There’s no denying it. I love this series, and I do think it deserves as much attention as it has gotten since last year. I admit, that’s a rare thing for me to say, considering my track record for downplaying popularity as a factor for anime.
I appreciate that fans and critics alike have had a lot to say about this series already, so I won’t be sharing anything particularly new about this series. One thing I should point out though is that its use of homoeroticism, while a very important theme, isn’t the only thing is worth noting. I’m kind of a figure skating otaku myself, so watching Yuri Katsuki’s journey to lutz his way to the Grand Prix had extra appeal. But before I get into this review, there is one thing I have to say to the folks who dismiss the series, solely because there’s a romance between two guys in it:
Yuri on Ice is centered around Yuri Katsuki, a young male figure skater who recently lost his will to compete after messing up his routine. Compared to the other athletes, he didn’t think he was worthy enough to skate on the same stage as them. But when the five-time Grand Prix champion Victor Nikiforov wins again, Yuri decided to practice his short program. Little did Yuri know, his practice was being filmed by fans of his own, who then uploaded his skate onto the Internet. And in just one day, Yuri went viral!
Considering his own retirement, Victor saw the video for himself and decided to temporarily move to Japan to become Yuri Katsuki’s coach. From that point forward, Yuri found new inspiration to skate, and competes once more with a new attitude.
This time, Yuri Katsuki aims to be Japan’s greatest katsudon (pork cutlet bowl)! Get it? Because you know… he aims to win (katsu)! Sigh.
Terrible puns and other innuendos aside, I relate a lot to Yuri’s character. For him, competition itself raises more of his anxiety because he’s so wrapped up in comparing himself to others, especially when he’s trying to skate his best. It reminds me of all those times I focused so much on video games or getting the highest grades in school, only to choke on the fact that I wasn’t going to be good enough for other people. Yuri reminds me of the people who work better when they’re not comparing themselves to others, even in an activity where competition is of utmost importance. And anyone who has ever seen figure skating covered in the media knows that it is an extremely competitive sport!
That’s not to say that someone like Yuri is incapable of competing. Yuri’s aim is for mastery of his art, and will constantly evaluate and reevaluate himself every time he skates. Yes. Like me, Yuri is by far his own worst critic. And unless you’re a close friend, mentor or family member to him, any additional criticism– whether positive or negative –will only add to that anxiety that’s built up in him.
One thing I really liked about Yuri on Ice is its dedication with so many different layers that meet at the intersection of Yuri Katsuki’s experience. His performance anxiety and pressure in comparison to others are two examples of those layers. Another is found in the world of figure skating itself.
Although figure skating is considered a highly competitive sport, Yuri on Ice reveals a seemingly cooperative side to it as well, one that doesn’t get highlighted enough. Yuri Katsuki’s biggest rival Yuri(o) Plisetsky demonstrates this as he watches our Yuri make a number of mistakes in his free skate. Yurio himself is a rather complex character who is incredibly jealous of everything that Yuri has, especially since Victor has broken his own promise to him. Had this been a simpler narrative, Yurio would have no reason to be supportive of Yuri, except that he does in that moment.
To me, Yurio is much more aggressive as a competitor, but it’s reasonable for him to see Yuri Katsuki as a rival, and thus would like to see him do better. Although he would hate to admit it, Yurio genuinely cares enough for Yuri to compete at his best rather than relish in every time he makes a mistake like it was some kind of zero-sum game. In a sport that is known notoriously for cutthroat individualism, it can be surprising to think that there is a sense of camaraderie as well.Of course, there are plenty of other rivals in Yuri on Ice who do skate on an extremely competitive level, some more obnoxious than others. But even then, I found some of their side stories amusing to downright heart-moving. One of the most pivotal moments of Yuri on Ice comes from Jean Jacques Leroy’s short program in the finals, when the veteran skater and favorite to become the next champion fails under pressure. Now truth be told, I thought that Jean was just a silly character who didn’t know when he was being a jerk, but the finals had shown a completely different side of him. Even though the crowd was displeased by his lower score, Jean accepted his loss and faced his reality, holding his head high. Say what you will about him, but I found reason to be proud to see his signature “JJ Style” one last time.
Yuri Katsuki proves to be one of the best competitors, but only when he’s not paying attention to the competition. For the span of a whole year, Yuri makes his skate a personal endeavor. But when it comes to a personal project that Yuri wants to perfect, as always, determination is not enough.
Like any good anime, Yuri’s journey isn’t one that he has to bear all alone. His community is behind him, his rivals encourage him, and his mentor supports him. And if there’s any moment that I think shows how far he has come in a year’s worth of time, it’s his free skate.
Now truth be told, I actually did like Yuri Plisetsky’s program better, but let’s face it: the show isn’t named for him!
Yuri performs the aptly named “Yuri on ICE” four times in the anime, each with minor changes, depending on his own thoughts or mistakes he does. But one thing that I think is worth noting is that we never actually see the full performance in its entirety. While I’m sure that the cuts away from Yuri’s free skate are intentionally left to the imagination, they serve a dual purpose to me. We aren’t just watching Yuri, the star of the show. In those moments where we see everyone else’s reaction, we are seeing Yuri’s performance from Yuri, the narrator’s perspective, as he sees himself through others.
Praise the realistic animation all you want. Relish in the BL undertones as you please. Appreciate figure skating for what it is, or relive the anxiety that the characters feel as competitors. Yuri’s story unfolds beautifully in his performance for all that it’s worth. Yuri bears his flaws, his thoughts, his outlook on others as they see him every time he does his free skate. For Yuri, the free skate was more than just a routine for a competition. It was an expression of his love.
And when he strikes his final pose, Yuri gestures toward his love, his eros, for being with him every step of the way.
So if you are looking for a romantic anime that delves deep into anxiety, figure skating, and homoerotic love, watch Yuri on Ice!