Long time no blog! After a few hectic weeks, I’ve decided to look into Yuri on Ice. Since it came out, many have approached YOI from the standpoint of it either being perfect, or not being good enough, especially due to the highly invested fan base and the desire to go against the majority opinion. I don’t know if my readings count as one or the other, but I really wanted to look at an aspect of YOI that is narrative-focused because for all that it may not do well, YOI manages to use narrative in an innovative way, at least as far as anime is concerned. In this article, I hope to look at how YOI uses love as its narrative, and how that affects characterization, organization and importance of events, etc.
YOI’s narrative is particularly interesting to me since a romance is almost always included in any given narrative, but very rarely does it do much else other than provide stakes and rewards for the protagonist, a sort of addition to an internal struggle. Sometimes a romance will help audiences explore a character’s personality by allowing them to see a side that is not usually shown in public. Love is undoubtedly one of the driving forces of many narratives and the decisions that characters make within these narratives.
However, until I saw YOI, love had never been the narrative. I don’t mean that in the way that a relationship is the central source of drama in the show, like with most romance films, TV shows, etc. I mean that YOI’s romantic aspect spans the characters’ professional lives, personal lives, inner anxieties, outer relations with people, the whole of Victor and Yuri’s relationship is represented in their very lives. With any luck, I’ll be able to analyze YOI’s narrative in order to figure out how its narrative love works!
Yuri: Ambition and Anxiety
Let’s start with our protagonist, Yuri. As a character, Yuri performs well in the context of figure skating. He is a professional, but just inexperienced and unsure enough to allow the explanations of various aspects of figure skating to the audience. Yuri’s character itself is pretty well constructed since his greatest ambitions in life are also the source of his anxieties.
While he wants to be exactly like Victor, even gets the same dog and replicates his routines, he is constantly worried about his performance as being so obviously less than Victor. This conflates Yuri’s professional and personal opinions, bringing them together under the character/object of Victor. The mixing of the two spheres of Yuri’s life allow his character to become more fleshed out, and this is likely why Yuri’s little gestures are so poignant to viewers: because we are able to see both sides of Yuri represented onscreen through the combination of figure skating and his admiration of Victor. Yuri is torn between his desire to succeed and his worry that he is not capable of succeeding. As a performance-oriented athlete, this affects him deeply.
Once Victor enters Yuri’s life and becomes his coach, Yuri undergoes a transformation. Unlike the idol that Yuri has worshipped for years, Victor is clumsy, forgetful, and ultimately lacking in his life, despite his absolute brilliance at figure skating. Yuri’s relationship with Victor evolves over time, and it is the nuances of their intimate understandings of each other that underlies the narrative. One example of this is when Victor encourages Yuri to pick his own music for his free skate routine. Not only does this make Yuri more confident, it also allows him to skate his story. The routine, “Yuri on Ice” becomes an extension of Yuri, and that story involves Victor at its very conception. I will go into detail about routines and externalizing conflict later, but love is evident as a narrative form in how Yuri’s own routines are shaped and inspired by Victor. His personal feelings and professional life become intertwined, but this is not seen as a handicap or even as an added obstacle to raise dramatic stakes. Instead, Yuri’s feelings for Victor enhance him in all aspects.
Victor: Life and Love
Similarly, Victor’s relationship with Yuri brings together both spheres of his life. Victor’s situation in the narrative is slightly different since it is not specified just how much Victor knew about Yuri and it is relatively clear that Victor did not idolize Yuri the same way that Yuri idolized him. Despite this, Victor’s character complements Yuri’s in an almost symmetrical way. Victor is a successful figure skater, but isn’t comfortable with his emotions. He doesn’t connect with others or feel like he does anything worthwhile despite his overwhelming success. Victor’s mantra, life and love, refers to all the things that he has neglected in order to pursue a career as a competitive skater.
Until the viewer is given access to Victor’s thoughts in Episode 10 (which I will be discussing in detail later), we really have no idea what makes Victor tick. Since Victor is only accessible to us through Yuri up until Episode 10, most of what Victor is in Yuri’s eyes slowly erodes, replaced with a more genuine and complete Victor. He is no longer simply the best figure skater in the world. Instead, he is a complex individual with hopes and fears, both of which Yuri helps to support and console. For example, the conflict of the last two episodes focuses around Victor’s dilemma of whether or not to return to competition. In Victor’s case then, the narrative of love is evident in how Victor’s character is broken down vs how Yuri’s character is built up.
Victor’s appearance in Yuri’s life and how the narrative structures itself around the two of them suggests that each can only be fully understood with the other present, not just for their own benefit, but for the viewer’s benefit as well. As such, Victor’s role in Yuri’s life is just as important as Yuri’s role in Victor’s life, and their mutual discovery of the other is helpful and compelling for the viewer. Yuri describes it best by saying, “when I open up, he meets me where I am,” after the two of them learn about their own facades and their own insecurities. In this way, the narrative romance in YOI is comprehensive and useful, not just a side quest for the characters or something to boost dramatic stakes.
The Actual Romance
I’ve addressed how Yuri and Victor as characters inform love as narrative, but what about the romance itself? How does the actual lovey-dovey aspect of the Victuri romance contribute to narrative? A good place to start is in how Victor and Yuri’s relationship develops from start to finish.
