I’m mostly on-board the hype train with Yuri on Ice, but not to the extent that a lot of viewers seem to be. Objectively this series is very good, but there are elements that work for me and elements that don’t – which makes me wonder if there’s just an incompatibility between Yamamoto Sayo and myself that’s always going to be a presence. She’d a very stylish director, with all that goes along with that description – and what you think of her style is naturally going to be a major factor in your enjoyment of any of her series.
If there’s anything worrying me, it’s that after two episodes Yuri on Ice is distinctly reminding me of Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso. The very important caveat is that here I don’t hate most of the cast (obviously, that makes a big difference) but the commonality for me is the style of humor and the fact that I don’t find most of it funny. I think Shigatsu was a more “serious” (in a offensively banal way) story by nature, and it’s humor was considerably more unsuccessful than Yuri thus far. But the flispide of that is that there’s more of it in this show – this ep was quite a bit more comedy-driven than the first – and the majority of it just doesn’t make me laugh.
I’m hoping I can get past that (to be honest, Yamamoto’s comedy has almost never made me laugh) because Yuri on Ice is quite lovely to look at and had the makings of a rather engaging storyline. I find the conceit that Viktor would look at a Youtube video and instantly decide to quasi-retire and fly halfway across the globe to coach Yuuri a bit silly – only slightly more than the idea that Yuri would (at 15, mind you) slip out of Russia virtually unnoticed and stalk him to Kyushu. But since they’re here, we might as well have a story – the three of them have the potential to be an entertaining troupe.
Yuri (one “u”) is more or less the main focus of this episode. He’s apparently based on the female skating phenom Yulia Lipnitskaya, who burst onto the scene at 15 too (much more common among girls), and is widely considered “washed up” at 18 after a so-far disappointing senior career. As played by Uchiyama Kouki Yuri is effectively gender-neutral, a classic teenage brat who could as easily be a boy or a girl (I don’t know the sport well enough to know if that’s anything like Lipnitskaya). His reason for following Viktor to Japan is nominally that Viktor promised a 13-ish Yuri that if he won the World Junior title without any quads in his routine, Viktor would design the program for his senior debut.
It doesn’t take a whole lot of reading between the lines to see that there’s more to this for Yuri, and Yuuri too. Both of them idolize Viktor, idealize and deify him even – whether there’s a sexual element with either of them it’s hard to say, but their adulation is very real either way. Perhaps the most interesting question to me at this stage is whether Viktor will prove worthy of that adulation. Obviously, he’s an incredibly talented and charismatic man. But is he worthwhile of such admiration? Is he a flighty gadfly who uses his hold over others to amuse himself (it does strike me that boredom may be Viktor’s biggest enemy) or is there a substantial core to the man that’s as notable as his raw talent and magnetism?
This is interesting stuff, no doubt about it. Viktor is already proving an interesting coach, forcing Yuri and Yurio (that one piece of humor did work for me) to skate to the piece of music the other selected as their favorite of the two arrangements Viktor played for them. And Yuuri skating to an erotic theme while Yuri skates to an agape one is none-too-subtle foreshadowing of where their character arcs are headed. But I can’t help it – I just wish Yamamoto-sensei would tone down all the showboating a little. A few less distorted faces and spit-takes and pratfalls would suit the material better, if you ask me – but fish gotta swim and skaters gotta skate, so I don’t think it’s realistic to expect Yamamoto to be something she’s not. I just hope there’s enough to Yuri on Ice to carry the weight of all that puffery.