Yuri!!! On Ice – Episode 1

All right. I know nothing about figure skating — as with possibly the case of anyone who’s watching this — but if there’s one thing I can be damn sure and proud of, it’s that this premier deserves a gold medal.

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I think it’s fair to say that Yuri!!! On Ice doesn’t need further introduction after charming everyone with its jaw-dropping PV. Sure, MAPPA seems to be hiding far from the reach of my radar recently — having watched only their Shingeki no Bahamut and Zankyou no Terror titles a year or two ago — it wasn’t easy to shrug Y!!!OI off after seeing such a surprising mix of pedigree. See, we have Sayo Yamamoto, taking the role of the director, whose name and work I am not too familiar with. On the other hand, Mitsurou Kubo, whose name and work I am not familiar with, dishes out the original content. Additionally, there’s Miyamoto Kenji, whose name and work I certainly am not familiar with, takes the helm of the choreographer. While these names are unknown to me hitherto, I can’t help but be impressed and appreciate the length they’re willing to take just to produce something extraordinary. From gathering production materials in person by visiting Spain, Russia, Shanghai and wherever, to actually recruiting a real-deal figure skating professional, Kenji Miyamoto himself who I presume is Japan’s Messi of figure skating, the extra hard work and passion they’ve put into making Y!!!OI happen is definitely paying off from what I’ve seen in this first episode alone, and that’s something to be optimistic about.

Now, I’ve got a couple of good things to say about this premier. To start off, it managed to grab my interest right off the bat simply because I’m spared from the typical “zero to hero” development we normally see from shounen and or sports anime (plus we’re actually getting something that isn’t set in high-school. Hell, yes!). However, even though the starting point is different, its structure doesn’t feel all that disparate — it’s just that having a more progressed starting point puts things into a more mature perspective.

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It didn’t take that long for me to warm up to Yuuri (Toshiyuki Toyonaga), and I actually find his character really interesting. All Y!!!OI needed to tell me is that he is a talented professional who had his fair share of hardships, and is now struggling to break past a slump. Immediately, there’s a certain bond and kinship created between me and Yuuri which was achieved by a short exposition and a bit of a flashback. In a way, he is one that has already gone through the “zero to hero” road, having won the privilege of being Japan’s representative for the internationals; he can be seen as a hero for his country or his hometown regardless if he lost in a tournament.

Having such a starting point is effective in a way that we no longer need to vicariously relieve what we probably have seen countless times in an anime: destined boy goes through hurdles in order to beat the evil overlord etc., etc. Yes, there is a sense of accomplishment we get when we bear witness to their journey from start to finish, but, then again, isn’t the end product — end product being accomplishing one’s goal; establishing a hero character — the same for both Yuuri’s introduction and a “zero to hero” story? While there’s no “journey to experience” to speak of, we still have the means to relate and connect with Yuuri even though we barely know him at all. This is what I meant by a more mature perspective. Say, you’ve graduated and earned your degree — you’re now hero in a sense. But then what comes next? How far can your hard work or talent take you? Using this line of thinking and applying it to Yuuri makes it feel like I’ve known him far longer than I should have.

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Additionally, Yuuri’s fascination to Viktor Nikiforov (Junichi Suwabe) brings me back to those days when I was so into Roger Federer. I was a fat, 180+ cm high schooler (which is tall for teenage Asian standards), and I would probably still be the same if not for tennis and Federer. Federer was an inspiration in as much as Viktor is to Yuuri, though I do have to be on guard here given that… heh, well, who knows if this turns out to become an all-out BL/Yaoi sausage fest? I doubt it, however. I mean, what’s the point of hiring Kenji Matsumoto if the ice skating stuff will simply be set as a narrative support, just like how Battery used its baseball elements?

Another reason why I’m giving this first episode a thumbs up is in how it easily brought my room’s temperature down a dozen degree. Its solid and constant use of bluish hues, steely grays, and dim lightning added to the chilly atmosphere, which I feel like is one nuance that will easily be overlooked because of the barrage of sakuga we’re seeing. Yuuri’s hometown is Kyushu (which, if I recall correctly, is one of the coldest place in Japan), and the sport he plays entails being on ice. Dressing the characters on heavy garbs or animating punches of white dots to depict a snow is obviously a way to breath life to a cold atmosphere, but there’s harmony and authenticity I’m getting simply from seeing Y!!!OI‘s orchestral display of colors. In fact, the combination of blue, white, and red brings to mind a shaved ice of all things. See the images below for what I mean.

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Won’t be surprised if the visuals is actually some sort of product placement

Speaking of sakuga… Again, I know nothing about figure skating, yet I do feel like the animation and visuals nailed what the sport should look like on paper. From the twinkles and flashes of Viktor’s blade and dress, Yuuri’s shirt fluttering as he glides, to commentators punctuating every glorious spin Viktor does, each minute detail brought forth what is perhaps the hypnotic trance figure skating fanatics are in awe of. However, amidst Y!!!ON‘s flattering emulation are shots and transitions that only an anime can truly capture. An example is a cut showing Viktor’s blade spinning, and spinning, and spinning, only for the next cut to show Yuuri instead. Sequences like these are a glory to watch, as it isn’t only a display of an animator’s tour de force, but it also indicates how synced Yuuri is with Viktor rhetorically:

Short thoughts:

  • I’ve got a lot more to say about this but… whatever, I’ll just shorten it here in this section.
  • Character design is amazing… maybe with the exception of Yuuri.
  • Instagram ED is a brilliant idea. I know I mentioned this before, but shows that does something creative for their ED and or OP is something to look out for.
  • Hmmmm… makes me want to go to Hokkaido and bath in a hot spring.
  • Sensei is hawt.
  • The background art and architecture feels very much alive. Not sure what Hasetsu, Kyushu looks like, but for producers who went all the way to Europe to take pictures for reference materials, I’m led to believe they did the same with Yuuri’s town.
  • DOGS. There are DOGS here.
  • I died when they showed us that Yuuri’s crush is married with kids. Poor guy.
  • Is it just me or the character designs are somewhat similar to Nanatsu no Taizai?

I’m glad to kick Fall 2016 off with this post.  I was deliberating whether to blog Euphonium or this, but it feels like Y!!!OI would be a far more blast to write about. However, I’m not quite sure whether I’ll be able to continue the same episodic format because of my work. Perhaps I’ll try a weekly impressions for all shows in one post instead, but we’ll see. Until then, see you next episode!

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