Yuri!!! on Ice is undoubtedly my favorite anime of the year, if not past several years. Just when you think that nothing new, impressive, or original in anime can be made, this jewel of a show shot into the scene. I was intrigued by the premise of the show, a male figure-skating sports anime, when it was announced, but nothing prepared me for how good it actually would be. I was expecting light entertainment, but what we all got goes way beyond, it's an ambitious show but it sticks to its routes--figure skating. And I always believe, characters drive a show, and you get so much character development in the course of 12 episodes, not only of main character self-purported "dime-a-dozen" figure skater Japanese Yuuri Katsuki but world champion and coach Viktor Nikiforov of Russia and 15-year-old rival Yuri Plisetsky--as well as a bunch of other interesting competitors as well. I don't know if there is an anime where I've liked all the characters in the show so much since Card Captor Sakura. It's a rare show that I want to rewatch the moment I finish watching the episode, over and over again and puts a stupid grin on my face for the whole duration of the 23 minutes. Kudos to both director Sayo Yamamoto and writer Mitsuro Kubo for putting together an outstanding anime that remains authentic yet visionary. And of course, the choreography throughout the show is lovely since Japanese figure skater Kenji Miyamoto choreographed it. There may be some spoilers below if you haven't seen the show already.
Viktor Nikiforov: Loss, Loneliness, Love, Life by wishluv on DeviantArt
From the first few seconds of the first episode, I was hooked to this show, that moment where young Yuuri is looking upon his idol Viktor skating, first the younger version with long hair and then the current version. The shadows in the animation, the sound of the blade hitting the ice, everything is so satisfying. I don't think there can be a more perfectly made first episode, from Yuuri's narration and flashbacks to his childhood, skating Viktor's routine for his childhood friend Yuko, to that penultimate seen in the onsen with the arrival of a naked Viktor.
My favorite sports anime to date is Slam Dunk by Takehiko Inoue, which I think is the golden standard of all shounen sports manga and anime. Yuri!!! on Ice I believe is in its own genre, because technically it is a sports anime, which is not usually my favorite genre but occasionally I can really get into it, but because the characters are generally older and more mature, and it is a late-night anime. It almost narrates rather as a life a slice of life show. The hints of nostalgia, that heartrending moments when Yuuri declares this Grand Prix Final will be the final season of his skating career, the fact that Yuuri himself is not a teenager but a 23-year-old adult (considered old in figure skating age) who has come far but is finding his place as a figure skater, lets the show avoid all the common cliches of a sports anime. It's an odd comparison, but it hits similar notes for me that Honey and Clover did, my favorite slice of life anime ever. Yurio, or the other Yuri, would make the typical shounen anime protagonist as a 15-year-old prodigy/brat, but he too is developed beautifully. One of my favorite Yurio moments is that moment after the Agape short skate piece where he is staring at the ice, exhausted and disappointed in his performance, but then looks up at the audience with a smile, showing professionalism. The anime's note to these tiny details makes it so great.
