At first sight, Yuri!!! on Ice seems to be a sports anime series about figure skating, but on the internet both Japanese and Western fans are head over heels about a completely different element of this recently debuted series. The last episode of the first season aired a few days ago and I will share in this entry all the reasons why this anime series is so brilliant.
Yuri Katsuki is a 23-year-old figure skater who underwent a major defeat during the final of a Grand Prix. Devastated, he puts his figure skating career on a hiatus and returns home in Kyushu after he graduated from college. There, he performs a routine from the famous figure skater Viktor Nikiforov, who unsurprisingly is Yuri’s idol. Footage of this catches Viktor’s attention however and he decides to go to Japan to become Yuri’s coach. After an awkward meeting, Yuri becomes inspired by Viktor to skate again and decides to run for the upcoming Grand Prix.
The anime is initially all about figure skating, and while the figure skating that is shown is pretty to watch (there is a reason why figure skaters such as Russian skater Evgenia Medvedeva are fans of the show), any watcher will soon notice that figure skating is more of a stage for the developing relationship between Yuri and Viktor. In his naivety, Yuri is unfamiliar with something such as romantic love and lacks self-esteem, but Viktor on the other hand is the complete opposite: he is flirtatious and carefree. With Victor as his coach, Yuri often finds himself in embarrassing (and hilarious) situations: this ranges from Viktor who declares himself to be Yuri’s coach being butt-naked in the local onsen (a hot bath), to Viktor having Yuri skate a routine that is supposed to be loaded with sex-appeal, something Yuri is not used to.
Each episode also features a slightly adjusted opening scene.
This romantic side is mostly only implicitly shown. There is no kiss explicitly shared between Viktor and Yuri. That is, we do not see any gestures that make it obvious to everyone that the two of them are in a romantic relationship such as holding hands while strolling or an unambiguous kiss. Instead, we are shown gestures that make fans speculate about the dynamics of their romantic relationship, which makes the series so enjoyable. Gestures such as Viktor telling Yuri to seduce him in his figure skating routine to draw out his charm, Yuri patting Viktor on his head, Viktor putting on Yuri’s shoes for him, or a hug between them positioned in such a way that they very well might be kissing are indications that the two of them are very well into a romantic relationship. Specifically the hidden kiss has been up for discussion quite a bit with fans trying to prove that they kissed and fans who believed they were not. Personally I believed they were and after the ring exchange between Viktor and Yuri in episode 11, I am sure that they are in a committed relationship.
Let’s not forget that it is never mentioned that the series revolve about a relationship between two men. Whenever Yuri gets nervous when Viktor shows interest in him, he is nervous because he does not know how to deal with romance, not because Viktor is a guy. It is just about a romantic relationship between two persons rather than about gender and sexuality. Their relationship is not exaggerated as being overly queer just to attract a (female) audience (basically known as ‘queerbaiting’), but what rather is depicted is the realization of a normal and healthy relationship.
Viktor and Yuri’s relationship is the main attraction for this anime, but there are plenty of other elements that make it as good as it is. There is a diverse cast of characters for instance who each have their own unique (and often quirky) personality. Yuri’s main rival is the Russian Yuri Plisetsky, who is called by Viktor amicably ‘Yurio’ to distinguish him from our Japanese Yuri. Yurio makes his senior debut in this first season and is shown to have a moody cat-like personality. However, he cannot be called a genuine rival as he does cheer for Yuri when they are competing for the first spot in the Grand Prix Final. We also should not forget skaters such as the sensual Swiss Christophe Giacometti, cheerful Japanese Kenjiro Minami, brooding Otabek Altin from Kazakhstan, or shy Guang Hong Ji from China, among others. Besides its rich characters, social media is also a regular element that the series use. Wherever they are and whatever they are doing, each skater follows the Instagram updates from the others. And often, we are shown the pictures that they share, ranging from selfies on touristic spots, such as the photos from Thai skater Phichit Chulanont (Yuri’s best friend among the figure skaters), to pool photos from Christophe and Viktor.
Yuri!!! on Ice is a cheerful and warm-hearted anime, exactly the thing we needed for many dark days that 2016 brought forth. I can easily recommend it to anyone who is in for a positive and funny anime without too much complications.