Rin: All right, listen. It’s not that I was trying to avoid watching Yuri!!! On Ice, it’s just that I had things to do. And stuff. However, as an early Christmas present to myself—and at the behest of the increasingly sappy, romantic, gay gifs I was seeing on my Tumblr dash—I finally sat down and watched all ten of the currently aired episodes. Let me tell you: it’s going to be damned hard to write a review that’s not just me screaming in delight for however many paragraphs. Luckily enough, I have Lady Saika here with me to keep me in line. Maybe.
Saika: I don’t know that I’ll be much help there. I binged the first several episodes of the series a few weeks ago, and after the pure and sweet and precious tenth episode (which just aired this week), we knew we couldn’t wait any longer to write about this wonderful series. And we’ll do our best to keep the shrill, excited shrieking to a minimum. Probably.
Rin: No promises. I’ll tell you right now, this article is going to conclude just as it’s starting right now—with a sincere plea to sit down and watch this show. You will absolutely not regret it.
Spoilers after the jump!
Rin: As the title suggests, Yuri!!! On Ice follows one Yuri Katsuki’s relationship with ice skating and his struggles with the sport, relating to the people around him, and himself. After a devastating defeat in a Grand Prix final, having lost all confidence in himself, Yuri heads back to his home in Hasetsu, Japan. Though his family and friends are there to support him, Yuri feels more alone than ever. In an effort to get himself out of his funk, he ends up at his childhood ice rink and skates to a routine created by the biggest name in the ice skating scene (and Yuri’s personal hero), Viktor Nikiforov, which he does perfectly. Unbeknownst to him, though, the daughters of his friend who owns the ice rink uploaded a video of this to the internet, and Yuri becomes an internet sensation. This even catches the eye of Viktor himself, who retires from skating and travels all the way to Japan to be Yuri’s coach. Yuri is, understandably, freaking out.
As Yuri slowly warms up to Viktor, opposition shows up in the young Yuri Plisetsky (nicknamed Yurio) who chased Viktor down all the way from Russia. Apparently Viktor promised to create a routine for Yurio upon his entry into the senior division, but Viktor forgot. Both Yuris face-off to decide what Viktor does—if Yuri wins, he’ll stay in Japan and coach him; if Yurio wins, he’ll goes back to Russia and do what he promised. Yuri’s win here only marks the beginning of his ice skating journey. As he continues to open up to Viktor, and even the other skaters around him, Yuri must now, once again, face the pressures of competing in the Grand Prix, now with the additional stress of not embarrassing Viktor piled on top of that.
Saika: Viktor seems like a low-key dude, but he does want Yuri to perform at his best, and challenges him by assigning the shy and somewhat awkward skater a routine that forces him to tap into his more sensual side. In searching for the inspiration for his “eros”, Yuri falls—without much fanfare—in love with his flirtatious coach.
There are no sad stories here: Viktor clearly reciprocates the feeling, and is the first to publicly act on it, flinging himself into Yuri’s arms for a kiss after a masterful skating performance. The series has only gotten gayer and sweeter from there—every episode seems to capitalize exponentially on the adorable romance of the previous episode.
While Viktor and Yuri’s relationship is heartwarming by itself, what’s especially fantastic is how normal their relationship is considered. Despite the fact that both of them come from countries with views on homosexuality ranging from not great to terrible, and despite the fact that male figure skating has historically been a rather homophobic sport, this series seems to exist in one of those lovely alternate universes where homophobia doesn’t exist.
Rin: I know I’m not alone in initially having concerns about the series. There are new sports anime every year; why would I even begin to hope that Yuri!!! On Ice would be the outlier in a long series of queerbaity sports anime? Why would I hope that maybe for once there would be an actual relationship rather than lingering shots of tortured young men? I can’t even tell you how many times I came close to tears seeing Yuri and Viktor’s relationship grow and unfold in the most natural way I’ve ever seen. Yuri’s initial shock at Viktor’s blase proposal to be his boyfriend quickly fades into a more comfortable acceptance of these feelings he’s developed. What makes this better is that since no one gives a shit that they’re a gay couple, and their friends are totally for the relationship (they’re right there with the fanbase congratulating them on their marriage that hasn’t happened… yet), it gives the chance for the audience to spend time with Viktor and Yuri’s inner thoughts about their own growth, instead of seeing them combat a world that is opposed to their love. Viktor struggles with how to approach Yuri on his level—how to encourage him without alienating him—and Yuri continuously questions if he’s good enough, both for Viktor and in his skating skills. It’s mature, realistic, and these struggles are ongoing.
Surprisingly, a large portion of the fanbase has decried calling Yuri!!! On Ice a yaoi or a shonen-ai series, and the reasoning is obvious. The only thing YOI shares with these genres is that they feature love between men. By taking this more realistic approach, YOI completely avoids any fetishistic aspects that yaoi loves to exploit. Or, to put it more simply, YOI is not a series about men falling in love, it’s a series where men fall in love, in addition to doing various other things. I think the greatest divide comes in the typical gay binary yaoi has imparted to the anime fanbase. Many of us are already aware of the now almost farcical stereotypes of the abusively dominant seme, who usually only cares about getting their own rocks off, and their weepy feminine other half, the submissive uke. At first glance, yes, Viktor is the more dominant one and Yuri is the more submissive one, but that’s not all they are. Viktor is also a forgetful, romantic nerd who carries around a tissue box that looks like a dog, and Yuri has a selfish side—which is sometimes his more dominant side, in a sense—that he’s never punished for having. YOI is another example in showing how these “seme/uke” binaries are outdated and should be thrown in the trash.
