Yuri!!! On ICE ReviewAmy Hazel
Listen to the deafening roar of the crowd as a solitary individual emerges into view. Their lithe, form-fitting outfit allows them to move freely as their blades cut a path swiftly to their destination in the center of the rink. The audience waits with baited breath as the young performer strikes a dramatic pose then launches into action as the music rings throughout the stadium. Excitement, hope and anxiousness fills the stands as the competitor lands each jump combination in time with the beat and listens intently to the judges markings. They only get one shot at placing among the top ranks and taking the prized medal home - do they have what it takes? What gives someone the inspiration to go out onto the ice and compete alone? It is different for everyone; but if someone finds that inspiration - that passion - they might just be nigh unstoppable! So for those who may not have guessed yet, it is time to look back on one of this past season's most popular anime: Yuri!!! On ICE! So lace up your skates and hit the ice - we were born to make history!
At its core, Yuri!!! On ICE is a sports anime focusing on characters within the competitive world of figure skating. Our main protagonist, Yuri Katsuki, is a star figure skater from Japan; yet after suffering numerous sequential losses decides to take some time off and return to his home town - essentially putting his skating career on hold for the time being. He doesn't quit skating by any means and even goes so far as to flawlessly skate a replica short program of his long time idol (and Russian five time gold medal champion) Victor Nikiforov. As all best plans tend to go, however, a video of his performance is uploaded online and none other than Victor himself views the video and in a fit of inspiration, flies out to Japan to coach Yuri for the upcoming season. Naturally, Victor leaving the competitive skating scene to coach was shocking to most of the skating world. His own coach told him of his foolishness and not to speak to him unless he planned to make his return; and then to complicate things further, Yuri Plisetsky steps onto the scene, a 15 year old Russian figure skater of extreme talent who not only wishes to bring Victor back to Russia for his return to skating but also so he can choreograph his own program for his senior debut. Here begins the journey and relationship of coach and student as well as a friendly but serious rivalry between some of the best skaters across the globe.
As sports anime go, oftentimes they rely heavily on a team aspect: how the team works together, grows together, and ultimately overcomes challenges and wins together. They feed off of each other's strengths and weaknesses and adapt and overcome to each and every challenge. However, figure skating is not a team sport in the generic sense. When a skater is on the ice, they are alone. They are accountable for their own skill, their own music, their own choreography, their own techniques, their own difficulty - and they are scored appropriately at the end of each sequence. Their coaches may train them and offer advice before and after the performance and their opponents may cheer them on or diminish hope while they take to the ice; but while they perform, they take up the spotlight in solitude. Each competition is made up of a short program and a free skate and the combined scores of the two are what dictate the final outcome in which skaters advance to the next competition of the Grand Prix World Finals.
From the figure skating side of it, Yuri!!! On ICE did an excellent job of portraying the art, intrigue and stress of competition. Much like watching any figure skating competition live, it made you anxious to see if each skater was truly going to land each and every jump they had planned in their program, how they would recover if they didn't, or if they planned to change things up to add or remove difficulty. It was intense, beautiful and quite true to life - especially watching Russian Yuri's performances throughout the series (which if you have ever followed figure skating, Russia has always had incredibly talented skaters). Listening to the skater's inner monologues as they skated truly added a depth not only to their character but also to their overall performance as you could see the impact of their thoughts almost instantly. A focused inner determination reflected strongly on the ice, and alternatively a distracted or dismal outlook often lead swiftly to missteps and mistakes. This was not only true for the main cast, but also the opponent skaters: learning that Chris has always found motivation looking towards Victor as an opponent to surpass, Michele and his feelings towards his sister and even JJ and his near overwhelming vanity and overconfidence. These discoveries from one performance to the next gave insight that time did not allow for off of the ice and almost made it feel like the characters had more screen time then they actually did. It certainly made the best of what could have simply been a lackluster situation.
