Yuri!!! on Ice – 07

The irony in this show’s title is so delicious it’s almost unbearable.

yuri-on-ice-07-1Anime makes strange bedfellows sometimes I suppose.  I’ve almost always been swimming against the current when it comes to Yamamoto Sayo, but here I find myself defending her as the dash for the door has finally become a stampede.  That said, I won’t pretend Yuri on Ice!!! (if any show earns its exclamation points, this one does) isn’t a very well-regarded show in general, and frankly my message to those bolting because of what happened this week is “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out”.

yuri-on-ice-07-2Who needs that sort of viewer, really?  It’s just a shame so many of them still exist, but it’s not that surprising when one of the world’s great liberal democracies just elected a man as vice-president who believes gays should be subjected to electroshock therapy to try and fix them. Romance isn’t really what Yuri on Ice is about (mostly) but make no mistake, what’s happening between Yuri and Viktor is a big part of the series’ identity.  And I’m glad it’s pretty much out in the open now (that was as transparent a hedge as any bet has ever had) because if they were girls, it would have happened by the third episode.

yuri-on-ice-07-3While that near-kiss was always going to be the headline, the fact remains that Yuri on Ice is to a remarkable extent very much a straight-ahead sports anime.  The last several eps have been dominated by competition, and the impact that competition has on the characters’ psyches.  Yuri is the most important example of course – the series is more or less a psychological deconstruction of him – and he’s as fragile as any sports lead we’ve seen in anime for a good while.  Maybe as Viktor says, all skaters’ hearts are as fragile as glass – but Yuri especially seems to be on the verge of shattering all the time.

yuri-on-ice-07-4This week that manifests itself in his panicked (and predictable) reaction to sleeping on the lead.  In any sport that can be a difficult thing for someone not used to it or born to it, and Yuri is neither.  The interesting thing here, though, is the Viktor is really not equipped to deal with it.  He’s not really a coach, not yet – he has no real answers for Yuri’s insomnia and self-doubt. In the end he tries a desperate gambit (after dragging Yuri to the parking garage to try and get him away from the pressure of the other performances) – he tells Yuri he’ll “take responsibility” and quit if he skates his way off the podium.  Whether it was exactly the right or wrong thing to do is hard to say, but Yuri’s reaction is the real standout moment of the episode – he just wants Viktor to have more faith in him than he has in himself.

yuri-on-ice-07-5As to the other competitors, it’s Phichit who really stands out from the pack.  Guanghong crumbles under the pressure of his home crowd, Georgi under the rejection of Anya.  Leo sort of disappears (one senses that he’s basically an afterthought of a character), but Christophe skates a clean program.  Phichit, though, is the star – he skates to another “The King and the Skater” piece (apparently it was so popular, it had a sequel) and nails every jump.  His technical difficulty is short of the top skaters, but his artistry sets him apart.

yuri-on-ice-07-6That leaves Yuri, who seems liberated after his crying jag.  Maybe too much so, as he over-rotates on a couple of his jumps and tries to turn his last jump into Viktor’s signature quadruple-flip (and fails).  It’s interesting to watch Yuri’s transformation as he steps onto the ice – all elite skaters seem to have a persona that imbues every routine, and Yuri has taken on the air of a swan – dignified, regal, a bit fragile.  He grows in presence somehow – perhaps it’s Viktor’s influence in helping him find the inner self he struggled to bring out before.  It’s Phichit who carries the day, though – Yuri manages to hang onto second, which means he has to go to Russia (and Yurio) to try and earn his way into the Grand Prix final.

yuri-on-ice-07-7Ultimately, what it is that makes Yuri on Ice work as a series?  There are lovely visual moments to be sure, though once again the strain on the budget and staff is showing (most of the skaters seemed to be hovering a few inches above the ice).  There’s the nerve-wracking impact of watching the characters compete, knowing what’s at stake for them.  Mostly though, I think what makes this show tick is Yamamoto’s relentless abandon – everything is full-steam ahead and over the top.  It’s big personalities, big moments, big gags, big drama – and it’s consistently true to that.  Yuri and Viktor’s romance may not be the centerpiece but it does seem s natural extension from what this series is.  It’s just a shame more viewers can’t accept that and enjoy Yuri on Ice for the entertaining and bombastic runaway train it is.

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16 comments

  1. H

    There is just so much to love about this show. Besides the romance aspect that has me completely sucked in, I really love that the competition is among men who do not look down on one another. It’s so fantastic to see them rooting for each other and openly showing how impressed they are with one another’s improved performances. It allows me to feel invested in all of the other characters rather than just blindly rooting for Yuri to come out on top. I think his performance this week had to be my favorite part of the episode, and not for the obvious reason :). It was the fact that he was smiling when he went out on the ice and seemed to have gained confidence from breaking down before his turn came. It has me all pumped up for what’s to come. Aside from my thoughts of this episode, I wanted to say thank you for your comments above. My sister is gay and she was quite devastated at the outcome of the election. It sickens me that someone was elected who harbors so much prejudice and racism towards the common American. So it makes me feel better when I’m reminded that not everyone out there is a bigoted a-hole. I’ve appreciated all of your thoughts concerning the relationship between Yuri and Victor (as well as past comments concerning gay couples, etc. from older posts) because you treat it as something normal and welcome. I hope I’m conveying what I’m trying to say here.

