Yuri!!! on Ice – 11

So, the Grand Prix final was last weekend – the real one, that is.  And the event in Marseilles, France, went pretty well for the Japanese, as they took first and third places on the men’s side.  And the world’s most famous Yuri on Ice fan (though Johnny Weir is a late contender there), the adorable Russian teenager and World Champion Evgenia Medvedeva, captured first place in the ladies’ event (and proceeded to skate off to the kiss-‘n-cry with an onigiri plushie).  And art is imitating life as well as life art, as YoI cast real-life Japanese figure skater Oda Nobunari (who claims to be a a direct descendant of Oda Nobunaga) as himself doing the color commentary on this week’s broadcast.

The funny thing is, I didn’t watch a moment of it (until catching a few highlights late) because, quite honestly, I don’t really find figure skating all that interesting as a sport.  I usually watch it at the Olympics every four years but almost never think about it in-between.  You don’t care about that, nor should you, but it is a reflection of what a good job Yuri on Ice has done in managing to make figure skating interesting to someone not really interested in the sport.  Haikyuu has done the same with volleyball but as with Haikyuu, what I find interesting isn’t so much the sport itself but the way it’s used as a means to reveal the inner workings of the characters who participate in it.

We’ve seen more of Yuri’s inner workings revealed than anyone else’s, of course – and it hasn’t always been a pretty picture.  Yuri’s story is compelling not because he’s an exceptional athlete with boundless concentration and determination, but a self-doubting 23 year-old not sure what he wants to do in life (and that’s a lot less common in anime).  I’ve come to believe that Yuri on Ice shouldn’t be all about Yuri winning the Grand Prix Final – that it would actually be kind of a cop-out if he did.  All Viktor has ever asked Yuri to do is skate the way he wants to skate, and to be himself.  I don’t think his arc should conclude with a miraculous victory against impossible odds – it should conclude with him skating a program free of regrets and self-defeat (a true “free skate”) and skating off into the sunset (well, until the inevitable Season 2) with Viktor.

Now, I suspect that’s going to be a minority opinion – but if ever I had reason to doubt my own perverse and contrarian inclinations, the fact that I’m rooting for J.J. at this point should be all the proof I need.  We’ll see next week what actually happens, but it’s fair to say Yuri didn’t achieve either the commonly accepted goal for him or the one I set – he once again kind of wilted under the bright lights.  He didn’t skate terribly apart from using a hand on the ice after his first quad, but it was neither a flawless or memorable program.  It’s painful to watch Yuri skate like this because we all feel doubts, and we all know what frustration feels like.  I don’t care if Yuri wins or not – I just want him to slip the surly bonds of Earth and dance the skies on laughter-silvered wings.

So what of the others?  Phichit skates second (the order determined by the reverse of their placement after the preliminaries) and he’s one of only two skaters behind Yuri after the short program.  That seems to confirm what I’ve felt all along, which is that he’s not a serious contender to actually win.  Just being here is a victory for Phichit – for himself, for his country – and he can skate freely and with feeling, and without errors, though his low difficulty still leaves him behind Yuri.  Chris (no stripper pole) is in third, still driven to try and prove himself to Viktor and acutely aware that he’s running out of time (and seemingly confirmed to be in a relationship with a man and a cat).

That leaves three to serious impact the proceedings, starting with Yurio (who actually skates before Chris).  As ever, Yurio is a compelling presence on the ice – a combination of a child’s grace and freakish athleticism.  My sense in watching him is “this is the future”.  Yurio is too young to understand the concept of patience, really, but, he seems an unstoppable force that will sooner or later have his day.  And it could be sooner, as he’s leading after the SP.  Also interesting is watching Viktor watch Yurio, and watching Yuri watch Viktor doing so.  Viktor surely feels many things here, as this is the next generation of a great tradition he was at the head of for a decade.  And Yuri feels many things, too, though the sense is that he’s still insecure enough to be frightened when he sees Viktor looking with affection and admiration at Yurio.

The surly stealth figure, Otabek, is the one who stands closest to Yurio (likewise he skates a personal best) and it’s a really striking program, in purely skating terms the most interesting one of the episode.  We haven’t gotten a lot of emotion from Otabek but his program is passionate and kind of primal, a folk dance on skates that would surely have scored highest under the “artistic impression” half of the old scoring system.  Viktor is again struck by what he’s watching, and he’s absolutely right in calling it “exotic and fresh” – and Yuri’s is again unsettled by that admiration. Yurio, of course, is thrilled by his new bestie coming out ahead of “the pig”.

