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This year keeps winding down faster and faster, like a bath drain swirling away your day-old funk and fuzz, and for a lot of good reasons we are all going to be very happy to see it go. “End of 2016” wrap-ups are getting sadder and madder, and we are all looking forward to 2017 with hope that it will be brighter and better.
Thankfully, 2016 decided we all deserved a bright ray of undiluted sunshine. Something so pure, so precious and so perfect that we would end our year with tummy flutters, silly sighs and unadulterated joy. And it wasn’t at all where I expected to find it.
That’s right, anime. I started seeing references to this sweet and engaging television show in some of my online spaces several weeks ago. I was intrigued by a few pieces of what I thought were fan art.
But then I realized. NOPE. Those are screencaps from the show itself. The internet (and fans that I respect and have a lot in common with) are losing their collective minds over an actual anime. My history with anime is relegated to buying Pokemon cards for my daughter, wondering what in the world people are cosplaying as at SDCC, and a very devoted love for Belle and Sebastian when I was young. I’m not an anime connoisseur.
Enter: the sports anime television series Yuri!!! on Ice. Produced by Japanese animation studio MAPPA, and written by Mitsurō Kubo, YOI is a figure skating sports anime that premiered in October and has totally taken off with fans (AND WITH ME) for good reason. Anime fans are enamored with the fluid mastery of the production and the shots, but also much more. The show itself is subverting anime tropes left and right to tell the story Kubo wants to tell. I don’t understand all of that, because like I said I know diddly about anime, but I can appreciate it. If you are interested in how the anime world feels about this unique show, read this. I learned a lot.
There’s a reason that sports films and television shows are crowd pleasers. They offer the unique combination of physical action and emotional release in a setting with real and easy to spot stakes. Is the underdog going to take the regional title? Is the aging star going to be outshone by the upstart newbie? Can the hero overcome his injury? Can the straight talking coach redeem the wayward small town team? We get invested in sports dramas.
Put those sports dramas on ICE with music and gorgeous costumes? And we are going to wear out our VHS copies of The Cutting Edge.
Yuri on Ice is a figure skating show. Centered around Yuri Katsuki, a 23-year-old Japanese figure skater who is contemplating how to stay in the sport or even if he should, we drop into the series with an emotional gut punch … Yuri crying in a bathroom stall after suffering a major loss in the Grand Prix Finals. Never a genre to stick around with one emotion for long, we are shortly introduced to his punk rival antagonist, Russian skater Yuri Plisetsky and his godlike, untouchable idol, Russian gold medalist, Victor Nikiforov.
We catch flashes of ice routines in episode one, but then follow a dejected and depressed Yuri back to Japan where he takes to his hometown ice rink, innocently performing his idol Victor’s recent winning program for a friend, only to have it uploaded to the internet shortly thereafter. This sparks a chain of events that brings Victor to Japan as Yuri’s new coach.
Sports fans are excited to watch a show that so clearly pays homage to figure skating with precision and believability. The animation of the routines is gorgeous and intricate. And we know by the end of the episode exactly what the stakes are: we are going to watch Victor coach Yuri to defeat or victory in the next Grand Prix Finals.
The choreography for the dozens of figure skating routines throughout the series is done by Kenji Miyamoto, and the dedication to giving each character their own style and strengths is evident in every episode. Even the music is addictive. And if it was just all of that, it would be a good show. But it’s a great show because of how it deals with character in a simple and recognizable way while still surprising and engaging the audience.
Take everything you love about a wonderful romance, and Yuri on Ice provides it. Yuri and Victor’s relationship is tentative, slow, built on mutual need fulfillment and evolves in a healthy and believable way. Yuri is crippled by self-doubt and anxiety. His mental state is what tanked his performance in the Grand Prix Final, and his lack of confidence spirals him into paralyzing poor performance. He thinks he’s let everyone down, and he has no idea how to turn it around.
Victor is his ideal. Not only a perfect gold medalist in their sport, but someone who surprises him, who has the ease of confidence and skill and personality that Yuri finds so hard to grasp. When Victor comes barreling into Yuri’s tiny world he finds him godlike, unattainable and he shies away from all contact.
Victor slowly and effectively breaks down those barriers. Not perfectly, because he’s going through his own stuff (Victor seems textbook depressed. He’s reached the pinnacle of his career and success, can’t find a new challenge and throws whatever future he was reaching for away on a whim to come coach some stranger in another country. He’s a little rudderless himself.) But nevertheless, they meet each other with honesty and real support. It’s a beautiful progression of a real love story.
The show is constantly surprising viewers with last minute revelations: watching Yuri find his confidence just when you think he’s at his most broken; seeing Victor’s pure joy at a less than stellar performance of Yuri’s simply because he worked to bring something new to the table; small moments played out with other competitors. Their romance is locked into every moment of the show, and yet it is subtle and SMACK YOU IN THE FACE OVERT.
It’s not just a romantic comedy that happens to have male protagonists. This show is GAY. Super duper gay. And it’s lovely. The LGBT community and the anime fandom are rallying around it as perhaps the first real representation of queer romance and relationships in the genre that isn’t queer-baiting or tongue-in-cheek. There is no evident homophobia or otherness in the onscreen world. Yuri and Victor’s relationship meets no obstacles beyond their own neuroses. Instead their connection and love is met with affable humor, encouragement and normalization.
It’s a romance story for lovers of romance of any sort. It’s romcom. It’s two adorable boyfriends working out their attraction and love for one another in awkward, confusing, adorable and complicated ways. They grow from inspiration to fondness to friendship to devotion in just a few episodes. I love every gay ice skating second of it.
It’s hella gay.
And it’s the best way to end 2016 that I can think of.
The final episode of Yuri!!! on Ice airs tomorrow, and fan theories are ramping on who will win the gold in the Grand Prix Final and what will happen between Yuri and Victor. If you haven’t seen it at all yet … this is the perfect time to binge watch the ENTIRE SEASON.
If you still aren’t convinced, watch this adorable scene from one of the later episodes.
To watch: Download CrunchyRoll app on your device or your smart tv. Or simply look up Dubbed Yuri On Ice to watch it without subtitles.
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