Review/discussion about: Yuri!!! on ICE
On a hot summer day like today, almost nothing beats a cold, refreshing drink.
I have ice to thank for this coldness. Tiny cubes of solidified water turn down the temperature of my Coca-Cola and turn up the smile on my face. Of course, ice does a lot more than cool down my beverages. It preserves other items. It creates entire continents. It heals wounds.
I don’t always think about it, but ice does a lot out there. Ice also happens to give figure skaters the “stage” where they wear “armor” and cross “blades” on their way to gold medals and more.
Yuri!!! on ICE has a lot of skating and, perhaps obviously, a lot of ice.
But there’s no gold in sight.
Yuri!!! on ICE begins on both sides of the emotional spectrum. Victor Nikiforov has just won the Grand Prix Final gold medal, cementing his legacy as the best to ever play the sport. Yuri Katsuki, in contrast, suffers a tremendous defeat, crying in a bathroom stall as he thinks maybe he’s not cut out for the rink. However, when Victor arrives at Yuri’s hometown several months later, proclaiming to be his new coach, Yuri gains a newfound passion to tackle the ice once more.
When looking at the anime as a whole, it sadly ends up in quite the common category: a strong start that ultimately gives way to a crumbling, wobbly jaunt that leads to a poor finish.
The first three episodes kick off the narrative with a lot of power. They establish where Yuri is (in a mental rut) and where he needs to get to (winning the Grand Prix Final). They create an interesting dynamic between Yuri and Victor. They introduce the sport of ice skating and what it entails. Standard stuff, but these steps are important in providing the show’s direction for the rest of the season.
Granted, these episodes are not without their own problems. Yuri recaps unnecessary information about himself or the events thus far. And the tone shifts between super-silly comedy and ultra-serious drama. In hindsight, these issues may hint at the anime’s eventual dwindling, but the show does more than enough all around during this time to forgive it of slight issues.
Episodes four and five, though, begin Yuri!!! on ICE’s wavering strength.
Episode four features Yuri struggling to form his free skate routine. To get him on the right track, Yuri remembers some music he had made for him in the past. But the anime awkwardly handles this plot point when it’s given as a random aside. How he met a girl (whose face is never shown) who wrote a piece for him to skate to, but it was too subpar to use.
So, Yuri gets in touch with her to have her remake the piece, and this new piece from her becomes his main music. And that’s it. There’s no weight to it. No emotion. No importance. Especially when Yuri names the music literally after the title of the anime itself.
Episode five has Yuri competing in a regional competition. While there, a young skater named Kenjirou expresses how much he looks up to Yuri in much the same way that Yuri looks up to Victor. A nice throughput. If only the anime capitalized on the idea, for, after this episode, Kenjirou has no influence or impact on the narrative. Save for him cheering Yuri on while at Yuri’s parents’ place.
These shaky narrative moments already highlight the anime’s weakness on a writing level. From episode six onwards, however, Yuri!!! on ICE melts apart.
The anime spends two episodes on the Cup of China, two on the Rostelecom Cup, and three on the Grand Prix Final. In doing so, a new problem pops up: pacing. The anime transitions from the Chugoku, Shikoku, and Kyushu Championship right into the Cup of China. Which then jumps straight into the Rostelecom Cup. When then goes right for the Grand Prix Final. The anime glosses over the other competitions, moving the plot along weeks or months at a time to showcase the specific events that Yuri competes in.
In turn, this problem raises another by default: no downtime. In this string of episodes, only episode ten tries to provide more of the grounded, non-ice-skating events. Otherwise, Yuri!!! on ICE focuses solely on the skating. Yes, watching them skate is the point, but, without highlighting Yuri, Victor, and the other’s interpersonal relationships off the ice, the anime loses out on a lot of important build up.
Remember how that tenth episode was perhaps different from the others? Well, it has a glaring problem as well: exposition. Victor spends the first six or so minutes reexplaining to the audience the people involved, the events so far, and what’s to come. On a writing level, providing information in expository format that the audience already knows – especially over three-quarters of the way into the season – is a big no-no. It’s not only pointless to do so, but also it steals time away from focusing on those interpersonal moments.
Given that the anime puts all its focus on the performances, yet another new problem now emerges: the content itself. Individual ice skating is a very singular sport. There’s no teamwork. There’s no direct, simultaneous competition. There’s no special rules or unique circumstances. What this structure means is that the sport is heavily reliant on what the characters say and do because there’s almost nothing else to focus on.
