Ever since he was a young boy, figure skater Yuri Katsuki has looked up to and idolised the world famous Russian figure skating champion Victor Nikiforov, and since first watching him perform, has always dreamt of skating on the same ice as the man who inspired him. However, after blowing his first chance to do so by coming last place in the qualifiers, Yuri returns home in search of a new calling, believing himself to have failed miserably as a professional figure skater. While back home, Yuri attempts to impress his childhood friend by copying Victor’s signature routine, and while it was intended to be a private performance, it wound up being recorded and became a viral sensation on the internet. Soon after, Victor himself catches wind of the video, and is impressed by Yuri’s talent as a skater, so impressed in fact that he visits Yuri’s home and declares that he wants to become his coach. And thus Yuri is thrown back into the world of figure skating, and with it, the means to achieve his dream of skating on the same level as his idol.
I don’t really like Sports Anime. I always try to, I always feel like I should and I always want to, but I find it incredibly hard to become invested in Sports Anime. This is partially due to the fact that I don’t particularly care for Sports in real life, and even more so to do with the fact that I can’t stand how happy go-lucky and low stakes the majority of the Sports genre feels. Everyone is constantly full of optimism and even if they lose a game or fail drastically, they tend to just shrug it all off with a smile with the attitude of “we can just try again next year!”
I’m also not a very big fan of female-oriented fan-service-fests, which seem to be plaguing the Sports Anime genre in recent years. The ridiculous need to show off the pecs and abs of every male character and the constant Yaoi undertones coupled with suggestive dialogue between the cast has always felt like the main focus of these series, instead of actually trying to create a dramatic plot with interesting characters each with their own personal and highly emotional stakes. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve never gotten far through Kuroko no Basuke and why I consider Free! Iwatobi Swim Club to be my least favourite Anime of all time.
So naturally, Yuri!!! On Ice seems like something I wouldn’t enjoy at all. It certainly fits the bill. But it’s also by far one of the most popular shows this season, it’s one of the highest rated this season and it’s about figure skating, something I actually enjoy watching thanks to my girlfriend. So naturally, I was compelled to give it a shot.
And I guess Yuri!!! On Ice has done what should be considered impossible, and has altered reality in some way, because so far, watching this show has been an absolutely incredible experience. After the first episode alone, I can safely say that this is one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen.
First of all, the visuals of Yuri!!! On Ice are absolutely breathtaking. The show is coated with colour and vibrancy in every single scene, the character designs are detailed from head to toe and feel like real people and the animation, oh my, the animation is just completely stunning.
A show with figure skating as its primary focus practically demands beautiful animation. Figure skating is a Sport with a great emphasis on minor body movements and how they can enhance or destroy a performance, and I’m delighted to say that Yuri!!! On Ice successfully embodies the realism of figure skating through its animation in the most perfect way imaginable.
It’s clear that Studio MAPPA not only put a lot of effort and care into crafting these figure skating sequences, but also a lot of research into the body structure of real-life skaters and how they move during their performances. The skating sequences are incredibly fluid, they are masterfully crafted and they are simply beautiful to watch. Couple this with the wonderfully composed soundtrack that accompanies each performance, and the excellent directing by newcomer Sayo Yamamoto and you have some of the most breathtaking and awe inducing moments ever committed to animation.
And outside of the figure skating scenes, the show is still visually stunning in almost every way. The character animation is consistently well done throughout, with even the most subtle movements and expressions rivalling that of the best looking Anime movies. Every single scene, every single moment, was just bursting at the seams with creative energy and enthusiasm, that it felt like I was watching Redline for the first time all over again.
Oh, and the opening sequence is beautiful. My, oh my, is it incredible.
And that’s just the visual side of things. The narrative has also been incredibly compelling so far and compliments the amazing visuals brilliantly.
Interestingly, unlike most Sports Anime, Yuri!!! On Ice doesn’t take place in a high school and isn’t focused around a high school club. The characters are already young adults and are already professionals. They aren’t aspiring to enter the big leagues, they’re already the best of their craft, and are competing simply to be the best of the best. And this is what helps elevate the stakes of the series to a level I found comfortable.
The characters failings aren’t something they can just shrug off or laugh about because their careers and reputations as professional figure skaters are at risk every time they step out on the ice and perform. This is greatly emphasised in the shows opening moments where Yuri places last in the tournament. He instantly scurries off to the bathroom, locks himself in a stall and bawls his eyes out like a baby over his failure. He even calls his Mum to apologise for not doing well, despite all the time and effort he’s invested into his career, and this scene alone hooked me on the narrative. It actually feels like there are some heavy emotional stakes at play in Yuri!!! On Ice, and that’s something that makes it truly phenomenal and places it in a league of its own compared to the rest of its genre .
The show feels like it’s going to focus heavily on Yuri and his inner feelings, and that’s something I can absolutely get behind. I want to understand how he feels and I want to see him struggle with his inner thoughts and emotions.
That’s not to say that the show is completely dark and dreary, because it isn’t. There’s still a heavy amount of optimism and just the right level of positive energy and goofy personality to even out the more serious moments of the narrative, and that’s something else that works in the shows favour. It never gets too serious and it never gets too silly. Instead it’s found the perfect balance between these two extremes to create something that is just simply extraordinary and compelling to watch.
I can easily see where things could go with this show. There was some pretty dumb fan-service at the end of the episode, which I’m sure we’re going to get more of further down the line, and there’s definitely potential for Yaoi undertones between the protagonist and his rival (also named Yuri). It doesn’t help that every over the top Fujoshi fangirl from every corner of the globe has already flocked to the show, plastering their ridiculous Yaoi fan art and battling it out in shipping wars in every discussion thread about the show. While I’m not one to judge tastes and preferences of others, I’d appreciate it if the non-canon shippings weren’t shoved down my throat as I try to watch a genuinely compelling piece of storytelling with engaging emotional stakes.
So far, that’s what Yuri!!! On Ice has been about, and that’s what I’ve always wanted from this genre. If it continues down this path and keeps itself focused on these compelling aspects, while keeping up its wonderfully presented directing and visuals, it will be an all-time classic, worthy of receiving a place on my favourites list.
This first episode was outstanding. It is a wonderfully constructed piece of art that deserves all of its praise and I recommend it to anyone who may have their doubts.
It’s episodes like this that remind me of my love for Anime as a medium. To see something so wonderfully crafted with so much attention to detail and so much love and care put into every aspect is truly an honour.
This is why I watch Anime.
So what are your first impressions of Yuri!!! On Ice?