  2. I appreciate the sentiment, though it depresses me to think that we live in a country where people are being thanked just for not being a bigot. Nevertheless, thanks.

    Now we have Trump’s people citing Japanese internment as a “precedent” for what they want to do to Muslims. We’re headed for very, very dark times in this country.

  3. As much as I would love to engage on this, I’d rather not do it here, so the political message chain is deleted.

  4. C

    This show (and Ajin) are the two shows I look forward most to each week. They’re both well-paced and always seem shorter than they actually are. It’s also great to see so much actual animation in each episode of Yuri!!! — it’s hard to imagine how they have done this on a TV budget. Finally, I’m loving the Yuri/Viktor relationship; I just wish we could see more non-caricatured gay couples in mainstream anime, so I’m hoping that the BDs of the show sell well.

  5. M

    Well put Enzo. I hope that in future anime, the romance elements grow less about the characters’ orientations and more about the chemistry and how it adds to a show as a whole.

  6. Y

    The skating this week was a step up from last week’s, animation-wise and performance-wise. Chris’s free was much more enjoyable than his butt-grabbing short. I felt like Guang Hong had a hard time connecting with the story of his piece even if he nailed the jumps. Popovich’s attires in his free and short programs really makes me wonder if his stylist has some sort of grudge towards him. Or maybe the guy needs a different hairstyle, because I crack up every time I see him.

    I’m sad to learn that people are dropping this (they’re going to miss out all the Yurio skating coming up!), but if there’s one thing I learned during my time in the States is how hard it is . The biggest draw for me about this series is how perfectly balanced the emotional and sports aspects are. I watched the premiere completely not expecting so much focus on the sport. Yamamoto’s snappy pacing makes each episode feel like 5 minutes… I can’t wait for the Russian Cup!

  7. Y

    oops *how hard it is for people to accept ideas outside of their core value system.

  8. I don’t think a lot of people are dropping it – generally it’s highly-rated. Most of the people who’d drop it now never started watching it in the first place, or dropped it right away after they figured out the title was trolling them. The problem is the minority who are dropping it are very loud.

  9. J

    Hi, I use your reviews to decide which shows to watch since you describe them exactly as I feel, usually (particularly Natsume Yuujinchou). Let me say right at the start that I have absolutely nothing against BL, love the stuff, watching, reading etc. I just don’t think homosexuality in itself should be used as a factor in judging something, which I felt quite a significant part of your review this time round (and most of the comments on this page, actually) seems to be straining towards. To be honest, I had huge hopes for this anime, but, come on, there’s way better BL anime out there! Story is so haphazard, there’s no development, just huge jumps that beg us to suspend disbelief, OP is fantastic, but rest of the skating animation is quite unpleasant to watch, and there are way too many characters introduced in too short a time that there’s just a vague sense of being told everything and being shown nothing… I guess what I’m saying is I don’t see much going for this anime and the fact that a lot of people dropping this may not necessarily be doing so based on the BL elements, which frankly, is also severely disappointing. I guess we cannot expect our tastes to coincide on every single thing!

  10. I get what you’re saying, but first off, this is not a BL anime (which is exactly the key point IMHO). Also, if one goes by general rating systems and Stalker numbers, it’s clearly being very well-received. So I don’t think the evidence suggests that there are large groups of people dropping it because of some perceived larger qualitative problems.

    Let me say fore the record I don’t think Yuri on Ice is some kind of masterpiece, either technically or narratively. It’s just a fun, silly, bombastic sports series that takes a refreshingly matter-of-fact view on male homosexuality.

  11. A

    Personally that’s what makes Yuri on Ice or other similar works being released lately so important: male homosexuality, even if treated as canon, is not the focus of the story and it’s treated in a matter-of-fact way that normalises it for the viewers.

    I’m GLAD this isn’t a romance because then the point would be lost. Gay romances are great, but that isn’t what they are going for here. This is a sports anime where the love interest happens to be a man, and we need more stories like this.

  12. Yes yes, that’s exactly it. Yuri, though often played for prurient effect, is mainstream in anime today. We need to reach a point where male relationships are not confined to pandering “BL” shows or barely-suggested slivers of hints. Shows, as you say, where “the love interest happens to be a man”. It’s ironic, but anime has backslid considerably on this – 20 years ago, it was much more accepted.

  13. e

    @AS and Enzo: pretty much.