While it does its best to vary the approaches of the different performances, Yuri!!! on ICE chooses to go with even more exposition. And that’s tough to accept. A major part to ice skating is how the skaters tell a story with their elegant movements and precise jumps. Instead, Yuri and the other characters continually spout the same thoughts about themselves or others, spelling out their feelings in the moment and refusing to let their programs speak for themselves. Almost as if the anime itself doesn’t trust them enough to do the “talking.”
Throughout almost every episode, the anime makes one of its biggest blunders: an unwillingness to fully commit. It’s beyond obvious how Victor has romantic feelings for Yuri and vice versa. At least, it appears that way because the anime will not declare with certainty that these two are lovers.
Victor embraces Yuri as he goes in for a “kiss,” but the two just fall to the ice instead. Yuri’s program theme is “love,” and he skates to woo Victor, but his love isn’t “love” but really an “abstract feeling.” The two have what can only be described as a wedding proposal, but the rings are only “good-luck charms.”
Having a major part of the anime be this “romantic love” between Victor and Yuri, only for the show to constantly deny it the whole way through, is disingenuous to the narrative at best and ridiculous at worst.
Simultaneously, the anime has a horrible tendency to use the same flashbacks without remorse as the characters think about or within their situations. It follows the same problem as the exposition in that the anime cannot stop itself from bringing up past talking points that either no longer need attention or can already be surmised through context clues.
Not even the ending nails its landing. Despite what the narrative established in the beginning, the anime does not give the audience the satisfaction of Yuri earning gold. Even worse, it doesn’t stick with its foreshadowing around this season being Yuri’s last. Altogether, it creates an ending that doesn’t provide an elated or poignant emotional sendoff, opting instead for this wishy-washy, everybody-wins finale.
In short, Yuri!!! on ICE’s story simply lacks overall execution. It may have begun in a strong spot, but, when the judges finish tallying up their points, it’s only sad tears in the kiss and cry.
Yuri!!! on ICE’s art and animation are a heated topic given the nature of the work and the noticeable hiccups as it proceeds.
Before anything else, the anime deserves props for tackling the finesse and the subtleties tied to an ice skater’s dances. Spins, axels, Salchows. Swinging arms and coordinated feet placements. To be completely fair, the animation is never incredible let alone perfect. But there’s enough variety and attention to detail in the performances to demonstrate their prowess.
The anime also likes to showcase detailed moments involving the characters. More specifically, Victor’s risqué actions with Yuri were almost always given extra attention. Getting up in Yuri’s face, putting lip balm on his lips, pulling him halfway out of the sauna (while both buck naked). These scenes made super sure to highlight their features with extra detail. All to ramp up the sexual tension between the two men.
Otherwise, the anime’s animation and art does well early on. Yuri scrambling around literally in midair or a quaint shot of a couple of cherry-blossom trees prove that quality was high near the beginning of the season.
Once again, though, Yuri!!! on ICE makes questionable choices.
For starters, the anime has a penchant for reusing a huge chunk of its animated sequences. Arguably, it’s inevitable that this repetition will occur because Yuri and the other skaters perform the same short and free programs over and over. Which would be a fair excuse if the anime tried harder to diversify its shot composition, angles, and orientation. Instead, rather than spicing up these performances, the show continually uses the exact same shots, frame for frame, an inexcusable number of times.
The same problem occurs outside of the performances, too. For example, during training, Yuri and other characters may fall over when failing at a jump, and, miraculously, they each tumble in identical fashion. Or how Minako holds up the same banner with Yuri’s name on it in episode four in precisely the same way as she did in episode one (just with her in different clothes).
The worst, most obvious example is the audience in the stands at the tournaments. In episode seven alone, Yuri!!! on ICE reuses the exact same pan-over-the-audience clip several times over. Sometimes, it’ll just mirror the shot to give the illusion that it changed, and other times it won’t even have the audience moving at all.
It gets worse. Some of the shots only change the flags the audience holds. The show will then have a Canada fan running across the bleachers, to then showcasing off-putting mouth and clap movements as they try to sing along to JJ’s routine. Not to mention how, in episode eight, the announcer literally says of Yuri that “the crowd’s giving him a standing ovation,” yet they are all sitting down in their seats.
