We’ve made it to Episode 7: China’s On! The Grand Prix Series Opening Event!! The Cup of China Free Skate. After episode 6 left us with Yuri as the lead contender in the competition we now get to see how that will impact on his very newly found confidence. It was a tricky episode but one that I fell in love with even on the first watch through, and once again, not just because of ‘that’ moment. How will this episode hold up on the rewatch though?
Last week I asked on Twitter what your favourite short program was. Here are the results:
We start straight away with the opening and then into narration that recaps the scores from last episode. However, unlike previous episodes this narration isn’t intended to be comical, nor is it drawn out. It just quickly recaps where we are and what has happened before transitioning into a phone call between Yuri and Yuuko and her family. The expression on his face tells you everything you need to know about his current mental state and I am glad they didn’t feel the need to directly state that he was feeling pressured but allowed his expression to speak for him. One of the main criticisms I’ll level at the earlier episodes is that they regularly over-explain things and this is one time where they refrained.
Never one to miss an opportunity for comedy though, we then have Victor’s reaction to Yuri’s current state. Yuri hasn’t slept and it shows so Victor, in a display of what is probably genuine concern, forces him back to bed and then lies on him (to stop him getting back out of bed of course). However, Victor is super impulsive and so we have Yuri, blindfolded and pinned down on a bed (wow, that sounds way more explicit than it is) crying out and asking if Victor set an alarm. The scene builds on what we know about both characters and so while the tension of Yuri’s emotional state is momentarily broken, the scenario plays true to both of them and ends up hitting its mark. Even if it sounds weird taken out of context.
I really do love how small details play into this story. The next scene we see of Yuri is him trying to open a water bottle, his expression frozen and hands trembling. He’s confused because he can’t open it. Anyone who has ever started cracking under pressure knows this feeling. They’ve been in this exact spot wondering why something simple isn’t working and just getting themselves into a negative feedback loop. It’s these kind of moments that really bring Yuri on Ice to life and make it really connect with viewers in a meaningful way. Also, Victor’s distance in this scene is notable as it brings us back to Yuri’s relationship with Celestino rather than the fairly close and intimate relationship they’ve had so far prior to Yuri skating. Even when Victor does close the gap by standing in front of Yuri and grabbing his shoulders, the perspective very much makes Yuri look small and powerless and as though the gap between them is massive. It doesn’t help that Victor’s words, while once again sound advice, are delivered in such a way that they aren’t going to help Yuri’s confidence any.
While a lot of the time Yuri’s family and friends in Japan feel a little added on, there are moments, like this one, where they show us that Yuri really isn’t alone. Every one of them watching the warm up on TV can see the state Yuri is in. They recognise it in the way that anyone who is close to someone as anxious as Yuri would and they are worried because they know just how hard it is to get out of that mind set once it is in full motion. It might be a brief moment, but it continues to build Yuri’s background in relationships and as a person.
I feel bad for skipping over Guang Hong in my discussion here but to be honest he’s a character who doesn’t really come back again, so while I love the story and his thoughts while he is skating, I’m going to focus in on Yuri still. Yuri knows he stuffed up his warm up, and Victor’s glib remarks that he will do it better in the performance haven’t done a thing to reach him. Watching Yuri watch Guang Hong’s performance is almost heart breaking.
In case it hasn’t become ridiculously clear, I really can emphasise with Yuri and this was a huge part of what drew me into this anime.
In stark contrast to Yuri’s emotional implosion we have Chris. He’s a seasoned veteran and one who oozes confidence in what he can do. Even though he is second last position going into the free skate, Chris knows he can come back from that and we see it in his expression during his routine. He’s genuinely enjoying the moment and being the centre of attention. While he wants to win, as all of the characters do, for Chris there’s a genuine joy in being a performer. It creates such a different tone when we see him on the ice and provides a good balance for the viewer. As we get to the finals of the Grand Prix the different mind sets of each of the characters become more apparent and each one brings a different perspective on competition. However, it probably isn’t a coincidence that Chris and Phichit that are introduced in this round as both of their personalities contrast sharply with Yuri’s uncertainty without clashing with him (Yuri Plisetsky certainly contrasts with Yuri but there we end up with more opposition and rivalry).
