The world of competitive figure skating can be a harsh one indeed. Thats not to say the competition is cut throat or anything Hell the atmosphere between competitors seems to be downright friendly. On the contrary the strain it puts on your body and mind can be absolutely brutal as Japanese prodigy Yuuri Katsuki finds out after suffering a crushing defeat in the Grand Prix Finale. Already plagued by anxiety and self confidence issues the downtrodden skater disappeared from the sport looking to find himself but eventually giving up and going home. All looked lost for the dejected and now portly 23 year old until a video of him skating the legendary routine of his idol Victor Nikiforov and when it manages to catch the champions attention Yuuris world is turned upside down when Victor shows up at his home and demands to become his coach and help him to realize his true potential. Unfortunately Victor isnt the only one taking an interest in him as the international media comes knocking and a fiery young rival decides to challenge him for Victors tutelage. Will Yuuri be able to realize his dream or has his career been put on ice for good? 660 When I first started watching Yuri on Ice I was honestly surprised that it didnt have any strong connections to Studio Bones as certain elements of the visual style seemed really close to some of that studios more goofy comedic work like Soul Eater and the two Fullmetal Alchemist series. It was actually animated by a studio called MAPPA or Maruyama Animation Produce Project Association which was founded in 2011 and released its first title in 2012 and which was created by former members of Studio Madhouse. Now that I know that I do kind of see it in a lot of the shows more serious moments but the fast paced comedic moments are still such a dead ringer for FMA that I cant help but think it was at least partially inspired by it. Granted this may just be because the animation style and visual direction feels really loose and experimental in the first episode where it feels uncannily like they were still trying to figure out what the visual aesthetic should even be. Whatever the case Im glad they were able to nail down a solid direction before episode two because beyond that sortofmessy first impression the series is absolutely gorgeous. The fluidity of motion isnt exactly consistent as theres a very clear divide between the content that had a lot of money poured into it and the content that didnt but despite this it never allows itself to look bad. One of the tactics MAPPA uses to achieve this is going through the cheaper scenes via some really fast editing using short cuts to keep your eyes from ever getting bored although this does come with the drawback that at times the story can move a little too fast. There are quite a few transitions and even some entire scenes that fly by almost quickly enough to give you whiplash especially in the first episode. Thankfully the scenes we rush into are usually fun and memorable enough to justify whatever we might have lost getting there so its really not that big a deal in the long run. But as far as the animation goes the one thing everyone seems to remember the most strongly is the animation of the skating routines. Whenever someone steps out onto the ice in this series the animation changes at least for that character so something that feels like a cross between rotoscoping and the 3D dance animation from shows like Love Live. Now both of these animation styles on their own have their pros and cons but Yuri on Ice really does seem to combine the best of both worlds as long as youre not concentrating too hard on the characters faces and the routines look absolutely beautiful as a result. Not only does it look amazing but it seems to also capture the feel of performing and of being in the spotlight to showcase everything you have in front of millions of screaming onlookers almost as if youve transcended humanity itself for one fleeting moment that youre able to shine. Its as if the characters performing on the ice are in another world and the rest of us are just living in it which unfortunately does lead me into my only real complaint about the visuals. Well specifically its a complaint I have with the character design department. When we catch up with Yuuri in the beginning of the series hes gained a considerable amount of weight in his off time which creates a weird inconsistency with his actual weight. His gut seems to be working via ecchi boob physics as its about three times larger when unclothed which wouldnt be such a problem if it didnt also create an inconsistency in the story. Upon becoming Yuuris coach Victor insists on making Yuuri lose weight so he can skate properly but wasnt Yuuri still fat when he inadvertently got filmed dancing the routine that caught Victors eye in the first place? Yeah for that first routine scene his girth suddenly disappears from both his gut and even his face as he performs which alludes to the feel of performing idea that I brought up earlier but that kind of inconsistency should stay psychological and not creep into the physical world of the story. Aside from that the character designs are still more or less fine with skater characters being designed as wonderfully flamboyant and sporting realisticlooking physiques and outsiders generally taking on more cartoony looks. Also does anyone else really want to try a pork cutlet bowl now? They just make them look so freaking good. 440 Being that this is a story about ice skating youd expect there to be a very high bar to pass in regard to the soundtrack and good God does Yuri on Ice deliver on that front. I wish I could go into explicit detail about the plethora of beautiful tracks that are featured but my research had unfortunately refused to bear fruit. Aside from covers I cant seem to find any of the actual music on and outside of a thirtyseven dollar physical CD I cant find the soundtrack on Amazon either so Im going to have to work off of memory when I tell you just how amazing the compositions are. I dont know how muchif any of it came from the public domain or if it was all original but not one of these tracks felt out of place in the setting and they matched the