Anime Spotlight: Yuri!!! On ICE

Yuri!!! On ICE is a 12 episode anime series that aired in Japan from October 5-December 21, 2016. While I heard about the series when it first came out, I hadn’t decided to watch it while it was a simulcast. However, over the past week or so, I’d seen several Anime News Network reviewers not only rate Yuri!!! On ICE among their top five anime of the Fall 2016 season, they also rated it among their top five anime of 2016. Between that and knowing that the series had also received a brief visual reference in a relatively recent episode of South Park, I decided that I needed to watch the series and see if it really deserved all the attention it had been receiving.

From the opening note of “History Marker,” the opening theme song for Yuri!!! On ICE, I could tell there would be something different about the series. By the end of the first episode, I was already starting to get a sense for why people were liking the series so much.

Yuri!!! On ICE focuses on Yuri Katsuki, a 23-year-old male figure skater who suffered a crushing defeat during the Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final and failed showings at other skating competitions. Unsure of what he wanted to do going forward, Yuri returns to his hometown of Hasetsu. When Yuri visits his childhood friend, Yuko at the ice skating rink where she works, he shows her a perfect imitation of an advanced skating routine performed by his idol, a famous Russian figure skater named Victor Nikiforov. Unbeknownst to Yuri, someone filmed him as he performed the routine and uploaded it onto the internet. The video goes viral and gains the attention of Victor Nikiforov himself. Victor comes to Hasetsu and proclaims that he will personally coach Yuri so he can win the gold medal at the next Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final.

Of course, there’s conflict before Yuri can even make it to the first qualifying event. An up-and-coming young Russian figure skater named Yuri Plisetsky comes to Japan to find Victor, because Victor had promised to help him choreograph a routine if he won the junior division (which the Russian Yuri did). Unfortunately, Victor can be very forgetful, and had no recollection of this promise. Victor choreographs routines for both of the Yuris, which leads up to a skate-off between the two at in Hasetsu. After this, the Japanese Yuri must return to competing professionally in order to progress. The remainder of the series follows Yuri through this process, as well as the relationship that develops between Yuri and Victor.

Gosh, where do I begin to review this series? I guess I’ll start with the animation. The animation for Yuri!! On ICE was incredible, especially for the ice skating routines. The routines were actually choreographed, and I think the animators captured the choreography incredibly well. I may not have much knowledge of ice skating, but even I could tell that the animators weren’t randomly drawing movements to bring the ice skating to life. It felt like I was actually watching people ice skating. The character designs were also very effective, and it felt as if each character had a distinct look that matched their personality. There weren’t any character designs that felt “cookie cutter” or copied between the characters.

Another outstanding aspect of Yuri!!! On ICE is the music. There were a number of musical pieces that appeared for the ice skating routines, and it was obvious that the composer took a lot of care with this aspect. The music was all well written, and the pieces used for each character really fit with their personality.

The writing for this series was also fantastic. From the very first episode, the audience comes to care for Yuri Katsuki and want to cheer him on as he struggles to return to the world of professional figure skating. The other characters that surround Yuri, as well as the overall plot progression, make the viewer want to keep following the series when each episode ends. I especially have to give praise for how Yuri K. and Victor’s relationship progresses throughout the series. It’s made clear that Yuri idolizes Victor, and Victor is clearly shown flirting with Yuri from early on after they meet. So when the infamous kiss happens in episode seven, it feels natural and not forced. When Yuri later buys rings for the two of them as a good luck charm for his skating, I appreciated being able to pick up on the subtext that this gesture could potentially mean more in the future. And the interactions between Yuri K. and Victor in the final two episodes are emotional and heart wrenching.

But it wasn’t just Yuri K. and Victor who got all of the character development. Yuri’s competitors at his various events were also presented with development over the course of the series.

Yuri!!! On ICE brought together the writing, animation, choreography, and music into an impressive package. So impressive, in fact, that I would have to rank it alongside Haikyu!! 3rd Season as my favorite anime of 2016. In the opening theme, “History Maker,” one of the lines that appears is, “We were born to make history.” How true those words ended up being for this series.

I can’t wait until FUNimation is able to release Yuri!!! On ICE on home video, because it will definitely be on my list of anime to purchase.

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