Yuri!!! On Ice

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There’s plenty of sports related anime and manga out there — baseball, basketball, volleyball, swimming, and football. Now you can add ice skating to that list. Yuri!!! On Ice brings warmth and art to this cool, winter sport.

Yuri Katsuki, after whom the show is named for, is struggling with his life following a disastrous exit in the Grand Prix of ice skating. Returning home to the fictional city of Hasetsu in Kyushu, Yuri revisits his home rink. His friend, Yuko Nishigori, who works at the local rink, watches his flawless recital of a performance by Yuri’s hero, the legendary Russian skater, Victor Nikiforov. However, the video of Yuri is leaked onto the Internet and Victor is captivated by it. Travelling to Japan, Victor surprises Yuri with the proposal of becoming his coach to help him achieve his goals. And thus begins Yuri’s travel to the top.

The story of ice skating might seem benign at first, but there are mature themes within the series, touching on mental health and love. Yuri suffers from anxiety, tying in from the loss of his pet dog along with the fear of failure and turns to overeating. Victor, with his lack of experience, is unable to handle Yuri when he breaks down, but learns that his support is what Yuri is really looking for. Yuri Plisetski (affectionately dubbed Yurio to differentiate between the two) retains a bad boy image, as a punk, but deep down, he too has his own demons. As the series progresses, we learn more about the anguish in Yurio’s mind surrounding his quest to achieve greatness, and over the control of his anger, especially upon seeing the attention Victor pays Yuri. Even the lesser characters contribute with their own quirks and emotions.

Of course, there’s more than just the two Yuri’s and Victor. Skaters from all over the world interpolate themselves into the storyline, each bringing their own attitudes and uniqueness to the rink. Phichit Chulanont from Thailand, Guang-Hong Ji from China, Christophe Giacometti from Switzerland, Seung Gil Lee of South Korea and Canada’s own Jean-Jacques “JJ” Leroy. JJ is an interesting selection, he’s sponsored by Cast Wheels (a play on Canadian Tire, for obvious legal reason) and is the complete opposite of what you’d expect a Canadian ice skater to be: an arrogant jerk. But, he adds variety to the list.

I love the animation; the movements on the rink (and off) are so fluid and watching the jumps, twirls and dancing makes it seem so much more real. Even the costumes worn, are detailed. MAPPA, the animation studio, worked with sporting company Chacott in designing the characters and their outfits. There’s even blog posts delving into the creative process, showing just how much work and effort goes into making Yuri!!! On Ice. Just seeing the intricate designs and the way the lights reflect off of the material gives that added touch of realism. Yuri’s hometown of Hasetsu is based on the city of Karatsu in Kyushu, an island in south-western Japan. Crunchyroll even went as far to create a video with comparison photos between the show and real life. However, I did pick up on a couple of goofs in the animation, one of which is how “JAPAN” is spelled as “JARAN” on the back of Yuri’s jacket. Yuri’s last name is also misspelled as “Katuki” instead of “Katsuki” in one of the handheld signs held by his fans in the crowd at the Rostelecom Cup. These are small and doesn’t detract at all from the show, but it made me do a quick double take.

It’s not often that the opening theme of an anime is sung completely in English. Many opening credits are usually performed in Japanese with the occasional English thrown in here and there, considering these songs are not composed specifically for the show. Dean Fujioka’s History Maker is sung beautifully in English, is completely inline with the motif of the series and flows with the abstract artwork of Yuri, Victor and Yurio skating to get you worked up for next 20 minutes. And yes, you can purchase this piece legally through iTunes. Of course, there’s the music that each character dances to, specially chosen based on their theme. The song Yuri skates to is aptly titled Yuri on Ice, a wonderful piano arrangement, it’s one that sort of pulls at the heart; for Georgi Popovich and his theme of heartbreak is A Tales of Sleeping Prince which has an upbeat tune, which counters how depressing it sounds. The selection for Agape used for Yurio’s display is one of my favourites; it’s almost haunting with its vocals. A CD with the music used in the anime goes on sale December 21st, 2016, according to the official web site.

Yuri!!! On Ice aired in Japan on October 5th, 2016, and is streamed through Crunchyroll and FUNimation; with the latter offering an English dub. As of writing, eight episodes have broadcast, which is every Wednesday. So, if you don’t mind shedding a few tears or just love seeing sports anime, I recommend it.

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