Even the opening track’s visuals succumb to the same issue. In what should be one of the easier segments to include variation, Yuri and Yurio and Victor skate the same moves twice over with only on-screen colors changing. To its credit, it’s well done on an animated level, being one of the most fluid sections in the entire show. But that nagging repetition prevails.
These problems would be a bit more tolerable if the anime didn’t constantly mess up artistically. It has a tough time maintaining proportions. Very little in the way of animation off the ice occurs once it all gets funneled into the performances. Improper lip synchronization when characters speak. Even blatant background errors creep their way in, like how in episode six the rink seemingly phase shifts in the middle of Yuri’s short program.
Going back to the positives, the anime does do a lot with its character designs. For instance, Victor’s short, silver hair and striking blue eyes capture his masculine beauty. In contrast, Yuri looks a bit doofy with his cropped black hair and glasses, but, once on the ice, he slicks his hair back, ditches the glasses, and dons Victor’s old attire, combining to make him less out-of-luck and more hunk.
Other characters get attention, too. Yurio gets an androgynous appearance. Yakov and Lilia have chiseled features that match their Russian personas. Giacometti, Phichit, and Otabek receive cultural outfits while skating and geographic influences overall.
Does the strong start and the nice character designs make up for the numerous visual problems? It’s hard to say. The workarounds and the missing frames and the blatant errors cannot be ignored. But neither can the immense difficulty that comes with animating all these performances.
Besides the music, arguably Yuri!!! on ICE’s greatest strength comes from a few of the characters the story focuses on. Namely, Yurio, Victor, and Yuri himself.
Yuri starts off in a rather rough spot. He loses horribly in the Grand Prix Final, he breaks down in a bathroom stall, and he lets himself go after suffering further defeats. When he gets back to his hometown, he’s happy to be around his family, but his mental state is as low as it can possibly go. He has zero confidence in himself, and he’s unsure of what exactly he can or even should do from here on out.
Yuri is in a prime position to grow as a character, and, as if on cue, Victor arrives, declaring his role as coach for Yuri and surprising the depressed man. He had always looked up to Victor as an idol, as a person worth striving to be. Going so far as to replicate his performances and own a similar breed of dog (which he named Victor no less).
Victor, in contrast, is known by everyone in the skating world. He has dominated the sport for years now, and nobody can match his skills whatsoever. It’s what makes his break from skating more surprising than the fact that he has chosen to coach Yuri.
Victor forgets his promises, and he doesn’t seem to understand just how much better he is than Yuri and the others. But that doesn’t prevent him from stepping up when needed. He trains Yuri back into shape, cutting his belly fat right out. He encourages Yuri, explaining his reasons for helping. He befriends him like any good coach would.
Most importantly, Victor gets Yuri out of his comfort zone. Rather than letting Yuri perform a short program that suits him, he forces him to tackle a theme that he’s not very used to: eros.
“Eros” is essentially sexual love. The steamy, provocative, and hot form of love. Thus, Victor designs choreography around this idea. All to have Yuri express himself in a manner that both challenges him and pushes him to maintain the confidence he never seems to have.
This theme on love plays a huge part in Yuri’s life. Early on, he equates love to his favorite food, but he soon directs his feelings towards Victor instead. He thinks about those who have loved him so far, like his parents and Minako, as he contemplates what to do for his free skate. He shows love for Kenjirou, a junior and mega-fan of his, by yelling out words of support for the impressionable teenager.
The basis for Yuri’s love also morphs along the way. Especially so during his performances. At first, it’s singular and only for Victor. Then it’s for the whole audience to enjoy. Then it’s selfish to prove that Victor belongs only next to him. Then it’s undoubting as he does everything he can to win.
Though it is Yuri’s free skate that represents what his love means the most: a love for himself. Again, Yuri never truly had the self-esteem needed to skate at his utmost best. So, it makes sense that his free skate focuses on him loving himself. For confidence and loving one’s self go hand in hand. His performance personifies him, his skating, and the life he has led – a life filled with nothing but love.
In retrospect, Yuri’s arc takes on two forms. The first three episodes develop him as a person, and the remainder of the season explores what love is and means to him. It’s an interesting format that, overall, has the audience see Yuri change for the better.
Throughout Yuri’s journey, Victor stands beside him (outside the rink). He’s never coached before, but he’s the best in the business, and he understands Yuri’s predicament. He doesn’t always get it right, like saying the wrong words at the wrong time or paying too much attention to the crowd before Yuri’s performance. But he has the commitment. The care. The charisma. Sure, he trains Yuri and gives him the material means to take the ice with pride. But it’s these traits, his own love for Yuri, that allow his pupil to blossom.
