Has Yamamoto Sayo finally found the right canvas to paint her masterpiece (or at least her signature work)? Well, the caveat is that for me, with any Yamamoto series I can always faintly hear the sound of Fonzie revving the motorcycle – it never goes away, because every Yamamoto show I’ve watched has gone south big-time at some point during its run. But so far at least, Yuri on Ice has the whiff or the one that might just break the string.
It’s not that Yamamoto has changed her style at all. Far from it – Yuri!!! is very much her signature excess broken up only by brief bouts of extravagance. But the themes of the series really work for it – let’s be honest, it doesn’t get much more theatrical than figure skating when it comes to the world of sports. And figure skaters tend to be extravagant personalities to say the least, almost as if it’s a necessity to succeed in that arena. Maybe that’s in part why Yuri is an interesting protagonist, because this series in a sense is a story of a reserved young man learning to be extravagant.
More and more the skating itself is becoming the centerpiece of Yuri on Ice, but that works well enough because it’s a sport where the personalities are deeply ingrained in the performances. There’s yet another huge dump of new faces (and asses) this week, but four seem of greatest consequence. Georgi Popovich (Hatano Wataru) is a 27 year-old Russian longing to finally step out of Viktor’s shadow (and working with his old coach). Christophe Giacometti (Yasumoto Hiroki) is a Swiss who prides himself on being the sexiest thing on skates. Leo de la Iglesia (Toki Shunichi) is a young American who represents a real threat to the top ranks. And Guanghong Ji (Honjou Yutaro) is the sensitive 17 year-old Chinese skating in front of his home crowd.
Ji is of some interest to me, because of course he represents the return of Honjou-san, who as a mere cub was so great as Ao in Eureka Seven: Astral Ocean (and sadly didn’t get much work after that). But it’s the other three more than Ji (or Yuri’s Thai pal Phichit) who seem to be the main competition for Yuri. They all make their mark in their own way – Georgi with a preposterous makeup job skating the role of Maleficient. Christophe takes the “Eros” gauntlet Yuri throws down and basically does a pole dance on ice. And Leo does a kind of aw, shucks, all-American all-arounder program with no major flaws.
At the end, though, it’s Yuri that’s in first place, a feat he accomplishes by nailing all his jumps for the first time and embracing the seductress role with abandon. Yuri has always struck me as basically a classical dancer in ice skates – his spins and step combinations are his signature – but he’s raised his game under Viktor (as you would expect). The issue now, of course, is that he’s the man with the target on his back – and with apologies to Joe Maddon, that’s not as easy thing for a man of Yuri’s temperament to embrace. He’s the one everyone is watching – the one who’s stolen Viktor from the world (and from Yurio, who finished 2nd at his Grand Prix event) and seems to be reborn as a new skater. How will he hold up under all those withering gazes?
As for the elephant in the room, well – Yamamoto still isn’t acknowledging that it’s there. This doesn’t represent a major problem for me yet, but I am starting to get slightly annoyed at the continued winking at the audience as Viktor’s behavior gets more and more unmistakable (and Yuri’s too, in a different way). If one of them (or both of them, if we’re honest) were a woman, I don’t think we’d be seeing this kind of charade – the two of them would just acknowledge the truth already. But because they’re both men and Yuri on Ice is a “mainstream” (read; not BL) anime, they apparently can’t. That double-standard should rankle anyone who’d like to see anime move past this sort of nonsense once and for all…