does exactly that with the catchy tune “History Maker.” But how well does this unique series really hold up to that promise? Let's discuss!
“We were born to make history!” As discussed earlier, these are lyrics from Yuri on Ice's pop colored, ear-worm of an opening anthem that boasts that this show is destined to become something special and by extent carve out its place in the pantheon of anime and the minds of the ever fleeting fan.
It's a bold statement and with only 12 episodes to tell their tale, the creators had to make this count. Thankfully I'm here to tell you that not only does this series prove to “make history”, but it does so in stellar fashion. Whether Yuri on Ice will be remembered by many 20 years from now is to be seen, but I suspect that for the next 10 – at least – it won't be leaving anyone's mind and really, that's pretty dang good.
Yuri and Victor are our dual protagonists, and in fact there is a second Yuri – also known as Yurio – from Russia, who used to study alongside Victor and is someone who feels personally threatened by the Yuri from Japan taking his friend away. But with Victor and Yuri's relationship growing increasingly closer, there's really not much Yurio can do about it.
This is where the potential for growth comes in, and these characters who are more or less all adults with a few exceptions treat these potential threats and gains in their lives with real reactions. Yurio did not lose his friend Victor and though it takes him a little while to realize this in the end he allows himself to grow closer to Yuri, Victor and the other skaters. Including a rather adorable side story where Yurio befriends the skating representative of Kazakhstan, Otabek Altin.
I only bring up Yurio because he's one of the better examples I can give of how much care the side characters are given in this series and how much each one of them is allowed to grow in the fair amount of screen time each one gets. Another good example is Jean-Jacques Leroy – otherwise known by his fans as JJ or King JJ – of Canada who spends majority of the series as a sort of stuck up skater who can't seem to lose. Only for us to finally get into his head near the end and learn what happens when he finally lets the pressure of pro skating get to him. When you go so very high, you can only fall so very far.
Getting back to our main duo then, Yuri and Victor, these two are the true highlights of the show with their sudden alliance and then their growing love for one another. I found it rather easy thanks to the charm of these two to forget that for a good while we are given no real precedence for why Victor wishes to coach Yuri other than he watches a video of this nobody recreating his routine and suddenly bam! Victor is Yuri's coach.
This is a good thing because although it can be seen as a plot hole for a little while a good story allows you to forget about it so that when comes back into prominence it leaves you going “Ohhh! That makes sense!” Which is exactly what happens when later in the season we're given, not via exposition if you can believe it, the answer as to what's going on in Victor's head and why he made his decision. It's a very sweet moment for the two and no I'm not going to sit here and spoil it.
While Yuri remains our main ever involved p.o.v. Character for pretty much the entire season, Victor does remain sort of an enigma and this is the one thing I personally wish the series would have done better. And something I hope season 2, which I do believe we're getting, will address. I want to know more about Victor. Most of what we learn about him comes from the observations of others and except for a few times there aren't many moments where we get to really learn about what's going on in Victor’s head. This is is my one true gripe of the series. Which to be honest isn't really that bad in the grand scheme of things.
Now I did want to talk about Yuri Katsuki. While his story is that of the underdog who claims to rise to the top it's not just his figure skating that evolves throughout the story. By the beginning Yuri is a nobody professional skater who planned to retire. In his head he's done all he can do and he's not getting any better. His anxiety and confidence issues keeps him from making friends with the other skaters and all in all he's just a loner. Thanks to Victor's coaching, reassurance and all around love for Yuri, he's able to turn most of those issues around by the end.
This is how real life works in many ways. As Yuri begins to consider himself equal to those around him he comes to realize that the only person stopping him from befriending the other skaters – who are all incredibly accepting – was himself. It opens an entirely new world to Yuri that makes for some great character moments down the line. And although Yuri's anxiety never truly goes away, even in the end which is again how real life works, he's at least able to figure out the best way to handle it when he's getting ready to skate and again, it's these reflections of how life works that I can't say enough good things about this series.
And before I finish talking about the characters, we're going to discuss one final thing regarding them: How openly gay this series truly is. Not all the men are gay in this, but this series does cast most of the men as such. One could argue this is adding to a “stereotype” that men who do “feminine” activities themselves are also “feminine” but that's not at all what this series is doing.
Both the yaoi and increasingly yaoi-lite like series have stereotypes to them and neither one are well-known for their reflections of reality and how gay people are also represented as real people. I'm not saying those shows are bad, and trust me there are shows under those tents that do go a long way to reflect what reality is like for gay people, but Yuri on Ice is definitely one of the first mainstream shows to make this a priority and for that it deserves praise for being able to catch people's attention and show gay people being real people too.
This is reflected in Yuri and Victor's relationship. It's never stated the two men like other men. In fact, not once in this series is it ever stated that any of these people only like one certain gender as opposed to the other. We see who they are through their actions. They don't need to advertise themselves to us or the world, they are just themselves dealing with real struggles that all people deal with.
And one day I do hope I don't have to talk about all this as if it's “a big deal” because it shouldn't have to be.
Finally, we'll talk about the animation. Now there are many people I've seen going around discussing that the Yuri on Ice animation isn't very good. And those people must be very spoiled. Because I watched the TV rough cut version of this show alongside everyone else as well as I saw the Blu-ray polished version that is being released on home video and I gotta say... I prefer the TV edit.
The Blu-ray version loses a lot of the fun character that the TV version has with the animation of the characters. When any of our characters react they're allowed to be a bit over-exaggerated which looks to be a nice contrast to the more dynamic reality bits of the story. The Blu-ray doesn't have this and that makes me sad.
I also seem to be in a possible minority that doesn't think the skating animation was that bad. Upon watching the series week-to-week I was blown away with how detailed and fun looking the skating was. I personally had trouble telling the difference between the CGI effects and the practical animation when it came to the full skating routines we got to witness. I really like the animation to Yuri on Ice and I feel it deserves a lot more love than what it seems to be getting.
And lastly, the music. The music is drop dead gorgeous in this series. From the opening, to the ending, to the tracks that the different skaters skate to throughout their performances. Much of it is well-known classical music, but the original pieces are just as good. This show has beautiful music and as soon as I can I'm definitely picking up the soundtrack.
Yuri on Ice, whether anyone wants to admit it or not, broke new mold with its characters, animation, music and story. It's not a perfect series but in this humble reviewer's opinion it is damn near close. The makers of this anime sat out to create something special while also speaking to its audience in a way they never get spoken to, and for all it's worth no one would have imagined before 2016 that an anime featuring male figure skaters would be the massive success that it was. That deserves a lot of credit.
If you haven't seen this show, go out and watch it right now. You won't be disappointed.
Final Score: 5 Triple Salchow's out of 5
Have you checked out Yuri!!! on Ice, yet? What did you think? Let us know in the comments!