Yuri on Ice is one of the most compelling stories I’ve ever watched in anime. The unmatched passion put into the show by its director/creator, Sayo Yamamoto, can be seen in every aspect of the show. The main romance is amazing and absolutely deserves a second season to be fleshed out more. The same can be said for the rest of the cast. This is one of the most ambitious shows in the entire medium, so here’s how that ambition nearly killed it.
The start of Yuri on Ice focuses heavily on Yuri’s anxiety. The failure he suffered at the last Grand Prix Final left him utterly defeated. He’s embarrassed after the poor end to a season and minutes into the first episode we see him sobbing in a bathroom stall. His anxiety isn’t at all new though. It’s made apparent almost immediately that he’s been struggling with his mental health for years, the focus of which being his performance anxiety, which is what caused his big loss at the Grand Prix.
This anxiety is, strangely enough, part of the reason Yuri is such a good skater. For most of his life, he would skate as a way to cope with this anxiety, often practicing for hours. His childhood crush, Yuuko, tells Yuri that she’d expected him to be depressed after his big loss. He replies that he was at first, but started to deal with it by copying one of Victor’s old performances . He continues, saying “During the years I was gone, I tried to ignore a lot of things by focusing on skating”. This is further supported by his sister and ballet instructor, who both tell Victor that Yuri often practices whenever he feels anxious or overwhelmed. Because skating is his way of coping, Yuri has spent thousands of hours practicing over the course of years and he can skate at the absolute top-level of his field. The one thing holding him back and causing results like his recent flop being his performance anxiety. Though he has the skill necessary to win events, he doesn’t have the mental strength to capitalize on this, which is where Victor comes in.
Victor is Yuri’s hero. Yuri’s covered his room with posters of the champion and got a nearly identical poodle which he named after him. Yuri sees him as a god among men and the earlier parts of the series makes sure we know this. The very first scene of the show is Yuri describing how Victor constantly surprises him. For the first episode, nearly every single scene with Victor shows him through an unrealistic lense of success. He’s only really shown on TV, being flocked by fans, or winning a competition.
The first time we see the two alone, Yuri sprinted through the house, literally knocking down a table in the process just upon hearing he was visiting. His frantic running is interlaced with sexualized shots of Victor entering the hot springs, and his greeting to Yuri is just as dramatized. He’s portrayed as cool and attractive to show Yuri’s incredible respect for him, and it establishes their initial relationship well. Though they’ve been performing on the same stage for years, Yuri doesn’t believe that they’re on the same level. He’s in denial that Victor would coach him. Victor is in a completely different world, and Yuri hasn’t yet seen him as another person, but more as an unreachable idol. Though Victor initially makes many attempts to get Yuri to open up, they’re all shot down without second thought. This is the anchor for their romantic relationship moving forward. Victor must break down the walls between him and Yuri, building his confidence and shaping him into a stronger person in the process.
In episode 3, Victor rhetorically asks Yuri why he performs poorly despite having the skill necessary to dominate in competition, the answer being his lack of confidence. Victor follows this up with saying it’s his job to instill that confidence within Yuri. Victor isn’t supposed to just be a coach. He’s a partner who must work on Yuri not just as a skater but a person as well. This is why their relationship works so well. Victor needs to coach Yuri mentally more than physically, and to do that, he needs to understand and connect with him, which is already part of building a healthy relationship.
One of the most important scenes for Yuri and his relationship with Victor happens in episode 4 where Victor takes him on a pseudo date. Though hesitant at first, Yuri starts to tell Victor a story. He and a friend were both in a hospital to support someone when she went to hug him, which he responded to by physically pushing her away. Victor starts to ask questions and Yuri slowly opens up more to him, starting to talk about his friends and family. He always felt comfortable with his family in Hasetsu because they trusted that he was strong and could keep growing as a person on his own, they didn’t assume he needed their help for everything. When Victor asks him what he should be to him in terms of support, he responds by saying to stay the same. He always looked up to Victor and found it difficult to approach him because he was scared. Now, he’s slowly started to realize that he’s comfortable being friends with him. “When I open up, Victor meets me where I am… I shouldn’t be afraid to open up more”. The second part of the quote being immediately after when he makes a big decision about his next season’s choreography. Not only has this one conversation between them solidified them as more than just skater and coach, it’s helped Yuri see the importance of having confidence and putting himself out there in all aspects of his life. This is maybe the best part about their relationship, being able to see Yuri improve through Victor over the course of nearly a year, completely evolving by the end of the series.