Oddly enough,though, it’s J.J.’s performance which is the most dramatic of the episode in purely dramatic terms, in part because it’s so unexpected.  But it’s also the most, well- dramatic.  Seeing him totally buckle under the pressure is rather shocking and brutal, but buckle he does – all of his brassy cockiness and aplomb crumbles under the weight of the moment.  It’s a reminder that everyone in a story like this has a story – this is the biggest moment of their careers for most of them.  And purely as a sports fan, I find guys like J.J. interesting – it’s easy to hate on them, but it’s often the athletes who have a sense of themselves and the moment as being larger than life who rise to true greatness in sports.  What J.J. needs, seemingly, is just the opposite of Yuri – he needs to understand frustration and experience humility in order to grow into a true champion.  The question is, was the short program alone that lesson – or just the doozy of a first step into a significant sinkhole on his career path?

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19 comments

  1. H

    I’m rooting for Yurio to win. It seems quite obvious that Yuri was never meant to be the champion at the end of all this, and I’ve always been fine with that. For me, the true purpose of his journey was becoming more confident both on and off the ice. In one year he has become a strong enough skater to make it to the finals and he has managed to find love. I agree that if he were to win at this point it would be a cop out. I do want to see him skate as flawlessly and beautifully as he did when recreating Viktor’s performance at the beginning of the show, only this time with his own routine that he has worked so hard on perfecting. Having him lose will merely create the opening we need for another season (or two if we’re lucky). I would be quite happy to see Yuri’s struggle for the top continue since this has been a very fun ride.

  2. Y

    Victor’s competitive spirit seems to have been lit by the youngsters (Yurio breaking his record and then Otabek’s skating), and I think Yuri sensed that. Yuri most likely will lose and part ways with Victor in the end, and then the two can reunite as rivals once more on the skating rink next season (lol such a shounen development coming from a shounen fan).
    I do hope Yuratchka snatches gold after all the hard work he’s put in, but what I’d like to see even more is Yurio, Victor, and Yuri skating together in a performance (just like in the opening) before the series ends.

  3. A

    But doesn’t yuri tell victor in the after credits scene that they should end this? Anything confirmed regarding season 2.

  4. What’s confirmed is that Stalker says it’s going to sell like a house on fire. That means a second season will almost surely happen.

  5. T

    I just want Yuuri to skate a program he will be proud of in the end and aside from one error he actually did ok. Of course Yuuri anxiety gets the best of him and in regards to other people’s feelings he is not the most reliable narrator and not good at reading people. We see Victor’s monologue that he has found both life and love through Yuuri and if the conversation with Yurio in the last episode showed anything is that he is ready to retire from the ice skating world. He will always have that competitive spirit because the sport is a big part of who he is, but he has dedicated 20 years of his life to the game. He is ready to move on. Plus it has been mentioned several times that both him and Chris are both nearing the age of retirement so there is that looming fact that their time is almost over.

    But these two have yet to talk about what they actually want to do after the grand pix final is over and it’s a conversation these two need to have so I’m glad it looks like Yuuri will start that conversation next week. Folks want a season 2 but kubo sensei has said she is writing this as if it will only be one season. We have known for awhile that Yuuri wants to retire and that he feels he has given everything he has to offer to his passion and that’s OK too. In a way I feel it would be a cope out if he decided otherwise because we have been aware of his decision since episode 5. There is no op and ending next week so we are just jumping right into it.

  6. e

    Well, in a way Yuuri winnin the GPF is not really about him winning the GPF anyway… Personally I’m open to him either winning, grabbing a silver or bronze, or even stay off the podium (but the latter is more unlikely). More on that later. ***
    The key sentence this episode was bestowed in us by Lilia imho. Your ability to perform and win is about the connections/bonds and kind of love you have with others. All the performances we have seen this week (and most of the full performances of the non-finalists seen previouslt), all the skaters, tie into this theme one way or another:
    1) Viktor’s flashback this week and his scene on the beach last week with the L words, the way Viktor is much more alive by the side if the rink now and enjoying skating again if not feeling it more than he ever did – when he jumped he reminded me from a certain darling coach movin into a strike pose in Ginga E Kickoff during a match… – .
    2) Yurio’s friendship with Otabek ( he still have his brash sides but his ‘agape’ is much stronger now. Cue super SP skating score). Otabek himself with his drive as a non-genius skater – and here we have another and hidden parallel with Yuuri whereas in case of JJ’s crisis it was made explicit in the dialogue. The Kazakh got on the GP stage through hard hard work and admiration for a Russian tensai and his skating style seems to value artistry -.
    3) The fall of the King. That one is self-explanatory enough and the parallelisms were conveyed through the dialogue thorughout – and his song. This time instead of being the unstoppable self-reliant star shining and showing his followers the way he is on the receiving end, he’s the the one consoled and supported when he flounders… and he returns that in JJ style XDD. He might not win the competition but he is not a loser at all – so moving on to the rest.
    4) Pichitto the ultimate bro and his heartfelt joyous attitude on and off the ice :,D . Plus his song… Shall We Skaaaaaate? *wink wink*
    5) Giacometti and the loves of his life. The man has taste and feelings to spare any way you slice it, in spite of his competitive time running short or even thanks to that… and even with his best rival out he has found interest in skating through the others eventually ( and Yuuri is key to that).

