Things are a little overwhelming right now, and if you’re like me you need something that calms your overactive anxiety and gives you a warm and happy glow. For me that is an anime that gives me the feeling of being wrapped inside a warm blanket, sipping hot chocolate, while being held in the perfect hug and celebrating Halloween and Christmas at the same time. I’m talking about….
Yuri!!! on Ice (or YOI from here on in b/c I’m lazy)
I initially saw this anime when it originally came out in 2016 and it was a pretty big deal when it was released. There was a lot of chatter about it online and Crunchyroll’s first anime awards show was for the 2016 season and YOI won 7 of the 14 awards that year including Animation of the Year. I’ve always enjoyed it, and have re-watched it a couple of times since then, and while it hit me in the feels, it wasn’t really an obsession.
Fast forward to Pandemic 2020 and suddenly I’m watching it once a week for the past couple of months – no lie it’s the truth – and it has become my anxiety therapy and solidified itself as my #2 favorite anime.
So what’s it about?
Yuri Katsuki is a 23-year-old Japanese figure skater who has suffered some crushing defeats in major competitions so he returns to Japan to rethink his career. Through a series of events, he obtains the notice of his skating idol, 27-year-old multi-world champion Victor Nikiforov who decides to take a season away from competitive skating and become Yuri K.’s coach with the goal of helping Yuri K. to win gold at the next Grand Prix Final. But 15-year-old Russian skater, Yuri Plisetsky, is set to make his senior debut and thinks there is only room for one Yuri at the top and that is going to be him.
When Yuri P. discovers that Victor has gone to Japan to coach Yuri K. he is not happy since Victor had already promised to choreograph a program for him. So he flies to Japan to confront Victor and bring him back to Russia. Faced with both Yuris wanting him as their coach Victor decides to choreograph a routine for each of them to the same music, however, there are different arrangements that focus on opposing themes of love: Agape (assigned to Yuri P.) and Eros (assigned to Yuri K.). They will learn the routines and then perform them in a competition, the winner gets Victor. Yuri K. wins, so Victor remains in Japan to coach him and Yuri P. returns to Russia vowing to also make it to the GPF and win gold.
As the show progresses each one, in his own way, starts to learn things about himself and about what the word “love” really means.
*I’m taking this time now to say that I am 100% convinced that it is canon that Yuri K. and Victor form a romantic relationship through the course of this anime so that’s how I’m going to treat it from here on out.*
***WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD***
Why I love this Anime:
Exhibit A) Yuri K is my spirit animal:
Ok, yes, the skating and the relationship between Yuri K. and Victor are what drew me to this anime, but why it’s become my second favorite is the way the show handles Yuri K.’s battles with anxiety which are so authentic to me, I’m almost tempted to tell people to watch this show in order to understand what I can’t express at times.
Watching the show I found myself thinking “Oh if I was in that situation I would think/feel/say…” moments before Yuri K. actually thinks/feels/says exactly what I would have. Watching him being crushed under his anxiety and negative thoughts, then suddenly finding the confidence not to care and rise above it, only to be dragged back into the negative shortly after in a relentless loop…I know it will seem odd, but there is something comforting in him going through these things that I experience myself all the time.
Mostly, though, I want to sit people down and tell them to pay attention to how Victor tries to shock or nurture Yuri K. out of his episodes and how it never really works. Like Yuri K. keeps telling Victor, he doesn’t need anything from him except for him to just be there, be himself, and believe in Yuri. That’s all people who suffer through anxiety like mine need because we’re already feeling isolated and alone and questioning everything, so just knowing someone is there not judging, not freaking out themselves (because that adds to our anxiety when we have to worry about how we’re affecting the other person), but just simply being there, helps tremendously.
I cannot express enough how much it means to me to see these things done so well. I can literally feel my own anxiety draining away while I watch. And this might not be everyone’s experience with anxiety, but it very much mirrors mine.
Exhibit B) The Power of Love or Eros vs. Agape: A Tale of Two Yuris:
The programs Victor choreographs for the Yuris are the linchpin for each characters’ arc.
On the surface, it appears that Victor assigns the programs to the Yuris because they are the exact opposite of their personalities. Yuri P. is overly self-confident and abrasive, and Agape is a much softer emotion steeped in the idea of selfless/unconditional love. Yuri K. has no confidence and is generally a more gentle individual and overly accommodating, so Eros is a foreign concept in its expressions of a more aggressive and possessive form of passion. And this may be true, but I think Victor also assigns them this way based on his own feelings towards the two skaters and what he sees each need to recognize in themselves.
When it comes to Yuri P. I think Victor sees a lot of his younger self in him and looks upon him almost like a little brother. They both have the drive to impress people through their skating, to push their skills, but they both keep people at arm’s length. I think Victor can see that if Yuri P. would just open himself up a little more and find those softer emotions his skating will evolve to the next level and he’s right. As Yuri P. keeps skating Agape he starts to explore the concept of what unconditional love means to him, and as the show progresses he begins to start connecting with the people around him on a more personal level. Granted he does that in his own unique abrasive style.
