Yuri!!! On Ice (Cert 12)
4 Discs DVD/Blu-ray Combo (Distributor: Sony Pictures) Running time: 282 minutes approx.
You can never predict what will be the next breakout anime hit. A show will arrive with all the ingredients – and publicity push – to capture the imagination of the fans but doesn’t. Then a series with hardly any fanfare and a subject matter with limited appeal sneaks out and simply explodes.
Figure skating is not a regular subject covered in anime but that is exactly what Yuri!!! On Ice delivers. It revolves around Yuri Katsuki a champion figure at a crossroads in his life when he comes last in the Grand Prix Final and decides to hang up the skates. After five years away from home, Yuri returns his family hot springs resort Yu-Topia having graduated from college but with no direction in life.
The eventual winner of the GPF was five-time champion Russian legend Victor Nikiforov, whom Yuri was in awe of since a young age, copying his routines. When a surreptitiously filmed video of Yuri performing one of Victor’s routines at the local ice rink is uploaded to the internet and goes viral, Victor sees it and immediately flies to Japan, offering to coach Yuri for his return to skating.
Sports anime is a niche genre and figure skating is a niche within this niche but Yuri!!! On Ice has a lot more to offer than the actual sport of figure skating and this is where it presumably has struck a chord with audiences across the globe. Written by Mitsuro Kubo and directed by Sayo Yamamoto, these women give yaoi fans a serious relationship between two gay protagonists whilst keeping it subdued enough to avoid upsetting the bigots.
The difference is there is nothing lascivious and seedy about the relationship and the gay characters aren’t the usual offensive caricatures. Certainly, Victor is an effete chap and often festive but Yuri is average looking, wearing glasses when not on the ice. And the relationship is rather chaste, eschewing the usual tropes of the controlling predator and the simpering slave.
Perhaps most controversial of all, there is only one kiss in the entire run and even then it is obscured by the position of the bodies, disappointing those expecting uninhibited depictions of affection; other feel the lack of homophobic abuse for the two leads after going public with their relationship is unrealistic, otherwise the show has received much praise for its positive stance on LGBT issues.
But, there is a figure skating contest to be won. Out of shape and depressed, Yuri only dons the skates in private to see if the spark is still there for him; Victor’s shock proposal is accepted more out of Yuri’s reverence for Victor than the desire to compete again, but he’d be a fool to refuse the offer.
However, back in Russia, 15 year-old wunderkind Yuri Plisetsky is furious when Victor hooks up with the man he lambasted as a loser at the GPF and follows Victor to Japan, to confront both him and Yuri. Having made a promise to choreograph a routine for Yuri P first, Victor decides a skate off between the two will determine whose future he will lead.
No prizes for guessing what happens but this is vital to the story in setting up the two Yuri’s as professional rivals as well as personal ones, taking them on a journey of mutual respect. With their personalities diametrically opposed – Yuri P is obnoxious, cocky, and immature, Yuri K is humble and suffering from anxiety – and Victor caught in the middle, this isn’t a smooth ride.
With the GPF being an international affair there is plenty of multiculturalism among the other skaters, with competitors from Canada, South Korea, the US (represented by a Latino), Thailand, Sweden, Italy, and Kazakhstan. A mix of the down-to-earth, the showmen, the arrogant, and the disciplined, the routines might be repetitive and similar but they each bring a unique flavour to the ice rink.
Among the extensive support cast is Yuri K’s family and friends, most of whom provide much of the comedy in the show – and there is a lot of it, in case anyone finds the actual skating a bit po faced. Chief among them are the cartoony triplets of Yuri K’s dance teacher friend Yuko, who look to be about three years old yet already know how to operate smartphones, camcorders and the internet!
Meanwhile Yuri K relies on his grandfather for support, a gruff old man keen on tradition, whilst his coach is also Victor’s former coach, creating tension between them on the sidelines after Victor’s rash decision to help Yuri K. This is a dynamic that could have benefited from a little more exploration, along with delving a bit deeper into why Victor felt so passionately about taking Yuri k under his wing.
On a slightly disappointing note, there is little insight into the mechanics of ice-skating and the various moves executed. We hear terms like “Quad” and “Lutz” during every routine but we never learn what they actually mean; neither are we privy to any of the secrets of the training the skaters undergo, the mental preparation, the scoring system, or the politics behind the scenes.
The routines were choreographed by Kenji Miyamoto, a former champion ice dancer and coach which gives them immediate credibility and studio MAPPA have done an excellent job in animating them. Not only are the movements smooth and graceful, they have also paid attention to how a TV camera would follow a skater which is faithfully replicated for the full immersive experience.
Despite the immense hype, I must confess to approaching Yuri!!! On Ice with meagre expectations – and it exceeded those expectations by being a fun and accessible show. I’m clearly missing the hook that has got others falling in love with it but I can’t dissent that it is a satisfying and enjoyable watch and a step forward for the depiction and presence of the LGBT community in anime.
English Language Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Japanese Language Dolby TrueHD 2.0
Disc Two Only:
Eleventh Skate Commentary
Yuri!!! Ice: A Cast Discussion
Textless Opening Song “HISTORY MAKER” Version 1.
Textless Opening Song “HISTORY MAKER” Version 2.
Textless Closing Song “You Only Live Once”
Textless Closing Tenth Skate
Textless Closing Final Skate
Yuri Plisetsky GPF in Barcelona EX “Welcome to the Madness” OVA.
Rating – *** ½
Man In Black