When I first read about Yuri!!! on Ice I dismissed it. The title misled me as to what the genre of the show would be. And three exclamation points in any show title is just a few too many. I barely knew anything about figure skating either. I’ve been ice skating just enough times as a kid to know it isn’t as easy as it looks and that rental skates are designed to be as uncomfortable and blister-inducing as possible. My knowledge of professional competition extended as far as the occasional skating routine I’ve caught on television and having seen the movie Blades of Glory.
But anime has a knack for being able to get me interested in any type of competitive sport or activity, whether it be a boxing match or a competitive card swiping game. So I went into Yuri on Ice with an open mind thinking eventually it might be able to capture some of that same magic. Halfway through watching the first episode when Yuri and Victor perform their routines to the aria “Stay Close to Me”, I became a figure skating fan.
Yuri on Ice
Yuri on Ice is a sports anime all about the world of professional figure skating. Competitions and performances take up the show’s main run time.
All of the routines in the show were choreographed and performed by professional skater and choreographer Kenji Miyamoto. The rotoscoped animation captures every motion and subtle body movement in each rendition. The angles and perspectives used in the animation are visually stunning. The combinations of close ups and wide shots, jump cuts and long takes give the performances a real sense of motion and spectacle. They breathe life into each routine and make you feel like you’re watching a live performance.
The music used in each performance covers a wide range of genres and styles. Full orchestral symphonies, classical piano arrangements, pop, and rock songs to name a few. And each song complements the choreography of the performance. The step sequences, jump combinations, and spins are all timed in sync with the rhythm. The crashing and cutting percussion of their skates on ice are accompaniment to the piece.
When the skaters glide out onto the ice in costume they transform themselves. Every performance is a physically straining technical sport that pushes the athletes to their limits. Each routine is a ballet where the dancer demonstrates his beauty and grace. The characters’ programs tell stories of romance and heartbreak, of being in the depths of despair and of feeling on top of the world. And when the music stops and the curtains close, the skaters’ exasperated panting and tears of joy and grief are wonderful catharsis.
No story in the show is so captivating as its protagonist’s, Yuri Katsuki. At the beginning of the series Yuri has just returned home after a failed figure skating season, contemplating whether he should retire from the professional skating scene. His entire life Yuri lacked confidence in himself on the ice and off. He always considered himself a loner, going off to practice on his own whenever he couldn’t deal with the rest of the world. But he turned his solitude into his strength, channeling all of those feelings into his practice and performance.
The story of Yuri on Ice is about Yuri’s transformation after meeting his new coach and figure skating champion, Victor Nikiforov. As his coach Victor doesn’t teach Yuri new skating techniques or skills so much as he inspires Yuri to reach his own potential. Yuri has to prove to himself and his competitors that he is worthy of having Victor as his coach.
At the first tournament of his comeback in Japan Yuri is competing against a young up and coming Japanese figure skater named Minami. To his surprise, Yuri learns that Minami and many of the other competing skaters idolize and look up to him in the same way he had previously done with Victor. During the competition Yuri finally steps up to his role as a leading skater from Japan and rediscovers the fun of skating.
When I first saw Yuri perform his free routine to the song “Yuri on Ice” I was stunned. The piano piece was originally composed for Yuri to represent the entirety of his skating career. Previously the song was flat and dull, a reflection of Yuri and his uneventful skating career thus far. But now the song was filled with the feelings and emotions of all the highs and lows of his fantastic journey. Through his performance Yuri is able to express all the different forms of love he feels. Yuri’s free routine was the culmination of his life as a skater, and it was wonderful to watch him live it on the ice.
Most of the other skaters in the show only get a small amount of screen time, but the show still manages to create compelling characters and personalities for many of them. In the few scenes they appear each skater distinguishes himself as a character. There’s Phichit the fun-loving, selfie taking, social media fanatic who dreams of one day having his own ice dancing show so he can share the joy of figure skating with the world. And JJ the pompous, narcissistic superstar who skates to a rock song, he sings himself, all about how great he is.
For Yuri and many of the other skaters who make it to the Grand Prix Finals we get to see their routines multiple times, but each repeat performance still captures the same feeling of anticipation and excitement as the first. Each skater shows his ability to adapt, recover, and reinvent himself every time he takes to the ice. I watched along with the other competitors and supporters at home, holding my breath at each jump. And by the end of their routines I was cheering for them whether they stuck every landing with their arm raised or crumbled under the pressure.
Love is the main theme of Yuri on Ice, and it takes on many different forms throughout the series. For the start of the new skating season Victor choreographs the short programs for both Yuri and Yurio (Yurio Plisetsky). Each will skate to a different arrangement of the song “On Love”.
For the adolescent Russian punk Yurio, Victor chooses Agape arrangement, which represents unconditional, divine love. At the beginning of the show Yurio’s only way of interacting with others seems to be by yelling and starting fights with them. He boards a flight from Russia to Japan to do just that with Victor and Yuri at the beginning of the series. But Yurio is forced to grow up quickly and develop further as a person and skater in the new professional skating world he’s put into. Yurio’s search for his agape leads him to think of his Grandpa who was always supportive of him and his skating. Yurio learns to express his agape through the loving memories he has of his Grandpa and displays it to everyone on the ice.
