Review: Yuri!!! On Ice

 

I did it, everyone! I finally watched the one show that everyone and anyone around me has been telling me to watch! I’ve done it! … Can I go back to bed now?

As a LGBT person myself, one may have expected me to have immediately begun eating this anime wholesale the moment I heard that it had a gay romance. Honestly, though, although such a thing intrigued me, I was more worried than anything. Japan isn’t exactly as open about LGBT issues as we are in the West, and anime has been rather troubling about its handling of LGBT people in the past. While I expected Yuri On Ice (I’m not gonna type those exclamation marks every time) to be a positive step in the right direction, I was only expecting it to be a step, and not something too monumental.

The show exactly met these expectations.

An Introduction

Yuri Katsuki has been doing figure skating for years, and at one point, was at one of the world’s largest competitions, competing against his childhood idol, Victor Nikiforov. However, sadly, Yuri came in dead last place and was talked down to by his idol – demoralized, he found himself unable to win any other competitions, and resigned himself to taking a break from the sport while he tried to figure out his life.

He returns to his hometown, meeting back up with his family and friends, including Yuko, the girl who encouraged him to start ice skating in the first place. At the local ice rink, he decides to show Yuko a surprise: he’s been practicing Victor’s competition-winning routine just to show it to her. However, as he was showing it to her, he was also showing it to a concealed camera… the video of him ended up becoming a viral hit online, even going so far to attract the attention of Victor himself.

The next day, Yuri finds himself face to face with his idol once again… with said idol standing buck naked before him. Proudly, Victor declared he’ll be taking a year off from figure skating himself to become Yuri’s coach and re-teach him the passion of figure skating… and the passion of having an unreserved ball of energy as his coach and mate.

The Plot and Characters

I wanted to go into Yuri on Ice really liking it. I really did. And I did definitely have a positive, fun experience out of this. It certainly was worth my time. … But it didn’t nearly come close to blowing me away as much as it was hyped up to do.

I think Yuri On Ice would’ve benefitted really well from being a 2-cour series, rather than just the 12 episodes we got. Especially in the latter half, I wish the scenes and pacing would just slow down. I wanted to feel the emotional impact of what was going on, I wanted to see these characters become fleshed out and have some actual depth, I wanted to just delve deeper into this world and into these people… but it just wasn’t there. This is an original anime series as well, so they could’ve done that too.

That being said, doubling the show’s length probably would’ve been a risky move, given the fact that it is an original anime, and that there is a notable focus on the relationship between Yuri and Victor. This show, I believe, has made more of an impact here in the West by having a canon gay relationship over being a figure skating anime. Let’s be honest, though, a lot of this relationship is rather subtextual. There’s the highly-debated kiss, but even when the show is yelling in your face about them being together, it doesn’t actually stick itself to it. It may push the needle a bit in the generally more-homophobic world of anime, and I certainly do applaud it for what it does (because it doesn’t do it badly), but it’s nowhere near the pinnacle of great LGBT representation.

I may be getting ahead of myself. But these first paragraphs are going to set the tone for the rest of my review.

My running complaint with pretty much all of the show’s characters is “they seem interesting, but I wish we got to learn more about them”. Not even the titular character himself, Yuri Katsuki, is immune to this; his life pre-episode 1 seems to be mostly forgotten excepting a few bits, leaving him to be seemingly only defined by professional figure skating and his relationship with Victor. Speaking of whom, on a positive note, Victor’s personality comes off really well, and he acts as a great foil for Yuri, adding spontaneity and confidence into the life of someone who needs these things. However, we also know nothing about his upbringing or really much anything else at all baring a few “character trait”-esque details.

However, my biggest complaint with Victor is more about the world around him rather than the man himself. I recognize that Victor is a very rash, shoot from the hip type of person, and I’m not questioning his decision to begin coaching Yuri… but I wish there was more of an emphasis on how this decision affected his colleagues and the figure skating world at large. He was at the top of the top, and so him making such a sudden move wouldn’t not have its consequences. There’s tidbits here and there, but generally, it feels like the whole world just got over it pretty immediately.

