Warning: Review contains spoilers! Even more than usual.
“You have to do the opposite of what people expect.
How else will you surprise them?”
– Victor Nikiforov
This quote summarizes just why Yuri!!! On Ice episode 2 works so well. The episode both 1) subverted expectations and 2) juxtaposed opposites in many different ways. It’s ironic how Yuri Plisetsky (renamed Yurio by Yuri’s sister in the episode) mentions that “no one is surprised” about Victor anymore, considering the fact that the star ice skater in Russia just surprised everyone by dropping everything to coach a last-place finisher who’s not even from his own country. As for Victor himself, his seemingly lackadaisical and cheerful nature is completely contrasted by snarky remarks like: “The little piggy [Yuri] can’t enter the rink unless he loses fat” and his incredible way of manipulating people so that they perform at their best.
“Yes! You’re so inspiring!”
“Oh? You think you’re great just because you’ve won a few things? Let a world champion straighten out that horribly wrong mindset.”
The entire episode paints a rich tapestry of characterization and plot underpinned by these two techniques, which manifest themselves most noticeably in the two Yuris.
Yuri versus Yuri
Yuri Plisetsky, aka Yurio.
This episode, Yurio also drops everything to go to Japan because he thought Victor would choreograph a program for him if he won the Junior Grand Prix. Well, Yurio did win, but Victor completely forgot his part of the deal and ran off to coach Japanese Yuri instead, just because he saw a viral video.
The senior Yuri and his junior Yurio may have the same name and desire Victor’s coaching to win the Grand Prix, but couldn’t be any more different.
Yuri’s emotion shows on his face.
Even when he’s trying to be serious.
As Yuri’s teacher states, Yuri’s ability comes mostly from the sheer amount of work he’s put into it. He’s easily flummoxed and doubts his own ability, but in general he’s just a nice guy. Whenever he’s anxious, he runs off to practice at the skating rink or ballet studio. I’m not sure if Yuri’s promise as a skater has ever been explicitly mentioned in the anime. Yet he’s the one who receives Victor’s promise of coaching this time around, even if all his life he hasn’t really talked to Victor because he’s been putting him on such a high pedestal. His entire career banks on Victor’s coaching, and he may end his career if he doesn’t do well.
Still confident, but his delinquency does not define him.
Yurio is dubbed the “Russian fairy” because of his looks, but the real Yurio isn’t some kind, benevolent creature the image seems to suggest. He acts like a delinquent, is completely confident in his ability, and has won at least three championships. He’s the most promising candidate out of all the figure skaters in the anime, and probably the one who’s talked to Victor the most. Yet he doesn’t receive the promise of Victor’s coaching. His career is just beginning, as he desires to skate a masterful senior debut made by none other than Victor himself.
Yuri means “lily” in Japanese, “farmer” if we trace the Russian version to its Latin roots. A fragile flower against the one who controls it. As can be seen by these two definitions and the descriptions above, these two are pretty much the complete opposite of one another, not just in personality but also in biography. This makes the episode much more interesting, considering they’re placed in exactly the same plight.
A proposed showdown.
Something that scares the scariest and the meekest of us.
In line with the Yuri and Yuri—same name, opposite people—theme, Victor, whose first name is also quite significant, assigns them both the same song but with completely different variations. One focuses on unrequited love, sad and innocent, but the other is fiery, emphasizing sexual love. He ends up giving the fiery one to Yuri and the innocent one to Yurio: choices that are polar opposites of their personalities. If they can overcome this obstacle, the winner will actually receive Victor’s coaching.
This scene places the two Yuris on equal footing and emphasizes that, despite their many differences, they are indeed united by their love of skating, admiration of Victor, and fear of doing something they’re not used to. The two are drop-kicked completely out of their comfort zones, setting the stage for further character development and highlighting what it takes to rise through the ranks: no matter what your personality is, you have to perform whatever’s thrown at you at a top level. Or maybe it’s just that someone at the top can just do what they want to the peons at the bottom. Regardless of whether Victor’s just exploiting them for his own amusement and/or pushing both of them so that they become much better skaters, putting extra pressure is the fact that the performance will be publicly broadcast. They will be in a major competition even before the actual major competition happens.
“Muahaha! Actually, I and my two sisters are the protagonists here!”
Yuri, don’t get stepped on! Literally.
Although the scenes described above most visibly highlight the juxtaposition of opposites and the subversion of expectations, there are many nuances throughout the episode as well. Let’s list some of them.
- The three bratty sisters who seem to run the ice skating scene in Hasetsu – I’d expect a designated adult with more expertise in ice skating, but that could just be me. On that note, they’re a trio composed of pretty much the same person–which serves as an excellent foil to the highly disparate Yuri-Yuri-Victor trio–yet they’re the whole reason Yuri has this opportunity in the first place. They could be the most important and unlikable characters in the entire anime.
- Yuri’s parents vs. the ice skating fans – Yuri’s parents treat Victor like a normal house guest, even if they seem to know that he’s a world champion. Compare that to the rabid fan girls and reporters once Victor appears anywhere.
Social media makes a lot of appearances in this anime.
Just a normal family scene.
- Hasetsu, pre- and post-Victor – Hasetsu is a quiet town, known formerly for its hot springs. All the hot spring hotels closed down except for the Katsukis’. When Victor arrives, the town seems to be lively almost wherever he goes, mirroring Yuri’s transformation and hinting at his character development.
- Ninja castle house – Hasetsu Castle isn’t really a castle, but (I think) a funhouse with ninjas in it. This seems to evoke Yuri’s two faces: what he really feels versus what he says he feels. It can also pertain to all the ice skaters–how polished they are on the ice compared to how, well, human they act off of it.
Hasetsu Castle, biggest tourist attraction in town.
The castle’s not what people are coming for.
- “Hot Springs on Ice,” the competition between the two Yuris that will define at least next episode – The title is opposite enough. Hot water versus frozen water. It’s Yuri’s time to make a comeback, but he’s really feeling the pressure. (I may be imposing the Western interpretation of “hot water” onto something that’s not there.)
- Yuri’s lack of confidence versus his competitiveness – Something that might hold him back, but also push him ever forward.
- The very first scene where Victor tells his coach Yakov that he’s leaving – it becomes dramatic and then ends with a very lighthearted note. Victor always does what he wants! Yurio, on the other hand, has the same exact coach and didn’t even tell him he was leaving.
I’d like to go more in-depth into these and more, but this post is already getting too long.
“Till we meet again, in the summer of our old age…”
“On to my next adventure!”
Nevertheless, I am amazed by how well this episode really just explored variations of the same thing over and over again to synthesize such a fantastic whole. I wasn’t too sold on the first episode, but I’m definitely looking forward to more!
EDIT (10/17/16): I previously had the meaning of “Yuri” in Russian as “light of God,” but that is its meaning in Hebrew. Yuri in Russian is based on George (Latin), which means farmer.