    Yuuri himself… still tend to be hiw own worst and self-flagellating enemy and need to speak up and let it it out XD.
    Pros: he was recovering already at his kiss & cry and was so chill among the journalists afterwards – he didnt realize Viktor’s was not by his side as he had always used to do – , even if this time he was both willing and able to feel interested in the other skaters by mingling by the rink instead of retreating into himself or just watch snippets from a screen.
    Cons: by his reactions to Vic’s interest he is sliding into… some of it is self-doubt and jealousy (‘Eyes on me and only me’… and the man gets all excited and praise other people :p ) but even more than that is about guilt on both tarnishing Victor’s coach image with his perceived failures – and Vic’s career sunset by keeping him away from competitions ( he wasn’t there at the beach last week or this week to read Victor’s thoughts on love life and companionship after all :p ) – .
    He was ok with being hated by the world for stealing him as long as Vic didnt show interest in the others but now that he witnessed the man’s reactions he probably thinks he’s caging him. Hence he wishes to set him free by ending the coaching contract. Cue post credit scene – and the anguished dying whale scream of hordes of fangirls, and Kubo Mitsurou’s having a blast at all this ‘ye of social media little faith’ on Twitter X,DDD – .
    Silver (golden?) lining: finally the time for The Talk has come. Even that gets resolved off-screen or via non-spoken means it doesn’t matter. They need to meet halfway and they will.

    *** the win/no win scenario. Just some quick notes:
    – trivia: Otabek Altin’s name apparently means ‘gold’ in his native language. Have fun with that in relation to 1) Yurio 2) His or Yurio’s chances of winning the gold medal.
    Personally I could see Otabek win because of his dark horse and no-genius-pure-hard-work and we-havent-seen-his-whole-range-of-moves status. But out of the podium candidates he is also the closest to Yuuri in non-geniusness and he is also younger… Time being one of the show themes this could push Yuuri to 1st instead.
    – Yurio is the genius and the next Nikiforov of Russia but this is still is senior debut. He aced the Agape but in terms of both character growth and stamina he could still botch the FS (and that’s where the biggest share of the total score lie into. Plus the senior programs are longer tha the junior’s. He has months of senior skating under his belt now but the strain on his body is still a factor to consider ). I could easily see him winning silver (again XD. Way to get the guy pumped for next year) or even drop out of the podium. He has already found his figurative gold…
    – Yuuri is behind score-wise but not that far. Scores upsets big and small happen IRL all the time, there are just too many variables – that’s part of the excitement and agony of this sport XD – . His FS program is also the most difficult after JJ’s in its original layout if I remember correctly… he could tweak it accordingly to boost up both artistry and techinical points. He has nothing to lose now that he is in 4th place in his planned last season. Might as well go all out. No more regrets. In a way being 4th now is the best position he could start from to execute the skate of his life :p. It is named Yuri On Ice isn’t it.
    TL;DR his 4th place is a blessing in disguise and his win is still very much possible in terms of score.

  7. e

    P.S.: Medvedeva has also prophesyed on Twitter about the finale. As she’s a both super skater and fan I’d value those words, feel the love and justice there XDD.