The Russian Yuri, Yuri P., Yurio… whatever, you know who I’m talking about. He’s pretty much set up as the usual rival character – the Bakugo to Deku, the Rin to Haru. He’s grumpy, he’s distant, he wants to be better than Yuri K., and although there’s certainly times he develops more, that’s still what he boils down to. He’s not a bad character, per say, but he doesn’t particularly stand out (although in the final episodes, a running gag with him and cats begins which does make him a bit more memorable).

For all the other side characters, from the fellow figure skaters to Yuri’s family and high school friends, that running complaint is strongest here. Each of them is given some time to gain our interest, and that’s about it. If a character’s lucky, they’ll become recurring comic relief for a few episodes. It’s sad, actually; some of them really do seem interesting and could create a great supporting cast, but Yuri on Ice’s 12-episode runtime prevents it from being able to effectively utilize them.

Pacing issues aside, though, the show’s story is definitely set up rather decently. It does feel like I’m following the career of a pro figure skater on his last shot at reaching the top, and I wanted to see Yuri do well. To be honest, most of the time (especially in the latter half) is only focused on competitions though; there’s rarely much time spent on practice or training throughout the entire series – the show doing a bit of a disservice to itself, as seeing Yuri struggle would’ve really made resulting moments of success all the more worthwhile. However, the story still does fine enough without them.

Yuri on Ice doesn’t actually delve very deep into the sport, though, unfortunately. I definitely did learn from this show, of course, but it’d be comparable to day 1 of a Figure Skating 101 class. We learn a skating routine is made up of sections of step routines, jumps, and (seemingly) just faffing around, and we learn that quadruple spin jumps are harder than triple spin jumps… but that’s about it. I could’ve totally become engrossed in this entire sport, and while the show does give you more than nothing, it still feels like it fell short in this regard as well. What different kinds of jumps are there? What is a “good” step sequence? Why and how are routines put together this way? The show doesn’t even attempt to touch these questions.

All in all, Yuri On Ice feels like it’s trying to have its cake and eat it too. It wants to focus on the figure skating, the side characters, and the relationship between Yuri and Victor… but there just isn’t enough time here to do all of that. It becomes a show that’s good/decent at a number of things, but a master of none of them. I’m not the type of person to hate something because it’s popular, but I’m not about to blindly jump on the bandwagon either and give unwavering praise to a show that, ultimately, is only just okay.

The Atmosphere

Visually, Yuri on Ice is a fascinating series. Fascinating because of how absolutely wonderfully it can get some things right and do some things really well, but can also completely drop the ball in other areas – especially areas where you’d think it’d matter the most.

The character designs for this show took me a bit to get used to, but overall, I do like them. Without his glasses, though, Yuri K. is a bit harder to make distinguishable (Yuri P. and Victor, luckily, are quite distinguishable and unique looking in their own rights). These characters can be so expressive at times too, which I really enjoyed a lot. I like exaggerated expressions, and Yuri on Ice does wonderfully in that department. So much so that it feels like the people animating this show seemed more suited for a more slice-of-life or comedy show rather than a sports anime – which is important to mention because…

The biggest thing that disappointed me about this show’s visuals were the ice skating segments. It seems a bit surprising to me that this, which I would’ve guessed to be something extremely vital to this show, is something that they failed to animate and polish well. Free from any physical limitations, the camera is able to be anywhere on the ice rink to follow the characters around during their routines, and Yuri on Ice certainly takes advantage of that… but there are some problems.

