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Yuri on Ice: everything you’re too embarrassed to ask

I never expected to love a show about men’s figure skating, but anime has proven me wrong. Yuri on Ice (stylized as Yuri!!! On Ice) debuted this year online to instant love and praise in social spaces like Twitter and Tumblr.

The 12-episode sports anime, directed by Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine’s Sayo Yamamoto and written by Mitsurō Kubo, is an intimate look into the lives of international figure skaters. Its finale airs today, but thanks to its easy accessibility online, it’s never too late to find out what people are raving about. Here’s a basic FAQ to get you started.

What is Yuri on Ice about?

Yuri on Ice is the story of Japanese figure skater Yuri Katsuki. At the start of the show, we see Yuri suffer a crushing loss at the Grand Prix Final. Defeated and depressed, he finishes up college and returns home to sort out his life.

Although Yuri has fallen out of shape since the competition, he still loves the sport. One night he performs a routine originally skated by his idol and competitor, Victor Nikiforov, which a few local kids capture on video and post online. The video goes viral. Victor himself sees the clip and flies to Japan to offer Yuri his help: he’ll be his coach and train him to win what is very likely to be Yuri’s last season.

Okay, so the guy the show is named after is the star. What about everyone else?

So I briefly mentioned Victor Nikiforov already, but let’s talk about him a little more. Victor is a Russian figure skater widely regarded as the top skater in the world. He thrives on thrilling his audience, but after winning yet another competition, worries that he can no longer surprise his fans. He’s lost his inspiration... and then he sees Yuri’s video.

By moving to Japan to train Yuri, however, he’s abandoning another Yuri — Yuri Plisetsky — a fellow Russian skater. Plisetsky, who is playfully rebranded as Yurio to avoid confusion, is a 15-year-old skating prodigy preparing to enter the senior circuit. Victor had promised to choreograph a program for Yurio’s senior debut, and so Yurio tracks him down in Japan to see that he pays his dues. Yurio and Yuri have history, too. Honestly, Yurio is kind of a jerk, but he has his reasons.

As the show goes on, the story introduces more important skater types, but those three — Yuri, Victor, and Yurio — are central to its plot.

Alright, a figure skater triangle. So, why should I watch this?

I’m so glad you asked! So, let’s start with a few questions. Do you like sports? Do you like drama? How about romance? What about intriguing characters? Beautiful animation?

If you answered yes to any of the above, Yuri on the Ice deserves a shot.

Yuri on Ice is about competitive figure skating, and so it has a heavy focus on strength, competition, and the pleasure of winning. As each skater performs their routine, viewers are treated to their innermost thoughts — their hopes, their dreams, their insecurities and reflection on their own movements. In this way, we get a better idea of who each character truly is and what drives them. It’s easy to find favorites (hi, Phichit) and not-so-favorites (bye, JJ).

The show also offers a softer side to competition. These characters share a fragile camaraderie with each other; they cheer for each other, they gasp in shock when someone falls. And because so much of skating is focused on beauty and performance, their sincere reactions offer a break from the hyper-macho persona that contact sports are typically associated with. Each skater is a sort of dancer, one whose strength stems from an ability to land moves that look like they belong in a ballet studio.

If I wanted sports and competition, I’d buy Madden every year. What about smoochin’?

If competition bores you, perhaps the show’s romance can woo you. Victor and Yuri have incredible chemistry on-screen; they’re a couple you want to root for, because they’re both so endearingly encouraged by each other.

In case you’re still not feeling any of that, believe me when I say Yuri on Ice is worth watching for its skating sequences alone. It includes skating choreography from Kenji Miyamoto, a coach, choreographer, and retired Japanese ice dancer, and the show itself is beautifully animated. Each character performs their routines with such smooth and easy grace that it’s almost hypnotic. But, don’t take my word for it. Just watch the opening credits.

Dang. Those are some sick moves.

I know, right!

Is there anything that makes Yuri specifically special? Why should I root for this guy? He sounds pretty average.

He really is, and that’s what makes him so unique. Yuri is a mediocre skater at best, painfully average when stacked against his competitors. But he excels through his drive and determination. He fights for every inch he gains, because he has to. This is especially obvious when you compare him to Victor, whose talent exceeds any level accomplished only through practice. But competitive skating is a young man’s game, and at age 27, Victor has likely reached the peak of his career. Coaching is a logical next step — but as the show demonstrates, there’s a real affection between Yuri and Victor than goes beyond the latter aging out of competition.

Is there an English version?

There is! Both a subtitled and dubbed version are available, if you’re not a fan of reading your shows.

Where can I watch it?

Well, you’ve got a few options. I’d recommend Crunchyroll for English subtitles, while Funimation has the dubbed version.