Yuri!!! on Ice – 03

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.

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22 comments

  1. Y

    This episode, to me, was the very definition of a “mixed bag” — there were lots of things I liked, and lots of things I didn’t.

    Starting with what I think definitely dragged the episode down: again, all that fucking fanservice. Now, don’t get me wrong, I get that it’s kind of inevitable, but come the fuck on, there sure as heck didn’t have to be so MUCH of it, did there? Regardless of whether that is the director’s “style”, what we got in the first half felt far more like a desperate and overdramatic bout of queerbaiting than anything else. I hope that’s not the case, I truly do, but so far I’ve seen very little to dissuade me from thinking that. If you’re going to have simple sensuality instead of actual emotional progress in a potential relationship, can’t you at least handle the sensuality in a more tasteful manner? Then there was the dip in animation quality, which I expected since it’s perfectly understandable considering what’s going on at MAPPA, so that didn’t bug me as badly as it could have; I was sad they couldn’t give us the amazing fluidity of movement we saw in episode 1, but it was nothing to shake my fist at. And finally, Victor. Ugh. UGH. DUDE. This guy proved to be such an arsehole! It wasn’t just that he disregarded (by FORGETTING, no less!) the promise he made to Plisetsky — something the boy worked very hard for and relied on and geared the hopes for the future of his career towards — it was that he didn’t even seem concerned by the fact that little Yuri felt so disappointed in himself, he up and left before the competition was even over. Victor didn’t wonder where he might have gone, or why he was missing; he didn’t try to find him, didn’t ask anyone about his whereabouts when Yuri didn’t turn up on the podium (which was another reference to Lipnitskaya’s own professional history, I believe), there wasn’t a single sign of concern anywhere on Victor’s person. Even though he said that had been the best performance he’d ever seen Plisetsky do, it was like he forgot about him the minute Katsuki began his routine. People are losing their shit over the fact that Victor whistled. And admittedly, it was a fun touch — but I’m losing MY shit over the fact that he was suddenly completely dismissive of the existence of his younger teammate (or former teammate? Is Mr Charming still part of the Russian Skating Federation if he’s coaching someone in Japan?) Plisetsky went through so much trouble to even get a chance at having Victor coach him, and the worst part is, he shouldn’t have had to do any of that — Victor had already made a promise to the boy, and regardless of whether he had forgotten about it or not, surely he ought to be held responsible for something as important as this. Remember, Yuri fulfilled his part of the bargain — he won the Junior Championship thrice, and only with triple jumps. That’s three years of hard work, and it made me feel so bad for him. I hope Victor’s actions have consequences, and I hope we see them give him more depth — right now, he’s just a greedy dick (which is ironic when you consider he was reprimanding Plisetsky for being the same at the beginning of the episode).

    Now onto what I loved: little Yuri’s story arc. I knew he would be more that just a grumpy little shit with a cattitude because I’d read his Wiki article in advance, so I was happy to see the softer side of things start to play out after two eps of him being a jerk almost non-stop. His performance was undoubtedly the superior of the two in both athletic and aesthetic terms (it was technically flawless), but not so in terms of mentality. He’s clearly a gifted artist, but also an unstable person — today I saw someone on tumblr sum his struggle up quite perfectly in a single sentence: “To succeed is what he wishes, but to understand is what he is given, and in the end, desperation overwhelms him”. Objectively, I loved watching his programme, especially when his fear became visible through his movements — faster, sharper, slipping back into his comfort zone — and then, to hear him literally beg for his routine to be over was… wow. And not only that, but the grandfather part? Hooo boy, did that hit home for me. I lost my only grandfather earlier this year, and he was someone I loved very, very much, so to see little Yuri use that same type of love was both incredibly sweet and saddening for me, so I guess I’m kind of biased.

    Another thing I liked was Katsuki deciding the role of a playboy isn’t for him and choosing to go the “seductress” route instead. I did not expect that and was very pleasantly surprised. And the music, gosh, the music was so beautiful this episode. I hope they release the soundtrack soon.

    All in all, I can’t call the episode solid (it felt too dynamic for that), but certainly can’t call it weak either. But I hope things improve from now on, especially character-wise.

  2. C

    Did anyone else notice that Yuuri used female pronouns during his performance or am I going crazy?

  3. Y

    Yes, he did. It makes sense, though — he was playing the role of a woman, so it most likely helped him “get into character”.

  4. H

    I gotta say that not once during the first episode, or any since, did I feel that Yuuri had any romantic feelings for Yuko. To me their relationship seemed built on a very solid friendship where they had similar passions. There wasn’t a single moment where he looked like someone who was pining for the one who got away after seeing her again. Some of his comments in the first episode made it seem quite obvious that he was in the closet (and that she knows this). There is also the fact that he had all of those sexy posters of Viktor adorning his room and that he gets so flustered around his idol. I even felt that the direction he went with in the competition against Yurio was sort of a metaphor for his blossoming sexuality. It seems that he is beginning to understand the feelings he has towards Viktor and embrace them. Overall I am really impressed with this series for not shying away from these kinds of themes and telling it in a way where they aren’t something to be ashamed of.

