The biggest mistake people make when thinking of Yuri on Ice is that it’s “Yaoi on Fire.” That is a complete misunderstanding of what Yuri on Ice is all about. There is indeed some fanservice that slants in the yaoi direction, if that’s what you’re looking for. But in reality, Yuri on Ice is actually a solid sports anime that captures the world of figure skating nearly perfectly.
What’s more accurate to call Yuri on Ice is “Hetalia on Ice.” That’s what this show is. You’ve got a whole bunch of characters who are caricatures of their home country, and they compete in figure skating as if they were the very nations there personified on ice. Yuri Katsuki, the main character, is the uptight Japan; Yuri Plisetsky, his rival, is the cold-hearted, bitter Russia; Jean-Jacques Leroy is the flamboyant Canadian. In reality, Yuri on Ice isn’t about a bunch of attractive men ending up in situations where they’re almost kissing each other; no, this show is basically the sequel to Hetalia.
Victor Nikiforov, the Russian skater who becomes the main Yuri’s coach, is a lovable teddy bear of a character. He’s voiced by the same voice actor who did Russia in Hetalia, with the same exact accent. If you’re looking for yaoi, yes, you can find it there; but if you’re looking for humor or even a story of redemption, you can find it in Victor. He’s my favorite character from the series, not because he comes off as Yuri’s lover, but because he seems to always have his head on straight even while Yuri’s losing his.
The story follows Yuri Katsuki as he goes from finishing last at the Grand Prix, through training with Victor, his rivalry with the other Yuri (which makes me wonder why they just had to name two characters the same), the building of his routine, and then a lot – and I mean, a lot – of figure skating. Along the way, we meet all the other skaters, many of whom have fun personalities and backstories.
Now, this is one part where Yuri on Ice tries too hard to be realistic. You may be wondering, why is Yuri doing the same routine over and over and over again? That’s because in real-life figure skating, that’s what they do. They don’t come up with new routines every meet they go to; they do the same one and try to perfect it. If you watched the Summer Olympics, you may have seen gymnast Simone Biles win a ton of gold medals, all by doing the exact same thing over and over again. It’s a fair criticism of the sport; an athlete need only perfect one skill in order to win. But in the case of Yuri on Ice, it’s realistic. Now, does that make for good TV? You be the judge; I think it worked well enough.
The skating animation is beautiful; you won’t find another sports anime that captures a sport on film so perfectly. The characters are likable, although some of them are forgettable. The show marginalizes female characters to the extreme; one woman character is relegated to being simply the prize for one of the skaters to shoot for. This is not a show for feminists. Nor is it a show for the man-man-man-man-manly man. But if you’re in touch with your feelings, and you can appreciate the beauty of a free skate, it’s more up your alley.
Yuri on Ice won’t go down as my favorite show that first aired in 2016; Re:Zero still wins by far. But Yuri on Ice is a pleasant surprise for me. I never expected it to warm my heart the way it did. It captured the sport of figure skating perfectly, so much that you’ll want to watch the Olympics non-stop after seeing it. I can truthfully tell you my expectations were low. But like another show that won me over a year ago around the time of the Super Bowl – Shangri-La – Yuri on Ice has won a new fan. If you can put aside the yaoi undertones and just appreciate it as a sports anime, then you’re going to like it. If figure skating still used a 6.0-scoring style, I’d give it a 5.9!
Overall rating (out of four stars): ***1/2