Yuri!!! On Ice is one of the most recent sports anime series to take the world by storm. Produced by Japanese animation studio MAPPA and licensed by Funimation, the original run stands at 12 episodes and ran from October to December of 2016.
Our story is centered on Yuri Katsuki, a 23 year old professional figure skater from Japan who spent years training in Detroit, Michigan. We join Yuri at one of the lowest moments of his life and career; having just placed last in the Grand Prix Figure Skating Finals held in Russia. Devastated, his confidence is further lowered after a run in with the junior Russian gold medalist, Yuri Plisetsky, who tells him it’s in his best interest to retire if he can’t compete at a level worthy of the name. As he goes to leave the center, he spots his idol, Victor Nikiforov, walking with Yuri Plisetsky. Victor catches Yuri staring and asks if he would like a commemorative photo, which is the final push our protagonist needs to head back home to Japan, intent on retiring.
Back home in Kyushu, Japan, Yuri performs Victor’s gold medal routine for long-time childhood friend Yuko Nishigori at his local rink, Castle Hasetsu. Unbeknownst to him, Yuko’s young children film Yuri, and he becomes an overnight viral sensation. Victor is sent the video, and is inspired by the passion he sees in Yuri’s performance. He chooses to take a sabbatical from competing and flies to Japan to become Yuri’s personal coach. He is soon followed by Yuri Plisetsky, whom he promised to design a routine for. Victor does as promised, and also designs a routine for Yuri Katsuki, each created to bring out hidden emotions in the young men. For Yuri Plisetsky (given the nickname Yurio in the show), it is Love Agape: gentle, selfless, innocent love. For Yuri Katsuki, it is Love Eros: intense, sensual passion.
The anime continues as both Yuri’s strive not only for the gold, but to find the meaning in this specific type of love which they have not allowed themselves to feel. Both Yuri and Yurio struggle to find out what selfless love and passion mean to each of them in an authentic way. This journey to self-discovery is carried out in such a way that the viewer often feels like they are intruding on an intimate self-reflection. We see this reflected in both Yuri and Yurio as they train together; both wondering if the other is intruding on some sort of breakthrough.
Throughout the series we are also introduced to skaters from different nations also competing in the ISU. We have Otabek Altin from Kazakhstan, whom becomes fast friends with Yurio; Christophe Giascometti, from Switzerland, whom has a healthy rivalry and intense admiration of Victor; Jean-Jacques “JJ” Leroy from Canada, who is the fan favorite, but is quite a narcissist; and Phichit Chulanont from Thailand, whom Yuri K trained with in Detroit. They are all joined by other wonderful minor characters as they compete in the preliminaries, semi-finals, and finally the finals of the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating series held in Barcelona. Now Yuri and Yurio must go head to head, to prove who is the greatest Yuri on ice.
This series is unique in that it humanizes each of the characters. Each character is very rounded and dynamic and has an underlying reason or motive for being the way they are. I found myself sympathizing with even JJ at some points because as the viewer, I was given flashbacks to moments in his life where I could see what made him turn out the way he is. While I knew who I wanted to win the overall Grand Prix, I couldn’t help but want each character to succeed to their fullest potential because I was shown how hard they worked towards being there. In a way I felt like everyone’s personal cheerleading team (even though JJ came prepared), and was both happy and a little devastated with the end scores for several skaters.
Ever the overachiever, MAPPA has made sure that Yuri also has a wonderful animation style and musical score. From the opening theme by Dean Fujioka to the ending credits by Wataru Hatano – and every song in between – I was hooked on the music and the atmosphere it created. The show adds an extra layer to the evolution of each character by having their routine music become more intense and complex as they grow as characters. Not only that, but their costumes became more beautiful and intricate at the same time. It was like akin to watching a Pokemon evolve from something insignificant and one-dimensional to something magnificent, but with human figure skaters. On top of that, the sounds of the skates hitting the ice and the roar of the crowds often left me wondering if I was actually watching from my couch or from the arena.
MAPPA also absolutely nailed their animations of the characters figure-skating. It was probably the most realistic animation of figure-skating I’ve ever seen as they accurately captured the moves, details, and finesse of each part of being in the rink. The only downside was sometimes the animation became a little out of focus when characters were performing more intense routines.
It’s also commendable how the studio depicts the often controversial topic of same-sex relationships. Most anime and manga depict same-sex relationships as taboo and exotic, probably because they are not legally recognized in Japan. Yuri!!! On Ice challenges this stereotype by treating the budding relationship between Yuri Katsuki and Victor Nikiforov as any other show would treat a heterosexual relationship: as two people falling in love.
Yuri!!! On Ice, although classified as a sports anime, transcends the genre, becoming a genuine and heartfelt story. Coupled with the well-rounded and realistic characters, the anime is relatable to anyone who has been in love, faced an obstacle, or just had trouble figuring out who they really are. While there are some moments where the animation seems out of focus, it is an overall beautifully created show. I am not typically a fan of sports anime, but this has become one of my favorite shows, and I highly recommend it to everyone.