It’s pretty apparent that Victor has some sort of attraction to Yuri K. from the beginning both as a skater with untapped potential and as a person (a later episode explains this but I don’t want to spoil it because it’s just too good not to see for yourself – episode 10 is all I’m saying). He tells Yuri K. early on that part of what drew him is the way the music seems to flow through him and I think he recognizes that ability hides a passionate nature that he wants to draw out of Yuri K. The more Yuri K. skates the routine the more he starts to find that hidden passion in many aspects of his life, and through approaching the concept in his own way (he decides to skate it from the point of view of a femme fatale rather than a seductive male) he starts to find the confidence in simply being exactly who he is and not who he thinks he should be.
But Victor does a lot of growing through the show as well. On the surface, he seems to embody both of the themes he gives to the Yuris. Throughout the show you constantly see Victor has been encouraging other skaters throughout his career, being nice to all of his fans and the media, etc. He also hints that he’s had lovers in the past. But there is one important moment where we get a rare glimpse of Victor’s thoughts and he admits that he has lived his life thinking he had to constantly change himself and that he didn’t need anyone else. So the way he interacts with both Yuris becomes even more significant. For once he has someone who wants him just as he is, he’s finally found someone he wants to protect, he finally understands what life and love actually mean. And while most of that is about Yuri K. it can also be about Yuri P.
Exhibit C) Yuri K. + Victor = Victuri (as the fandom has anointed it, and you’re welcome):
There are a lot of moments in the series we could talk about with these two. A LOT. Episode 10 alone could be its own post, but for me, all the moments lead through a natural progression of two people falling in love according to 3 stages which are my own sort of amalgamation from a lot of resources and a class I took once on love languages. So, like everyone on the internet, that makes me an expert.
Phase #1 Crush/Lust – Yuri K. is all in the crush phase. He has idolized Victor since he was twelve, imitated his routines, bought the same kind of dog, and plastered his room with posters of Victor. Everyone who knows Yuri K. knows about his obsession with Victor. All he wants is to one day skate on the same ice as his idol. Victor, however, is 100% in the lust phase. He comes at Yuri K. with all the subtlety of a freight train. The moment they start to interact after Victor announces he’ll be Yuri K’s coach, he is all up in Yuri K’s business with innuendos and flirty touches. Needless to say, while Yuri is thrilled Victor is there he also has no idea how to react to all this.
Phase#2 Attraction/Building Trust – Yeah, kind of goes hand in hand with #1 but this is less about sex and more about feelings and the happy hormones kicking in and that starts to affect your mood and habits. The more time these two spend together the more Yuri K. starts to become confident (although those pesky anxiety attacks still happen) and more comfortable with Victor’s penchant for PDA. Victor starts to back off the sexual flirtations a bit and his actions start to take on a more caring and nurturing approach. They start to learn about each other’s flaws and instead of being turned off it just strengthens the feelings they have towards one another.
Phase #3 Attachment/Commitment – By the end of the series these two have not only given each other a token of their feelings (again episode 10 people!) but Victor has committed to remaining Yuri K’s coach as well as coming back to competitive skating so they can compete on the ice together. They even do a pairs skate for Yuri K.’s exhibition at the GPF. The last scene we see is Yuri K. running towards Victor and Yuri P. and you can clearly tell he is in St. Petersburgh, Russia.
The progression of their relationship gives me all the happy feelz. I know I keep mentioning ep.10 but the end of ep.9 is really my favorite. They have a reunion scene at an airport that is just full of heart melting material.
But the show wasn’t without its criticisms.
The “Kiss” Controversy:
Episode 7 has a scene that caused people to either lose their ever-loving minds or to become a little disappointed in the show. If you watch a lot of anime then something you’ll start to notice is there are quite a few shows where certain special moments between characters happen just out of shot, like kissing. You’ll see the lean in, but then something always blocks the money shot or it cuts away and you’re left to assume it happened.
*** SPOILER ALERT!!!!***** And here is what I’m talking in gifs, if you want to see the scene just look up Yuri on Ice Kiss or go to this YouTube fan page:
Personally, when I first watched the scene before reading other reactions to it, I thought “typical anime kiss cutaway” but also saw it as Victor protecting a special moment between himself and Yuri K. Yes, there had been other moments of public PDA prior to this that caused some reactions, but this moment is strictly between them. Victor knows it will be all over the internet the second it happens, so I always saw his arm blocking it as a way to keep it as private as possible. Also, he’s actively trying to protect Yuri K.’s head from hitting the ice. So that’s my opinion, but feel free to disagree, others did.