characters dancing to them exquisitely. My favorite tracks that I can remember would have to be the classic rock inspired tune that Kenjiro Minami uses and Love Eros the salsaesque tune that inspires Yuuri to finally discover and define his sexuality. If theres one piece of music in the series that Ill probably never forget its the opening History Makers which is easily one of my top ten favorite opening themes of all time. The song is performed in English but despite being an original piece for the anime it doesnt sound even remotely Engrish. Its performed by Japanese megastar Dean Fujioka who not only wrote the song in perfectly coherent English but he belts it out with all the power of Freddy Mercury who Id bet was a major inspiration for the piece. The ending theme is called YOLOYeah I know thats not actually the title but somebody had to point out the connection and unlike the opening its only partially sung in English with the music being EDM. Im not a fan of this one but its okay. Its also worth noting that several insert songs that previously had Japanese lyrics have been translated by the dubbing team and while most of them range from good to all right the dubbed version of JJs theme is a bit on the cringey side. Speaking of the English dub its clear that Funimation knew they had something special on their hands because they pampered the fuck out of it. They gave directorial duties to Sonny Strait whos always been a smart and responsible choice and he churned out a translation that was both respectful and accessible. Starting with the main cast Josh Grelle does an outstanding job taking a character that could have been comparable to Shinji Ikari in the wrong hands and presenting his insecurities in a relatable way drawing a distinct line between the shades of hope and despair that he goes through in the story. Jerry Jewel in turn plays off this sense of vulnerability in an appropriately lovable and goofy manner but is still able to convey drama when Victor has to be serious and inspiration when he has to be supportive all while sporting a fun but somewhat cartoony Russian accent and thankfully the two of them are able to portray a very believable level of sexual and romantic chemistry giving their characters admittedly ambiguous romance some much needed gravity. Of course while Victors accent may not sound the most believable Micah Solusod makes up for it in spades with his portrayal of the ambitious Yuri Plisetsky who he plays with an accent thats unbelievably perfect. He apparently studied the language vigorously and even hired a dialect coach and the result sounds so authentically thick that youd be surprised to learn he isnt a native speaker drawing from personal experience like Todd Haberkorn was in Baccano. The rest of the cast is filled out by Funimation regulars all of whom put on strong performances. While Sonny Strait and Vic Mignona didnt have to do very much in their roles as skating commentators theyre still a joy to hear either way. Despite being famous for his deep voice and low gravely register Chris Sabat dazzles in the opportunity to go against type as a highly effeminate Swiss skater and Jeremy Inman pulls off a nicely subtle Canadian accent as the cocky JJ. Colleen Clinkenbeard J Michael Tatum and many more show up in small but still enjoyable roles in a dub that Id definitely recommend checking out. Yuri On Ice is an anime that comes with some pretty high praise behind it. No matter where you look it was easily the most popular title to come out in 2016 and it garnered rave reviews from both critics and general audiences alike. Youd normally expect a title thats been held up on that high of a pedestal to have suffered some backlash as a result but the negative reactions have been fairly subdued. Its probably the most mainstream LGBTthemed anime thats come out since Revolutionary Girl Utena and while its certainly a lot more accessible than Kunihiko Ukiharas seminal classic its somehow inspired just as much debate over whether or not over whether the alleged queer elements are even really there or if theyre just the product of a bunch of delusional shippers and frustrated LGBT otaku just seeing what they want to see in it. Actually considering the fact that theres an upcoming movie for the series thats carrying the ominous subtitle of Adolescence that comparison might not be as wild as it sounds. What kind of car do you guys think Victor will turn into anyway? As for me Ive seen the show a few time and I have to admit it does have a lot of things going for it. In addition to the amazing visual and audio quality and the stellar English dub the story is built around three incredibly strong main characters. Between the two Yuris I can find different parts of my life where I find both of them intensely relatable. With the main Yuuri I can easily identify with his lack of confidence and personal anxiety wanting to run away from things I feel Ill never be good enough for getting crushed over my losses and wondering why I should even bother wasting my time at things that I just dont think are going to work out. With Yurio I can relate to the exact opposite When I actually am good at something I just want to dominate at it prove my superiority and be recognized as the best while people I feel are less deserving should move out of my way and fall by the wayside. And yet ironically my favorite character is actually the one I dont relate to at all that being Victor just because hes the kind of supportive kindhearted person you just want to be friends with. This all ties in to the main thing Yuri On Ice gets praised for its LGBT elements and overall homosexual overtones. There are a lot of people who consider Yuri and Victor to be one of the best if not the best queer relationship in anime and the backlash to this has mainly been confusion over whether or not they were ever in a relationship in the first place. The first time I watched it I was in this camp and I was disappointed that the series never went there AKA the two were never canonically confirmed to be a couple. On a second watch however I feel like I can confidently say that oh yeah they went there. They just didnt tell you that they went there which in some