First Impressions – Yuri!! on Ice

The season is officially kicked into gear now.

yuri-on-ice-01-1I’ve said for a while that my favorite thing about Yuri!! on Ice was the apoplexy among anime fans of a certain stripe when they found out it didn’t mean what they thought it meant.  But that’s just starting to annoy me now, mainly because it would have taken minimal effort (or even consciousness) to discover the truth by now, and because so many of those fans have always taken the attitude that anime existed purely to serve their particular fetishes.  Get over yourselves and watch one of the 30 other series this season that scratches your itch, and stop bitching about the occasional one that doesn’t (no matter what the title is).

yuri-on-ice-01-2Now, onto the series itself – and quite a splashy debut Yuri on Ice makes.  This is a production that lets you know immediately that kiddie swim is over – MAPPA means business here.  Directed by Yamamoto Sayo and co-written by mangaka Kubo Mitsurou, Yuri on Ice is a story about men’s figure skating – to the best of my knowledge the first full series to focus on that subject.  Figure skating is not a sport that’s a particular fascination of mine – it’s one of those that pretty much disappears off my radar for four years at a time.  But any sports series can grab you whether you follow the sport or not, as long as it tells a compelling human story.  And so far, the results are encouraging.

yuri-on-ice-01-3The first question any figure skating anime in 2016 is going to have to answer is that of how it’s going to bring the actual skating to life.  I very much appreciate that MAPPA and Yamamoto-sensei chose to go with fully hand-drawn animation, given that figure skating is such a dynamic and fluid sport.  There are occasional “skips” and jerky moments, but for the most part the routines are really lovely – and I’d rather have that than more seamless CGI.  Figure skating is art as much as sport (half the scores come down to “artistic impression” after all), a ballet on ice – and the effect of MAPPA’s work here is sort of an impressionistic take on the subject.

yuri-on-ice-01-4The hero of Yuri on Ice is Katsuki Yuuri (an excellent Toyonaga Toshiyuki), a Japanese lad of about 21 who as we meet him has finally cracked the sports big stage only to fail pretty miserably when he gets there.  Yuuri idolizes the Russian four-time champion Viktor Nikiforov (Suwabe Junichi) – so much so that he named his poodle “Vicchan” (a poodle he got because Viktor had one).  At 27 Viktor is a veritable dowager for figure skating, but the Russian contingent also features someone at the opposite end of their career arc, 15 year-old Yuri Plisetsky (Uchiyama Kouki).  Yuri is young, arrogant and immensely talented (it’s interesting to note that it’s his spelling that matches the series title) and resents the idea of another “Yuuri” in the senior division drawing attention away from him.

yuri-on-ice-01-6Yamamoto and Kubo make a very wise decision in making the premiere more about Yuuri’s life journey than the sport itself.  As he returns home to the small onsen city in Kyushu from whence he hails Yuuri is at a crossroads in his life, clearly unsure whether he still has the fire in the (rapidly expanding) belly to continue to try and be a world-class athlete.  There’s an excellent misdirection when he meets childhood friend Yuko, who manages the local ice rink.  The chemistry between Yuuri and Yuko is immediately obvious, as is the fact that Yuuri has always been in love with her.

yuri-on-ice-01-7The scene where Yuuri reenacts Viktor’s gold-medal winning routine (featuring four quadruple jumps, which both of them nail) is gorgeously shot, intercutting between the two men as they perform the routine.  The fact that Yuuri spent a year learning this routine to show it to Yu-chan is beautiful – yes, he wants to rediscover the love of skating which flared in him when they skated together as children (imitating Viktor) but that’s not all there is here.  But then we find out that Yuko is actually married to Yuuri’s childhood tormentor Nishigori Takeshi (Fukuyama Jun), and that they have triplet daughters – one of whom records Yuuri’s routine on a sumaho and posts it online, setting off the somewhat implausible chain of events that sets up the rest of the series’ plot.

yuri-on-ice-01-8Make no mistake about it, Yuri!! on Ice is very, very good so far – a class production that seems geared towards adults.  But I’m cautious here, because I don’t know Kubo’s work and even more, because Yamamoto and I have a checkered history.  I’m not a fan of her over-busy visual style generally – it works well here but I don’t know if I’ll feel that way after a cour of it – and I’ve never made it to the end of a show she’s directed without becoming highly annoyed with her grandstanding and creative choices.  She’s a very talented woman, and maybe Yuri on Ice is the show where it all comes together and she and I finally click.  I sure hope so, because this was a rock-solid premiere for a series that seems to have a world of potential.

