Note: Though I’d ultimately like to streamline my reviews, I’m still trying to figure out how I want to write them, the frequency, etc. Instead of breaking it down into two sections like for my previous posts, I’ve written both summary and impressions into one block of text. The review is also longer than usual. I’ll probably be experimenting for a while. I hope the pictures will help!
Warning: Review contains spoilers!
I remember watching Olympic figure skating on television—the intoxicating nature of a single artist who glided on, danced on, and all in all mastered an incredibly slippery surface. Figure skating embodied the very marriage of both grace and power to my 5-year-old self, and was something I aspired to do but never even dabbled in.
You know you’ve made it when you’re profiled on a website.
So close, yet so far.
My still lingering childhood dream of going pro in figure skating motivated me to live vicariously through Yuri!!! On Ice, a male-centric anime about the worst top-class figure skater, Yuri Katsuki. If that seems counterintuitive, imagine: your ability is far and above the average skater, but you still place 6/6 on international TV. Some folks might tell you it’s okay. Many others are unforgiving, doubting whether you really deserve the honor of being a professional skater. Indeed, the 23-year-old figure skater, one of the elite handful who qualify for the prestigious Grand Prix competition, places dead last. Headlines like “Katsuki Fell to Last Place. Is This Season His Last?” already crop up while he’s still at the ice arena.
“No, it’s nothing to worry yourself over.”
“I’m not really fine.”
I don’t watch sports anime usually—my track record is a few episodes of Prince of Tennis—but here goes. This storyline differentiates itself from the “rags to riches” premise that marks many an action and even drama anime, like Naruto. If the figure skater from Yuri!!! On Ice was in the Naruto equivalent, he would be one of the final bosses. You’d have difficulty even empathizing with a character like that, especially because he would probably be portrayed as a snickering, overly confident right-hand lackey. A completely one-dimensional yet somehow entertaining caricature of an evil villain.
Yuri Plisetsky ain’t standing for your BS.
Victor Nikiforov, champion figure skater and the apple of everyone’s eye.
In contrast, Katsuki is the underdog in Yuri!!! On Ice. He’s the one being humanized, the one that you have to root for. There’s an odd humiliation in being so close to the best of the best, but not tasting the gold medal. Even moreso when it’s in a sport typically associated with females. This episode doesn’t really comment on the difference between sexes, but rather endeavors to change your perception of Katsuki after introducing him as “elite.” In one of the first scenes of the episode, he’s bullied by Yuri Plisetsky, another elite figure skater who topped the Junior Grand Prix, who tells him to retire already because there can’t be two Yuris in town. He even rejects a photo with the idol from his childhood, Russian champion Victor Nikiforov, the darling in everyone’s eyes.
“Totally okay, guys! Just ignore the face in the background.”
“And here’s another explanation of why my life sucks! Ha ha!”
Most of all, Katsuki is really annoying in the first half of the episode. Though he’s clearly a bubbling mess about his defeat (one of many recent ones, it’s revealed), he breaks the fourth wall and tries to jokingly make light of his situation, complete with chibi animations and blackboards. He’s immature, easily flustered, feels incredibly inadequate, and binge-eats. He blames his misfortune on pressure and the death of his family dog—all in an ingratiating “Haha! I don’t really care (butactuallyido)” tone. This aggravating coping mechanism just makes you want to slap him: just be honest, man! Pour out your heart and soul as if we’re on Dr. Phil, but not too dramatically please. I almost stopped the episode 7 minutes in because I didn’t want to deal with it.
“Tada! I am also cute!”
Still awesome back then, too.
Starting from the second half of the episode, though, Yuri does become more honest. With nothing left to do, he comes home after five years. There’s a few minutes of annoying lightheartedness again when he’s met by his former teacher and carefree parents, but things settle down once he visits the ice arena after hours. He’s a completely different person with the girl there. The anime flashbacks to when she first showed him videos of Victor, spending hours trying to imitate his grace and ability on the ice. Back in the present, he begins to skate one of Victor’s programs. Thanks to some sneaky video capturing and the power of social media, he gets the opportunity of a lifetime.
About to snap, but still in awe.
The pressure is on.
But will he take it? Ice is a nice metaphor for Katsuki’s situation. His mental state is a thin, precarious sheet. He doesn’t go on a psychotic rampage or anything intense like that, but he clearly puts himself under a lot of pressure to succeed. In just several times in one episode, he looks like he’s about to break down. Binge eating is just another manifestation of his psychological issues.
Who’ll do it better?
Seriously, just watch the anime for the ice skating.
Then there’s the incredibly impressive performance, when both Katsuki and Victor’s skating styles are juxtaposed and the camera pans and follows them from different angles. Throughout it all, Victor is full of vigor, even when frowning for theatrics. In contrast, Katsuki is cold at the beginning: he’s visibly whiter, beautiful but without the soul and personality he shows when he’s not skating. As the performance progresses, he becomes more absorbed, even smiling. Color returns to his cheeks. His movements gradually become more animated. There’s some work to be done, especially because there seems to be a married woman in the mix, but you’ll hope he can make up for everything he’s lost by focusing on skating.
My favorite part in this scene is that angry dude on the right.
Some more fanservice for you.
I don’t doubt that Yuri!!! On Ice will be one of the go-to series of the season. It’s looking to be an exploration in character and will likely deal with a strong set of protagonists and the pressures of becoming the top in anything. There may also be an intriguing subplot in romance, and so many other nuances dealing with psychology and social interactions in the modern world. All that aside, I’d just watch it for the gorgeous animated sequences and fantastic opening song. At the moment, though, I’m on the fence about following the anime for the simple fact that I don’t really like Katsuki. I am also put off by the many chibi and silly animations, which are distracting since they’re used so many times. I’ll give it an episode or two more.