  5. That performance Yuuri gave for Yuuko in the premiere didn’t strike me as the sort of performance you give for a friend.

  6. e

    @HoTaRu: what Enzo and Simone said :). Also you might remember how in the first episode when he goes back at the Ice Castle what we first see of her are her thighs and butt. The camera in that sequence overlaps with Yuuri. We are seeing her through Yuuri’s eyes. Male gaze in every possible way. Then he blushes and thinks how ‘she was his idol since childhood’ and how ‘she is still cute’. Then there’s his attitude during the performance and what seems like a quashed love confession right at the end when the triplets pop up. And that faint complex smile he makes at her husband with the kids followed by the whole ‘ I went away from here for 5 years to run from things and throwing himself into skating’. The unrequited love inference is pretty strong imho.
    And then there are also the lyrics of Victor’s program he’s skating to. It’s a full-out aria about love and longing that works on multiple levels and ends with a newfound resolution – and reunion – of the far away singing lover with his beloved. In short it ends roughly with We’re here together at last. We become one, my hands with your hands, your legs with your hands, our heartbeat… I’m ready.

  7. e

    * it was (..) my hands with your hands, my legs with your legs (…) sorry for that.

  8. Yes.

    That was a performance about romantic love, unmistakably. Maybe a childish, unattainable love – but that’s romance, too. That doesn’t mean Yuuri is incapable of feeling that for Viktor now, but it doesn’t change what we saw. I actually thought it was the best scene of the series so far, and one of the most sensual things I’ve seen Yamamoto do – because it was uncharacteristically restrained. She didn’t clodhopper all over the sensuality with ham-fisted eroticism.

  9. H

    I am open-minded to the bi comment and perhaps I just didn’t catch the same cues as the rest of you. It doesn’t change how I felt when I first watched this though. Not trying to argue this point with any of you by stating my thoughts over this so please don’t get upset. I do remember the scene where he first goes back to the Ice Castle. The shot of her butt and thighs comes right before he enters the building so I can’t take that as her being seen through his eyes in that respect. In regards to his performance for her I think he was trying to show her how far he had come since the days they had copied Viktor’s moves together in the past and to demonstrate what he was truly capable of. After all, he did come home feeling like a disgrace for having finished dead last and I’m sure he wanted her to see he isn’t really that bad. Again, I’m not trying to upset anyone here. This was merely my perception of the story thus far. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. It doesn’t really matter.

  10. e

    @HoTaRu: I dont think anyone here is upset ^^.
    Just in case on my account forgive me for any possible vibe of that kind. English is my 2nd language and on top of my usual logorrhea I was fighting a headache yesterday while typing… my tone and language were off in a few spots possibly ^^” .
    I have rewatched that sequence now and I think what we are meant to get from those shots is a mix of things. The butt shot there is a closer and at such an angle it would be hard for Yuuri to see from the entance unless his eyes were zooming in XD, but as soon as the camera zooms slightly away to show more of her figure the shot is at eye level for whomever would be coming in in that moment. Cue Yuuri’s feet and the transperent clear glass inside door sliding open. So the very beginning of the closeup shot being his gaze is debatable* but after that the camera overlaps with Yuuri’s eyes imho.
    *I would still think it’s meant as an anticipation/clue of sort in the similar way the leaking faucet detail immedietaly preceded him bursting into tears in the Sochi toilet stall in the same episode.
    In any case while you can still appreciate your friends’ assets without romance or lust attached it’s the whole signs including what happened afterwards at the rink that cumulatively leads me to tilt toward the unrequited love route :).
    I do agree about Yuuko feeling affection and friendship but not harbouring romantic or sexual feelings for him. Probably she never did :,). He was and is the darling kohai childhood friend she cares for, protects and fangirl with (and eventually at when he skates).

    @Enzo: ham-fisted? Can’t escape the pork meat symbolism, man :,D. But yes, it was a fantastic scene.

  11. Mind you, I don’t think that you’re wrong when reading these hints, but I don’t think that means we need to discount what was obviously being set up as him having a romantic interest in Yuuko either. There are two roads that would make these things perfectly compatible:

    1) Yuuri is gay, but romanticised Yuuko as an ‘idealised’ crush because he simply never questioned his heterosexuality – notice how, for someone who supposedly has felt the pangs of both love and jealousy, he still seems blissfully unaware of his own eros, which doesn’t ring very realistic,

    or

    2) Yuri is bisexual, had feelings for Yuuko, now has them for Victor.