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24 comments

  1. s

    Sayo yamamoto is a talent in the anime industry along with matsumoto rie and naoko yamada. Ive always enjoyed her visual creativity and how she uses it to take command of the narrative. She understands how to direct shots and is really good with having the character’s tell the story without using blatant exposition (which is hard to see in most anime nowadays). She’s one of the few female directors that can do this effectively and ive always acknowledged what she is capable of even she is paired with a polarizing screenwriter (ehem okada mari…she seems to have a trend of “toxifying” directors). I thought mitchiko to hatchin was a good example of were her talent lies as a director even though the writing stumbled a bit, with space dandy demonstrating how flexible she can be with her visuals. This and euphonium season 2 kicked of the fall season for me, especially euphonium as kyo ani once again demonstrate that their visual storytelling prowess is top tier (Ishihara took the kid gloves off in that 1hr premiere, focusing primarily on what made the first season a good watch and eliminated most of the fluff)

  2. D

    For those who don’t know, Sayo Yamamoto directed a short in the Animator Expo last year called “Endless Eight” which was about ice skating. She also directed the opening animation of the game “Persona 5” which is also figuring ice skating. She’s been scratching that itch for a while now.

    As for Yuri on Ice, it is indeed very good as expected. I’m a fan of Sayo Yamamoto and the possibility of her failing an original project never crossed my mind. One thing I particulary noted about ths episode is how the female characters are depicted, despite this being an obvious bishonen show. The single teacher who’s bored on living in the boonies, the slighlty punk sister, the young mother girl… Each charater is already developped without the need of using tropes, which is where having a talented director (and a female one) makes the difference.

    I also liked the fact that the show is focused on the personal journey of the protagonist rather than putting situations together – which is the reason I’m not a fan of sports shows. Yuri on Ice reminds me more excellent Ping-Pong actually, which is nice.

  3. D

    *Pssst* – Slip of the finger, I’m sure, but the Animator Expo short was “Endless Night”.
    “Endless Night” was brilliant, and the thing that had me interested in this show.

  4. Endless Eight, OTOH…

    Oy.

  5. H

    I was quite looking forward to this premier after seeing the teaser some months back. The gorgeous animation of the skating routines really grabbed me. The guys too I’ll admit :P. However, I did go into it with minimal expectations since the shows I genuinely love nowadays are few and far between. But this was about as perfect as it can get. I don’t have one single complaint about this episode and genuinely hope that the ones that follow will have the same flawless direction and narrative. I absolutely loved the development of Yuuri’s character. He was presented in a down-to-earth way that coupled seamlessly with the kind of goofiness I love in anime. The animation was breathtaking at times and great the rest of the time and there was a perfect blend of comedy and drama that made what was unfolding compelling. Also, I absolutely adored both the opening and ending songs! I can’t wait to watch this story unfold.

  6. D

    The “Endless Night” short in the animator expo was what had my interest piqued in this series. While I’ve got no interest in figure skating as such I could appreciate the heart and soul put into that.
    I found the comic sections of this show quite endearing, as well as defusing the tension (when the girls pop up after the skating sequence) and making it very clear that this show wasn’t going be po-faced and full of DRAMA, but have its funny side too.

    Highlight had to be the way the skating scenes cut together Viktor’s performance, and Yuuri’s heartfelt reproduction of it in a deserted ice-rink in front of his childhood friend Yuko. That was just so well made that I could watch it over and over again… and I did.

  7. Well, this looked amazingly good! Though my heart broke a little for poor Yuuri when those three triplets popped up and I realised just HOW desperate his plight is. The obvious puns about “Yaoi on ice” are inevitable when we’re treated to those long… lingering… sensual shots of Viktor’s naked body XD, but I’d say it’s pretty fair game given anime’s usual leanings, and hey, he IS a looker. I wonder if he actually IS gay (he sure has some mannerisms) and if that will ever factor in the story in a more serious manner (which would be interesting in its own right).

    As an aside, is it me or this is, like, the first sports-themed anime original series in memory? Usually they always are manga adaptations.