Firstly, the background and the skating character don’t always sync up in movement. Sometimes a character will literally just move around the screen without actually moving (as in, animated to move), or the background won’t move at the same rate the character will, or just something else to that extent. Secondly, where there is a jump cut, sometimes the background behind the character just changes. It’ll look similar enough to not completely throw you, but it’s different enough to be noticeable: the positions/order of advertisements on the walls, the distance a character is from said walls, things like that. There was even a single instance of the background literally changing in the middle of a shot (in episode 6, around the 11:50 mark in Crunchyroll’s player)! Thirdly, sometimes the characters’ necks were just drawn super long – especially Yuri K’s. It looked weird, but I’ll concede this leans a bit more on the personal taste side.

Luckily, the animators mostly ironed out these problems in the latter half of the series (excepting the neck thing, that actually seemed to get worse in the latter half). All in all, though, I felt underwhelmed by the ice skating sections of the show. The movement felt shoddy for the reasons mentioned above, and it seemed hard to really get some emotional connection with these sections: the only thing that escalated these segments beyond just watching characters skate and wiggle their arms around was the commentary that gave context to what was going on. I’ll fully admit that I’m a total newbie when it comes to figure skating, so it’s possible that the segments were actually done with a lot of emotion interpreted in other ways, but I’m no newbie when it comes to animation, and especially to animation being able to impart an emotion to you when it really works to do so. I won’t go as far as to say they failed here, but, again, it felt very underwhelming.

The show’s backgrounds, excepting the movement issues mentioned above, are pretty dang well done. There are some very pretty sights to see here, especially in the segments where the characters explore the cities they’ve traveled to. I also particularly love the things like the TV announcer segments and the on-screen score displays and such that they did for this show. It felt like an actual professional sport performance, and did really well to immerse me into this world.

Yuri on Ice’s opening theme, History Maker, by Dean Fujioka, is a great-sounding song, and the opening animation to accompany it was equally as wonderful. I wish the show’s actual figure skating segments looked more like the opening animation. I have nothing but praise for the opening credits. The ending song and animation are also pretty dang good, although they pale in comparison to the opening in my mind.

Having mentioned Crunchyroll earlier in this section, it’s safe to assume that I watched this show there, with subtitles. I think Toshiyuki Toyonaga did a pretty well job as Yuri K., and likewise with Koki Uchiyama as Yuri P., but I have to give praise to Junichi Suwabe for his performance as Victor. I think he played the character really well. Also, special mentions to Mamoru Miyano as JJ Leroy, he did a great job with that, and Kensho Ono as Phichit Chulanont. I seeked out some bits of Funimation’s English dub, and I felt a tad disappointed. It may be that I’m more used to the Japanese voice actors and how they sound, but I felt like the voice actors for Yuri K. and Victor just… didn’t sound as great. However, I think Micah Solusod makes for a great Yuri P. I do enjoy how they gave Victor and Yuri P. Russian accents, though; it seemed corny and it amused me, even though it probably does sound a tad more realistic that way.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

When there is a show or video game or whatever with a lot of hype surrounding it, it’s more common than not that the object in question probably won’t live up to it. That is, unfortunately, the case here. Although Yuri on Ice has a strong fanbase and it’d received a lot of praise for some of the things it did, I walked away from this feeling like there was something missing. This show tried to pull itself in a lot of directions, and it wasn’t able to fully commit to any one of them. Compounded on top of that is its underwhelming figure skating sequences and I could start to build a case for riling against this show.

But I did have fun with it. I enjoyed myself watching this. Yuri on Ice won’t end up on any top 10 list of mine at all, but a show doesn’t have to win gold medals to still be worth the time I put into it. And ultimately, that’s all it was: worth the time I put in. Yuri on Ice is pretty decent, and really makes you feel connected to its characters and the journey they’re on. It also has some great opening and ending songs. Give it a fair shake and see if it’s up your alley.

Rating: Good
Recommendation: Give It a Shot
+++ really felt like I was part of this journey, great opening and ending theme songs, Victor
— wish we delved deeper with these characters – all of them, figure skating segments had bad motion, felt stretched in multiple directions and failed to deliver on all of them