I continue to enjoy Yuri on Ice, but perhaps not quite as much as the fanfare surrounding it would suggest I should be. There are an awful lot of good things about this series, but to be honest I don’t think the writing is among its best attributes. The whole exercise on the whole seems more geared towards creating an effect than telling a real story, and the characters more as devices than honest representations of real people. There’s nothing wrong with camp by any means, and certainly with Yamamoto directing you’re going to get lots of it. But I haven’t quite connected with any of the characters or the story itself on a personal level.
There were a lot of rumors this week that production on Yuri on Ice is extremely chaotic, with animators stretched to the limit trying to bear up to the demanding production schedule and lack of support from the director. That would certainly explain the heavy reliance on chibis and deformed faces (a common trick to cut costs and labor demand) as well as the occasional very noticeable drops in animation and art detail we saw in this episode. But it must be said that the skating sequences themselves remain rather impressive, on the whole, and MAPPA is to be commended for trying to deliver than in fully hand-drawn form. Let’s hope it doesn’t lead to a total production collapse.
Given that there’s a kind of “Disney on aphrodisiacs” quality to Yuri on Ice as a whole, I think a certain suspension of disbelief regarding the premise as a whole is probably a good idea. I haven’t really bought that anything we’re seeing here is remotely realistic, but if you accept the notion of a nation being riveted by a skate-off that’s been successfully promoted by six year-olds between two guys trying to win a coach, what went down this week was sort of fun. If you’re a fan of sensuality (and if you aren’t, why are you watching a Yamamoto anime?) there was plenty of it this week – ingrained in the competition itself, in fact. And in regards to Yuuri’s feelings towards Viktor, it was none too subtle. Whatever there once was between Yuuri and Yuuko, that doesn’t appear to be the romantic focus of Yuri on Ice.
It would be awkward dramatically, I suppose, to have a 15 year-old character confront his own sensuality so directly as the circumstances of this exhibition require – so maybe it’s better that Yurio be the one assigned the Agape routine. There’s a bunch more comedy here, which doesn’t bat for a terribly high average (the bit where Viktor wanted a photo in the bath did make me laugh, as that’s strictly verboten in Japan) but does lead us to places like Zen temples and waterfall meditation for Yurio to try and discover his agape side. Eventually he finds it – for his grandfather, who was probably the one adult who supported him most in his difficult career choice.
Fur Yuuri, things are altogether different. This is a 23 year-old man who should, by all accounts, be more comfortable with his sexuality (in the broad sense) than he is. That Japanese men are, in general, less comfortable with sex than most may be part of Yamamoto’s exploration and commentary here. Like Yurio the hero has to choose what (and/or who) he’ll skate this routine for, and the direction he goes is an interesting one – he decides he’ll embrace his feminine side, and be the “beautiful woman who wins the heart of the playboy”. Are we meant to take this (and this) as literally as they seem to be intended? I’m not sure, but perhaps Yuri on Ice does intend to be that rare anime that tackles homoerotic romance head-on. If so I hope Yamamoto shows what would frankly be uncharacteristic restraint, because it would be nice to see an anime portray a male homosexual romance without resorting to excessive comedy and Ikebukuro pandering.
Figure skating is an unusual (though not unique) sport in that competitors are judged both on their technical ability and their artistry – in separate scoring. I don’t know the sport well but my experience has been that it does tend to break down into two broad groups, excelling in one of those two areas or the other. That Yurio is superior in terms of jumps and difficulty of program is obvious, but we see in this episode the difference that, perhaps, eight years of life experience can make. In a real competition Yurio’s technical superiority and Yuuri’s botched quad would have given Yurio the win, but this isn’t a competition – it’s an attempt to prove which skater is more comfortable in their own skin and this receptive to what Viktor has to teach. That it proved to be Yuuri is one of the more realistic things to happen in Yuri on Ice so far, and it sets us up for some potentially interesting developments to come.