  8. An interesting question – Basquash may qualify (I would argue it does). Free! was pretty close given how loosely it adapted the source material, but I suppose technically an adaptation.

    As for the “Yaoi on Ice” thing (I struggled hard to resist, but you broke the bubble), well – there are certainly a fair number of gay men in the sport. So it would hardly be pandering if there were some same-sex male romance involved – it’d be quite realistic in fact. That said, I did get the sense that Yuuri was 100% in-love with Yu-chan.

  9. Ah, yeah, I totally get it, and won’t be surprised one bit if Viktor turned out to be gay. Yuuri would be a bit more forced but hey, bisexual people are a thing. I’d rather the show not spend THAT MUCH TIME on character drama – an entire subplot about discovering a new side of one’s own sexuality seems a bit too massive to live in the same space of a sports story (how many cours is this again…?). But we still don’t even know the entire cast, they could simply have Viktor have a relationship with someone else, and that’d be perfectly nice.

  10. s

    which must have been ball crushing for him to be reminded that she has children with his other childhood friend (i saw it coming the moment he was being bullied by the other guy in the flashbacks). Not many anime tackle the idea of someone being in love with somebody who already has a children and a family. I wonder if that plot point will turn into any real drama or if it was meant to be a one-shot expository gag

  11. N

    It’s just a joke. Contrary to stereotype, most yuri fans are women and girls who tend to like BL as well.

  12. TYeah, Yuuri was clearly about to blurt out his confession before being interrupted by the triplets. That said, bisexual people do exist. Let’s see what happens from here on.

  13. T

    As of episode 7 you can toss the idea that, “Yuri was one HUNDRED percent in love with Yu” out the window… Maybe he was in love with her to some degree at some point in time – and that attraction may very well have lingered – but between him and Viktor’s obvious romantic attractions, the fact Kubo said she didn’t want to write another story focusing on a heterosexual couple, but rather one about seeing a homosexual relationship as merely a normal relationship, and how little contact Yuuri has with Yu from the second episode onwards, perhaps it’s safe to say that the “in love with Yu-chan” idea is all but lost now.

    (I know all of this was written quite a while ago, but I couldn’t resist… it’s so fascinating to me to see people’s theorized projections of the series during the air of episode one, compared to the actual projection as each new episode airs. I myself am quite surprised with the outcomes we’ve been presented with so far. Had I read this after only the first episode, I probably would have agreed with you despite my high hopes of Viktor and Yuuri getting together.)

    On one last note, I’d like to add that no matter which side of the fence you’re on in this subject, you have to admit that the development of Viktor and Yuuri’s relationship was beautifully executed. It was such a genius move to use the sport itself – allowing the show to still retain its main focus – to develop their relationship in such a way that avoided it looking forced. Kubo also did exceptionally well on portraying her main point of making Viktor and Yuuri’s relationship seem perfectly normal, rather than making a big deal out of it the way the BL genre does, might I add – Japan still doesn’t see same-sex relationships as a normal everyday thing, though they don’t avidly reject other sexualities, it seems to be more of a fictional, “only appears in the media”, ordeal to the vast majority of the populace there – in fact, Kubo even went so far as to purposely refuse to label the production under the genre for that exact reason.

  14. e

    Tehehe. I loved it. Russian Yuri is the only character I am left apprehensive about but the rest was either on par with expectations or better:
    – Yu(u)ri was fleshed out rather well and it’s easy to root for him in all shapes and forms *pinch pinch pinch* .
    – the YuParents are adorable and Yu-topia is dorky name marketing genius X,DD. Also dang I am craving that pork and some extra gut now.
    – Victor Nikiforov a.k.a. Fabulous ‘Victorious Winner Harb(r)inger Of Victory’ is confirmed as anime!Plushenko ( if anything they might be underplaying his flamboyant and cheeky-flirty star power side a bit. But hey that’s just the first episode. Just look up some of the man’s routines on Youtube :p [the Sex Bomb ones for camp fun – there is also a nappies version – vs his Michael Jackson SP – the golden suit version – for his unique artistic flair in competitions for instance among the embarassment of riches ] he can be as shameless yet tongue-in-cheek as no other.
    – Yu(u)ri’s compounding factors crisis including the pressure on being the pride of his hometown… and the depiction of said hometown (including the bit of the fake castle with a ninja house inside :,DD ) and people ( including the drop in residents and economy). There is vibrancy and range. Thumbs up.
    – Poodles. Poodles drama (death of pets. Straight to the heart there). Poodles moe. Poodles everything – they’re even on Yuuri’s phone cover XDD – . I’m not even that great of a fan of real life poodles. Btw Victor’s poodle is the hunkiest of them males in the ED. They managed to make a gigantic wet dog alluring. If that’s not [ Love Sprinkle (macho!) ] magic…
    – The skating coreography was indeed nice, the Yuri-Viktor interlacing and Yuri rather soulful faces when he got closer to Yuko were especially lovely touches. But given the RL sources for the main trio*** I am expecting some Biellmann spins goodness to come :p.