Episode 3, the episode of the competition between the two Yuri’s, is where I start having conflicting feelings about the show. Both Yurio and Yuri make great progress and development here, highlighted by an exceptional training montage. Yuri first realizes that eros, the theme Victor assigned him, doesn’t necessarily require a focus on sex. He has no sexual experience and is initially clueless as to how to perform the piece. However, he realizes that Victor is looking less for the idea of sexuality, and more the feeling of attraction itself. Instead of being tunnel-visioned on sex, Yuri imagines his favorite food, describing the loss of reason and self-control that comes with hunger. With this, he understands Victor’s first lesson, finding good inspiration. It’s the entire reason Victor took a break from professional skating to coach Yuri, he was out of inspiration for his own career and found it elsewhere. This part of the arc does wonders showing us Victor’s effect on Yuri, but the next part of his evolution is even more influential.
After finding Victor’s ambiguous costume from a prior season, Yuri gets an idea. Talking with Yuuko’s husband, he tells the story he saw in Victor’s performance of his eros choreography, that of a playboy seducing the most beautiful bachelorette in a town before casting her aside and looking for someone new. They both agree that he just doesn’t fit the role of the playboy. Victor, recalling his prior ambiguity, makes Yuri realize that he can more easily identify with a girl than the playboy. The scene then cuts to Yuri asking Minako, his ballet instructor, for special training, which we can assume is teaching him to skate femininely.
While up to this point this was fine, the show finds the need to need to shoehorn explanations for this in the middle of the performance. Some may not have picked up at first what Yuri’s “special training” was about, but the show’s explanation was a flashback in the middle of his performance asking to be taught to “move in feminine ways”, even interrupting the music just for a few second flashback. This was unnecessary and interrupted an otherwise great scene for Yuri’s development. Absolutely anything else would’ve been a better way of handling the explanation, and this disregard for the delicacy of climactic moments sadly doesn’t end here.
If it was only a one-off thing it would be fine, but Yurio’s performance suffers from the same mistake only minutes later. Yurio makes a similar realization while reflecting to himself under a waterfall with Yuri, that his grandfather is the closest to agape he can think ofl. The gentle, unwavering affection he has for his grandfather is his only understanding of love, and a huge part of his development throughout the rest of the series is finding love in the rest of his life so that he may incorporate it back into his performances.
Yurio’s thoughts during his performance and his disappointment at the end for “not giving his grandfather the performance he wanted” is more than enough to explain the significance of his grandfather, something that was already alluded to. However, Yuri not only comments on Yurio’s unusual vulnerability during the waterfall scene where Yurio is thinking about his grandfather but while thinking about him being an “ever-evolving monster” realizes that “oh, that’s where he changed” along with another intrusive flashback to the waterfall in the middle of his performance, again interrupting the music, all of this coming minutes after it’s already been made clear to the audience. Again, anything would’ve been better than this. The main character realizing something well after the viewer is already a problem, but interrupting a climactic and important scene was possibly the worst place to do so.
Episode 5 is where some of the worst problems start to arise. Each episode from here on out features tons of skating performances of all the side characters. This sounds fine at first, but ends up completely detracting from the main plot of Victor and the two Yuris. Suddenly, we’re introduced to an overwhelming amount of side-characters. The show has gone from 3 main characters and a small but strong supporting cast to 2 mains and about 30 side-characters.Couldn’t find a good one from the show so here’s a bit of fanart by Ichigo Kurosaki
This ends up taking so much away from the main aspects of the show and is maybe its worst flaw. While Yamamoto had originally planned for a 24 episode show, she was cut to 12 episodes after already having planned out everything. While this would normally either mean only covering half of the plot and leaving the rest of the content for a second season or cutting a ton of less important content and characters, she was unsatisfied with the idea of compromising on her work. This was her passion project, everything was perfect in her head and she had no intention of leaving part of her vision up to chance. Her solution was to include all of her original planned content but squeezing it all into half of the episode-count. The result of all this was 30 characters, 2 performances from the majority of them, and as much development as they could possibly get squeezed into only 7 episodes, leaving only scraps of time for the main characters. This leaves Victor and Yuri horribly undeveloped with way too little screen-time, essentially none for Yurio.