    But Enzo I’d also actually say that while filled with silly and bombastic moments + naturalized romance bits it’s upper tier to me along with Udon, Natsume and The Great Passage. The first two especially have a more closely borderline catarthic and healing/uplifting quality for me, as different as they are. But YOI is gaining the upper hand in terms of personal connection and sheer proactive mood boost power XD. I’ve realized I am looking forward to/need the high energy strain of feelgood series first in general week by week as of now too.
    Subjective personal history and timing connection boost notwithstanding imho YOI it’s also pretty tight (and definirely above average) in terms of writing in the foreshadowing/development hints department. They’re everywhere, a few are pretty subtle and a few got lost in translation quite literally.
    Just to single out one case: Victor’s episode #1 program song stealthily popping up again this week. Yuuri’s dialogue as he cries features both a direct quote and a paraphrase of the song title – it was just translated differently in English but the Japanese words are the same – . He is verbatim telling him: ‘ Stammi Vicino. Non te ne Andare’. What happens later at the rink? A prelude to the lovers reuniting as described by the lyrics in the final part of the aria (tangled limbs… and neither of them is breaking full body contact through the action. The jury is out but tempted about their heartbeats becoming one :p ).
    But the song is about love lost (‘anche tu sei stato forse abbandonato’ /’you too have been abandoned/left behind’?) and found also in a figurative sense ofc when it comes to their inspiration and passion for the sport. Ditto on History Maker (in this case the heart on fire and when you believe you are unstoppable bits).
    Sooo… where is all of this going? Watch the episode pre-OP sequence and see if the inner cluedar pings. Hint: the coreo is again a snippet from Stammi Vicino. Same swiping arms movements we see later in the episode. The OST tracklist features two versions of Stammi Vicino. The other version is also the very last song listed – with pretty telling change in arrangement -. Relatedly… remember that Endless Night short from Anime Expo? Have fun and keep on alert connecting it all. Those two ladies at the helm have left a trail of crumbles both big and small ^^.

    – Phichit-kun is a serious single-franchise nerd :,D . But both his song program coreo and animation were really nice and fitted him like a glove ^^. Well done you supreme lord of naughty candid shots and chief shipper on rink you XD.
    – Guang on the other hand is still struggling with his performance in spite of picturing himself along with Leo [the comrade] and Georgi [the villian! poor man can’t take a break. He’s such a schadenfreude magnet] as the actors in his mental theatre to better feel the role. At this point in time his SP instrumental feels more fitting his personality I think. Both pieces were pretty good in any case. And they’re both available as singles already too ^^.
    – Yurio going Ivan ‘I must break you’ Drago at the end. Oooh there there kitten boy XD. Don’t waste your food like that either *tut-tuts* Also because… keep in mind Yuuri The Skating Swan (TM) is not a pushover. And you do not want to make swans pissed. Prima ballerina or not they’re fierce creatures to challenge or upset *insert Dat Katsuki Smirk here*

    P.S.: Kubo Mitsurou aka the YOI co-author has confirmed via her Twitter that #theykissed just in case you know someone still lost in the Egyptian non-river.

    Trivia: young Victor’s rose garland and bouquet are a likely nod to Johnny Weir’s (whose former husband is also named Victor —> of Russian Jewish descent :,D ) seen at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. Let’s bask in the neo-Renaissance neo-PRB glory.

  14. Z

    I found Leo’s coach consoling him on his poor score quite endearing this episode.

    I also found myself *liking* all of these skaters, even poor sad obsessive Georgi. (Although I can’t say I think much of Anya. Even if she isn’t trying to intentionally sabotage Georgi, giving him a thumbs down during a competition performance was a shitty thing to do)

  15. Well, I guess it may have been purposeful. I mean, I can understand her being creeped out XD.

  16. R

    Even though he lost and the animation was wonky, my favorite routine was actually Guanghong’s. Because it was very distinctively influenced by Chinese martial arts, most obviously Tai chi. In fact, one of the impressive parts of YoI is that they can so clearly make such distinctive routines for each character. Minami’s jazzy dance on ice last week was a really distinct example as well. So even when the animation quality dips a bit, I don’t mind as much as long as they get the broad strokes well, and so far they’ve been doing just that.

    That’s what keeps me engaged on the sports side of the series. As for the characters, they’re all bombastic. Like something out of a hammy B-grade movie, but in the best way. It’s grand and over the top but considering that figure skating itself produces some of the most eccentric athletes in the real world as well, it fits. And frankly, in terms of romance, that this little show of affection at the end is the part that people complains about baffles me. Honestly, in just THIS episode alone, I’d argue that Yuri’s tearful breakdown in the parking lot was a more emotionally charged moment between the two. But I think most of the people still watching it don’t really mind these things anymore so hopefully the remaining watchers can just focus on the merits of the show or the objective weaknesses.

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