ways makes the representation even stronger. If you know where the shows going ahead of time its a lot easier to read between the lines and pick up on all the subtext without needing some grand romantic moment to confirm what youre seeing and I honestly feel kind of dumb for not picking up on it all the first time But this had some consequences that you may be a little torn about. If youre going to have a subtle romantic plot that never makes itself obvious then the other elements of the story have to be strong enough to support it and depending on your perspective that might be where the series falls flat. For starters the cast is bloated with seemingly random side characters and while they were all given at least enough attention to have unique identities and backstories they wind up being forgotten about so quickly that they honestly just wind up feeling interchangeable. Sure there are a few moments when the thoughts going through a characters mind might carry some parallels to Yuuri and Victor but their actual connections to the main cast or the main plot are tenuous at best and nonexistent at worst. Is that a bad thing though? Youre not really given any reason to care about them or their problems but I dont really think youre supposed to. I feel like the series was going for something more along the lines of a real life feel which is a bold line for a fictional story to walk. In most stories I want everything Im seeing to be somehow important. But that doesnt mean everything has to be deep and interconnected. In Toradora one of my favorite moments was the reveal that one of the side characters had actually managed to get a girlfriend because it was a reminder that the characters had lives outside of Ryuji and Taigas drama. Well in Yuri on Ice everybody in the competition has their own life everyone has their own problems and the glimpses we get into their lives remind us that like Yuuri winning the gold isnt the most important thing in the world but a goal that theyve placed some symbolic meaning onto. It actually kind of reminds me of Bojack Horseman who got everything he ever wanted but still wasnt happy or fulfilled at the end of it. Success doesnt denote happiness. This series is painfully aware of the age old trope called the McGuffin and its story very deliberately deconstructs its alleged importance in a characters story arc. Its because of this that there are no real stakes in the competition. I wont give away how things end at the Grand Prix finale but Yuuri could have scored literally anywhere in the rankings and it wouldnt have affected the conclusion of his arc. The same thing goes for all of his costars even JJ who defines his entire brand on success and perfection. I dont think its an accident that the only character who never really feels fulfilled or complete is Yurio the character who puts the most importance on getting that gold in the first place. He has the greatest thirst for gold but one has to wonder what happens if he gets it? What comes after that? More competition? More gold? He needs a true reason to compete and hes the only person there who doesnt have one For now. Hes young and you have to figure that hell eventually move past his petty rivalry and find something more meaningful in life but once again going back to Bojack Horseman the opposite could also be true. So no I dont think the story is too weak to support a subtle romance. I think it works just fine. While I get that the lack of confirmation in Yuuri and Victors relationship can be a sticking point for some I would also like to point out that this is a series about finding something more meaningful in life than just the goals we set before us and as such it would follow that their relationship offers something more meaningful than confirmation. In terms of queer representation theres been a long trend of homosexual characters being plagued by two very negative tropes The tragic ending and the struggle against homophobia. To put it bluntly a disproportionate amount of gay characters die and a lot of straight audiences generally dont accept queer characters as anything other than porn unless their plight is framed sympathetically Things like bullying disowning societal stigma etc. What Yuri on Ice presents is something we dont see nearly enough A positive healthy samesex relationship thats been normalized to the point that it suffers issues beyond the obvious which is both important and lifeaffirming taking the high road and presenting a queer romance in such a way that completely desensitizes it. 660 Yuri On Ice is available from Funimation. Theres an OVA included with the English release thats just three minutes of Yurio doing a new performance but despite the lack of content it may very well be one of the best things in the history of things. Theres also a movie scheduled to come out next year which I already mentioned and Ill be damn disappointed if its either A a condensed retelling of the series because I hate those things to death or B anything but a completely incoherent mindfuck like the last LGBT anime movie with Adolescence in the title. Its true that Yuri On Ice wont work for all viewers. I personally had to see it a few times to understand it and I actually had to rewrite this particular review after hearing some of the thoughts that a friend of mine had on it. I did have a few issues with it like how you had to watch the same skating performances over and over again with only slight variations in them but it was a problem I was able to get over fairly easily. Even my issue with the side characters isnt really a big deal as the series may not give you a reason to care about them but whether or not you do is entirely inconsequential. Theres more than enough to them to justify investment and yeah they all have their very loving and devoted fan followings but even if you dont give a shit about them it doesnt hurt the story or diminish them as people. Im pretty sure its the first sports anime Ive ever seen that dared to suggest there was something more important to competition than just the fleeting euphoria of victory and thats pretty special. I give Yuri On Ice a 9/10.
90 /100
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