I do not identify as LGBTQ+ but I have a lot of people in my life that I love who do, so I can understand why people felt disappointed with this moment, amongst some others. It is definitely a missed opportunity to show a same-sex kiss inside an anime that isn’t filled with the overt predatory depictions some anime display toward romantic entanglements, especially same-sex interactions. I think it would have meant a lot to the community to show a kiss between these two since their relationship is a fairly normal one and for the most part, is progressing in a healthy way.
Also, others, who for their own reasons, will try to argue that fans read into the angle of their heads and it was just Victor jumping on Yuri K. in happiness for a hug.
I reject that reality. First, the way Victor closes his eyes does not say “oh I’m hugging you in happiness” and then look at their faces right after. It was totally a kiss.
Skating and Skaters:
Ok, it’s an anime about skating and I haven’t really talked about that yet. From what I’ve read every routine was performed by actual skaters and they used that to animate the sequences and they recorded the sounds of their skates hitting the ice during those moments vs. using canned sound effects. Are there times it’s a little awkward looking? Yes, but still it’s super impressive because it could not be easy to animate those jumps, spins, footwork, arms, etc.
And since we’re following the characters through competitions I like the fact that we get to know other skaters as well. At one point Yuri K. says that everything that happens on the ice they call love, and throughout the series, you see this displayed over and over again through all the inner monologues the skaters have while on the ice. Love for skating, love for the fans, love for a partner, love for a piece of music, it goes on and on.
Obviously, I have a few other faves amongst the skaters we meet and here are some of them in no particular order:
Kenjirou Minami (Japan)– Minami looks up to Yuri K. as a skater, the way Yuri K. looked up to Victor pre-the whole coaching falling in love stuff. He even tells Yuri K. that he one day wants to compete with him in the Grand Prix Final competitions and begs Yuri not to retire before then. I heart this little bundle of joy so much.
Pichit Chulanont (Thailand) – He is the only skater Yuri K. considers a friend and is the type of friend we all need and deserve. He’s exactly what I mentioned before, unwaveringly supportive but also doesn’t coddle Yuri K. He’s the best. Also, a master of the selfie.
Christophe Giacometti (Switzerland) – You know that friend of a friend that you see at parties or at the club and just exudes raw sex appeal in a way that makes you a little uncomfortable but mostly intrigues you and you know is safe? Yeah, that’s Chris.
Otabek Altin (Kazakhstan) – This skater makes my list because he rescues Yuri P. from some rabid fans and also – we learn through a voice over – is the only skater (or person for that matter) who has ever asked Yuri P. to be their friend. Also, I just like how calm and confident he is in himself. He’s just cool.
And I’d like to give a special shout-out to:
Minako Okukawa: Yuri K.’s former ballet instructor and probably his biggest fan outside of Minami.
And the Nishigori family: Yuko and Takeshi are childhood friends and former rink mates of Yuri K.’s. Yuko is the person who shows Victor’s skating to Yuri K for the first time, and their triplets are really the catalyst for Victor coming to coach Yuri K. in the first place.
See You Next Level:
There is a movie in the making called Ice Adolescence which was supposed to come out late last year/early this year but has been postponed. So fingers crossed we still get that in the near future. Looks like it’s more about Victor’s past, but we’ll see.
Also, the DVD has an OVA of Yuri P.’s exhibition skate and I’m still working out my feelings on that because he’s 15 years old and should not have that much…ahem…appeal. And then the Otabek moment…I just can’t. If you wanna know go here: Welcome to the Madness YOI and you’ll see what I mean.
You made it this far? As Victor would say “WOW!” And yes, I may be watching it again while writing this…I mean I need to do the research right? OH…I haven’t yet mentioned who voices one of the Italian skaters we meet in the English dub…you guessed it…J. Michael Tatum. Told you you’re going to hear about every time he’s in an anime I watch…mwahahahahaha.
If you have watched YOI or decide to watch for the first time, let me know what you think in the comments or hit me up on Twitter, I’m dying to discuss it with other people.
The wingless crows
Ok, ok ok…here are just a few more memes and gifs because I can:
This meme on Yuri K.’s transformation from Cinnamon Roll to Sinnamon Roll is everything:
Sleepy Victor, how Yuri K doesn’t jump on this I don’t know (also quick shot of Maccachin Victor’s doggo)
Can we just appreciate Yuri’s joy at finally getting Victor’s attention:
Victor explaining why he gave Yuri K. “Eros”:
Sneak hug attack!
Yuri K. getting a little jealous of the attention Victor is giving to his fans:
Yuko essentially being all of us when faced with Victor:
Yuri K and Victor cheering Yuri P on like proud papas:
Minami representing the entire fandom with pretty much every Victor/Yuri K interaction.
Ok, I’m not telling what happens in Episode 10 – because there are a lot of big moments, but as a tease, this is Victor’s reaction to one of them (what could possibly make Victor blush?):
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