When stepping back and looking more closely at Victor’s character, though, it’s not as pretty. A lot of his motivations for helping Yuri are oddly handled. He talks about how Yuri skates as if his “body is creating music,” inspiring Victor rather than attracting him. However, at the end of episode ten, the anime seems to imply that Victor does, indeed, fall for him. The episode after that then goes a different direction entirely when Victor (through monologue) talks about how he felt as if he had to “find new strength” all by himself. Then the episode after that makes his return more about rivalry and getting back what’s his instead of anything from above.
Cobbling together his motivations stems from the fact that the anime doesn’t explore his character enough. He coaches Yuri, and he occasionally has words about Yuri’s current mindset. But a lot of his skating career before helping is ignored. And because so much of the season is focused on the performances and the large side cast, Victor gets even less screen time. It leaves him in a weird state of prominent cheerleader but depthless protagonist.
The only other mainstay character is Yurio. Compared to the other two, he’s a bit different. He has always been extremely talented, and he knows it. However, his abrasive personality keeps not only other people away but also gets in the way of his performances. He simply cannot express himself without falling back on the anger within him. Like Yuri, his introduction – of telling Yuri to retire already while yelling at the poor guy – captures his initial state about as well as it could.
In contrast to Yuri, Yurio is given a program centered on sincerity and lightness and care. It’s love but not of the fiery, passionate kind. Expectedly, Yurio struggles at making this form of “agape” his own.
Unfortunately, Yurio doesn’t receive a whole lot of attention past the third episode. Which is, to some extent, understandable. It’s not possible plot-wise for Yurio to always be around given the nature of the tournaments, and the anime must spend time providing tidbits of information on the other skaters as they make their climb to the top.
Nonetheless, the anime does what it can. It shows snippets of his training as a ballerina dancer as well as his embracing of his femininity. An edge that he has over the other skaters. While he lost to Yuri and no longer has Victor to guide him, he remains just as impassioned as anyone else. To prove his skill to Yuri, to Victor, and, most importantly, to himself.
What helps Yurio the most, though, isn’t Russian dancing lessons or feminine appeal. No, it’s the kindhearted people he meets along the way. Yuuko looks out for him during his stay at Yuri’s hometown. Yuri himself makes for a strong rival. His grandpa supports him with pork-cutlet-stuffed rolls.
Yurio’s character arc isn’t amazing. His aside with Otabek, where Otabek shares how he feels the two are similar and they handshake to solidify their friendship, is crammed into the narrative all willy-nilly. The show also cannot stop itself from pointing out this motif of his through more unneeded exposition. And he remains more or less a jerk to everyone, demonstrating that these relationships haven’t affected him all that much.
But he still channels their love all the same. Their kindness softened his movements and outlook, granting him the final push he needed to win the entire Grand Prix Final. Yurio still has a lot of time and skating left in him, but it’s clear that he’s on thin ice no longer.
The opening track “History Maker” is one of the best parts of the show. It’s somewhat unique in the medium for its all-English lyrics, but it’s the instrumentals, the echoes, and the mixture of both quiet and loud effects that support it most. The song itself is perhaps a bit too grandiose for the scope of the plot, but, nevertheless, it succeeds in generating hype to carry each episode. Even better, it instills a sense of personal optimism. That anybody can go out there and make their own history.
In comparison, the ending track “You Only Live Once” goes for a different setup and a different feeling. It’s much more computerized in sound – some autotuned vocals, a steady backing beat, a set of dropping techno notes – giving it much more of a party vibe. A vibe that fits the overall feeling of the piece itself (which the visuals corroborate): camaraderie. It’s best to drop international barriers and enjoy what’s happening all around since, as the title and saying goes, “you only live once.” And this song captures this sentiment in a catchy, optimistic manner.
Episode ten features a new ED that goes for something much more lighthearted and wild. It’s a lot of fun thanks to the shrill guitar, the yelling, and the emphasis on the music itself rather than the lyrics. Arguably, it’s the best of the three – because it comes out of nowhere.
