Japanese Title: Yuri!!! on Ice
Welcome to the Ballroom
Watched in: Japanese & English
Length: 12 episodes
- Ice skating executed to 100%
- Beautiful animation sometimes
- Good comedy
- That opening song
- Too light on relationship drama
- Not enough episodes for the content
- Funnily enough, too much ice skating
Yuri on Ice was a much-hyped anime at its time of airing in late 2016. I’m late to the party, as always, though I am free of the hype. Was it all style and no substance?
At its heart, Yuri on Ice is a love letter to ice-skating. This letter conveys itself through the perspective of Yuri, a Japanese ice skater on the verge of retirement. A secret recording of him performing a routine by world champion Victor goes viral, catching the eye of the champion himself. Victor drops everything to come to Japan and become Yuri’s coach, much to the surprise of the skating world. He promises to turn him into a champion! Meanwhile in Russia, another Yuri makes it his mission to defeat Japanese Yuri and get Victor’s coaching for himself.
If one has heard anything of Yuri on Ice, it would be the gay relationship and the animation. I’ll leave the animation for later. First, the relationship. It is nowhere near as big of a deal in the series as I was expecting after all that buzz. And I mean that in a negative way. The manner in which people swooned over it gave an impression of this being a gay romance first and a sports anime second.
The reverse is true.
The relationship remains present throughout the 12-episode run yet feels set in the background for the most part. There is a distinct lack of drama, tension, and stakes. For instance, Victor is so successful and has such pull that he can do whatever he wants. Nothing puts a limiter on his time with Yuri, such as a prior commitment or family obligation that only gives him three months to make Yuri successful. If Yuri doesn’t show progress, Victor has to leave. You know, anything similar to that. The other angle they could take is Victor’s personality. He is the sort to do whatever he wants, change his mind on a whim – his decision to drop everything and move to Japan to train Yuri took seconds to make. I expected conflict would arise once the “honeymoon” period of his new coaching job faded and he looked for another distraction. I want something like Major, where the relationship has to go through hurdles, make sacrifices for the career, and take the foreground where needed. The pressure on Yuri to succeed before retirement carries the drama like that one guy who does all the work on a team project.
Their relationship is fine but uninteresting. If this were a straight couple, no one would care. That said, at least it commits to the relationship. No yaoi bait here. I like these characters and I want to see more of them as people rather than sportsmen.
Yuri on Ice instead focuses on the ice-skating. Expect a lot of ice-skating for a 12-episode season. Almost every performance plays in full, not matter how unimportant the competitor. Don’t get me wrong, the performances are great, bursting with love and passion for the sport. The studio hired a professional skater to choreograph and record each individual routine even if repeated, as the sound of the skates on ice differs every time. Different venues affect sound as well. The passion is undeniable. You just don’t need to show all of them from start to finish when much of that screen time needs to go to character development instead.
Yuri and Victor already don’t have enough personal story; now imagine the competitors. The tournaments introduce a dozen or so skaters from around the world. We know almost nothing about them until it’s their turn to perform, which dumps an entire life story in minutes along with the full performance. Once the sequence is over, they retreat to the background until their next turn. Only Russian Yuri has even close to the screen time he deserves.
The sport aspect is important for a sports anime – goes without saying. However, characters matter more. Great characters can make any sport engaging. The mark of a great competitive story is the ability to make me cheer for the opposition. When I don’t want either side to lose, you have me. It’s hard to care for competitors’ performances when we know little about them. In any other sports anime, they would be part of the core that makes the competitions more engaging through drama, rematches, backstory, and their past or future ties to the protagonist. This is especially notable when their performance score is lower than Yuri’s score. Why did you show their full performance if they didn’t matter?
This leads to another problem. The series does a poor job of explaining to the ice-skating uninitiated how scoring works. It tells us that harder moves are worth more points. Yes, that is obvious. What’s the difference though? How much more valuable is a quadruple toe loop than a triple? Is it more points to go for a quad loop with an imperfect landing or a perfect triple? There are times when one person does more mistakes than another yet earns a higher score. I’m sure it’s all valid, as it would be in a real competition. Just tell me how it works!
Before I conclude on a positive note, let me address a final negative. The animation is a mix of excellent and average. The first few routines and the OP are especially beautiful, but the quality drops as we progress until it picks up again towards the end. Studio MAAPA did touch up the animation post-release, so the most egregious scenes are fixed. The final version is never bad, though of course it would have been great to maintain top quality throughout. If only there was a way to cut down the number of sequences that needed such elaborate animation…
Yuri on Ice went by in two easy binge sessions (and I never skipped the OP). The likeable characters wrapped in good humour that isn’t copied from a template makes it a joy to watch.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: Try it. Yuri on Ice is an easy one to recommend though whether you will stick with it varies on how much ice-skating you want to see.
Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)