I love figure skating. My childhood was full of attempts to copy Yuka Sato or Surya Bonaly before I was told — admittedly in the kindest way possible — that I would never be a professional figure skater. Since then, I’ve followed competitive figure skating casually for years. These past two years I’ve followed it more closely as ladies figure skating finally is having the same (admittedly obnoxious) discussion that the men have been having for years with quad jumps and whatever PCS means to the judges on that day.
As an aside, if anyone else wants to rant and rave about the “three As” (Alena Kostornaia, Anna Shcherbakova, Alexandra Trusova) and what they’ve brought to ladies skating over the past year, I’m on Twitter.
Before Yuri!!! On Ice ever aired, I watched director Sayo Yamamoto’s short, Endless Night, and wished for a figure skating series to come along some day.
Then Yuri!!! On Ice aired and it surpassed all of my expectations.
It takes a lot to get me to watch a fall series while it currently airs due to my job. The League of Legends World Championship happens every year for the entirety of October, and grows longer every year, which means that most of my time is taken up with traveling, writing, watching and rewatching matches, along with filming, prep work, compiling statistics, I put all of my effort into covering this tournament. If there’s a series I want to watch in the fall, I typically put it off until after Worlds.
I made the effort to watch every single episode of Yuri!!! On Ice as it aired during the fall 2016 season.
Yuri!!! On Ice is a lot of things. It’s a genuinely heartwarming romance, and more importantly, it’s a genuinely heartwarming gay romance, set purposefully in a world where there’s no more added pressure or scrutiny than a straight romance. This means that the series can breathe and allow the relationship between Yuuri Katsuki and Viktor Nikiforov to unfold naturally. Yuri!!! On Ice is, to date, the most purely romantic anime series I’ve ever seen (with the added caveat that I don’t actually watch much romance at all because it usually bores me). It even has one of the most masterful romantic plot twists of all time, that in hindsight makes so much sense and adds even more depth to Yuuri and Viktor’s relationship.
It’s a love letter to figure skating. Yamamoto understands what makes figure skating such a draw, while also managing to poke a bit at some of the sport’s systemic flaws (how rigidly gendered it is) to the point where parts of Yuri!!! On Ice border on subversive. At the very least, they’re pointed commentary. You don’t have to love figure skating to love Yuri!!! On Ice, but if you happen to love it, you’ll be able to tell how much Yamamoto and company love it too.
It’s a look at depression, and the different ways it can manifest in people (both Yuuri and Viktor have significant mental hangups, but they deal with these in different, often toxic ways). It’s a look at ambition. At aging. At youth. Yuri!!! On Ice has a lot to say, and every time I’ve rewatched it, I’ve been struck by how many layers it has beyond the emotional narratives of Yuuri and Viktor.