While the background music doesn’t impress too much, the chosen songs for many of the skaters provide a lot of variety and purpose in their composition. “Carabosse,” a thunderous orchestral that evokes heartbreak. “Still Alive,” a lowkey, hip-hop beat that shares the smoothness of life’s wonders. “Rapsodie Espagnole,” a meandering, fantastical piece that heightens the senses.
The clear winner, though, is the titular track, “Yuri on Ice.” It’s what Yuri skates to in his free skate program, and it’s a beautiful song that does, indeed, capture Yuri’s progress and the life he has led thus far both on and off the ice.
On the opposite end, Yuri!!! on ICE chooses to use a set of stock, dainty chimes to transition back and forth between many of its flashbacks. The sound-effect wouldn’t be that annoying if the anime wasn’t so bent on including flashbacks all the time. The anime at least has some nice ice-skating sound-effects that make the audience feel as if they are there at the rink.
Finally, voice acting doesn’t showcase anything superb, but a lot of people lend their talent. If nothing else, Junichi Suwabe as Victor deserves a shout-out. His not too manly, not too sultry tone gave him the perfect cadence for the unreachable yet alluring figure-skating star.
I’m not the biggest fan of sports in general. I would much rather watch an anime or write or play my guitar before I would willingly sit down to watch a game of football or baseball. Although, I do like hockey. Mostly because of the quickness and the fact that the players do not approve whatsoever of any nonsense like flopping.
So, when it comes to ice skating, I can’t say I was a fan of the sport before watching this anime. Sadly, the same is true afterwards. The repetition really didn’t help, and I was never impressed by the jumps and technique involved. The only routine that I really liked was Yurio’s free skate. It felt as if it had a lot more passion than the others, a greater sense of drive.
If I had to pick my two favorite moments, they would be Kenjirou’s short scenes and the ending of episode ten. Kenjirou got all excited when meeting Yuri and quite embarrassed as he watched Yuri and Victor act closer than he thought. As for episode ten, it was hilarious to watch the evidence of Yuri’s drunken partygoing. Replete with exaggerated moves and underwear pole dancing.
I still found myself irritated with the anime regardless.
The show makes it blatant. Beyond obvious. Without a sliver of doubt that Victor and Yuri have a thing for each other. It couldn’t have put it more on the nose. And yet the anime just doesn’t go all the way. Having Victor say he’ll be Yuri’s “boyfriend” in episode four only for Yuri to respond “no” literally five times in a row, all while, in the same episode, the two pose naked together and Yuri playfully touches the hairline on Victor’s head, is just plain rude.
Most off-putting, though, was the poor writing. Why not have Yuri spend more time with his parents, highlighting the support for their son? Where were Victor’s performances given his stardom and vital role in the narrative? What’s up with the lame dog-almost-dying subplot?
I’m reiterating myself one last time, but the show did start off favorably to me. I liked the comedy bits and the setup and the potential to witness something I’m not familiar with. Unfortunately, it does too much to make me dislike it. I couldn’t take Yuri seriously when he tried to act sexy and commanding. JJ’s music had me shaking my head. Yuri’s family and friends cheering on and fawning over his competitors didn’t feel right to me.
In the end, this entire season felt like one big first arc to a tale that is supposed to go on for at least another season or two. At the time of this writing, that may just be the case, considering the new film on the horizon. Until then, this one ends up in a rougher spot than Yuri did during his first Grand Prix Final.
Yuri!!! on ICE doesn’t have the stamina to step and jump its way to victory. A cumbersome narrative structure and artistic inconsistency keep the points low. Some musical choices shine, and a couple of the characters have their moments, but, even then, it falls over. Altogether, no amount of ice can heal its wounds on this “stage.”
Story: Bad, despite the strong setup, the narrative encounters awkward plot points, incorrect pacing, no downtime, overused exposition, no follow through, and an unsatisfactory ending that leave it in a sorry state
Animation: Fine, tackling the movements of figure skating is commendable, it gets detailed when it wants to, and the character designs are varied, but too many repetitive shots and unacceptable artistic errors creep their way in
Characters: Fine, Yuri grows and expounds on love, Victor doesn’t receive enough exploration, and Yurio’s journey falls somewhere between the two
Sound: Good, good OP, good EDs, okay OST, nice variety in the programs’ musical selections, mixed sound-effects, and okay VA performances
Enjoyment: Bad, while it could be fun at times, it is unable to make the sport interesting, skirts around Yuri and Victor’s relationship, makes poor writing decisions, and includes annoying details throughout
Final Score: 4/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3