Yuri and Victor’s love for each other is a splendid mix of “will they/won’t they” and an extremely obvious attraction. As the show progresses, Victor and Yuri become comfortable with each other, rely on each other, and ultimately decide to get engaged —a development which delightfully shocked viewers at the time of the show’s airing. There are several specific moments in the series (and if I analyzed all of them we would be here for a while so I’ll just leave it at that!) which are turning points in the Victuri relationship. Each is a narrative stepping stone in terms of the figure skating competition, but at the same time, each point is steeped in emotional weight. I believe that it is this emotional weight that makes all the gestures, glances, and other subtle animations so impactful when watching any given episode of YOI.
One example of the gestures in YOI has largely to do with the rings that Victor and Yuri exchange in Episode 10. The rings and hands as a result, are focused on very intently to illustrate subtle emotion. The rings are even animated to sparkle and punctuate certain parts of the show, as if signalling how central Victuri is to the narrative by using the animation itself. This is what I mean when I say that love is the YOI narrative —it is built in to every technical and symbolic part of the show!
The Victuri relationship is extremely focused on itself: there is no rivalry, no fear of cheating, no crumbling of the relationship over time, despite narrative teases. Victuri, in a sense, is stronger than the traps that the conventional narrative will attempt to throw at it. The viewer has faith in Victor and Yuri to always be there for each other, just as Victor and Yuri depend on each other to navigate their lives. Since YOI’s narrative is love, it becomes impossible to add drama that will shake up the relationship. When the show tries to do this, it usually relies on cliff-hanger endings, only to have the conflict resolved immediately in the next episode. Even the narrative cannot stray from the love that is built into the foundation of the show.
Interwoven Narrative/Reverse Narrative
Episode 10 undoubtedly changed the course of YOI. Up until this point, only Yuri’s emotions were accessible to the viewer, since we experience the story through mainly his perspective. However, Episode 10 decided to switch things around. The episode starts off with Victor recounting his experiences with life and love in his youth. It is the first time that the viewer has heard Victor’s private thoughts, and sets up the deviant tone of the rest of the episode. As Victor and Yuri exchange rings and become engaged, it is revealed that Victor was not only interested in Yuri professionally, but that he had fallen in love with him years before at the Grand Prix Gala due to Yuri’s incessant flirting, which Yuri conveniently forgot due to how drunk he was at the time.
While this plot twist sounds cliché, I can’t help but admire how well it works for furthering the relationship between Victor and Yuri, placing their love as the anchor for the narrative. Both were unaware of the extent to which their love for the other influenced their actions, and as such, love is the driving force behind every narrative decision that they make. Since Victor was already interested in Yuri by the time he decides to coach him, the viewer is able to see how oblivious Yuri was about Victor due to his performance anxiety. The role reversal is also key here, since up until this point, Victor and Yuri had embodied opposite roles in the relationship, with Victor as extroverted and flamboyant and Yuri as timid and loyal. With the addition of Victor’s personal development, both he and Yuri’s characters are given individual strengths that only grow when they are together.
I call the phenomena that happen in Episode 10, “interwoven narrative” and “reverse narrative.” Interwoven narrative occurs when different narrative threads are inextricably pulled together, such as Victor’s meeting and pining for Yuri, simultaneously occurring while Yuri pined for and aimed to impress Victor. Love is inevitable here, and when Victuri is finally confirmed, the narrative payoff is immense. The technique doesn’t stop there though, since this episode also reveals “reverse narrative.” Here, the narrative can be traced into the past and understood with events from the present. So, in revealing that Victor had feelings for Yuri the entire time starting in Episode 1, every episode up until Episode 10 can be read with a different context. Perhaps one of the best examples of this would be Yakov scolding Victor for leaving Russia, knowing full well why he is going to Yuri, or how Victor has no sense of personal space upon his arrival in Hasetsu. He simply assumes Yuri was also in love with him, and his behaviour reflects that.
These scenes in particular are excellent examples of how crucial Victor’s point of view is for the narrative. YOI not only weaves elements of the show together through Yuri’s experiences, but it also manages to weave the elements back the OTHER WAY through Victor’s experiences. As a result, both Yuri and Victor become more fleshed out, and their relationship becomes more realistic.
Victuri: Romance as Necessity
It is also important to note that Victor and Yuri developed feelings for each other completely independent of the other, which makes their relationship almost seamless since the viewer can’t entirely trace where admiration stops and love begins. Their relationship is at the centre of the narrative, yes, but it is not merely a plot point. The love exhibited in YOI can be traced to even deeper levels, to that of animation, as in Victor’s adorable heart-shaped mouth, or on the level of how the show tends to place highlights on hands, lips, and eyes.
Despite the short run time, and the unbelievably cramped last few episodes of the show, YOI’s narrative was made up of love. No matter how you look at it, YOI’s content is based in love, from Yuri’s feelings towards Victor, his decision to use love as his theme for the season, the various forms of love expressed through his routines, and even the more unspoken and subtle bits in the show.
There is lots more to discuss on YOI, and I will publish a Part 2 soon! With any luck, I want to analyze the use of fairy tale narrative and the externalization of internal conflict in YOI through the various skating routines, songs, narrations, etc. This post focused mainly on the dynamics of Victor and Yuri alone, but I hope to cover the involvement of secondary characters in the next post. So look forward to that!