One of my close friends was a professional athlete. He hasn’t competed in five years and is, by all accounts, retired. I rarely see him anymore, but the few times I have visited in the past five years, there are still trappings of his career — tucked away in corners of the apartment, shoved behind his brother’s discarded motorcycle in the garage, photographs in his father’s living room.
He began when he was three, coaxed and coached by his father. He retired at 25, already older than his more successful counterparts.
Perhaps this is why, for me personally, Yuri!!! On Ice is a story about time, and has been since I first saw the series’ ending sequence — a series of instagram posts that only linger for a few seconds before scrolling down to the next.
Time is not on the side of the three main characters in Yuri!!! On Ice. All three individuals are of different ages, and at different stages in their respective physical and emotional maturation.
Yuri Plisetsky is only 15 years-old. This is his debut year on the senior circuit after winning three consecutive Junior World Championships. Prodigious, arrogant, and ambitious, Yuri hasn’t ever had anyone who could rival him in his own age division. Initially, he wished to face off against the legendary Viktor Nikiforov, but Viktor takes a year hiatus to coach Yuuri Katsuki. Yuri is later inspired after losing to Yuuri in Hasetsu, and returns to Russia even more determined to win a gold medal at the Grand Prix Final.
Many of Yuri’s insecurities revolve around his age, his adolescence, and Viktor. His body has yet to fully mature, and he continues to push to his utmost limits during his first year in the senior circuit lest his body change through puberty. By all accounts — Viktor, Otabek Altin, and his coach Yakov Feltsman — Yuri has always been fiercely competitive and sometimes overly ambitious. Yuri has always worried about catching up to and surpassing Viktor, but consistently tries to overreach, seemingly all-too-aware of his own time limit.
Yuuri Katsuki is in the prime of his career. Despite beginning the series depressed, overweight, and generally lost, Yuuri is a late-bloomer who blossoms throughout the series. Even if this year is his last, it’s also undeniably his best.
This is no small feat. At 23 years-old, Yuuri is rapidly nearing retirement age and has never had the same raw physical talent that both Viktor and Yuri possess. Instead, Yuuri is a diligent and tireless worker who makes up for his shortcomings with more practice time.
Yuri!!! On Ice is primarily the story of Yuuri’s emotional maturation. Behind his whirlwind year being coached by living legend — and his own personal idol — Viktor Nikiforov, there is a finite sense of time. Yuuri has little time left. If Yuuri is to have a year where he overcomes his emotional hangups and truly taps into every ounce of talent he has, it’s this year portrayed by the events of Yuri!!! On Ice. There will not be another chance for Yuuri Katsuki to win a Grand Prix Finals gold. It has to be now.
Viktor Nikiforov is the eldest of the group. He’s introduced as one of skating’s greatest, a natural-born talent with five consecutive Grand Prix Finals and World Championships. Although he is 27 years-old, well past the figure skating prime of 19-20 years-old, he was always expected to continue competing. The fact that he took a year off to coach Yuuri Katsuki is not well-received by most, earning Yuuri the ire of Viktor’s legions of fans as well as other top-tier skaters.
Yuuri may be the star, but it’s Viktor’s decision to step back from competition that is the catalyst for most of the events in the series. Many of the other figure skaters in the men’s division were used to Viktor automatically taking all of the top awards. Without him, the field is suddenly wide open, reinvigorating his former competition. Viktor had already lost his spark at the beginning of the series, and finds it again in coaching Yuuri. Similarly, Viktor’s competition also had grown complacent in light of Viktor’s guaranteed victories.
Looming over the entirety of Yuri!!! On Ice like a shadow is what Viktor will do once the Grand Prix Finals are finished. Regardless of whether his charge wins the gold or not, Viktor still has to decide what he wants to do with his own career. He was drawn to Yuuri for inspiration, but now that Yuuri’s year is complete — and Yuuri’s own career is somewhat up in the air — Viktor can’t delay his decision about his own career anymore.
One of the most haunting images in the ending sequence is that of Viktor and Yuuri seated on a train with the caption “time flies so fast.” Yuri Plisetsky has already broken Viktor’s short program record. This is likely Yuuri Katsuki’s last year. Viktor, after putting his career on hold for a year, now has to make a decision.
That’s how I feel about Yuri!!! On Ice as a whole as well, time flies so fast.