Why was Yuri!!! On Ice so ubiquitous?

[This is neither an analysis, review, or critic of Yuri!! On Ice. This is simply a passing thought as to why was the show popular with a none anime watching audience when compared to the standard attention grabbing shows. None of this should be taken as researched analysis. This is a casual post.]

 

Occasionally I dip my toes back into the world of anime. My hay-day in the fandom was more than 4 years ago but I still try and look around at what is coming out every now and then. Last year, particularly on Twitter, I kept hearing so much about this random anime focused on ice skating of all things. What I found strange was not that a show about ice skating was popular, but that I was hearing about it from people I never usually hear talking about anime. And it was for a show about ice skating!?

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I understand that there is certainly a market for sports anime, I myself particularly loved the first season of Haikyuu when it came out and I’m not even interested in volleyball. So the idea of a sports anime getting a lot of attention was certainly not out of my range of comprehension. But then I sat and compared the idea of it to other shows I had heard a similar amount of buzz about from the same audience. Attack on Titan, Sword Art Online, One Punch Man. Mostly shonen action orientated shows with well animated moments, at least one or two strong characters, and maybe some humour mixed in. At the time I was too busy to take the time to stop and watch something subtitled. Meaning I knew that the few screenshots I saw and the occasional mention I heard was going to be the extent of my experience. By the time this winter break rolled around the show had been dubbed by Funimation, and I could easily have the show playing on a second screen while working, taking breaks to watch the more action orientated and heavily animated scenes. I have no real preference for dubbed or subbed, it more depends on how busy I am at the time, how old the show is, and how desperate I am to see it.

In the end I watched all 12 episodes in a single day and I still can’t answer why it was so popular with a typically none anime viewing public.

My suspicions were confirmed by the fact that it was indeed beautifully animated in sequences. Particularly in how fluid and detailed the characters skating routines were. Though at times their sense of proportion compared to their surroundings was a little questionable to say the least. Characters were well defined to the point that I can still remember their names (helped by the fact that two characters share a name) and with elements of comedy thrown in frequently. On the surface it fit everything I expected from a ‘breaking mainstream’ show. But even having seen it I can’t figure out why it was so popular. Many may jump to the fact that I did finish the show in a single day as proof that the show was compelling and highly entertaining. In reality, I kept it on due to the fact that I needed something to accompany me while I worked, and I immediately put something else on as soon as it ended.

The show revolves around a 23-year-old Japanese ice skater, Yuri Katsuki, returns home after a defeat in the Grand Prix Final. Conflicted over weather or not he should continue skating, he goes to his childhood skating rink and preforms a routine by his idol for his childhood friend. The routine is secretly recorded by his friend’s children and becomes viral online, catching the attention of Yuri’s idol, the Russian skater Victor Nikiforov. Yuri suddenly finds Victor moving in with him and becoming his coach. Re-inspiring Yuri’s drive to win the Grand Prix and in competition with other skaters like Yuri Plisetsky.

Admittedly, the opening 3 episodes are incredibly strong and compelling. Standing strong enough to be a self-contained short series about a down on his luck skater finding his inspiration again. But in the long run, the show becomes predictable in its plot points as it takes on the standard tournament style narrative from about episode 5 onwards. While tournament arcs in shows can be fun and exciting for the viewer, see how My Hero Academia handled it in it’s second season, being a shows entire main plot can become tedious and heavily predictable. With the exception of the amazing animation, and the admittedly addictive opening theme, History Maker. The shows primary appeal seems to hinge entirely on the relationship between Yuri and Viktor, and how the show handles a same-sex relationship.

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Overly homo-erotic in tone at times, Yuri and Viktor’s relationship is heavily sexualised in nature given their profession. Viktor’s introduction to Yuri in itself is heavily explicit, given they meet in Yuri’s family spa while Viktor is completely naked baring no shame in his body. The music and routine Viktor gives Yuri is explicit in nature being designed to bring out Yuri’s sexual nature, and put it on full display on the ice. Even beyond that the pair embrace each other in triumphant moments as though they were lovers, even to the point of the infamous ‘kiss’ in episode 7. The pair promise each other that they work together for as long as they can, with the scene playing out as though it was an engagement complete with matching rings. Leading to an admittedly funny and open scene where Yuri’s friend congratulates them both on their engagement.

While the idea that Yuri!!! On Ice managed to break into the none anime consuming mainstream still baffles me. The show stands relatively strong on the strength of it’s animation, characters and relationships above it’s story. An enjoyable though not especially deep show, that works well for binge watching.

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