Are you a fan of sports? Sports that exhaust you and leave you breathless? Do you also enjoy anime? Then you have come to the right place, because this article will be dedicated to just that! A combination of thrilling movements, excitement, beauty and anime, all in one.
Do I really have to do sports?
You guessed it right, I am not big on sports. Even as a child I was never attracted to any kind of sport, except for winter sports. Specifically ski jumps and figure skating. Ski jumps are sort of national sport and the whole family always watched it. About the same time a lot of figure skating competitions aired on local TV. So I got to be entranced with it at a young age. I was a kid in the era when Johnny Weir, Brian Joubert, Stephane Lambiel and Evgeni Plushenko were at the top of the world. It’s actually funny how I got to be reunited with figure skating through anime.
Early this year, I binged all 12 episodes of Yuri!!! On Ice. And let me tell you that is some addictive crack. Honestly, I was sold the moment I saw the intro with Victor. The story focuses on Yuri Katsuki and Victor Nikiforov, a dime-a-dozen figure skater and a five times gold champion! Former one is about to retire, because he sees himself as a failure and the latter doesn’t know what to do for his next competitive season. Their main competitor is Yuri Plisetsky, first time senior, eager and determined to win his first Grand Prix finale! Together they discover their own strengths and weaknesses, becoming better versions of themselves.
To be a figure skater …
If you think dancing and skating are easy, well think again. The amount of training skaters go through is insane. It’s not just skating. It’s ballet, gymnastics, endurance training and other dance classes. Usually some Yoga and Pilates as well, as you really need those core muscles. Yuri!!! On Ice has kinda blown out of proportion and has been received with open arms by skating otaku as well as anime lovers.
It may have become popular mostly because of the relationship between the main two characters, Yuri and Victor. In reality, it explains competitive figure skating pretty well. I find it one of the most informative anime I have seen so far. The level of dedication to the sport is very obvious here and those who love it, deeply appreciate the attention to details. Even if you know nothing about skating, they explain it in detail – from points, technique to competing rules.
It’s really an underdog, first time around and it amazed a larger group of people than expected. Sports anime can be a bit too specific and let’s be honest, figure skating isn’t exactly super popular (unless you are Russian). It’s not like volleyball anime Haikyuu!! or Kuroko No Basket, a basketball related anime, which both include super popular sports.
However, the show is a sensation for viewers both versed and unversed in anime. The fact that main characters are mostly young adults grabs attention and makes more people relate. It shows not just the struggles of a young man with his anxiety, but even more importantly, his professional future. Yuri Katsuki, at the age of 23, thinks about retiring. His window for success is rapidly closing down on him. Once you stop, there’s usually no way to go back in like four years or so. Presenting this internal struggle and how it shows on the outside was very well depicted.
Can you make an individual sport worthy of anime?
Figure skating, as presented in Yuri!!! On Ice, is an individual sport, which makes it a tricky choice. Usually in anime we have team sports, making it easier to present the fears and hopes through communication between players. Furthermore, you get to see how a team dynamic works. Or how an individual prepares to battle another competitor, how to control the ego and focus. Here it’s different, because on the ice they are alone. Skaters get to repeat the same program multiple times before the final competition. Even side characters do the same routine, to the same music and it may appear boring and repetitive to the viewers. Unless you really love figure skating and after multiple viewings, you still squeal like a little girl when they land a jump. 😛
Telling a story
Every competition consists of a short and a free program. Yuri’s both routines are impressive, and have swayed many real-life skaters as well. They have publicly stated the show captures the essence of the sport exceptionally well. The villain is not someone else, some other competitor, but you yourself. Foremost you need to beat your own score and be better every time you perform. Figure skating or any dancing really, should tell a story. Anime has chosen to show us how Yuri’s emotional state changes with every performance. Another thing that may seem boring and monotonous, but it’s actually the essence of how much willpower and effort goes into one routine. This was also excellent chance for the animators to provide an insight into skaters state of mind.
The animation was varying and constantly changing, making many people cease watching. They were right though, some scenes were on the sloppy side. I think that was intentional sometimes, to create a more comical scene. From the three main characters, Yuri Plisetsky actually got better animation work than Katsuki. He’s also most expressive about his ups and downs. His liquid movement and Hauru’s inspired hair reflect just that very well.
Figure skating is an artistic sport that lends itself to visual presentation. To do an animation that could portray movements as liquid as they are while on the ice it must have been pretty hard. Dancing is similar, but the fluidity of movements on ice is greater and faster. There were some animation fails and scenes where body parts were elongated or faces were poorly detailed. This bothered me the most – facial expressions are the ones that add the dot on the i. You fail that, you keep the character from telling his story properly.
Is figure skating realistically represented?
Well, yes and no. Some parts were definitely exaggerated and altered, but it’s anime, what do you expect? The figure skating elements that they show the most are different jumps, step sequences and spins. And all of those were flawless. There were times when I thought to myself they made it look even better than it is in real life. The jumps however could be done sloppily as most casual viewers don’t see a difference between a triple axel or quad salchow. The animation for jumps must be easier than for the step sequences as they include a lot of quick and deliberate movements. Moreover, the step sequences are supposed to be Yuri’s strong point, so the animation and choreography had to be as perfect as possible.
The sound of knife shoes
Routines for sure are showstoppers, but the sounds that accompany their movements deserve a lot of credit as well. Blades scraping through ice, a slight echo or reverberation do the trick of informing the audience of the size of the rink, the intensity of the routine. Skating wouldn’t be what it is without amazing sound design. The sounds were actually recorded while the choreographer was skating the routines, so it gives that lived in feel. The sharp sounds of landing a jump ring true and gives each routine more depth.
The animators have done their homework and went very close to real life in matter of competitions. Especially with the Grand Prix. The scores they present are realistic, the amount of points are never exaggerated to hype up the moment. We get a lot of talking about what jumps to include, how many, how to slowly build up to get the best performance in the finale. Those are very close to real life and they, along with informing the viewers, also project the relationship between Yuri and Victor, student and coach. The soundtrack has been praised a lot and I must say they really worked on it! It’s original and specially made for the anime. Every competitor has a different theme and I like they don’t repeat much. The costumes though have been made more dramatic or at least, that’s my opinion.
The pressure of being a professional athlete
The pressure of competitive figure skating is presented really well from the first episode onward. Yuri’s Grand Prix result placed him the last. But that still means sixth, like sixth on the whole planet! And that result is still awesome, especially to all of us, who are not sixth on the whole darn planet in anything. So the anxiety, depression Yuri feels mix well with the way this sport is. The heavy focus of the anime are strength, competition and of course, the pleasure of winning (or at least beating JJ). Although the competitors do share a sense of camaraderie. They support each other, cheer, feel the pain of someone elses fall. As competitive figure skating is focused on performance and beauty, their connections and reactions offer a break from the usual ego boosted sports.
The amount of hard work that goes into one routine is mildly put, extensive. Creators of Yuri!!! On Ice have taken that and molded it into anime with a simple story, that was able to touch many viewers. To be a competitive figure skater takes the young childhood years and then some. If by the age of 15 you haven’t made a name for yourself… It takes a special kind of love to sacrifice so much, but I guess the same goes for any athlete. I hope that with this post you got to see Yuri!!! On Ice in a different light than usual. We can still talk about the romance some other time! 😛
Thanks for reading!
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