The less than stellar situation mentioned is that the series covers numerous competitions leading up to the Grand Prix Finals, and as such many of the skaters that make it to the finals only use the same two programs the entire time. Guess what that means? Viewers get to watch the same skating routines multiple times over throughout the series! Granted, it is the same routine and the same music, but they do miss jumps, change things up or add difficulty here and there. It can get somewhat repetitive, but as mentioned before, this is where we get to see the inner workings of the characters: what drives them, what tears them down, and what truly makes it all worth it. It isn't all for naught and after all, it is an anime about figure skating - it only makes sense that a majority of the series takes part on or around the ice, right?
Story wise, it has a basic premise with many underlying stories within. The main goal, of course, being Victor coaching Yuri to a gold medal at the Grand Prix Finals. Alongside this, and also what has gained this anime much of its audience, is the relationship that subtly develops between Victor and Yuri as they travel along this path to victory. Russian Yuri, or Yurio as he is nicknamed fairly early on, also plays a huge part in the story not only in his own regard of becoming a top figure skater but also in motivating Yuri to skate better. He also lends a hand into Victor's drama of either remaining Yuri's coach or returning to Russia and competitive figure skating for another season. That does not even include all of the other side characters that the three of them encounter and we gain insight to throughout the 12 episode series.
Yuri!!! On ICE is an interesting anime not only in what it openly shows but in what it quietly mentions as well. It is not a show that bluntly says everything that it wants to say, but rather lets viewers take from it what they will if they care to look into its depths. On the forefront it is a mostly light-hearted, cute and competitive sports anime showcasing a unique cast of characters that all shine in their own light. It draws the audience in easily and leaves them wanting more from each episode to the next all the way to its finale where it merely teases a potential season two. However, those that look deeper may find there is more lying just beneath the surface. They will see Yuri's anxiety strike him down quite often: his doubts in himself, his fears of failing Victor, and so much more. Victor also has his own issues stemming from always being the center of attention yet finally finding something, or someone, else to focus his time on - yet he doesn't quite know what he should be doing; he threatens to leave but he wants to stay. We never really find out much about Victor but it is hard not to like him - even if it is infuriating at times. Even their relationship, which according to the creator occurs in a time where there is no prejudice, is very subtle. A point that has many viewers mixed on if it should have been a bigger focus or not. They complement each other and grow together; and really, does there have to be anything more to it? Perhaps a second season will make many of the more personal aspects of the show more concrete; but for the short time span allotted in the series, it really did accomplish a good deal and ultimately maintained its focus on the sport and goal at hand.
In the animation and sound department, the anime holds its own fairly decently. The OP History Maker by Dean Fujioka is a powerful opener that seems to fit the series more and more as each episode goes on. The ED as well as all individual performance music within the series are also wonderfully done; with each of the skating pieces truly bringing out the colors of the skater that chose them. The art style is beautiful for a majority of the anime as well with a few humorously placed chibi scenes just to mix things up. However, there is some downfall to be had within the repetitive performance skate sections where character detail takes a hit in places and scenes are simply reused. It certainly doesn't mar the anime as a whole, but it is noticeable enough to warrant mention.
Overall, Yuri!!! On ICE is an enjoyable anime to watch from start to finish, even with its flaws. It is far from perfect in any regard and no matter where you look there can be some critique to be found, but there was never a moment that I didn't want it to continue. Whether you have any personal experience skating, watching competitions or have never even given thought to the sport before, it has a certain charm that can pull most anyone in. While it is primarily a male cast, that shouldn't be a factor in pushing anyone away. If so, you might just be missing out on one of the most delightful, comedic, fiercely competitive and inspiring experiences to come about recently.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.
Just a happy-go-lucky girl working in the gaming industry and spending nearly all her spare time writing, recording music, working on cosplay, watching anime and horror movies, and trying not to obsess over getting that 100% completion rating on every game she touches.
About the Author: Amy Hazel
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