And of course, 27-year-old Viktor Nikiforov is the most enigmatic character and we don't really get into his head, his motivations and what makes him click until his full narration in Episode 10, though we get a little insight starting from Episode 5 during Yuuri's free skate routine. There was always the lingering question of why Viktor chose to coach Yuuri when he did, and also, the question of whether he was going to return to competitive figure skating, and I am glad they addressed this issue straightforwardly in the last episode. In my head, I was certain Viktor would return to competitive skating, especially since he is said to be partially inspired off of real-life figure skating champion Evgeni Plushenko. And it was clear in Episode 11 when he watched Yurio break his short skate record that he wanted to skate as a competitor again. Viktor's loss of motivation after being a five-time Grand Prix champion, his desire to continuously surpass himself, push the limits and shock his audience, his awareness of his popularity and legendary status paired with an introspective nature, makes him a fascinating character to analyze. Again, Episode 10 was one of my favorites, though there are many to choose from, since it was one devoted to character exposition off skate in Barcelona before the Grand Prix. It's a rare anime episode that I caught airing live because I was in Japan that time. I can't believe I stayed up till 3 a.m. to catch that episode and was sitting in a hotel room squealing by myself.That scene by the beach, when Yurio kicks Viktor's back numerous times, a move that would send Yuuri flaying over, can seem like a comedic moment, but rather, it symbolized that Viktor, who does not budge, is staying put. That line Viktor thinks, about how if he stayed in Russia as a competitor, neither Yurio nor he himself would have been as motivated, was very poignant. It wasn't touched upon earlier in the story, but Viktor, decided to take the season off, could also be seen as his gesture to let Yurio, the next-generation of skaters of Russia, to take the limelight and also grow as a skate in his senior debut. And of course, I love that revelation of the banquet after the Grand Prix Final the previous year where Yuuri gets drunk on champagne and proposes a dance-off with Viktor, asking him to become his coach. And how fun is it that the director switched up the ending theme to photos of the dance-off and pole dancing with Chris, and that light in Viktor's eyes at the end is just about the most heartwarming reaction ever. But perhaps the most poignant line by Viktor is how he recalls that he has been neglecting two L words for nearly 20 years: Life and Love. It's a pleasure to see Viktor go from the troubled, distant, lonesome man who has lost motivation in life, hiding behind his flirty, jovial facade, fill that empty void in him through being by Yuuri's side. Again, a sign of a healthy, mutual relationship.
Finally, the relationship between Viktor and Yuuri is developed organically yet fabulously, from Yuuri idolizing Viktor, learning to trust him, standing up against him, at time rebelling, and then standing on equal grounds. Their love for each other can be seen through the animation, the sparkle in the eyes, their gestures, and again, that shows the importance of animation and directing. I am not as devastated as I thought I would be that Yuuri did not win gold in the end, because I believe it sets stage for a second season. I started this show thinking I can fully be satisfied with one season, and these 12 episodes give more character growth and exposition than you would get in 200 episodes of some shounen anime, but I would be ecstatic for a second season, OVAs, or a movie (or all) with Viktor and Yuuri both returning as competitors, Yurio undergoing puberty and overcoming changes in his body as a competitor, an important issue raised in the first season, more insight into his burgeoning friendship with Kazakhstan skater Otabek Altin, and some more development for the rest of the skaters who did not get much air time because all the characters are so much fun and I especially love their dynamic together.
Some other things to note is that the show makes seamless references to 2016 technologies and social media including Instagram and Yuuri gaining Viktor's attention through a Youtube video of his performance of his idol's routine "Stay With Me" which is probably the best animated routine in the show. I was thrilled that we get a duet version with Yuuri and Viktor in Episdode 12's ending credits, as if Sayo Yamamoto was granting everyone's wish to see the pair skate together.
The music for this show is amazing, as expected from a figure skating show, from the iconic "Yuri on Ice" piece for Yuuri's free skate routine to that catchy rap piece for American skater Leo de la Iglesia's short routine "Still Alive." The opening theme of the show, "History Maker" by Dean Fujioka is so fun and the best OP of the year in my mind. Plus, Dean Fujioka, also an actor, is really hot if you didn't know, and fluent in English. I don't think there has been a figure skate choreography anime OP ever before, and I love how the anime switches up the OP each week to make it more colorful--again the attention to the details. I never want to fast forward through the OP. And the ending theme, "You Only Live Once" by Wataru Hatano, is almost as catchy, but I do love episodes where they forgo the ending all together for more air time, such as Yuuri's press conference in Episode 5 (by the way I love that this anime does not forget earlier jokes and Viktor does end up buying Yuuri a whole new suit later after declaring he wants to burn the unfashionable tie), or the Episode 10 banquet scene, or Episode 12's duet exhibition to "Stay With Me."
I think this opening captures the show so well. These characters really were born to make history.