Lord of the Rink

Animation Magazine - - Anime - By Charles Solomon

Acom­bi­na­tion of interesting char­ac­ters, an un­usual sport and an un­der­stated ro­mance made Yuri!!! on ICE one of the break­out hits of 2016 in Ja­pan. A fol­low-up the­atri­cal fea­ture is al­ready in the works, and the ex­act na­ture of the main char­ac­ters’ re­la­tion­ship is the sub­ject of dis­cus­sion on nu­mer­ous anime sites.

At 23, Yuri Kat­suki (voice by Josh Grelle) feels washed up. A year ago, he quit fig­ure skat­ing af­ter a dis­as­trous per­for­mance at the Grand Prix Fi­nal. He fin­ished his se­nior year at col­lege in Detroit, gained weight and moped. “Just an­other dime-a-dozen fig­ure skater,” he re­turns to his home in Kyushu, un­sure of who he is and what to do.

When Yuri re­vis­its the rink where he skated as a boy, he recre­ates a win­ning rou­tine of his idol, Vic­tor Nik­i­forov. The rink owner’s three bratty chil­dren film Yuri and post the re­sults on the Web. Yuri is hor­ri­fied, but Vic­tor (Jerry Jewell) sees the footage and is in­trigued by the Ja­pa­nese skater who com­bines tech­ni­cal prow­ess with vis­i­ble in­se­cu­rity. A no­to­ri­ously im­pul­sive man, Vic­tor heads to Ja­pan. Taken with Yuri’s tal­ent, con­fu­sion and charm, he of­fers to be­come his coach. Yuri doesn’t know whether jump for joy or jump off a bridge.

Much of the se­ries’ ap­peal rests on the vo­cal per­for­mances. Yuri not only talks with the other char­ac­ters, he pro­vides an in­ter­nal mono­logue de­tail­ing his shift­ing, con­flict­ing emo­tions. Grelle makes Yuri both be­liev­able and lik­able, de­spite his many hang-ups, and Jewell keeps Vic­tor a warmly re­as­sur­ing pres­ence.

Yuri trains hard, stud­ies and changes his diet. Vic­tor ex­plains he must se­duce the au­di­ence like a lover. Never hav­ing been in a re­la­tion­ship, Yuri fo­cuses on a men­tal im­age of one thing he does love: a pork cut­let rice bowl, which be­comes a metaphor for his sup­pressed pas­sion. But it works! Yuri gains poise and pres­ence, as well as tech­ni­cal pol­ish. Friends and Ri­vals on Ice

As he ad­vances to­ward the Grand Prix Fi­nal, Yuri is pit­ted against other skaters on the cir­cuit. Some of them are friends from his ear­lier days, oth­ers are new com­peti­tors. He gains one bit­ter ri­val: Yuri “Yu­rio” Pliset­sky (Micah So­lu­sod), who dis­misses Yuri’s tal­ent and re­sents Vic­tor’s lav­ish­ing at­ten­tion on him.

The pro­duc­tion team hired fig­ure skat­ing chore­og­ra­pher Kenji Miyamoto to cre­ate rou- tines with spins, step se­quences, toe loops, etc. for the char­ac­ters. The move­ments are gen­uine and the artists ob­vi­ously stud­ied the live-ac­tion footage, al­though the an­i­ma­tion is some­times un­even. But Yuri and the other skaters per­form the same rou­tines in sev­eral episodes: They be­come rep­e­ti­tious — just as they would if a viewer fol­lowed a real skater for an en­tire sea­son. To heighten the sense of au­then­tic­ity, real fig­ure skaters serve as com­men­ta­tors at the meets.

Yuri!!! on ICE was cre­ated by two women, Mit­surou Kubo and Sayo Ya­mamoto, who de­light in turn­ing anime clichés on their heads. Yuri’s fam­ily runs an on­sen (hot springs) re­sort, which de­lights Vic­tor and pro­vides an ex­cuse for the kind of nude scenes usu­ally re­served for fe­male char­ac­ters in fan ser­vice shows. When Yuri’s old friend Y ko (Alexis Tip­ton) meets Vic­tor, she’s so smit­ten with his good looks, she has a nose­bleed. Sup­pos­edly caused by a sur­feit of blood rush­ing to a char­ac­ter’s head, a nose­bleed is a sym­bol for lust­ful thoughts in anime, sim­i­lar to a char­ac­ter’s eye­balls bug­ging out in an Amer­i­can car­toon, which is usu­ally re­served for teenage boys see­ing scant­ily-clad girls.

The some­what am­bigu­ous na­ture of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Yuri and Vic­tor at­tracted a lot of at­ten­tion. Is this re­ally a yaoi/shoune­nai (“boy’s love) se­ries? Vic­tor dotes on his stu­dent and hugs him con­stantly. Yuri wor­shipped Vic­tor as younger man, and stum­bles over his com­pli­cated emo­tions. At a press con­fer­ence, he an­nounces that his theme for the sea­son’s per­for­mances is love, and that he’s learned how many things the word can mean from Vic­tor — and his friends and fam­ily. Yuri never turns into an ador­ing sub­sti­tute girl, like Shuichi in Grav­i­ta­tion; nor does Vic­tor be­come an icy, stern male, like Masamune in The World’s Great­est First Love. De­spite the on­sen nu­dity, the phys­i­cal re­la­tion­ship never goes be­yond a hug; yet Yuri and Vic­tor buy each other match­ing rings at the Grand Prix in Barcelona.

Yuri!!! on ICE sec­ond gear!

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