Yuri Katsuki is a Japanese figure skater who kind of feels his not-so-glorious career is over when Victor (his idol from Russia) shows up to become his coach. I reviewed this week to week, it took out my best of the season and the year (and was the reader’s choice as well), and after episode 10 I wrote a feature on the appeal of Yuri on Ice to me (all of which can be found here) so now I have to try to review it as a series.
Given everything already out about this series, I’m not even trying to avoid spoilers and my review will outright tell you who wins the final competition so if that is an issue, please go check out some of my other posts on Yuri on Ice instead.
Let’s be honest, this is not going to be an overly objective view. I’m going to try, but I’m going to fail, because just saying the name Yuri on Ice still makes me smile like a bit of an idiot. I’m actually going to take this as a plus/minus review because that is going to help maintain some objectivity and it will also mean I’m not just reiterating stuff I’ve already said in my over posts on this series (or at least there will be less reiteration – I’ve written a lot about Yuri on Ice already).
The characters in this story feel real. That was kind of the main point of the feature I wrote back while this was airing. Are they the most well rounded characters in all history? Not really. Do they contain infinite levels of depth? Definitely not. But they feel real. In real life people aren’t always well rounded and depth is something that even if someone has it they don’t always show and these characters have enough depth to keep from being boring. Even the minor characters who get very little screen time feel like real people. One of the criticisms I’ve read of the show is that the support cast exist only to lose and from a narrative point of view that is kind of true.
However, someone has to lose the competition (or at least not win) and given our main characters (Yuri, Victor, and Yurio) kind of only interact with their family sparingly and then other ice-skaters and their coaches, it kind of makes sense that most of the support cast are competition and that at some point they are going to lose events. I don’t actually see that as an issue with the characters and more an inevitability of watching a sports anime. I love the cast of Yuri on Ice (even JJ who is really an obnoxious braggart but is never actually cruel to the other skaters which is an important point for when they switch things around in the final competition and make you see him through a different lens). They just feel like this could be a real group of people for at least 80% of the run-time of the show.
While it is fantastic that we got to see a romance between two male characters that didn’t involve either one declaring they weren’t gay, acts of violence, or acts that are borderline if not totally predatory, Yuri on Ice didn’t really delve into this. Rather, it feels like they wanted to just ignore the fact that this was a male on male relationship and just tell a story of a relationship which is fine and it would be lovely to see more shows just tell the story they want to tell (so not really a minus). But while it was lovely to see the main characters just accept their attraction and relationship the fact that every other character in the story just accepts it as well and not one person ever raises the issue that they are gay or both guys or anything else, really shatters the realism that is built up almost everywhere else in this story. It is great that this relationship is accepted in the world of Yuri on Ice.
It is great that they didn’t need to spend half the run-time justifying themselves. But when you have a Thai character announce to an international group of competitors and a restaurant full of customers from Barcelona that his two male friends just got married and no-one says anything except congratulations (admittedly, he did make the announcement in Japanese) you just have to wonder about the reality being presented. Certainly it would be great if this is how such announcements were greeted but for the most part I think most of us know that this isn’t how such an announcement would be taken. So, no, I’m not criticising Yuri on Ice for not being a political piece on gay rights but I am criticising it for this one critical break from constructing a believable reality in terms of the main relationship.
This is so pretty. Okay, people who know a lot about animation and people who are more critical in general of animation than me, will point out the terrible facial expressions some of the characters have if you pause at points during their routines. They will also point to reused sequences of animation for the routines. There’s a few other parts they’ll hold up to show you that this anime doesn’t have amazing animation. Sorry, but I disagree with them whole-heartedly. This is beautiful to watch. The colours, the movement, most of the expressions, everything is just gorgeous and if a certain action sequence gets reused multiple times I’m fine with that. Outside of the skating I loved how each of the venues was shown and I love the small details are included throughout. Yuri on Ice is beautiful and for something that seems pretty simple on the surface there is an incredible amount of detail that you can find when you start looking (and my rewatch of this series only convinced me that I’ll have to rewatch it again, soon, to pull out yet more details).
I kind of touched on this when I talked about the characters but the story is really simple. While this isn’t really a problem in a character driven show there really isn’t much going on from a story point of view. Even the other competitors aren’t really constructed as antagonists because they aren’t. Yuri is facing himself and his own self-doubts. Yurio is trying to transition into the senior competition and prove he is better than what he has shown the world so far. JJ is trying to fan his own ego. The characters are all facing some inner-demon rather than an actual antagonist or conflict. The competition is more or less just a way to show us who is winning their psychological battle at any given moment.
Yurio winning overall was predictable early on and Yuri not winning gold was also nearly a foregone conclusion after Victor said they’d get married if he did. In light of wanting another season this ending was definitely needed. However, Yuri did need to show how much he’d improved and overcome through Victor’s presence so a silver medal and a world record will just have to do. Still, a lack of antagonist or real conflict won’t detract from the overall viewing experience so while from a narrative point of view this might be a minus, from an enjoyment point of view it probably won’t interere with the fun of watching.
Can we talk about the music for a moment? Because after you get past one of the most memorable opening themes of the year what you have is a show that just throws amazing music at you. Admittedly, given each skater has two separate songs and we’re introduced to a lot of different skaters over the course of the show, it was kind of easy for this anime to hit us hard with brilliant music. However, what really sold the music was the solid link to characterisation. These skaters are revealing who they are through their music (part of that ongoing inner battle) and each piece has been perfectly mapped to the character. Some of these links are obvious with Yuri naming his original piece ‘Yuri on Ice’ and JJ naming his ‘Theme of King JJ’ but others are far more subtle and yet equally powerful. I am going to have to get the soundtrack to this anime at some point because the music is exceptionally well done.
This is a criticism I raised early on in the series when reviewing week to week and it is of some of the dialgoue. Between being cheesy, obvious, or incredibly lame there are some terrible lines of dialogue early on (though admittedly some of this may be because things got lost in translation). The instances of lame dialogue thinned out as the series progressed but there were definitely a few face palm worthy moments early in the show. Actually, some of the interactions between Victor and Yuri later in the series border on brilliant, not because there is a stand out line that makes you go ‘yes’ but because they really develop a natural pattern of conversation (or arguments) as they spend more time together.
This is a truly emotional experience. Okay, that is beyond subjective but if the characters have drawn you in to their romance and their desire to win then you will find yourself incredibly caught up in the final episodes. I know I was. There were tears. Both first and second time through. They were mostly happy tears.
Yeah, that’s two in a row, I’m cheating. While the story is pretty basic I loved how early events impact upon later ones and flash backs are used with real purpose and make you reconsider both the story and the characters. I’m not going too much into this because it is something that is better to experience but information you gain as you go will continue to change how you view the early events and this definitely helps give the basic storyline a little bit more of a wow factor.
I’m going to leave this on the positive because even though I thought I’d said everything I wanted to about Yuri on Ice before this review still just spiralled a little out of control even after multiple rewrites and edits.
Final thought, if you are one of the very few people who haven’t already watched Yuri on Ice (or haven’t already totally written it off because of all the crazy fans) then you should definitely give it a go. Maybe it won’t rock your world but its definitely got a solid (if simple) story with characters that moved me (and clearly thousands of other crazy fans).