I watch plenty of Western animation these days, from RWBY and Steven Universe to Rick and Morty and Bojack Horseman, but I’ll never lose my interest in anime. I’m always looking for new stories, new genre, to try out. Which is how I ended up watching a 12-episode show about men’s figure skating and a coach-student love affair.
Yuri!!! on Ice tells the story of Yuri Katsuki, a Japanese figure skater who lost at the latest round of the Grand Prix and went into semi-retirement. However, he soon catches the attention (and attraction) of figure skating legend Victor Nikiforov, whose moves Yuri copied flawlessly in a performance that was recorded and uploaded to the Web. Victor wants to become Yuri’s coach and help him win at the Grand Prix with a new program. This puts Yuri in the crosshairs of figure skaters from around the world in half a dozen competitions, including Victor’s other big admirer, the Russian skater Yuri Plisetsky.
Yuri and Victor are the heart and soul of this anime, no doubt about it. It’s a neat duo with a classic style: the anxious, desperate-to-win young hero paired with a confident, level-headed, and eccentric mentor. However, there’s more to them than meets the eye. Yuri proves to be more confident and playful than he originally let on, and Victor is not quite the untouchable skating champion that everyone thinks he is. It’s refreshing to see an onscreen romance where the two characters actually change roles every so often (and it’s nice to see an LGBT romance done well in a show, as Kori Michele explains in an article on Medium).
When I first heard about this anime, I knew far more about the main characters, Yuri and Victor, and their passionate onscreen chemistry. But after just the first episode, I was blown away with the artistry, the sheer beauty, of the animation for every figure skating sequence. And kudos to the show’s producers for getting real-life Swiss figure skater Stéphane Lambiel to play himself as a commentator.
Most people don’t know this, but I took 8 years of gymnastics training as a kid after school. I never competed professionally, but I know a lot about the work that goes into that kind of athletics, and I can recognize it in the skating routines that these characters pull off. It’s an absolute delight to watch this show for the sports angle alone.
I don’t know if this is true of other sports anime and manga stories, but one thing I liked in Yuri was the psychological angle it took. Every time we watched a different figure skater perform their routine at a competition, we got a glimpse into their inner monologue and what was at stake for them. It’s one thing to do this for the protagonist whom we’re cheering on. This show, however, actually went and did it for every major skater, from the rival Russian skater Yuri to side characters like Michele Crispino from Italy and “JJ” Leroy from Canada. That motif definitely fleshes out the world in which the show takes place.
Yuri!!! on Ice does something spectacular within a simple 12-episode run. It’s a good introduction to both the sports anime and yaoi genres, as well as a tight and well-toned story with almost no filler. It breathes passion, from its characters to its fluid skating animations to its music. Whether or not you enjoy all the stock anime gags, or even if you’re not a huge fan of Boys’ Love, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in this series.
Bibliography: Yuri!!! on Ice. Directed by Sayo Yamamoto. Written by Mitsuro Kubo. MAPPA (studio). Funimation (North American distributor). TV Asahi; BS Asahi; STS; NCC; Sun TV; AT-X. Original broadcast: October 5, 2016 – December 21, 2016.