The series about a figure skater making his breakthrough is peak anime.
Despite its October arrival, Yuri!!! on Ice is without question the best anime series of the year. It not only contains the necessary elements of a successful anime series, such as an underdog protagonist returning to his hometown, the arrival of an outsider and spades of homoerotic references, but it celebrates these without apology.
The story follows Yuri Katsuki coming back to Kyushu after graduating from university in Michigan. Following a slew of bad defeats in figure skating competitions, he puts his career on hold. This is despite the fact he still follows the sport and attempted to break through during a period in which “living legend” Victor Nikiforov of Russia is dominant — an inspirational, senpai-like figure for Yuri.
After becoming familiar with the comforts of home once again and fending off attacks about gaining weight, Yuri visits the local ice rink after meeting his old friend Yuko. Here, Yuri performs a routine made famous by Victor to perfection which is then unwittingly uploaded for thousands to see online, becoming a viral star in the process.
Unsurprisingly, Victor takes notice. And he decides to fly over from Russia, move into Yuri’s family home and become his coach, committing to make Yuri an international figure skating champion so long as Yuri stops eating his favourite fatty pork dish.
The biggest hurdle the duo face is another Yuri (nicknamed Yurio — cue drama!), a Russian teen and rising star who was previously promised by Victor that he would in fact receive coaching by the living legend. Oh, SHIT. But don’t worry, the smug, teen angst brought by Yurio makes the series pop with necessary urgency and rivalry, as we can already tell he’s one of those people who knows he’s good looking, walking around in leopard-print clothes. Who has that sort of confidence? Damn him.
It’s quite clear the tension between Yuri and Victor is there from the get-go, especially as Victor’s presence is confusing for everyone: his national team, the local Japanese media and of course, Yuri. Why would figure skating’s world champion suddenly scram to Japan? The amusing part of the opening episode was how stereotypical the pivotal moment (Yuri’s dance routine becoming an online sensation) was when you compare it to romantic comedies such as She’s All That.
The alpha-male Victor clearly has the hots for Yuri, someone who at first appeared to be the “nerdy” forgotten outsider. And sometimes, whenever we see two people who could (note: definitely) be made for each other, the mad fandom machine starts with no intention of stopping. But this is a self-shipping ship and the fact it’s two guys is quite the milestone for an anime series.
The most obvious anime series you can compare Yuri!!! to is the hugely successful Haikyū!!, which follows a short high school kid falling in love with volleyball so much that he starts the school’s first ever volleyball club. Like volleyball, figure skating isn’t anywhere close to popularity as other sports, but the activity brings enough opportunity for animated wizardry to take place, putting it leaps and bounds away from the denser, high-fantasy plots of many other series. We could be experiencing the golden age of anime normcore.
Yuri!!! is fantastic. The characters have colourful, wide-ranging personalities that clash and harmonise brilliantly. Yuri is timid at times and clearly needs a guide, with Victor being supremely confident yet also in need of something new, as he feels his audience has become bored of his skating brilliance. (Fine, I’ll stop shipping.) The animation is crisp and vibrant. Yes, the power ballad opening track “History Maker” might make your eyes roll but you’ll feel elated by the synth-pop magic of Wataru Hatano’s “You Only Live Once” playing over the closing credits. And then you’ll happily declare that your body is ready for the next episode.