Yuri!!! on Ice
by Gabriella Ekens,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Yuri!!! on Ice ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
Yuri!!! on Ice ?
One of the most anticipated premieres of the season, Yuri!!! on Ice is the latest directorial effort by Sayo Yamamoto, one of the most distinctive creators working in anime right now. She doesn't work too frequently, so if you've only been watching anime over the past few years, you may know her best from the rock band episode of Space Dandy. Y'know, the one where everyone was suddenly dripping with sex? That episode was a good example of her general style, as well as a prelude to her "fixations" in Yuri!!! on Ice, by which I mean NSFW fixations.
Yamamoto entered the scene with 2008's Michiko and Hatchin, introducing audiences to many of her artistic hallmarks: globetrotting, intense and sensual animation of human bodies, great music, and a “yes please” approach to sexuality of all kinds. Her next series, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, drew far more attention. As an entry in the venerated Lupin the Third franchise, it shifts the focus to that franchise's constant femme fatale/fourth wheel, Fujiko Mine. While it wasn't a major financial success (it did okay), Fujiko Mine ended up reinvigorating the property, serving as the artistic basis for 2015's Lupin the Third Part 4. For its fans, the series is mostly remembered as a powerful, feminist reinterpretation of Fujiko's character. I promise that these reviews won't dwell too much on the f-word (feminism) aspect of Yamamoto's work (the show's principal cast is mostly dudes anyway), but it's important to note that unlike the vast majority of teen-aimed anime, Yamamoto's work is typically aimed at an under-served adult female audience. Yuri!!! on Ice is exceptional in its careful catering to ladies, both how they're depicted and served as an audience. The series is dishing out some capital-m Manservice, complete with copious amounts of male ass.
At first, this doesn't seem all that new. We've gotten gaze-oriented fanservice shows for women before. Free! - Iwatobi Swim Club was a big hit just a few years ago, and several male idol shows come out every season these days. The difference is that these shows are all aimed at teenage girls, so their commitment to titillation remains at an adolescent level. The Free! Boys have abs for miles, but their cutesy faces and doll-like lower bodies betray a bashful approach to sexualization. The camera gawks at them in a more shy, tittering way that almost seems to be peeking out from behind closed fingers. The boys themselves are not sexual beings in context – everything remains on the level of double entendres, with no textual desire toward anyone in sight. This is not true for Yuri!!! on Ice – the camera lingers on undulating bodies, and the story seems to be explicitly about its main character embracing sexuality. (Not to be confused with his specific sexuality. While Yuri Katsuki is clearly to the left of straight, it remains unclear whether Yuri!!! on Ice will ever turn its mountains of gay subtext into text.) In this respect, Yuri!!! on Ice has something in common with last winter's Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū, which also mulls over the relationship between sexuality, personal expression, and art. Basically, the difference between Free! and Yuri!!! on Ice is sort of like the difference between a One Direction poster on a girl's wall and a grown woman attending a Chippendales show. Both examples are rooted in sexual desire, just aimed at different levels of maturity and awareness.
Anyway, considering the discussion so far, you may be surprised to hear that this show about something more than male butts. There is a story here in fact, and it's a pretty good one so far. Japanese figure skater Yuuri Katsuki is on the back-end of world class. After performing poorly in competition, he's considering dropping out of the sport. It doesn't help that he's being hassled by Yurii Plisetsky, a talented Russian up-and-comer who resents the idea of sharing his name on the rink. To stave off the blues, Yuri K. practices a routine by Victor Nikiforov, his idol and the reigning best skater in the world. When it gets secretly filmed and uploaded, Yuuri's private performance goes viral, catching Victor's interest. Seeing something in the younger man, he drops everything to fly out to Japan and train Yuri K. as his protégé. This angers the Russian Yuri, Victor's other protégé, who flies out to get him back. The second episode leaves off there, with the two Yuris competing for Victor's attention.