    ***hallowed be tumblr http://isaberlily.tumblr.com/post/149371769761/couldnt-help-myself-i-just-had-to-do-this + the Yulia/Yuri post

    – Yu(u)ri has a whole Victor shrine in his room. Ah, idol worship :,) . So much loving art detail all around.
    – YuMom <3 I wanna hug her and sing praise of her booty XDD. Please adopt me oh sweet lady :,).
    – Gushy onsen fountains of censorship. Giant tanuki statue. Giant squid(?) station statue. Purple skies. So far so props&background good.

  15. S

    Ah, Plushenko, that’s his name! Thanks Elianthos. What an amazing talent. In a sport I had zero interest in, he was absolutely bewitching to watch. Really magical. I think I even watched a similar 4xQuad routine at some Olympics.

    Everything clicks for me. I like the characters, the humour and the visuals. Sold.

  16. M

    I’d say that Viktor resembles Yagudin, Plushenko’s rival. His Man in the Iron Mask routine is a brilliant piece of work. Too bad that he retired soon after.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6zeIUH3rHg
    This and Plushenko’s Tribute to Nijinsky are two of the most memorable performances out there.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEJXkfMYTX4

    All in all, great episode.

  17. e

    @Stöt: you’re welcome oh my fellow stalker of GeK fansubbers (btw another trickster triplets anime occurrence! Let’s rejoice XDD).
    Yep, that’s the one and only ice-skating tzar. I have an on-off relationship with the sport myself – had very few chances to practice it but it was fun XD. To this day every few months or so I catch up and binge on whatever pros video I can find – and honestly to my eye most performances and performers tend to blend together after a while but him. He’s just that unique and magnetic on ice. Even after all those disks/groin/knee surgeries and at his age.

  18. Y

    The post you’ve linked claims Kolyada is the real-life inspiration behind Plisetsky, but I remember reading Yuri was actually based on Yulia Lipnitskaya (same age + skating style + prodigy/future champion reputation)? Someone correct me if I’m wrong??

  19. e

    @Yana: yes that’s why I mentioned that at the end. The posts highlighting the Yuri P. = Yulia L. can be found at that very same tumblr account – with pictures to match -. Interestingly enough it also mentioned the peculiar spin of some PixiV fanarts of Yulia as one of the sources for Yuri’s ‘Russian punk’ personality compared to his RL source personality XDD.

  20. Y

    Ah, yes, I didn’t notice that last part, sorry. I had no idea there was fanart of Yulia on PixiV; that’s an interesting comparison. Though another thing I saw regarding Plisetsky’s connection to Yulia had me wondering about whether her role in the conception of this character could be hinting at his future: there’s a fan theory floating around about how, because Yuri is seen as Viktor’s “destined successor”and “the future champion of Russia”, he might eventually crumble under the pressure of those titles, just like Lipnitskaya did. I’m curious to see if this is, in fact, how his story will play out.

  21. M

    It is kind of weird that for a sport that Japan absolutely excels in worldwide stage there’s only one anime ever before this about ice-skating – Ginban Kaleidoscope which based on a light novel. I love the anime but I just realized on how not well-known the series is with how most people said Yuri is the first ice-skating anime they ever watch. Well here’s the hope that we will have more ice-skating anime after this.

  22. A

    What an amazing art and story!

  23. P

    Can’t wait to see the episode to be storyboarded by Tachikawa (Death Parade, Mob Psycho 100).

  24. K

    Can we talk about the op? I mean, it’s incredible, the animation. And actually it was made by a single guy, traditional animation ( not computer ), 24 frames per second. Like, this IS skill.

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