Saika: There are a few aspects of the show that take it from totally perfect to slightly less than, unfortunately, though thankfully most of them center around side plots and other characters.
Rin: One of the most problematic aspects of the show, and something that bugs me on a personal level, is its usage of fatphobia as a punishment for Yuri, and that this punishment never ends. Let’s just get this out of the way now: yes, there are plus-sized figure skaters. There are plus-sized people in every sport ever and the lie that fat people can’t do sports just as well as thin/muscular people needs to be put to rest immediately. Fat does not equal unhealthy. However, being heavier does lend itself to more difficulty performing the aerial stunts associated with figure skating, and it’s nigh impossible to erase the image of slim frames gliding across the ice after all these years (and due to our internationally fatphobic society). The problem here is not Yuri wanting to slim down and get back into the shape he was in before his loss, nor is it Viktor urging him to do so; the problem is how Yuri is continuously called “fatso” or “pig” throughout his tenure on the rink.
Yuri puts on weight easily and adores eating his mother’s katsudon (fried breaded pork served with egg and onions on rice). He’s also a comfort eater, which is difficult to control when you’re constantly anxious and depressed. When Viktor shows up to train Yuri, he says with a smile on his face that the “little piggy” can’t go on the rink until he loses weight. Not only that, but Yurio continues to call Yuri these derogatory terms long after Yuri dropped the weight–I don’t think Yurio’s called Yuri by his actual name once in favor of “fatass” and other such terms. I understand that there’s a certain way figure skaters are expected to be, but associating failure and even being unloved (as Yuri can, at first, only express his love on the rink) with fatness is disgusting, not to mention an unnecessary method for “motivation”.
Following that track about unnecessary things, can we just talk about JJ for a minute?
Saika: Must we? I guess. Our supporting cast is made up of skaters from a variety of other countries, and impressively doesn’t paint each of these characters as stereotypes of their country. Given the typical track record for racial representation in anime, especially of characters from countries that are not Japan, I was pleased to see, for example, that the American skater, Leo de la Iglesia, was Latino-American rather than the anime Aryan you typically see representing Americans. Many of these characters are Yuri’s good friends, like Thailand’s Phichit Chulanont (gasp! a real live Southeast Asian character!), who is excited to see Yuri succeeding and has a healthy sense of competition with him. At the other end of this spectrum, we have the series’ ostensible villain – because at least Yurio is three-dimensional. Jean-Jacques Leroy, aka JJ, is an obnoxiously self-absorbed and hypermasculine skater from Canada. (So, about as far from a stereotypical Canadian as you could possibly get.) Like Yuri, he skates to music that was written for and about him; unlike Yuri, his music is a pop-rock theme song called “King JJ” that extols his own greatness. While he works as a foil to Yuri, and as a character we love to hate, his inclusion and the way he’s written seem out of place amidst the more subtly drawn characters and relationships of the series. It feels like he’s included more because a sports anime typically includes someone like this, and less because he’s actually necessary to the story.
Rin: And though we managed to sidestep the aforementioned unfortunate yaoi tropes, we didn’t manage to miss all the tropes. Our unnecessary romance of the series goes to Michele Crispino, the champion skater from Italy, and his incredibly creepy crush on his twin sister, Sara. The two of them are extremely close, and both of them are fierce competitors in the figure skating world; however, Michele is entirely too protective of his sister, fending off any would-be beaus and idolizing Sara as some beacon of purity he has to protect. Both performances we see from him are created with Sara in mind, and it’s just… really unsettling. Luckily, Sara herself puts an end to this. She straight up tells Michele that if he depends on her so much, they’re both going to fail, and basically that she wants some space. While this incest subplot was avoided, I don’t see why it was necessary in the first place. It added nothing to any of the characters, it affected nothing—why couldn’t they have just been close siblings without the incestuous part?! It’s just something that comes out of nowhere and does nothing but make the audience uncomfortable.
Saika: Despite these missteps, however, Yuri!!! On Ice is a show well worth watching, and with only two more episodes planned, it’s something you can easily catch up on or binge once it’s finished. If you need anything else to convince you of its awesomeness, perhaps the knowledge that its choreographer works with real life Olympic skaters and that the show is beloved by real figure skating stars—including the openly gay Johnny Weir, on whom some of Viktor’s iconic Looks are based—will tilt you over the edge into giving it a try.
Rin: I know some people are still a little afraid over what the future may hold for our iconic couple, but know that writer Mitsuro Kubo intends to see this through to the end. No depressing heel-turns in sight. In a recent tweet she stated:
Regardless of how people in the real world feel about this work, inside the world of this show, there will be absolutely no discrimination toward the things one loves. I will absolutely protect this world.
Kubo will protect what YOI has stood for: equality, love, and safety from those that would seek to ruin these things. I, for one, want to believe in that and support it however I can.
Hear more from Lady Saika on Character Reveal, the podcast she cohosts with BrothaDom!