As with most episodes, episode 5 begins with narration by Yuri, though in this case it is actually kind of useful because we’re jumping into the competition in Japan and we don’t know where we are or who the other characters are so this narration just kind of speeds things along. We also don’t have any chibi Yuri on the screen, just the voice over, so I don’t find this as intrusive as some of the narration efforts.
That said, Yuri continues to worry about his age pointing out he’s the oldest of the skaters there. I wonder why he’s so hung up on it when Victor is older than him and still quite competitive? Admittedly, realistically age is a big factor in this kind of competition, but it just seems odd that Yuri is continuously reminding himself of his age but he almost never raises Victor’s age as a detrimental thing.
I do love however that of the four skaters, the only one with standard ‘anime’ hair is Minami and he’s the only one of the three sitting beside Yuri that we’re going to learn anything of note about. The other two are strictly there because it isn’t really a competition without competitors.
We transition from the order drawing to a press conference where we see once again the ease with which Victor deals with such situations and how frozen Yuri seems. The only time Yuri moves is when he practically shudders at Victor saying he’s going to earn a personal best. This isn’t the first or the last time we’ll see Yuri and Victor not on the same page and it is interesting that even though they are standing side by side there’s no direct eye contact between them. In fact, Yuri’s glasses are concealing his eyes entirely and Victor’s are closed for a large part of this scene. Immediately after Victor’s announcement though Yuri does make some very solid and slightly creepy eye contact as he glares at Victor and reminds him of his past failings.
Much like the commentators, I didn’t really pay enough attention to Minami my first time watching these episodes through. On follow up watches, I certainly paid attention, but at this stage he was just kind of a background character that had just kind of appeared in the show. However, we can clearly see in numerous instances how fixated Minami is on Yuri, very much echoing Yuri’s early attachment to Victor. What is different is Yuri’s reaction to attention, and the fact that Minami is a lot more assertive than Yuri ever was in chasing his idol.
Right before the competition we see Yuri looking for Victor. When Victor is found Yuri questions why he went to change clothes. Victor’s response, both the words and the tone, leave you wondering how seriously he’s actually taking the whole role or whether he is just playing at being coach. It was hardly reassuring to Yuri, and again adds to the ambiguous nature of Victor’s character where you never can tell if he’s being completely serious or not. That and he looks really good in that suit.
After watching a tense Yuri warming up, we see Victor sizing him up as he prepares for his routine. I’m going to return to that idea of Yuri asking victor to look at him because in this first attempt at the routine in competition, Yuri is doing anything but. We see the distance between the two as the rink forms a natural barrier, but even then we have the tissue box (too cute) and then both Victor and Yuri are about half a step back from the barrier. This contrasts sharply with how they start the routine later in the series and is a nice way of keeping track of where they are in their journey as coach and student, as fan and idol, and their personal relationship.
In this we do see Victor’s ability to motivate Yuri as a coach. Understanding there’s a problem, but also not wanting to be too aggressive, Victor has Yuri turn around and then hugs him from behind. The camera lingers on the moment where Victor crosses the barrier to wrap his arms around Yuri in a way that makes it clear it is Victor reaching out to Yuri, meeting Yuri where Yuri is, in a theme we’ll return to again and again in this series. Their facial expressions here couldn’t be more different with Victor looking down with his eyes closed, and Yuri shocked by the moment, eyes and mouth wide open.
And they want to really emphasise that contrast between the two here as they then bring the shot in closer before we see the reaction of the audience. here the music plays an important role, as does the sound of the cameras snapping photos. Again, we see Victor comfortable with himself in the public eye and Yuri very much concerned with having attention drawn to himself.
But Victor knows this and uses this as a teachable moment (I’d suggest not the best timing but this is Victor so why not). As he holds Yuri he whispers to him that Yuri needs to seduce him. If Yuri can just charm him he would enthral the entire audience. It’s sound advice and will help Yuri to stop thinking about all of those eyes on him and focus his attention on just one person; and that person is the one he most wants to charm.
Having seen Yuri’s routine before, this time the focus is very much on Yuri’s mental state. We hear his ongoing monologue as he considers why the audience is or isn’t reacting, whether Victor would like his step sequence, and so on. If you were just trying to watch the skating it would be distracting, but as we’ve seen this routine, it is more about Yuri right now and this is some fairly solid character work. He’s out there alone on the ice and we know he panics under the public gaze but his narration is calm. I wouldn’t say focused given his thoughts are wondering all over the place, but Victor’s words have managed to help him through the worst of his nerves. Still, the whole pork cutlet imagery makes me crack up every single time I watch this.
Maybe you think I’m too fixated on Yuri’s nerves with performance, but to be honest this is a large part of what drew me to his character. He’s perfectly competent (actually better than competent) but crumbles under pressure. It’s an experience I can definitely relate to as I can kind of get where Victor is feeling lost because those around me know very well that trying to reassure me things will be fine usually results in me pushing them away. Watching Yuri slowly find his way through this mental block, occasionally prodded by Victor, over the course of the series, is one of the truest joys of watching, at least for me.
However, that also made me really angry the first time I saw this and I saw Victor’s reaction to Yuri’s routine. While I’m not big on praising things that don’t deserve it, Victor is particularly crushing with his polite clap and frozen expression. Sure it could have been better but all things considered, given how panicked Yuri was about his first competition since bombing in the nationals the year before, Victor really needed a little more tact here. Though, as much as I am angry at Victor in this moment, I also love the moment because it really does show that both Yuri and Victor are extremely human characters. They aren’t always perfectly nice and optimistic in their interactions.