In episode 7, well into the main tournament of the series, the problems mentioned earlier come back to haunt it. Some of the best scenes in the show were nearly ruined by the overambition of the staff. An incredibly important scene for Yuri’s development shows him destroyed by anxiety, but only for literal seconds before moving on to other skaters, seemingly at random. Every different skater has a different story and program that portrays wildly varying emotions, but they’re all thrown next to each other. While occasionally this works well and it certainly does wonders for the watchability of some of the slower episodes plot-wise, not every unique set of performances just happens to fit in with the main plotline.
One of the most emotionally impactful scenes in the entire show, encapsulating Yuri’s anxiety, his relationship with Victor, and his journey as a skater all in one scene comes up mid competition. We’re shocked as the viewers by not only Victor’s crazy attempt to help Yuri through his worriedness but Yuri’s heart-wrenching response. He cries, screaming about what he wants Victor to be to him. Only seconds later, the show cuts to the goofy goth guy’s performance intentionally portrayed as a comedy scene. I’m not exaggerating, the show went from one of the most important and emotionally impactful lines in the entire show to a comedy scene with zero consideration of its effect on the main plot.
Disregard for the importance of these climactic moments seems to be a big theme. The majority of skating programs in the show are used multiple times. The big boy performance itself, “Yuri on Ice” is skated 5 or 6 separate times in full and loses most of its weight by its final appearance in the last episode. Yuri Plisetski is the opposite side of this coin, having his programs spread out and showing insane improvement between each occurrence, whereas Yuri’s 2 programs need to appear for every single one of the 4 different competitions. Big moments are handled sloppily as they’re haphazardly squished between the rest of the characters’ performances, which themselves often play like filler. The impact lost because of the complete disregard for the importance of each scene gets really frustrating, and consequentially makes the main plot difficult to get invested in.
One of the best yet sadly underdeveloped aspects of the show is Yuri Plisetski. Though episodes 1-3 treated him like a main character, he ends up barely more developed than any of the other side-characters by the end. As mentioned earlier, the show is filled with good but unnecessary content that’s completely unrelated to our 3 main characters, leaving Yurio especially neglected despite being possibly the best character in the whole show. He’s a strong 15-year-old who has a lot of experience for his age, landing quads yet being confident enough to win his last year at the Junior World Series without them. He’s disconnected from his emotions and aggressive towards others, pushing away many who would otherwise likely befriend him. This is explored well for a few select episodes, showing his gradual opening up to Yuuko, Otabek, and even Victor and Yuri to a point. However, most episodes don’t even feature him and his total screen time is embarrassingly low.
“Yuri Plisetski had the unforgettable eyes of a soldier”. Yurio is confident and strong, but too young to effectively deal with the more complicated aspects of his emotions. He wants to appear just as competent as he knows he is, but he’s scared to let others get too close. However much this has to do with the complete absence of both his parents is unaddressed. Regardless, he’s scared of opening up and must learn to do so to build the expression and emotion in his performances. Through finding people to connect with, during competition and off the ice, Yurio discovers that the love he once only related to his grandfather can be found nearly anywhere, and he becomes stronger through the realization of this love. His absolutely incredible final performance is the culmination of all this (spoilers for which ahead).
After being told Yuri Katsuki might retire, he’s able to put on the most emotional performance of the show, upset that Yuri thinks win gold once and then retire. Though Yuri was set to win the Grand Prix, Yurio became enraged and put on a world-record performance to just barely beat out Yuri. His coach and ballet instructor don’t comment on his skill after this, but his strength which they relate entirely to the love he’s come to develop over the last year. By opening up to others and coming to a greater understanding of love, both Yuri’s are able to put on the best performances of their entire careers, an amazing ending to the series.
Nearly all of the problems in Yuri on Ice come down to its overambition and disregard for anything standing in the way of a complete realization of Sayo Yamamoto’s vision. While a hypothetical 24 episode Yuri on Ice would’ve been nearly perfect, things can’t always turn out as intended. Though there are plans for either a movie or a season 2, they can’t possibly mend the damage done to the original. Either way, the show is still amazing. Despite all I’ve said about it, it’s one of my absolute favorite anime and I don’t expect to ever lose that love for it.