Thoughts – Yuri!!! on Ice

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[Spoilers ahead for Yuri!!! on Ice]

SIGH. I know, I shouldn’t be crawling out of an unforgivable hiatus with a post like this. Nevertheless, I recently took a break from real-life work and felt eager to give some of my own thoughts on one of 2016’s most beloved anime, which I managed to finish recently. Since there’s already been a voluminous amount of coverage on this show, at the very least I can promise I won’t be spewing unoriginal fandom jokes in this short space.

My first reaction after watching the whole of Yuri!!! on Ice is that it was very heart warming and enjoyable, to the point that it’s one of those shows that I can safely say I enjoy in spite of its massive flaws. And believe me, this show has some massive flaws. I can’t ignore the plunging dip in animation quality from episode four that makes it look as though TNK took over Studio Mappa mid-season, with Studio Wit occasionally popping in to give input on how the skaters bodies could be modelled after the titans from Attack on Titan. I also think the show could have afforded to axe at least two of the other figure skaters so as to help with pacing issues. For starters, booting the weird brother and sister duo (and maybe also their cyberpunk-I’m-no-longer-human friend) would have done the trick nicely.

But negativity aside, generally speaking, Yuri!!! on Ice was enjoyable as a sport anime because, like most sport anime, it didn’t resort to making us focus all our hatred on any one competitor in order to drive the drama and adrenaline. Up to the end, we’re all drowning in camaraderie and healthy sportsmanship, so much so that even Theme of King JJ becomes a fairly infectious earworm (well, to me, at least…I love that song). But since these are all things I’m sure most viewers have already caught on to, I thought I’d just set out my own thoughts on the best parts of Yuri!!! on Ice just for the fun of it.

So here’s what I thought were the best three parts of Yuri!!! on Ice.

1.  The Narrative Framework

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Boy, Yuri Katsuki is one untrustworthy guy. He introduces himself in episode 1 as an awkward, ill-disciplined binge-eater flubbing his way through the some international skating competition. The focus is thrust entirely on how his idol Victor Nikiforov is a living legend, an untouchable deity, and Yuri Katsuki himself is a pathetic crybaby who feels uncomfortable returning home after five years of absence because he tanked at the Grand Prix Finals and (according to him) at every other competition he’s participated in over the past season.

It’s only until episode 11 that the full weight of the empirical facts hit me, although admittedly I am very, er, slow. Like wait a minute…this glorious Grand Prix Finals held in Barcelona, Spain, that Yuri and Victor have worked their way up to for the last 10 episodes, isn’t that…the exact same competition that Yuri was in during…episode 1?

Most anime get by through having the story narrated in predictable fashion. You have your hot-headed shounen protagonist who vows to climb his way to the top of the game, and there’s nothing controversial about him being an unpolished diamond at the start of the series, because…hey, he already said it himself, didn’t he? Sure, he also gets some unexpected power ups along the way, or he eventually turns out to be hosting the soul of an evil superpower that will consume the hero we know, but the viewer can be assured that each of the supporting cast of characters is as surprised by this as the viewer is.

Self-awareness, or the lack thereof, is a particularly tricky thing to portray. Most of the time it boils down to one touching scene featuring a serious conversation between the main lead and the potential tsundere waifu, which starts off with said lead declaring “I want to get stronger! For the sake of all those whom I love and wish to protect, I must get stronger!” and ends with said tsundere waifu being all, “But you know…you are strong inside! Just look at how far you have come! You may not know it, but so many people look up to you and admire you!”

Yuri!!! on Ice skips all of that testy dialogue and does the show-don’t-tell game to perfection. We are shown Kenjirou Minami gushing over Yuri Katsuki in the same way Yuri K had gushed over Victor (albeit not to his face) over the previous episodes. Yuri K’s strengths are often commented on through the side characters, and especially his competitors, who are shown to take him very seriously (contrary to the impression Yuri K’s narration would have us think). Yuri Plisetsky tells us through internal monologue in episode 11 that Yuri K had eye-grabbing step sequences way back at the Grand Prix Final of episode 1, which Yuri K obviously glossed right over.

My experience with Yuri!!! on Ice was chock-full of “wait a minute….I thought!” moments, which are always delightful when they appear, because it’s a true testament of how Yuri K’s self-doubt and low self-esteem are juxtaposed against his actual skills and talent. It ultimately makes him such a humble and likeable character, instead of, you know, him coming off as irritating and ignorant.

2. Makkachin

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This is pretty odd to say, but Makkachin was my favourite “character” of the whole show. I mean, I liked all the main characters very much, but Makkachin was my joy and happiness, the GIFs and scenes I re-watched on end, and the biggest “NOOO” I had was when Makkachin ate the sticky buns in episode 8 and his fate was left hanging throughout episode 9.

