If you’re a Twitter or Tumblr user, chances are you’ve seen (or at least heard of) the winter anime that took the world by storm: Yuri!!! On Ice. We might be a little late to the review game, and several great articles have been written already on the merits of an LGBTQ+ friendly Japanese anime that also addresses the pain and pleasure of competitive sports. But what is it that makes YOI such a powerful story? They tell us from day one: the recurring theme of YOI is love in all its multifaceted forms.
It may seem like a simple, trivial theme for a show that centers on a competitive sport, but that is precisely where its beauty lies. Of all emotions, love is perhaps the most complex; a unifying feeling that can bolster or break someone. It hurts, it heals, and it gives hope. It is the great motivator behind countless calls to action, and YOI draws upon it to tell the story of three lost figure skaters—Yuri (Yuuri) Katsuki, Victor Nikiforov, and Yuri (Yurio) Plisetsky. They are all unique, individualized personas. And yet, they are startlingly alike in that each one of them is desperately afraid.
Yuuri’s Journey to Confidence
In the first episode, we begin to understand that Yuuri has severe anxiety, suffers from crippling self-doubt, and has probably been depressed. His self-confidence is low and although he is a gifted dancer, he feels like just another “dime a dozen” skater. He is so terrified of failure and embarrassment that he moves back home, probably to never skate competitively again. It isn’t until Victor begins coaching him that Yuuri realizes how much love there is in his life. He not only loves to skate, but that love has been encouraged by his family and friends for years. He begins to come out his shell when Victor choreographs the Eros routine for him. Eros, one of the four Greek words for love, isn’t simply about romance or sexuality, however. Eros describes intimacy and energy, the wider concepts of desire and passion. By skating the Eros routine, Yuuri regains his passion for the sport, the desire to make Victor and his family proud, and the intimacy needed between himself and the world around him. It’s by no means a magical fix for his mental health, but it is a step in the direction of self-confidence, self-discovery, and self-acceptance.
Victor’s Discovery of Inspiration
At the beginning, it doesn’t seem possible to think of the great Victor (or Viktor, depending on your preference) as being afraid in any way. After all, he is confident, handsome, popular, gifted….the list goes on. But his admission to Yuuri that he felt he could no longer surprise his audience is telling of his deep-seated need for approval. Without inspiration, he does not feel like he can give an audience what they deserve—and in turn, is afraid that he has lost his touch. Without inspiration, what does he have left? We must remember that Victor is young, only 27 when the show begins. Skating has quite literally been his entire life, and he is lost without that spark of motivation. He finds that inspiration in watching Yuuri grow and perform. As his love for Yuuri increases, so does his vision and creativity. He rediscovers his own passion, and ultimately decides that he wants to continue skating while also coaching Yuuri.
Yurio’s journey may be the most relatable of the three. While arguably less of a “main” character than Yuuri and Victor, Yurio’s presence remains vital to the story. He is a sassy, moody, angry teen skater who at first glance appears to hate the world and everyone in it. We soon discover that his loathing is only superficial. He loves cats as much as he loves skating, and he greatly admires Victor. In fact, he’s desperate to have Victor choreograph a routine for him, and is shocked when he finds that Victor is seemingly distracted by Yuuri. Yurio’s desperation stems from his knowledge and fear that his body is changing. He’s only 15, and soon will be done with puberty. His body will finish growing, and he won’t be able to move the same way that he does now. That fear is tempered when he gets the long-awaited Victor choreography. Although he is upset at first that Victor wants him to skate to the theme of agape, or unconditional love (as well as love of particular activities), he finds the strength within himself thanks to his relationship with his grandfather. Agape helps him see himself and his family more clearly, and even changes his attitude toward Yuuri, whom he refuses to let retire.
In the end, love unifies our little figure skating children, changing each of their lives in amazing ways. I don’t know about you, but here we call everything on the ice “love.”
See you next level!
The Collected Mutineer
P.S. If you haven’t watched YOI, you can find it on Crunchyroll (Japanese, English subtitles) or Funimation (English dub).