    I think 1) if anything is slightly more likely as portrayal of bisexuality is even rarer than portrayal of homosexuality – in anime and elsewhere.

  12. e

    @Yana: first thing first 😀 the three insert songs ( Eros, Agape and Stammi Vicino/Stay Clos To Me) are already legally available. Just Google ahoy.
    —-
    Edit: warning for length. My apologies.

    Now… about the episode. Still liking it a lot. Even the fanservice and the humour, for a couple of reasons plus one.
    One is personal in a way: nudity and innuendo don’t bother me per se – I actually appreciate them in fact. I’ve been around 2D and 3D artistic nudes since I can remember. And I’ve been a Michelangelo Buonarroti groupie since the tender age of 2, so… :,D – unless the anatomy is botched beyond any stylization/artistic license . In this sense Yuri On Ice has proved distracting in a few instances but nothing too major or it was justified by the seemingly above-average-savage strain put on the animators here. Hence I’m cool with the aesthetics so far.
    Secondly, because it’s related to Victor. Leaving my bias for the man aside (I try XD) the fanservice is organic with his character and role as the avatar of Love on blades ( TL;DR assorted myths + Eros as the umbrella term of Love in Plato’s Symposium. It’s a spectrum, we can flow even more than cross from one point to the other, from the ‘erotic’ eros to its opposite-yet-not ‘agape’ eros ) and the imagery/attitude/body that goes with it. Be it by coincidence or by design is both blatant and subtle but pretty consistent down to the minutiae.
    – Callypigian Venus buttocks. Check.
    – Rising from the [onsen] waves like Aphrodite ( Eros in the guise of Venus again). Check.
    – Irresistibly pulling people en masse and oozing charm by just existing ( Eros as cosmic force + inspiration –> Celestial Venus + Muse -> side dish of Agape <– add Makkachin aka the poodle. She also doubles for philia and familial love I think. The man seems lonely at the top of the world. ) – add super duper wink for a playful-to-coquettish flavour . Add tengu masks, tanuki statue tama framed by a St. Jacques seashell [ birth of Venus again? coincidence? in any case LOL ], suggestively shaped fountain for extra sexual flavour and extra strong coming-ons, surge of impulses and passions at large [ and Eros as Venus Pandemos] – . Check. –
    – Has both the playfulness and mischief of Cupid. Check (and tanuki again? They can also shapeshift) . And as all of the aforementioned he can also be elusive and hurtful and life-affecting. Too much, too little, too close, too far.
    So… uhm… the fanservice is such a natural part of him. it doesn't it feel 'fanservicey' with him to me. Or the queerbait 'queerbaity' or 'pandering'. He expresses his eros doen to the the silly, teasing, loving and insiring – and exasperating and mutable – ways. ( Relatedly that's also where the humour and the camp works and that's a reason the writing is pretty strong in my book. It's consistent. As a giant bonus I also find it funny when it's meant to be. Humour is subjective, blessing and curse there is so much of it in the series, yadda yada. But the whole katsudon-katsuki-katsu-is-for-victory-win-dinner-YMMVdate/wish to know the real you as an equal-kobutachan-becoming katsudon-loving katsudon for example? It’s both silly and deep this Katsudon Code. So poignantly vkusno! ).
    In human terms this ‘eros down to the unpleasant aspects’ means Victor can and will end up hurting people – and here come the humanizing character flaw(s). That breezy ‘ forgetfulness ‘ of his, the insensitivity. He knows he has an effect on everything that moves basically – imho as a celebrity if you are not born like that you learn to deal and play [with] your audience and the media as a survival strategy. You can’t just give yourself out to anyone and a 100% and all the time. You filter them out. Some of them worthy ones are bound to fall through the cracks -. Case in point Yurio.
    In case of both Yurio and Yuuri I think he has underestimated (!) the effect of his charisma and their determination a bit… until last week that is:
    – The Fairy flew the ocean to get him and hold him to his promise (“Come see me and I’ll do your coreography” . Translation: if you are serious come to me, remind me and I’ll do it. Guess what? Yurio chased him relentlessly. He’s shown he’s deadly serious to the point of leaving pets – and family if any? – and his country behind at 15 for a chance equalling (speculah) he survived the Nikiforov filtering. Victor is then available to fulfill his promise. BUT unfortunately for our Yurio at this point in time Victor is busy chasing a target of inspiration (AND diversion) for himself and that target happens to be another skater + Vic and Yuuri seem to have better overall compatibility/coach&pupil dynamic/mutual inspiration potential.
    Yurio wants his help and attention but can’t handle his quirky coaching as well as Yuuri can – ‘difference in life experience’ as Enzo elegantly summed it – . I do wish he had stayed in Japan some more but Yakov is probably the best option for him atm. The kid needs some more steady if stern love and well he has a cat home to take care of :,) .
    – For Yuuri… the Katsudon Code is just brilliant for my taste ^^. Love or hate this choice of ‘comedic’ framing but again it’s consistent and make sense with the characters involved. It works. It’s a realistic way to realize and channel your own desires. Food porn & food is love. It’s legit. Parse the Katsudon Code and you get both his personal and artistic awakening topped by a mutual love confession. If anything is a mutual understanding and affection. They are speaking the same language and acting on it :> .
    Plus the whole way they tied together his program fantasy with Victor’s avances & his androginous cosume with tapping into his feminine side to find his true inner rakugo— I mean eros… I’m bowl deep with it XDD.
    – Character feeling like people and relatable and unrealistic bits: ahh, what can I say. When the Takeshi family say they have your back they mean it. The borderline bully is close enough to Yuuri they can discuss and joke like that. The triplets are native digitals with a knack for sales pitches, their parents are skating nuts managing the event structure, Minako is a former international performer in her own right (events and some PR know-how advice implied. I doubt she just twirled arond sticking posters for the occasion), they’re all raving Team Katsuki, the sport news journalistsfrom episode #1 is on it and Yuuri is the glory of town who lured the king of figure skating to their dwindling community. Wouldn’t the locals jump on such a golden chance event like starving crows you say? :p
    Talking of both the mains and teh supporting so far I’ve talked with a few poeple watching this anime – BL and non BL fans are about even, ditto on spokon fans, a few are casual or first time anime watchers, varied gender orientation. Only element in common: they were all born women – and they are loving the characters exactly because they feel either real, relatable, funny or all of these. The homoeroticism is at worst ininfluent on their enjoyment (non BL fan are actually tellin me they like how refreshingly non-baity the approach to sexuality and possible romance feels to them) most of them are outright loving the humour. Including Yuuko’s audience-insert nosebleeds and general fangirling this week for instance.
    Talking of Yuuko – and Yurio – one the best bits of characterization so far was achieved with the bond built and hinted between them. He was aware and attentive. For all her fluids gushing she was appreciative of skating and supporting him in training (unlike his mother), cheering him up, basically she extended her motherly love to the boy to the point of sneaking out of the ceremony of her dear childhood kouhai friend to check on him slinking away. The boy felt it. Given Yurio’s flashback’s hint it was a good genuine lowkey storytelling achievement there. Very endearing. In spite of going hand in hand with the gags. Thanks to going hand in hand with the gags.

