Wait! Don’t take out the pitchforks yet!
I realize I’m walking on thin ice (sorry) with this one so let me break that ice (sorry) by saying I really enjoyed Yuri on Ice on the whole. Its cast is vibrant and its depiction of a same-sex relationship continues to be a hot topic in the anime community for good reason. These are the elements that kept me watching. But unfortunately I can’t say the same for its figure skating.
Look, I’m not a sports person. I tend to stay clear of sports anime. When I do poke my head into the genre it needs to sell me on its weapon of choice, usually by making me care about characters who in turn care about the sport.
But figure skating requires a more deft hand. It’s almost better classified as a physical art rather than a sport. Skaters are really actors, performing a story or emotional nuance through their motions. It just so happens to require physical exertion beyond typical acting. Because of this, depicting figure skating has a hefty animation burden, one that may be out of the reach of a TV anime to pull off properly.
That’s the crux of my issue with Yuri on Ice: to my untrained eye it all looks the same. The series tries to convey what makes each routine unique but the animation fails to convey any sense of said uniqueness, let alone the grand stories spoken of in narration. To someone like me the sport comes across as little more than a set of spins and sways set to music; I have no way to measure how one performance stacks up to another.
If the skating happened in focused bursts this would be less of a problem but the characters never stop skating. After the first few episodes you end up in a string of competitions that span the entire series consisting of one skating sequence after another. Judges give out scores that seem somewhat arbitrary unless you understand the sport and it stops being engaging quickly. It’s the equivalent of being the only person at the bar who doesn’t jump out of their seat when a team makes a winning play.
This is also the feeling I got when characters had big emotional responses to what was happening on the ice. It’s the type of dissonance that would have turned me off of the show entirely if I hadn’t bought into its cast already. Sure, the narration does its best to keep you in the loop but having something explained to you has far less impact that a guttural reaction in the moment, thus it’s never fun to be the odd one out at the bar.
Yet perhaps my critique is less that the figure skating all looked the same or that I was unable to fully grasp it– teaching people the entire nuance of the sport is out of the series’ scope, after all– but that so much screen time was given to it. Did we really need to see the routine of every person in every competition? The performances of the side characters could have been looped into a montage so we could focus on the core cast. There are spans in the middle of the series where they are barely developed because other competitors with little relevance to anything are hogging the spotlight. It’d be a win-win: give us more of the characters we love while cutting down on repetition.
I still enjoyed Yuri on Ice quite a bit and respect what it stands for. The heavy focus on a sport it struggled to articulate left me unfulfilled, though. When the series gets an inevitable second season I hope they opt to focus more on character moments and find new ways to express the “on ice” portions. If this happens I’ll be happy to give it the gold medal.