Now I’ve taken a few jabs at Victor’s inexperience as a coach and how ineffectual he has been thus far in calming Yuri, but the one thing that this episode wants us to know is that Victor is genuinely trying. He can see the problem but because he isn’t the kind of person who crumbles under pressure he doesn’t have any ability to understand what is actually going on in Yuri’s head. He has no frame of reference to work from. But the concern is real and that is part of what we all need to love about Victor even when he does seem like an air-head sometimes.
One thing that is noteworthy about this round of watching the routines is the attention on the characters faces and their expressions. In some versions of the routines it is the overall movement that takes priority leading to some interesting facial expressions depending on where you pause the routine. However, like with Chris, when Phichit starts his routine we see his face and exactly the mental state he is when he takes to the ice. Where Chris had that small smile of confidence in himself, Phichit has the determination but even when he is focused there’s almost a sense that he wants to celebrate the music and just burst into a smile, something we hear in his voice when his internal monologue begins. Again, it is such a major contrast with Yuri’s mindset and it really helps establish Phichit more as a character. He isn’t just about social media, there’s a genuine competitor inside him and when he takes to the ice for the free skate we see exactly how determined he is to show everyone what he can do.
Though, once again, Yuri on Ice doesn’t hold its ground and feels the need to add in some fairly unnecessary commentary from Celestino about Phichit having more innate flair than Yuri. This is something that was already apparent from the routine and from the audience response. Celestino saying it adds nothing except perhaps making him feel smug that Yuri was the one he lost and Phichit is still his skater.
And again, my apologies to Leo, but his routine is nowhere near as important as what is going on in the carpark between Victor and Yuri, and the anime knows this as well. Where Phichit’s routine was mostly shown with a few cuts to the main characters, Leo’s routine is almost entirely off-screen. So let’s focus on this moment between Victor and Yuri. This moment where Victor, totally lost as to what to do to shake Yuri out of his despair, takes entirely the wrong path. Again, looking at their body language as Victor begins to speak, they are separated by many steps, their backs to one another, the distance between these two has never been greater when they’ve been onscreen. And then Victor essentially throws ice water onto a sleeping Yuri’s face with fairly predictable results.
Yeah, Victor, this was a really bad idea. If I’m honest, this was the moment during my first watch that I almost fell out of love with Victor as a character. I relate too much to Yuri and just the feeling of someone saying that to me when I was in the middle of emotional turmoil, succeed or I’ll ditch you under the guise of taking responsibility, almost broke my heart in two. Rewatches have not softened the blow from this scene, however, Victor is redeemed many times over and I’ve come to love his awkward self who struggles to learn to deal with Yuri emotionally. Still think he’d have been better off keeping his mouth shut.
For an episode so fixated on faces, this sequence is brilliant in how it twists the knife into the viewer’s heart. Victor says his piece and waits. We get the long shot showing again the distance between them before the close up on Yuri’s frozen expression. Switching back to Victor, we see the first bead of sweat appear and the first hint of doubt showing in his eyes. Then tears roll down Yuri’s cheeks (using anime logic that everyone has an entire bucket of water inside their head), and Victor suddenly realises exactly what he just did but not how to fix it.
However, it does open Yuri up, albeit slightly destructively and Yuri tells Victor that all he needs to do is believe in him and stand beside him. As Georgi begins his somewhat hilarious Tales of a Sleeping Prince routine, Yuri and Victor return to the rink side by side for the first time this episode even if their expressions are still sombre and they aren’t looking at one another. I’ve mentioned this before but this relationship is what holds this anime together and elevates it to being so much more than just a story about ice-skating. At every step we see the back and forth as their relationship grows and the two bump heads, gain ground, clash, understand each other, misunderstand each other, and it all feels so incredibly authentic (if a little bit rushed given the time frame).
