Yuri!!! on Ice (YOI) is a figure skating anime that aired from Oct. 5 to Dec. 21, 2016, with a total of 12 episodes. The show depicts events surrounding Yuri Katsuki, a Japanese skater in the middle of a career slump, and Victor Nikiforov, a Russian world champion who decides to be Yuri’s coach after being inspired by a video of him skating.
The show is unexpectedly popular and widely known for the same-sex relationship between the two main characters.
One of the great points of the show is the fresh presentation of sports from a different perspective. Many sports animes set in high school, focus on inexperienced characters working hard to improve their technique and clawing their way to the top.
In YOI, Yuri is already at the peak of his career and Japan’s figure skating ace; however, he crumples under stress and lacks confidence. The show follows Yuri, his mental struggles and focuses on his journey to overcome them.
In this way, Yuri is relatable. Though one of the top skaters in the world, he suffers from anxiety and weight issues. He finds it hard to socialize and binge eats when stressed. Despite that, he is competitive, refusing to let go of his passion for skating. Yuri is flawed, but as the audience, we are delighted to cheer him on.
YOI is praised for its accurate representation of the competitive skating world. Its multinational cast amassed fans from all around the world and even professional figure skaters like Johnny Weir, who said in an interview, “There are so many details that pop up that wouldn’t mean anything to a casual skating fan, but to us as skaters who actually lived it, you can see so much respect for our world and what we do through the animations and story lines.”
The show pays tribute to Weir by attributing similarities to the character Victor Nikiforov. Like Victor, Weir is openly gay. In addition, Victor wore a similar costume and flower crown in the anime as Weir did at real life competitions.
In contrast, Yuri and Victor’s relationship happens in a world without homophobia. Their relationship is accepted and even encouraged. Though romance is involved, it does not take over. The show takes time to develop character relationships, allowing the main couple to learn more about each other and what love means to them.
Although YOI is criticized for being unrealistic as same-sex marriage is not condoned in both Japan and Russia, it serves as an optimistic symbol for the future.
As much as I love the show, I found the handling of some issues addressed to be too subtle or ambiguous.
The nature of Yuri and Victor’s relationship is still vague. It can be interpreted as either student-mentor or lovers. The anime leaves much open to interpretation. It is understandable from a plot perspective to build up tension, but it never became explicit as their relationship was still unconfirmed at the end of the season.
Yuri also fails to dive deeply into some important issues. Yuri becomes severely anxious before competitions, to the point of nervous breakdowns. His anxiety is never diagnosed and instead attributed to mental weakness. Yuri solves his anxiety by thinking of Victor when performing, which seems to work like a miracle drug.
Victor lost inspiration for skating and found it again from watching Yuri’s performance of his routine. He was desperate enough to drop everything, stop his career, and leave his country to become Yuri’s coach.
This leads to the issue of co-dependency. Yuri idolized Victor ever since he was little and skated to one day compete on the same level. Now Yuri skates to impress Victor, which helps him improve, but furthers his dependency. Victor clung to Yuri like a lifeline for inspiration, doing everything he can to help Yuri succeed. I hoped that two of them would be able to find motivation within themselves by the end rather than always doing things for the sake of the other.
The plot of YOI is pretty straightforward, but becomes repetitive during competition arcs. Figure skaters usually use the same routines throughout the season, so we got to see the same routines three or four times at different competitions with the same music and animation set to different narration. It is an accurate representation of a figure skating season, but limited the show from a narrative standpoint.
The animation quality was amazing in the first episode, but dropped in quality as the show went on, likely due to budget restraints. However, they do make up for it by increasing the quality during important scenes, letting you know a scene is crucial just because the animation suddenly looks much better.
The music was thoughtfully composed, especially for the skating programs where they were each composed to reflect the skaters’ culture and experiences.
Overall, YOI was very enjoyable and I would definitely recommend it. Ambiguity, repetitive plot, and animation at places limited its full potential, though some flaws could be overlooked due to limited time and budget. There are rumours the series may be continuing due to its success, so hopefully these issues will be addressed in the next season.