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Yuri on Ice brought me back to anime

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Born to make history

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On paper, there’s almost nothing that would compel me to like Yuri on Ice.

I haven’t watched anime since high school. I know nothing of figure skating except for passing glances at the Winter Olympics. I’m sure there are plenty of people in the same boat, yet this show is approaching alarming levels of popularity on Tumblr, Twitter, basically the entire internet.

So how is an ice skating anime so popular that it crashed Crunchyroll? Yuri on Ice packages an extremely niche thing into something fascinating — even relatable — for mass audiences. It’s one of the most authentic shows I’ve seen in a while; the skating moves are real, the depression is real, even the sound design is spot-on. Yuri on Ice is also super cute and super gay, and it’ll leave you wanting more.

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What’s Yuri on Ice about?

Yuri Katsuki used to professionally compete as an ice skater. But after a devastating loss at the Grand Prix championships, he puts his career on hiatus. Yuri returns to his hometown to figure out what he wants to do with his life, only to be thrust back into the spotlight after a video of him skating goes viral. His idol and role model, Viktor Nikiforov, notices the video and shows up in Japan to offer his help as a coach for one last competitive season.

Yuri is stunned. His former teacher is stunned. Everyone is stunned. Why is this beautiful, silver-haired Russian champion willing to drop everything and move to a small town in Japan for this? Why did he bring his dog? Is it true that all of the male characters are gay? These are only some of the questions that fueled my “NEXT ONE, NEXT ONE!” chant as I frantically reached for the remote.

What’s so great about it?

Yuri on Ice is like that person you meet at a cocktail party who begins talking about his or her extremely specialized occupation that you have absolutely no knowledge of. You feel out of your league, but the more you hear this person talk, the more you notice how infectious their enthusiasm is.

The show is in no way lazy about conveying the elegance and complexity of figure skating. It’s so niche that you can’t help but get completely sucked into its cold, beautiful void. Retired ice dancer and two-time Japanese national champion Kenji Miyamoto choreographs all the characters’ programs and performances — and it really shows. These moves aren’t an animator’s best guess; they come straight from someone who lived and breathed ice skating. The attention to detail is astonishing. Everything from the way movement travels from shoulders down to fingertips or how hair falls after executing a jump is so precise, it’s mesmerizing.

Yuri Katsuki
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You never feel too lost, though, since character commentary provides a solid, guiding light in terms of what to appreciate among the glides, jumps and dizzying spins. Hell, even professional ice skaters today are in love with Yuri on Ice. That has to count for something, right?

Do you just watch these characters frolic all day or what?

Elaborate routines may seem like the showstopper here, but Yuri on Ice also boasts some superb sound design. The way it treats blades scraping through ice, sometimes with a slight echo and reverberation, does an excellent job at conveying the size of the rink and the intensity of the routine. Watching these characters skate wouldn’t be nearly as captivating if it weren’t for the sound that hooks you in.

As with any art, expertise is accompanied by a visceral, wordless understanding. I’ve only ice skated maybe three times in my life, but hearing the care and attention to capturing the crisp noise of landing a jump harkens back directly to those early memories of skating. It jump-starts a memory more powerfully and quickly than reading words ever could.

OK, so it looks and sounds good, but what about the characters?

I’m just going to jump in here and say it: I relate strongly to the main character’s sense of perceived failure, wasted time and lack of confidence. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve rolled myself up into a burrito blanket in a dark room and contemplated my shortcomings and how I probably wasted my formative years on god knows what.

Yuri knows that this is probably the last skating season of his life, adding something bittersweet to the sweeping, hopeful overtones of the show. But despite encouragement from his role model (and let’s be real, his huge crush), he is always his own worst enemy. At one point, Viktor asks, “What makes you feel passion?” And for a while, Yuri struggles with finding an answer to that. It’s clear that this show isn’t just about fighting spirit and working hard — everyone works through doubt and creative blocks. I won’t spoil anything here, but he does eventually realize “it,” and it’s an unconventional answer that I deeply appreciate. It isn’t about repeating a mantra over and over until it sticks, it’s about personalizing it and making it yours.

Viktor Nikiforov posing with Makkachin in front of Hasetsu castle
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So you’d recommend this show to people who aren’t caught up on anime?

Watching this series awakened a feeling that I thought was long gone. I’ve been out of touch with anime for so long that I thought I'd forgotten everything about the genre. In fact, none of my post-high school friends even know that I had an all-consuming obsession with anime. I had CD binders bursting with discs, wall scrolls, plushies — you name it, I had it. I even started teaching myself Japanese when I was 12.

But halfway through college, I buried my love for all these things. Most of my friends at that point didn’t share the same interests. I even started associating feelings of shame with my past (as we all do because of awkward teenage phases), and I quietly pushed them to the side.

So even though I have no idea what’s “good” in the anime world now, I did figure out one thing: After watching the first episode of Yuri on Ice, I can say that it feels like greeting an old friend.

You can watch Yuri on Ice online with English subtitles on Crunchyroll or the dubbed version on Funimation.