It actually almost makes Victor’s next step logical and yet it is totally the wrong move. Victor tells Yuri to lower the difficulty of the jumps in his free skate and focus on the performance. From a coaching point of view it seems sensible. If the jumps are the issue, make them easier so the rest of the routine works. However, in dealing with Yuri, the very stubborn and competitive Yuri, this is kind of like waving a red flag at a bull.
It has two impacts and neither one is desirable. Firstly it tells Yuri that Victor doesn’t have confidence in his ability to pull off the routine that Victor choreographed. That in and of itself is pretty terrible. The second thing it does is it creates a crack in the fairly fragile and new relationship these two have been developing. Now the wonderful thing about the relationship is that it gets cracks in it and is repaired over and over again, emulating what most real relationships will go through, but at this point in time it was probably not a great moment for Victor to test that out.
Interestingly enough though, despite looking eye to eye, Victor’s eyes are concealed by his fringe and he’s covered the lower half of his face with the Makkachin tissue box creating a physical barrier between them while Yuri leans away.
Minami gets an interesting sequence here. We don’t actually get to see him skate, yet, and I’m glad they held off on this because when we finally do see him skate its amazing. Instead we see him reacting to Yuri’s performance, getting fired up for his own, feeling crushed when Yuri says he didn’t see the routine, and lastly getting angry when Yuri claims he had a dark past and Minami somehow feels he’s being made fun of for looking up to Yuri. Minami is quite an expressive character and a bundle of energy. It probably isn’t a surprise that when he gets angry and confronts Yuri we get the same musical riff we had earlier when Yuri Plisetsky challenged Yuri. For all that Minami’s screen time is minimal, we learn a lot about what drives him as a character and his personality through this sequence of events.
Minami is also the catalyst that really drives the wedge inbetween Yuri and Victor during this first competition (though he didn’t do it on purpose). After Yuri ignored Minami in order to focus on his own preparation, Victor chastises him in a typical Victor manner and it leaves a sharp wound on Yuri’s psyche as he is trying to mentally prepare for the first public performance of his free skate routine. Timing is everything and in this instance Victor’s timing sucked. He wasn’t wrong in what he said, but how he said it and when was not what Yuri needed from his coach right then. That plays to the strength of the series. Victor isn’t the instantly perfect coach. He’s got his rough edges and some times things go wrong.
Still, Yuri does take the moment to reflect and ends up giving Minami encouragement right before Minami’s skate. And if you’ve never watched Yuri on Ice and don’t intend to, I full recommend going to YouTube and finding Minami’s routine because it is a joy to watch with youthful enthusiasm and exuberance that really seems to show Minami’s personality to the full. It is a highly enjoyable experience.
Watching the routine, Yuri reflects on how he used to be and the inconsistencies in the performance. It is a great moment for Yuri as a character. He’s very much an introvert and wrapped up in himself but Victor has forced the door open and he’s started to pay attention to those around him. This comes with both positive and negative experiences but it does push Yuri to continue evolving as a skater and a character. In the very short time before his routine, he undergoes quite a transformation as he tries to put it all together. It isn’t perfect and he isn’t where he needs to be just yet, but still, when Yuri takes the ice for the free skate as someone watching you are expecting something special. And before it, we get the genuine hug between Yuri and Victor. There’s still misunderstandings between them and they haven’t gotten anywhere near the end of their journey yet, but before the skate none of that matters. There’s no softness in the hug and Yuri’s eyes are looking over Victor’s shoulder toward the ice, so while they are physically close there’s still a gap between them.
Then the routine begins. This is the first time we see Yuri on Ice and it is something that was well worth waiting for. After the commentator addresses the fact that this routine is done to an original composition we switch to Victor’s narration as he watches Yuri perform this routine in public for the first time. And then we see Victor’s eyes widen as he watches Yuri modifying the routine. Given Victor is all about being the one to surprise others, it is fantastic watching his reaction to Yuri’s routine here and the choices Yuri makes. He critiques, he questions, he challenges and the whole time he wonders what Yuri is going to do. As the routine continues you see Victor getting more and more into it. Right now he isn’t the coach; he’s a spectator like the rest of us and his reactions draw us right into the routine.
These moments of narration here and at the beginning of the second episode by Victor are fairly important for setting up an episode later in the series where the perspective will entirely shift to Victor. I love that this show lays the ground work so that the shift isn’t jarring as we’ve had small glimpses of Victor’s thoughts along the way.
And then the routine ends and we have Yuri holding his hand out toward Victor. The routine that defines Yuri’s entire career as a skater ends with him reaching out to Victor. It wasn’t a flawless routine, it was riddled with errors in the jumps including smacking head first into a wall, but it was a spectacular unveiling of the potential Yuri has.
The interaction between Yuri and Victor where Victor decides whether to lecture Yuri or not, and the look on Yuri’s face when Victor holds out his arms for a hug is amazing. The fact that this is set up for a cheap comedic moment isn’t a problem at this stage of the series. It lays groundwork for later developments and at least it gives us something to look forward to.
The episode ends with Yuri admitting he’s never had that much fun while skating in competition before we cut away to Yuri Plisetsky using his phone to check out what is happening in Japan and then horribly abusing the phone by throwing it (poor phone). Not sure if it was Yuri’s success or the image of Yuri about to get hugged by Victor (not that Yuri got that hug) that annoyed Plisetsky to be honest.
Finally, during the credits, Yuri unveils his theme for the season. While the theme of love might seem fairly simple given everything that has happened so far, when we hear Yuri explain it you realise that he’s thinking a lot more deeply about all the relationships around him and this is a starting point for him. He’s changing and Victor made that change possible. While the speech runs into the realm of unrealistic it perfectly captures where Yuri is at the moment and what he is thinking and that makes it a great turning point as we go from the local competition into the Grand Prix.
My original episode review: Yuri On Ice Episode 5
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