Wow, it’s a Yuri on Ice post. How original. By the way if you aren’t up to at least episode 10, maybe pass on this for now but come back. Of course, if you’ve watched episode 11 things have changed again but I’m not touching that until I’ve had a bit more time to think it through.
Okay, I’m done making fun of myself but I actually kind of had to write this. I was asked by someone in the real world whether Yuri on Ice was any good and found myself gushing (something I avoid doing in the real world, not because people don’t already know I’m a massive anime fan but just because I don’t like to make people feel trapped listening to me blather about things they are only vaguely interested in). But I wasn’t gushing about Yuri and Victor or the maybe kiss or the airport scene or even the ring (though those points did come up), what I found myself gushing about was the way that the characters in this show feel like real people.
By the way, this isn’t a post that is trying to convince you to fall in love with Yuri On Ice. If you aren’t already on board then you’ll probably stay that way. Mostly, this post is just looking at what is beneath all of that pretty animation that is keeping fans up as they anxiously await the next episode.
For me the number 1 take away from Yuri On Ice since the initial episodes where the beauty of the animation swept me away has been the treatment of these characters. Pretty animation aside, without a story or characters worth following I’m not really willing to invest all that much time and thought into something. Yet, Yuri On Ice is a coming of age or a general weakest becomes strongest (maybe) story that we’ve seen a thousand times before (though the second half of this series is definitely starting along a full blown romance pathway). So if it isn’t the plot and while the animation is appreciated and maybe the first draw but that isn’t what is making us hang around, then what we are left with are the characters.
And while there are definitely the fan girls out there who are happily eating up a dose of mainstream shounen ai and then the fans of Victor in the hot tub, what we are mostly seeing through Twitter is that fans have really taken to these characters and it isn’t really hard to see why.
Leaving aside Victor and Yuri for the time-being, the support cast of Yuri On Ice have been fabulous in the way they’ve been presented. While one of the criticisms I’ve heard of the show is the lack of screen time these characters have had and if you watch some episodes you will know that these characters get minutes at most, and yet they pack so much into those minutes.
I’m going to use Kenjirou Minami as an example. He’s a Japanese skater who appears in episode 5 and looks up to Yuri a lot. While you might see him as existing only to serve as a point of contention between Yuri and Victor and as part of Yuri’s character growth, in one episode Minami manages to establish himself as a person. He’s young and idealistic but still desires victory. He’s under his own form of pressure from the expectations placed on him by others though he deals with it a great deal better than Yuri does. We also see his performance. Unlike Yuri’s beauty, Minami is a high energy performer and his personality is clearly shown in his routine. This character was on screen at most for ten minutes and I feel I know more about them than some characters I’ve watched for 24 episodes.
If we then shift to a crowd favourite, Phichit, we get a character who was spoken about long before he even made a real appearance in the show. We knew he was Yuri’s rink mate and we know that Yuri consulted with him in order to get in touch with the person who wrote his music but it wasn’t until episode 6 that this character really appeared in the anime. By then we already had a sense of who this person was and he is definitely a likeable character. One of his persistent character traits is his ongoing use of social media and this is something that really has brought him to life. Not saying that to exist you must be obsessed with selfies, but it is one of many details that makes Phichit feel like he is living in the real world and isn’t simply a scripted being. Episode 10 really highlights that Phichit is more than just moral support and friend though. He is the first to notice the rings and offer congratulations to Yuri and Victor but he is also the first to react when Victor claims Yuri is going to win gold. While this doesn’t form an actual rift between these characters it does show that beneath the smiles Phichit is definitely a competitor.
It’s kind of the same for all of the skaters. Yeah, there’s still heaps we don’t know about them but what we do know is painting a picture of a real person with real goals and desires and approaches to getting through things. While they each might start from a simple archetypal character there have been enough details layered onto these characters to make them feel like they are a person in their own right. Those details are everything from the music and costume choices while performing to their small interactions with the other skaters. Even how they hold themselves and what they are doing before and after performing. It all adds to the rich detail making up the characters of Yuri On Ice and there have been very few moments where this element of the show have slipped.
And that is what, beneath all the fan baiting and obvious lures this show has going for it, is keeping fans hooked and coming back for more. There are plenty of shows out there featuring a cast of supposed good looking guys and while people do tweet their images and the like I’ve certainly not seen anything like the Yuri fever that has happened every week after every episode. While a lot of the attention has been on the kiss, the hand holding, the rings, the sleeping, a lot of the tweets have focussed on those more character driven moments and the moments where we learn something more about one of our favourites in the support cast. What really makes this special though is that all of these moments build on one another. That’s why this was a slow burn at the start where you might think pretty but aren’t seeing all that much more but all of those small moments and details have a snowball effect as the series goes on.
But let’s get back to Yuri and Victor. The are they/aren’t they arguments have raged, the fan art has gone crazy (and is incredibly beautiful given the short time frames some people have worked on) and both of these characters have been analysed to within an inch of their animated lives at this point. For me these characters became amazing at episode 7. Up until then I’d enjoyed watching them grow closer and how Victor had learned how far he could push Yuri before he would have to draw back and how Yuri was starting to take steps toward Victor, but they were still just two good characters in an anime I was enjoying. At episode 7 they crossed some sort of line as they showed such an incredible depth of human emotion and their relationship became something that felt genuine. It is in that sincere expression of emotion that the audience is completely blown away. These characters have real conversations, real conflict, they don’t understand each other sometimes, they try to understand each other, they dither, they hesitate, they act impulsively; they just feel real.
It’s really odd for me to say because normally when I talk about seeing genuine emotion or human expression it is relation to a psychological thriller or a moment in something that’s fairly dark. To talk about two characters in a reasonably feel good, rom-com, sports anime (not trying to be condescending to any of these genres) in this way is a fairly unique experience for me as generally I don’t connect with the characters in these stories the way Yuri On Ice has achieved.
I’m honestly going to say that I do not care if Yuri wins the competition. I don’t care if Victor and Yuri get married or whatever. I am watching this show to watch all of these characters grow and show us what they will do and what choices they will make. While I would be delighted if Yuri get’s a fairytale happy ending I will also be really satisfied with him coming to a sound realisation about who he is and where he stands in the world.
When I come to review this series as a whole I have no idea what I will have left to talk about but I’m certain I will talk at length anyway given I just never get bored of these characters at the moment. But now I’ll turn it over to you; why do you think Yuri On Ice has appealed?
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