Yuri!!! on Ice is definitely one of the most popular anime in the Fall 2016 lineup, and it has caught the attention of anime fans and real-life figure skaters around the world. It follows the story of the 23-year old Japanese figure skater Yuri Katsuki as he tries to make it through the Grand Prix Final with the help of his idol Victor Nikiforov. The series has truly managed a lot of feats in the history of anime--something that a lot of mainstream titles, let alone a sports anime, haven’t managed to do.The series is an original story written by Mitsurou Kubo (Moteki), directed by Saya Yamamoto (Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine) and animated by Studio MAPPA. There are a lot of reasons why people are into this series, but here are five reasons why it has made such a mark in the anime industry:
Warning: Spoilers abound!
1. It is a rarity among sports anime.People have seen the increasing popularity of sports anime in the recent years following the release of Kuroko no Basket, Ace of Diamond, Yowamushi Pedal, and Haikyuu!!. However, as compared to the sports the aforementioned series have portrayed, an anime series about figure skating is close to nil, and the only other figure skating anime that comes to mind is Ginban Kaleidoscope.
When the news of a new figure skating and boys’ cheerleading anime was announced months ago, people were excited since figure skating and cheerleading are rare in the field of sports anime, which is dominated by ball sports. Unlike the adaptational letdown that is Cheer Danshi!, this figure skating anime actually managed to deliver.
Though it wasn’t depicted in the same way as other shounen series, Yuri!!! on Ice is definitely a sports anime. 98 percent of its screen time is dedicated to the sport, and while it features a carefully crafted queer romance, its focus remains on the sport and the people who perform it.
2. The series’ attention to detail is truly astounding.
One of the most eye-catching things about Yuri!!! on Ice aside from its beautiful animation is how the actual figure skating is depicted. Real-life skaters have commented on the programs appearing on the show, praising its unique skating styles and accuracy with real-life figure skating. Such a thing isn’t surprising, with Kenji Miyamoto (a former ice skater and now a choreographer who has worked with the likes of champion skater Yuzuru Hanyu) working on it. Kubo-sensei even chronicled the hard work that Miyamoto has done on her Twitter, citing that they even filmed the choreography for 8 hours.
Aside from its choreography and its costumes that were designed by the sportswear brand Chacott, the music choices in the show were also meaningful, as seen in “Stay Close to Me,” Victor’s award-winning program and also the one that led to Victor’s decision to coach Yuri. The lyrics talks about a love between two men--wherein one found love unexpectedly, has struggled and has decided to be with the love of his life in the end. With Victor traveling to Japan after seeing Yuri’s viral video, he sets himself on the path of becoming the protagonist of the story. And if the pair skating (using the same song, no less!) that Victor and Yuri did in the last episode was any indication, it looks like the love story depicted in this song has a happy ending.
The same thing also happened with the two programs that Victor has done for both Yurio and Yuri. Agape is about unconditional love, while Eros talks about the story of a maiden who has been swept on her feet by another man and was cast away. When Episode 10 premiered, several fan theories have appeared with most of them saying that Yuri is the playboy in Eros while Victor is the maiden. Meanwhile, others have also added that Agape can also be a depiction of Victor’s unconditional love for Yuri, because after falling for him on the night of the banquet (the same one where a very drunk Yuri asked Victor to become his coach) and being rejected the following day (as seen in Episode 1), he still decided to go to Hasetsu and become his coach.
The series’ attention to detail also extends to its background images and sceneries, where its accurate depiction of real-world settings have set some fans to do fan pilgrimages. In fact, the depiction is so accurate that fans were even able to speculate the exact place in Barcelona where Victor offered Yuri ‘something round and golden’ based on the next episode preview alone. And hilariously enough, even pole dancers reacted on the ending sequence of the tenth episode, praising its accurate depiction of pole dancing moves.
3. The characters were inspired by real-life skaters.
Just like a lot of media nowadays, Yuri!!! on Ice characters were inspired by a lot of professional skaters. The main character at first glance can be said to have been based on Yuzuru Hanyu, the current face of the Japanese ice skating world. But as more things about Yuri is revealed, fans have concluded that Yuri’s skating style was based on Daisuke Takahashi while his story and personality were based on Tatsuki Machida.
The basis for Victor’s character is the most obvious one since there’s only one guy in the world of male figure skating who has a legendary status: the Russian ice skater Evgeni Plushenko. The similarities are obvious as well: both are Russians, both are serious when it comes to ice skating, both have quite similar personalities (though Victor is arguably more outgoing than him) and both love Japan. Victor’s looks, however, was based on American actor John Cameron Mitchell. On the other hand, other characters that were said to have been based on real-life skaters include Phichit Chulanont (based on the Filipino skater Michael Christian Martinez), Leo De Iglesia (Jason Brown) and Yuri Plisetsky (Yulia Lipnitskaya), among many others.
