I’m exhausted from a 4-hour, 4-minute Cubs game – exhausted but happy, since it was our first World Series win in 71 years – and the responsibilities of life (like work) take no holidays for baseball. So I don’t have the energy to write more than a few paragraphs about Yuri!!! on Ice this week, but rest assured I was a fan of this episode. I think it was probably the best of the series so far (this one or the premiere – the last two had been a step down) and it was the one that closed the deal for me, at least for now. With Yamamoto Sayo I never say forever.
There were a number of elements about this episode that I really liked, and they were more than enough to overcome the hiccups such as a few more bobbles during the skating animations (which were again mostly quite nice), and the usual over-reliance on slapstick. I’m also not a big fan of these third-wall breaking explanation sessions (put ’em in an omake like Hunter X Hunter did with “Greed Island”, not in the middle of the episode) – though it’s obvious their main function is as cost-cutting and time-saving ways to stretch the soup. But in truth, I know little enough about figure skating that I did learn stuff – like that bit about six Grand Prix assignments, and Yuri having to skate in the Japan nationals because of his tank in the prior year’s event.
I guess I do have to call him “Yuri” now that the explanation of the title has been given – the fact that the Japanese title was in Katakana and the normal Romanization of the Japanese boy’s name (which would usually be in Kanji) is “Yuuri” had me thinking it referred to the Russian Yuri. But in truth it’s the name Yuri chooses for the piece of music he’s going to use for his free program – one he had a female music student friend write for him but never used in competition. It’s hinted that perhaps there were romantic feelings between Yuri and this girl, as well that there might have been between he and a female skater when they were training in Detroit – but only hints. And there are plenty of other hints, too.
I suppose people are going to fixate on the relationship between Viktor and Yuri, and it’s not as though Yamamoto-sensei is discouraging it when she has Viktor offer to be Yuri’s boyfriend (Yuri reflexively refuses the offer). But I must say it annoys me to see the possible development of a serious romantic relationship between two men casually dismissed as “yaoi-bait” by so many viewers. I’m not sure where Yuri on Ice is headed with this subplot, as it’s intentionally being obfuscated for now. But regardless, I don’t think romance is the main point of the story here – this story is more about personal growth than anything else.
As expected, Yuri is one of those skaters who relies on artistic impression to get by – which is exactly what caught Viktor’s eye, the way Yuri “creates music with his skating”. Yurio, meanwhile, is clearly more athletic and technically gifted – but his coach Yakov, seeing the shortcoming in him, decides to recruit his ex (a star from the Russian National Ballet) to give the boy some ballet training. It’s worth nothing that Yuri has studied ballet from the time he was a child, and it’s obvious that Yuri and Yurio can each take something from the other to fill in something missing in their own portfolio as skaters. Yurio is actually rather a delicate and elegant physical specimen at this point – and he’s smart enough to realize both that this gives him an advantage, and that it’s an advantage that he’ll only have for so long.
This is an interesting dichotomy – two skaters at very different places in their lives trying to find themselves in the sport. A 15 year-old at the dawn of his career, trying to win as a boy before he’s forced to try and win a different way as a man, and a 23 year-old at the sunset of his career, trying to spin his experience and emotional depth into one final hurrah. Yuri on Ice is no doubt the story of both of them, but ultimately of course it’s Yuri who’s going to frame that story – and his persistent lack of faith in himself is what stands out most starkly at this point in the story. Ultimately I think this is about Yuri finding himself in a way he’ll take with him when he leaves skating behind – finding himself as an athlete, and through that, finding himself romantically and emotionally. As long as Yamamoto sticks to that idea and avoids catering excessively to her love of excess, Yuri on Ice should be able to stick the landing.