[Spoiler-infested waters. Swim at your own risk.]
Can you hear my heartbeat? No. Because I died at the hands of Yuri!!! on Ice. And I’m completely okay with that. It doesn’t matter how you arrived at the skating rink in Hasetsu. Don’t think that certified otakus were more prepared than you because they’re used to falling down the wondrous rabbit hole of anime. Nyet. Nobody knew a Yuri!!! on Ice train could hit until it hit. Not even Crunchyroll could see this coming.
Yuuri Katsuki had never dared to dream.
Even while living in a loving home, Yuuri felt alienated from his surroundings, practicing ice skating and ballet for hours on end to chase away the numbing pangs of anxiety. It wasn’t until he found himself—almost by accident—losing at the Grand Prix of Figure Skating that he realized winning was something he had subconsciously desired.
Destroyed and humiliated, figure skating ceases to be an outlet for Yuuri and instead becomes a source of anxiety in and of itself. Yuuri retires from figure skating and returns to his hometown, quickly losing his shape and becoming complacent. Yet, his devastation isn’t enough to weaken his muscle memory as Yuuri finds himself skating to his idol Victor Nikiforov in what he thinks is a private session meant to impress his childhood friend Yuko.
The unthinkable happens when Yuko’s daughters record Yuuri’s performance and post it online.
The Internet works its magic, and Victor himself sees the perfect homage. This propels him to fly to Japan to offer to take on Yuuri as his student. Victor’s decision to coach Yuuri serves as a needed break in Victor’s career and as the jumpstart for Yuuri’s journey to self-esteem. Yuri Plisetsky, a 15-year-old Russian skater profiling as Victor’s successor, follows Vitya to Japan to ensure he does good on his word and choreographs his senior debut.
From here on out, the anime becomes a series of figure skate offs where both Yuris have to prove their worth, both to each other and to the rest of the competitors in the multiple international championships they attend. This is also where the anime could have failed, had it not known how to play its cards in competition. To everyone’s surprise, what promised to be just another Yaoi anime turned into a perfectly executed figure skating show that has been praised by a plethora of professional ice skaters. A feat as impressive as Vitya’s iconic quad flip.
But what makes Yuri!!! on Ice so iconic?
While it is true that its attention to detail made it incredibly realistic, I think what really sets Yuri apart is the humanity of its characters. Writer Mitsurō Kubo took his time with each competitor, giving them a simple yet grabbing backstory that makes you feel for each performance. Never did we watch a free skate that was not emotionally charged to the max. Even eternally cavalier King JJ eventually succumbs to uncertainty to give us the most heart-wrenching scene in the show (IMO). How could one not get emotional over the crowd crying and singing along to JJ’s song as he continued to miss or downgrade all of his jumps?
Whether the decision to have Yuuri only win silver was to set the show up for a second season or not, the truth is all viewers felt like it was the right move. Yuuri was a great performer, but his fluctuating confidence cost him a lot of errors. It was simply not realistic that he would beat the Russian fairy, Yuri Plisetsky.
The breathtaking charge of the finale is that we know what “gold” means for each character.
Yurio needed the actual gold to prove to himself that he wasn’t going to always be second to Victor. Yuuri needed the earn a spot on the podium, no matter which, to prove to himself that gold was attainable because he was a deserving candidate. In other words, Yuuri’s true gold was the aforementioned self-esteem. And Victor? Vitya needed his pupils to achieve greatness so he could fall in love with skating once again. By the time the last skate hits the ground, all characters got what they needed, and maybe, deep down, even what they wanted.
Yuri!!! on Ice has brought back fading anime fans, has conquered new ones, and has reasserted diehard fans’ undying love for the art. Some might feel alienated from the anime at first because it looks like just another kinky Yaoi or because it’s a figure skating show. I will say, while the show does wear those masks from time to time, it is at its core a story of overcoming mental roadblocks and breaking free of the prison of our own insecurities. It does so through struggle, hard work, and absolutely not through cheesy or unrealistic means.