Lord of the Rink
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!