Already, Yuri!!! on Ice differentiates itself from the average sports anime by starring adults (mostly, since Yurii P. is 15) who are already the best in the world at their sport. This spares us the high school antics that sometimes seem like an inseparable part of the genre. There's still some of the typical training angst, but that's already being de-emphasized in favor of the characters' expressiveness as artists/competitors. As subject matter for a sports show, ice skating has a bonus perk in being both a sport and an art. Akin to dance, skating ties the characters' emotions directly into their athletic performances in a different way from chasing around balls for points.
Speaking of chasing around balls, let's get to the characters. Victor, a veteran skater, is a manic pixie boy who's grown bored of perfection and now pursues the sport along more subjective metrics. Yuri Plisetksy is a bratty half-pint who tries to act older than he is. And Yuri Katsuki, our hero, is a shy and easily discouraged skater in the middle of his career. Victor makes it his mission to drill some self-confidence into him, mostly by making him feel sexy. My guess is that he sees erotic potential in Yuri K.'s vulnerability, and that's what came across to him in the viral video. That sort of vulnerable sensuality is something that Victor can't convey – his style is too confident, too flawless – so he's drawn to Yuri's talent. That's also why he assigns Yuri K. the eros (erotic love) song. Yuri P., meanwhile, gets the agape (unconditional, familial, or “soul” love). He wanted eros, but his lesson is to stop trying to punch above his weight class maturity-wise; he's just not ready to be a sexy grownup. So Katsuki needs more confidence so that he can stop underperforming, while Plisetsky needs to gain some humility so that he'll stop overreaching. Over the course of the show, these two will probably bond as partners under Victor's tutelage.
So far, the other characters consist of Yuri K.'s family, friends, and hangers-on. They're a great source of comic relief and warmth. My favorite is Yuri K.'s old ballet instructor, Minako. She's a modern working gal who's horny for all the skaters, so she kinda feels like Yamamoto's self-insert. It's worth noting that alongside the pathos and beauty, the show has a great sense of humor, making it a constantly entertaining experience.
And of course, it looks fantastic. Yamamoto is one of those anime auteurs who seems to wrangle total control over all aspects of a show's production, from the story to the art to the promotional graphic design, doing a good job with all of them. As such, Yuri!!! on Ice is a remarkably cohesive production. What stands out most are the ice skating sequences, which show off some incredibly fluid, naturalistic, and expressive animation of the human body. They're showstoppers, and I dare you not to put them on loop for at least an hour after watching for the first time.
I've been looking forward to Yuri!!! on Ice since the day it was announced. Pretty, sharp, and sexy to boot, I'm happy to say that this premiere has met all of my expectations. These types of shows are the reason I watch anime, and I'm excited to go on this journey with you.
Funimation's simuldub is a solid way to experience the show. The standout voice is Josh Grelle, who does an excellent job depicting Yuuri Katsuki in both his melancholy and comedic modes. The supporting cast is also fantastic, just as universally fun and charming as the Japanese voices. My personal favorite is Colleen Clinkenbeard as Minako – she captures the character's attitude as the busybody single lady and mom friend. The script is quite loyal, and no awkward or unnatural phrasings stand out. I don't feel fully equipped to evaluate the Russian characters yet – they don't have much of a speaking role in the first episode. However, what I have heard isn't bad. They do have accents, but they're all more natural-sounding. From the glimpses we get of him, Micah Solusod seems to be doing a good job with Yuri Plisetsky. He's a good equivalent to the Japanese voice – bratty and a little more masculine than you might expect from the character design. There's even less of Jerry Jewell as Victor, so all I can say is that he makes neither an immediately strong positive or negative impression. Mostly I'm thankful that his accent sounds fine; he's not just repeating his cartoonish role as Russia from Hetalia. The next episode preview has him voicing drunk Victor, which sounds quite natural, nothing like the stereotypical “drunk Russian” voice that could've constituted the worst case scenario. While I'd give them another episode to be sure, I'm optimistic about both Solusod and Jewell. All in all, it appears that Funimation has come out with a solid english version of this special show.
Yuri!!! on Ice is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.
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