  13. Y

    I think a lot of people are overanalyzing Yuuri’s seductress performance (esp. in the myanimelist forums) just because it’s a female role. It was clear he was struggling with capturing the story of the womanizer as well as Viktor. Then when he sees Viktor’s old costume and hears from Viktor that it represents both the male and female, it hits him that he could reinterpret the story into something he could perform and so he ran to Minako sensei for help. I think this is another reason why he won: he made the routine his own and was able to tell a story through it, unlike Yurio who got overwhelmed by all the technical aspects of the routine and lost himself.

    Maybe I’m one of the few out there, but I just don’t see Yuuri holding a torch for Viktor at this point. It’s clear he idolizes him, but I think he still holds some lingering feelings for Yuuko. I think it’s all just blatant fanservice so far that Yamamoto is forcing into each episode (or Viktor’s attempts at seducing Yuuri, I dunno). Unless she delivers actual romantic development later on, I’m not buying the whole Yuuri and Viktor CP thing.

    I’m also curious about why Yuuri has decided it’s his last season when he’s only 23?

  14. I think because 25-year-old skate figures are rare. Most of them retire before that. Yuri’s already 23, he don’t have much time left

  15. Don’t you mean Yuuri? :-p

  16. It’s well possible that this is all fanservice, but it’s not like that means it’s not supposed to be interpreted as a wink to gay tendencies. It just means that it’s going nowhere because the anime will do what anime are wont to do in these circumstances and chicken out at the last minute.

  17. S

    The official spelling (yurionice.com) is Yuri.

  18. S

    Oops, that was supposed to be a reply to Enzo’s comment above.

  19. Do we know for sure that the title refers to Japanese Yuuri as opposed to Russian Yuri, though?

  20. S

    It’s not just the title, both characters’ names are romanized as Yuri by the show.
    http://yurionice.com/sp/character/

  21. The writing is alright, but I’m enjoying this mainly for the skating scenes. That animation!

  22. C

    I find this appealing for much the same reason that I loved “No. 6”: it doesn’t fall into the “BL ghetto,” but contains gay characters who are integral to a wider universe than that typically occupied by BL anime. Plus, the “wider universe” is very interesting in its own right, and some of its inhabitants (like those of the real world) just happen to be gay.

    While the character building in No. 6 was more original and subtle than so far in “Yuri” (has there ever been an anime character as complex and interesting as Nezumi?), “Yuri” is still in its early episodes, and I’m looking forward to the ride.

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