Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Pour Me a Yuri!!! on Ice

Yuri!!! on Ice is unequivocally one of the most popular anime to come out in Q4 2016— if not this entire year, honestly. Most of the reception has been incredibly positive, and there have only been a few nitpicks here and there about the overall theme of romance within the show itself. ……But honestly, a lot of it is unnecessary discourse. Also, Congratulations to it being the first anime I started and finished in the past… year. Thank you to Anne Lee over at Chic Pixel for the 48 hour CrunchyRoll guest pass, so I could watch the finale yesterday!(๑¯♡¯๑)

I've been interested in figure skating for years; it's been a silent interest of mine since childhood [I'll be posting about another one before the year is out, hopefully] and has always been one of those fantastical things that I never thought I could actually indulge in, in spite of already playing several sports back then. Figure skating is one of those sports that focuses so much on technique and encourages a stylised and personal approach to elegance. Despite the silly costumes, the competitors are fiercely loyal to their craft and incredibly disciplined. When I was growing up, figure skating wasn't really on the radar of many people around me. It was solely considered a feminine hobby, if it was even regarded at all, so it's nice to see something like this become so popular and bring fans of the sport, new and old together.

But enough about waxing poetic about ice knives and silly leotards, what about the show? Well. I'm glad you asked.

There's a lot of hype surrounding this show, and in watching it, I believe I can understand why. In the first episode, we're introduced to our main character Yuri Katsuki. He's a cutie, no doubt! But he's coming down after a recent bout of failings and he's not feeling too hot. He even walks away from his idol distressed that he's not worthy of the time. We're introduced to Yuri and his coping mechanisms very early on, which I think is an interesting way to start off the series. When Yuri gets home, the issue of his weight is brought up. It isn't in a degrading manner. In fact, his father off-handedly says "You've always gained weight easily", which is good to know that this isn't an issue that's magically going to go away during the series. If anything, he continues working out and staying on his game. He even avoids, not willingly of course, his favourite food item to keep himself in shape.

It's interesting to bring this up as a character (and athletic) trait because many people struggle with this. I respect that people even know that this is just how he is and how he's always been. Victor (the secondary character) even takes this information and accepts it. There is outside teasing/call outs, but as far as Yuri's own personal feelings go, he doesn't seem to be fazed one way or another. He's just aware of his current weight. He never brings up his weight, though other characters do. Episode 1 also draws an interesting parallel between Yuri's back-to-back and Victor's back-to-back success. However, regardless of Yuri's weight and in spite of his repeated failures, he's still a competent skater.

I love how Yuri starts off very polite and passive in the series, soon growing into someone who desires to be watched, who desires to prove something new to the world, but at the same time, he's consistently someone who will shrug off a person that underestimates him or is overly hostile in a conversation. He does it with a smile. When another Yuri (soon established as Yurio) is asserting where he wants to sleep, main cutie Yuri shrugs and says, "It's not like you care what I think" while smiling. It's not a trait I often see with other primary focus main characters. There are plenty of hilarious moments that I would be remiss not to add.

The show manages to capture the wonder and amazement that I feel whenever I watch figure skaters. The animation does have some inconsistencies here and there, but it doesn't take away from the overall experience. Animation wise, I think the only thing that "bothered" me was the fact that people's lips would get randomly glossy/pink, and I'm like, "Uwaaa! Too intimate!" I was easily engrossed into the episodes. When I finished the first one, I said, "…Dammit. Now I've gotta watch the next one." The show has a lighthearted but memorable atmosphere as in I can walk away without feeling the desperate need to walk more, but each episode left an impression.

I appreciate that the show normalises things. Even though people point out Victor is a foreigner, no one makes a big deal about it (aside from calling him a handsome foreigner and all). The characters will use phrases from different languages without comment. Romantic influences or crushes aren't singled out as anything worthy of dialogue. Public displays of affection, especially when it's being broadcasted, has the expected response, but as a whole, this is the type of narrative that I greatly appreciate, because the ultimate focus of the story is learning about oneself and about achieving success. Manufactured tension for the sake of 'story' doesn't exist while whatever existing internal or external conflict feels very real.

This show tackles many themes without making a great big show about it all: self-confidence/self-esteem, success, public perspective, motivation, and so, so much more. And it doesn't just focus on Yuri's personal problems, you get to see the dreams, expectations, and tribulations of everyone else, though not to the full extent. Yuri!!! on Ice has such a rich cast. It makes you want to learn more about them. This is one of those anime that could benefit from a slightly longer season. Because it was only twelve (12) episodes, there were issues with pacing here and there. I believe that if they gave more depth, they could have gone the old school 25-26 episodes. Even if they gave less than that but a little more than what we currently got, it could have gone to 15-18 episodes easily. It would give it more time to breathe, and we could learn so much more about everyone else. Even if it doesn't go very far, it would be more than a taste. However, this does not take away from the good of the anime, and the fact that they still managed to pack it with good content, pacing issues or no.

Another thing (there are so many "other things") that I think this show needs to get respect for is showing us personal growth with Yuri. And I don't just mean in the obvious ways, I mean as far as personal perspective goes. He believes that he's fighting his battle alone; he believes that his failures are his own and that he must triumph over them alone. He believes this in spite of being in a loving environment, in a loving town where people know and support him. People are still excited to see him in spite of his earlier failures (they ask to shake his hand!) But when Victor, someone new to his life in a personal sense, interjects into his world unannounced, he's forced to grow. He doesn't take it with grace; in fact, he stumbles through it and that's what I like about this show.

One thing that I love about sports anime isn't so much just the nostalgia or the closeness that I have with the sport in question (I played…… a lot of sports as a child), but it's feeling proud of a character's personal growth. The characters in Yuri!!! on Ice don't mince words, and I love Yuri's personal sense of determination. While I found the ending of the first season was lukewarm and off-paced, I'm looking forward to the start of the second. My mind is already roaming around the numerous possibilities. I can't wait for the announcement.

As a whole, Yuri!!! on Ice is a really good show with lovely characters that have heartfelt goals. It's a really nice way to slide gracefully back into the world of sports anime. And speaking of which… When it comes to sports anime, watching them is about being invested in character tribulations and in the people around them. There's a connection, and when you watch someone struggle and continuously get back up, when you watch someone struggle and stand by them, when you watch someone's honest, overwhelmed reaction to succeeding…

I think that's true eros. See you next skate.

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