4. It is popular among world-class figure skaters.
Yuri!!! on Ice definitely has the right elements to become a smash hit online: it is a rare sports anime about competitive figure skating, it has a cast of well-rounded characters with believable motivations and flaws, and it also depicts a beautifully portrayed love story between two men, something that hasn’t been done before outside of official BL shows. But while the fact that it’s a hit among anime fans is an absolute no brainer, it has also been a surprise hit among professional figure skaters.
In fact, she’s such a huge fan of the series that Mitsurou Kubo even drew a picture of her and Victor for her birthday. She has also been called as the “Queen of the YoI fandom” multiple times on social media. She even received a Victor and Yuri doll from a fan in one of her performances, and as expected, she was very thrilled.
“I am very honored that the production team has taken some inspiration not just from me, but from the skating world. There are so many details that pop up that wouldn’t mean anything to a casual skating fan, but to us as skaters who actually lived it, you can see so much respect for our world and what we do through the animations and story lines. It definitely feels like a very knowledgeable and loving representation of the skating world.”Kazakhstan’s champion skater Denis Ten is also a fan of the series, and he’s thrilled upon discovering that Otabek Altin, a character from the series, is based on him. He even calls Otabek as his “alter ego” and was amused by the fact that Otabek’s hairstyle was a throwback to his eighteen-year-old hairdo and one of Otabek’s scenes in the series looks a lot like one of his old photos.
A man named Billy Milligan had 24 different personalities.— Denis Ten (@Tenis_Den) December 17, 2016
I, now, have 2 alter-egos.
Denis Ted; Otabek.
Which one to choose? What's next? pic.twitter.com/GpwUGZ2yBW
Other figure skaters who were known to watch the show include American skater Ashley Wagner, Latvian skater Deniss Vasiljevs and his coach, former skating champion Stephane Lambiel. Japanese skater Masato Kimura even danced to its opening song, History Maker.
5. It is the first non-BL anime that made a queer ship canon.
The existence of male-to-male romance in anime is not rare in Japan, with the presence of the Boys’ Love genre as well as the popularity of BL doujinshi and other fanworks based on mainstream series. And among non-BL works, one of the most popular titles among fujoshi are sports anime.
Sports anime have the reputation of being ‘gay.’ Such a notion cannot be helped since sports anime are an inevitable fujoshi fodder, with sports teams being composed of passionate, physically fit and usually good-looking men. But of course, with most of the sports anime being shounen manga adaptations, hopes of having queer relationships can only happen in fanon.
The appearance of the swimming anime Free! in 2013 was the closest thing to having that dream fulfilled. Free! depicted the relationships between the characters differently from most sports anime, but as expected, it only ended up to what other people called as ‘queerbaiting.’ In fact, in the past few years, fujoshi have thought that nothing can ‘outgay’ Free! among its fellow non-BL anime. So when Yuri!! on Ice premiered, fans were blown away.
When the first episode premiered, fans thought that it will be like its predecessor Free!. However, with the succeeding episodes, the romantic and sexual tension between its two main characters became more and more apparent that people who were insisting that there’s nothing going on between Yuri and Victor cannot deny it anymore. And when Episode 7 premiered, the fandom exploded. The reason? The kiss that Victor gave Yuri in front of the audience as a surprise.
Episode 10 definitely cemented its place as a “history maker” in anime when Yuri and Victor got themselves a pair of rings (in a church at Barcelona with a choir, to boot!), which practically screamed that they just got engaged.
A kiss? An engagement? Between two men in a non-BL sports anime? No series has done that before, and yet Yuri!!! on Ice managed to do it--and it has done it well.
One of the factors which made the natural progression of Yuri and Victor’s relationship such a pleasure to watch is the lack of the stereotypical BL cliches. There was no issue about queer relationships; it just depicted a tale about two people falling in love regardless of gender. To quote Mitsurou Kubo’s tweet:
“No matter what real people think about this anime, within its world no one is ever going to be discriminated against because of what they like. And that is something I will always protect.”
Translation by zelinxia
With its LGBT themes and depiction of the world where queer athletes are judged for their abilities without bias, the show has definitely made a name for itself and has opened new doors for anime and figure skating enthusiasts. And with the hint of the second season in mind, fans are expecting it to make history once more.
P.S. Yuri!!! on Ice made history once again with its mind-blowing DVD & BD sales.... It sold 50,808 volumes on its first week alone, leaving the sales of all Kyoto Animation's best sellers in the dust. And with the way it's going, it might even become the Best Selling Anime of 2016 behind Love Live! Sunshine, an already established franchise. History indeed!
ETA: Thanks to Reddit user i_hate_shitposting for correcting the article.