In case the discomfort between these two after their small spat in the car park isn’t already emphasised enough in their expressions above, after a brief cut away to Georgi and his delusions of Anya returning to him, we get an image of Yuri and Victor still side by side but leaning away and looking away from another. Again, this is so different from how these two have been presented as they’ve come together in every other episode. This moment is fairly critical not just for Yuri as a skater but for their ongoing relationship both as coach and student and any foundation of a romantic relationship in the future.
Meanwhile, the sign above Yuri’s head is just kind of ironic.
I do however, really enjoy the sequence when Yuri prepares to take the ice as he essentially plays Victor by dropping the tissues and then touching Victor’s part, reminiscent of his actions back in episode 4. For all that Yuri might seem like the one being led along at times or weak because of his anxiety, it is scenes like this that show that Yuri has some real fortitude. Afterall, despite his severe anxiety he did rise up to get into the Grand Prix the year before without Victor. While Victor is still at a loss for what to do next, Yuri is taking charge. And this doesn’t go unnoticed by Yakov who thinks that if the student is consoling the coach Victor has a long way to go. With so much focus on Yuri’s growth and improvement, I love that this sequence turns that entirely on its head and shows Victor as the one floundering and lost and Yuri being the one to show the way.
And then the routine begins. For the first time this episode we see Yuri calm and composed. Internally, he is thinking about Victor’s failings as a coach but externally there is a real sense of control about him. Despite how busy Yuri’s thoughts seem to be, Victor notes that Yuri is smiling and Celestino remarks that he seems unusually relaxed. After an entire episode of seeing Yuri on the brink, this moment is wonderful and while Victor’s approach was still dreadful the end result is the dam of emotions Yuri had been holding back had an outlet leaving him more composed than he might otherwise have been. Having seen the routine before, we get continued cuts to the other competitors, coaches and family as we see their reactions to the Yuri that exists now. The amusement of Yuri thinking about how much of an idiot Victor is right before he executes one of his jumps is fairly priceless as is most of this routine. We’ve seen this skate before, but not like this and we’ve seen plenty of Yuri, but this is a Yuri we haven’t seen before. I think that is the strength of the repeats in this series. Rather than seeing the repeated routines as a weakness, seeing what they can bring out of each character because the emphasis is shifted each time is an absolute joy.
And Yuri once again shows off the theme of surprise. Midway through the routine Yuri has a sudden thought wondering how Victor would react if he changed his last quad to a flip, Victor’s signature move. While the execution isn’t brilliant, Yuri does it and blows everyone away. And so, Victor being Victor, has to surprise Yuri more and does so by literally leaping into his arms as Yuri comes toward him from the ice. And then we have ‘that’ moment. The kiss that blew up the internet. Or the not kiss for those who still want to say it is just a hug – sorry, but I don’t buy it.
I remember when I first watched episode 7. Twitter literally exploded immediately after the episode. My episode 7 review, as poorly written as it is with a typo in Yuri’s name midway along (one day I’ll edit, I swear), is still one of my highest viewed episode review posts of all times. Just as Yuri surpassed everyone’s expectations, just as Victor wanted to surprise Yuri, this moment in the show blew away all the audience expectations. Those who thought it was just going to another story about two characters who were close but their relationship was ambiguous finally realised that the relationship being constructed here was more than just yet more baiting. It was a great moment and one that was executed with perfect timing riding on the high of the routine, on Yuri overcoming his anxiety, after an episode where a rift seemed to begin to grow between the characters. All of that was just blown away in a single instant.
The episode ends with Yuri gaining a silver medal but that is almost beside the point. And that is where I struggle to see this one as a sports anime. The outcome becomes almost a beside the point compared to the personal successes and growth of the characters. Still, we are now set to go to Russia for the next qualifying adventure.
And be sure to check on Twitter for this week’s poll where I ask you which routine is your favourite free skate.
My original episode review: Yuri On Ice Episode 7
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