For the shy and self-conscious Yuri. Victor chooses the erotic, sexual love of the Eros arrangement. At first Yuri struggles to find his eros, having never been in a romantic relationship before or ever having thought about himself in that way. Oddly enough, Yuri discovers his eros through the lust and uncontrollable desire he feels for eating his favorite pork cutlet bowls. Rather than try to be a playboy on the ice Yuri learns to express his eros and seduce the crowd with his feminine charm. By giving them these tonally clashing songs with their personalities, Victor forces both Yuris to evolve as skaters and discover new types of love within themselves they never knew existed.
Yuri and Victor’s love for each other is the heart of the show. The two’s interest in the other starts off as infatuation from both sides. For Yuri it comes from his idolization of Victor going back to when he was first learning to skate. For Victor it came from the first drunken impression Yuri made on him and later seeing Yuri’s take on his own free skating routine. Their love develops over the course of the series. You see it happen in the light banter and emotionally charged moments they share with each other. They have fun and laugh just as much as they misunderstand and get upset with each other.
Yuri and Victor both find new strength and inspiration to continue skating from the other. For Yuri, love becomes the theme of his comeback season. He rediscovers his passion for skating through Victor and gains someone to fight for besides himself. Victor is also on a journey of rediscovery. He used to have the same mentality as Yuri, that he could only rely on himself and become a better skater on his own. After having focused on skating for the past 20 years, he finally admits that he has been neglecting the life and love that he so desperately desires. Victor discovers this brand new world filled with life and love through his experiences with Yuri. He comes to understand more about Yuri, his weaknesses, his insecurities, and what motivates him. And he constantly questions what more he can do to for Yuri to become a better coach, friend, and special person in Yuri’s life.
Yuri and Victor’s relationship is complex. As a coach and student, fellow competitors, and as two adults who have thus far pushed aside romance and relationships their entire lives to focus on their skating careers. But as Yuri says, he has no other words to describe his feelings for Victor other than love.
From the very first episode it is evident how loving and supportive Yuri’s family and friends are of him and his skating. Minako waiting for his return home at the train station with a welcome back sign. Yuri’s mom bursting out the entrance in excitement to greet him and his sister’s monotone words of support. They are all filled with their own forms of love. Even the minor characters in the story have their moments. Mila’s constant teasing of Yurio and the pork cutlet Pirozkhis that Yurio’s grandfather makes for him are the ways they show their love.
Yuri on Ice is a labor of love. It is the passion project of director Sayo Yamamoto and writer Mitsurou Kubo. Their love and creativity shine through in every aspect of the show. Their love for figure skating and their desire to share it with the world is made evident in every performance. The two have a deep love for their characters and for cultures across the world. You can see it in the little things like the different foods the characters eat and that are displayed in the show’s transition cards. It is in the shouts of Ganbarou, Davai, and other words of encouragement yelled in the skaters’ native languages before a performance. Yuri on Ice is an anime where people of different ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds are all connected by their love of figure skating.
Yuri on Ice is an anime that I will remember. The show is able to capture comedy and seriousness in its story and character development all at once. It’s the best show I’ve seen that uses social media as a natural part of its story and its characters’ lives. The skaters check each other’s Twitter feeds to find out where in the world the others are at and what they’re up to. Their Instagram posts add to their characters, highlighting their individuality and making them relatable at the same time. The show even uses an embarrassing viral Youtube video of the main character as a gag and the catalyst for the entire plot of the story. And one of the best credit sequences of any anime is at the end of episode 10. We’re treated to a slideshow of pictures the skaters took depicting Yuri’s drunken dance battle, and we get to see the origin of the two protagonists’ love story.
Yuri on Ice is a show that I will recommend and compare to others in its genres. As a sports anime for its focus on realism and the actual performances of the sport. As a character piece with a diverse and modern cast that play off each other in hilarious and dramatic ways. And as a show about love that handles romance and relationships better than most others who dedicate their entire run time to those subjects.
Yuri on Ice has engaged me in a way that no other anime has in a long time. I was looking up the scoring system for figure skating routines just so I would have a better idea of how well a skater was performing during a skate. What were the number and types of elements allowed in each skating program? What was the difference between an axel, Lutz, and loop?
While I was watching the show there have been instances where I’ve laughed so loud I had to pause and rewind to see what I missed. At other times my eyes have been fixated on the screen and my mouth hung open, just marveling at the spectacle of the performances. And on more than one occasion I’ve caught myself just standing up and doing a spin for no reason at all.
I’ve rewatched scenes and episodes multiple times since they’ve aired. I’ve listened to the Yuri on Ice single on repeat many times over and can recite many of the lyrics to “Theme of King JJ” by heart. I’ve read through long episode discussion threads and translated interviews with the creators. I saw Yuri on Ice explode on social media and gain popularity far beyond the normal anime watching community, even getting real professional skaters watching and involved.
In his last line of the series Yuri tells us that figure skaters call everything on the ice “love”. Skaters put their life and love into their training and every program they perform. It is the reason why they push themselves to train until their feet bleed and get up and continue after a fall. Love is in every jump, every spin, and every step sequence of a routine. It is in every strained breath taken and every bouquet and plushy thrown into the rink by cheering fans when the music ends. Love is the theme of Yuri on Ice, and it pervades every facet of the show. It is everything on the ice. And I love it all.