  8. C

    I actually didn’t like Yurio at all in this episode. He sure performed really well but that attitude! So full of himself and disrespectful of Yuri (and Sara as well). He is 15 and a brat. I don’t think winning is the best for him in the long haul. He needs to learn to be more humble and respectful of his peers.
    As for Yuri… I agree and disagree with you. He skated a good program (97.83 is actually a high score for SP) but we know he could have been better if he skated with his heart and tried to forget a bit about the score during his performance. I actually DO want him to skate his heart out on the free, get a personal best and win gold so he gets it in that head of his that he actually IS an elite skater and belongs where he his with the rest of the skaters. You don’t get to the GPF (twice) by being mediocre and average and not good enough as he thinks at the begging of the show. And with that gold I want him to free himself to skate the way he likes to skate for another season. I would be really sad if he retired now. He still has a couple of years to skate at the top and I’d want him to actually enjoy being on the ice during competition as we know he does outside. So I don’t think he still has given his all out there so that he can move on with a peace of mind. I want him to keep on skating and actually enjoy the competition. Then he would surely have his more fulfilling season in his career.
    I think a passionate performance + the gold would be a great reward for him battling his anxiety and finally showing his true potential as a skater full of artistry and passion on the ice.
    Regarding J.J., I think it was realistic for him to have that break down. This time he was THE favorite to get gold in the GPF and the pressure of all his country and people around him to live up to the expectation can get to your head. Usually extra big egos come with a fair bit of insecurities. We also have to remember that he is only 19. This is good for him to grow as a person and as a skater. I actually felt sad for him! Poor thing. :)
    And of course those final lines of Yuri… he surely must mean end the coach-pupil thing. I think he interpreted Victor actions as him wanting to compete again and Yuri is trying to free him to go and do that. I’m sure he missed the ice but after hearing Victor’s inner monologues in episode 10 and 11, I think it would be a bit out of character for him to want to go back to skating. We see him happy and enjoying a new chapter in his life with no regrets.
    We’ll see what Kubo has in mind. The wait is going to be painful. I’m a bit heartbroken.

  9. Yes, J.J. is only 19, and it’s easy to forget that. I considered talking about that in the post but I figured I’d blathered on about the character no one cared about long enough. Maybe I was wrong.

    I also feel it would be an odd choice for Viktor to get back into competitive skating – S2 should focus on something else. Viktor is 27 – he’s accomplished everything he set out to as a skater. It could be argued that facing Yuuri is a valid reason, but that’s still not the end I’d like to see.

  10. C

    I know, right? Not the end I’d like to see either. I did thought the show was going to go in that direction on ep 1 but not after everything we’ve seen now.
    This does not have anything to do with the above mention but wasn’t that last ‘It’s JJ style’ great? So emotional! I love Miyano Mamoru. He is such a good seiyuu.

  11. e

    @Carol @Enzo: if they made him pull a Plushenko he could still have a couple of seasons in him at the top, but yeah he seems to be at peace with prioritizing other things in his life. And there are many paths to Victor (and Yuuri) to go back on the ice outside of competitions after all. Many retired athletes IRL are happily skating their hearts out in shows and special events, coaching and/or coreographing (see YOI’s coreographer himself, Kenji Miyamoto ), and teaching – Ninja Ice Castle Skating School scenario! XD -.

    J.J. can be obnoxious at times but definitely not someone to hate, come on. Blather away! XD

  12. Y

    @Carol: I’m sorry my comment was so disconcerting. It was rather tongue-in-cheek (on sports anime clichés), because I highly doubt Yuri on Ice would actually head in such a played out development. One of the reasons why Yuri on Ice has captured and hooked such a huge audience is it’s unpredictability after all, much like the skating performances so far.

  13. B

    I see Victor as having made peace with his skating career and is ready to move onto other things that he had neglected for much of his life. And as elianthos has said, he has other options beyond competitive figure skating.

    J.J. is fun to watch, and I like him even more now. The “It’s J.J. style” bit at the end is quite heartwarming considering what he’s going through. Miyano Mamoru is great; I like him a lot too.

  14. C

    Oh also I don’t know how JJ got that score with a quad, 2 SINGLES and no combination. :S Should have been lower IMO.

  15. R

    Why didn’t you touch upon the post-credits scene? That’s what everyone is shitstorming about now.

  16. e

    @REEEE: because there’s nothing to be worried about? 😀 So refreshing.

  17. A

    I actually got a bit teary-eyed when watching JJ. Oh, baby.

    I found him hilarious from the beginning. Also, interesting that he gives an impression being a player in ending credits, but actually loves his girlfriend enough to propose at 19.

    Otabek is delight:)

    Cheering for Yuuri to skate freely his best FS program!

    Btw, have you seen two performances on youtube, one of Opening song danced by a Chinese figure skater, and one of Eros? They were really fun to watch.

    Thanks, as always, Enzo, your reviews are fun to read.

  18. e

    Bonus: an interview to Johnny Weir about the series http://thegeekiary.com/johnny-weir-watched-yuri-ice/40241

  19. B

    Thanks for the link. It’s an interesting read. Now I can really see why professional figure skaters are into the series.

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