Now, I know Makkachin is just a fluffy brown poodle, and strictly speaking is more of a plot device than a character. But let’s put terminology aside for a moment and focus on several instances in which Makkachin becomes very important to the story.

For example, Makkachin’s debut in episode 1. At the end of episode 1, Makkachin stands at the front door of the Yu-topia Akatsuki and flings itself on Yuri K and proceeds to lavish on Yuri K all the love and encouragement he badly needs. It’s a simple scene, but the build up to this moment is so very well done that the scene’s effect is to mark Makkachin’s entrance as a turning point in Yuri K’s life.

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The previous fluffy brown poodle in Yuri K’s life, ie Victor-the-dog, is shown to us a grand total of two and a half times throughout episode 1. “Half” because the first “Victor-the-dog” isn’t really Yuri’s Victor-the-dog but a random lookalike which peeks out of a stranger’s handbag and reminds Yuri K of his loss and depresses him. But of course, Victor-the-dog was hugely important to Yuri K, and its death was a key reason why Yuri K tanked in his Grand Prix Final performance. That part got me really sad, and I normally don’t get sad about animals…but this one got me.

So unlike Victor’s entrance into Yuri’s life (which was slightly weird because of reasons), Makkachin’s appearance is very much like the return of a beloved friend, and brought so much cheer to the gloom and bleakness of Yuri’s uncertain career at that point in the story. Can’t say much more than that.

Of course, Makkachin is terribly important to Victor as well, having been a faithful companion who has followed Victor throughout his competitive skating career. This ends up allowing Makkachin to be one of the things which eases both Yuri and Victor together, so that several important scenes between them aren’t always just awkwardly hanging there. There’s always a tail-wagging hunk of fur to hug and pet whilst having deep conversations about life and love and everything else which I can’t recall because I was so fixated on Makkachin.

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You’ll probably notice that the most intensive scenes don’t have a Makkachin in them. Anything that could be otherwise overbearingly intensive is made relaxed and calm because Makkachin the force of happiness and fluffiness is there somewhere, panting or wagging its tail. Well done, Makkachin.

3. The Plot Twist from Episode 10

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Okay, so obviously I had to say something about this.

Yuri!!! on Ice is undoubtedly a romantic show, but it kind of bugs me how disproportionate emphasis is placed on debating the very obviously “romantic” moments. I’ve seen paragraphs of commentary dedicated to proving how The Kiss of episode 7 WAS REALLY A KISS, or why it was censored (because of broadcasting restrictions or deliberate teasing on the Director’s part?). Which is weird because, it’s only been turned into a big deal because of the extra-narrative significance of the act, since kisses (whether openly portrayed or not) are standard fare in all fictional works, right?

I’m just saying that there are many more romantic moments in the whole show, and The Kiss from episode 7 probably wouldn’t even have cracked my Top 5 List, so here’s my number one pick.

See, this is one of the best moments of storytelling in all anime I have seen. In one comedic moment of drunk Yuri K doing what drunk Yuri K does best, the whole romantic plotline as we know it has been turned on its head.

Like, who’d have guessed, it was Yuri K who made the first move on Victor!

This mind-blowing ED sequence and subsequent 10 second animation achieves so many things. Firstly, further to what I have already said above, it’s a definitive piece of evidence that Yuri K is the world’s most unreliable narrator, presenting himself to the audience as a shy, socially-inept underdog who began the show as the unwilling victim of Victor Nikiforov’s playboy-like antics. Secondly, rethinking all the events of the show from Victor’s perspective flips the Yuri!!! on Ice universe on its head, and puts Victor’s decision to set aside his own skating career to become Yuri K’s coach in a very different light. Turns out it wasn’t the viral video of Yuri K that first caught Victor’s attention – now how’s that for a plot twist?

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By the way, this scene (and arguably, the whole anime) isn’t worth your time unless it’s watched in dub, because…this dub is seriously amazing. I assure you that Victor’s heavy Russian accent (an accurate choice for his nationality, I might emphasise) is worth tolerating just to hear drunk Yuri K go “mah family owns a HAWT springs resort, you should come visit…you’ll do it Victor, won’t you, BE MAH COACH!”

(You should also consider watching the show in dub for Yuri Plisetsky. Because everything Yuri P says is ten times funnier in Russian-accented English.)

Anyway, think about it, the whole scene was meant to be comedic, but it is so very significant and critical to even the most serious moments in the whole show, including an almost-forgotten incident of Victor getting wasted on late-night drinking in episode 4. Just recalling this scene can make me overlook the lowest points of the series. Yuri!!! on Ice may have at times been a victim of hype and the over-glorification of rabid fujoshi fangirls, but it has undeniable strengths in its storytelling, which I felt I badly needed to praise to the fullest extent possible in this short space.

And to sum it up, I hope that you had as much fun watching Yuri!!! on Ice as I did. Season 2 cannot come soon enough.

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