If I Could Only See You, from Hope Eternity Would Be Born: Beginnings in Yuri on Ice and Welcome to the Ballroom

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I hear a voice crying in the distance;
Perhaps you, too, have been abandoned?

With a sword I wish I could cut
Those throats singing about love
I wish I could seal in the cold those hands
That portray verses of burning passion

Cast your eye over any seasonal chart and witness all those obligatory sports-orientated offerings, generally focusing on an insular gathering of plucky teenaged upstarts. The protagonist tends to be an affable everylead, getting along with club members (if there’s burgeoning animosity don’t worry, they’ll soon become firm friends) while stumbling into the alluring realm of a sport he has little experience with. Rivals sneer on the side as the gang aim for nationals, fists clenched all the while. Horizons swell with possibility, glittering with promise, the youthful exhilaration of achieving for the first time suffusing these traditionalist narratives. It’s the same thing again and again to the point where you could theoretically pluck any series from obscurity and play Sports Premiere Bingo, displaying your filled sheet with a bored expression, because really, how many times have you done this already? There’s only so much one can take of all the monotony which renders Yuri on Ice an anomaly, this behemoth which presence lingers seasons later as the charts turn and renew themselves into summer and beyond.

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A swish of Victor’s skate soaring across the iridescent expanse of Ice Castle’s rink is all it takes to drop your Sports Premiere Bingo sheet, Yuri on Ice serving as a remarkable statement of intent towards the industry and its myriad ostensibly similar series championing overzealous upstarts donning gakurans. Unlike Welcome to the Ballroom’s introductory scene concerned with a teacher interrogating a middle school student regarding future plans, all glasses obscuring eyes leading to an element of dehumanization; an immediate and tangible gulf between adult and child, Yuri on Ice opens with its twenty-three-year-old protagonist subjected to international disgrace. Through coded familiarities it is expected that Tatara will soon find solace in ballroom dancing, an obvious beginning in sharp contrast to what appears to be Yuuri’s ending. He succumbs to the seductive allure of social media and news outlets pouring venom in his ear, publicly lambasting failures on display for the entire world to see. He apologises to his mother in a cramped bathroom cubicle, lapsing into regional dialect with sobs on the verge of escaping. He pointedly ignores those with his best interests at heart, dissociating as he drifts off into another world. He binge-eats, impacting his figure which likewise restricts his skating ability. He displays reluctance indulging in the kindness of his townspeople and fans that gaze at him starry-eyed. Notoriously petty and possessive, passive-aggressive to a point, Katsuki Yuuri quickly proves to be a character as odd as the show he inhabits.

Despite taking his first steps onto the dancefloor Tatara is a prodigy, presented as this savant able to masterfully imitate amateur champions. Mentor Sengoku states he has no idea what it takes to successfully compete yet physical fluency is achieved within hours, exertions resulting in a ludicrous gamut of narrative insistence as characters slip on a sweat-drenched floor; blister-covered feet and broken shoes soon following. It’s a far and harrowing cry from Yuuri shouldering over a decade’s worth of labours resulting in international failure, snubbed by his beloved idol placed high upon a pedestal. While being twenty-three wouldn’t be considered an issue in most sports-related professions, ice skating generally skews younger in terms of demographics due to the increasing likelihood of injury as one ages due to intricately choreographed movements pushing the human physique to its absolute limit. Youth proves to be a distinct advantage rendering Yuuri among the oldest competitors in the show, shown sharing a bench with teenagers during a Japanese championship. Unlike the vast majority of sports-related shows that systematically guide the protagonist (along with the viewer) step by step into its related field, the audience is by no means privy to Yuuri’s tempestuous journey spurred on by admiration, instead lost in the annals of his anxiety as a clamorous brouhaha echoes around the stadium for Victor’s victory – a crushing defeat, a wretched ending with a curtain drawn over his career.

ballroom4aVictor Nikiforov is the icy sovereign governing over skating’s gleaming expanse; legion of subjects swooning wherever he turns, among the world’s most eligible bachelors due to his penchant for astonishing audiences. With the world at his feet and on the verge of winning yet another competition however, he has grown hopelessly bored, unable to flourish beyond skating’s increasingly narrow confines. It’s all been done before, countless medals and trophies doing little to reassure. Although Yuuri is acknowledged as one of the profession’s oldest competitors, at twenty-seven Victor creeps ever-closer to retirement age with the likelihood of potential injury cause for alarm, the next season being his final one seemingly inevitable. Following his win at the same Grand Prix Finals Yuuri spectacularly lost, when questioned by a reporter regarding what comes next he doesn’t stir, expression void of interest. Immersed in the twilight of his career skating has long since lost its arresting shimmer; the equivalent of spending your life with sights eagerly trained on a particular field, only to enter it and through the blusterous tedium forget why you were so pushed on it to begin with. The dream fades leaving Just a Job, burnout settling in. You’re trapped, swept away in the uncertainty of an ennui-fuelled haze.

“If you don’t have any inspiration left, you’re as good as dead.”

That Welcome to the Ballroom would open with a teenager’s future prospects serves as a suggestively poignant contrast, Tatara searching for a dream where Yuuri and Victor have long since been swept away into an endless night of uncertainty; careers at a standstill. What could possibly be left, at this professional dead end…? Neither getting any younger, bereft of that which fuels them. Enter Yuuri in his intoxicated exuberance, dying the grey suffusing Victor’s existence in the most vivid of hues. He manages to shake up an otherwise dull and officious banquet, drawing Victor’s attention through outrageous dance battles and pole-dancing skills, enthralled by this bodily instrument’s performance. Yuuri is a novelty able to capture Victor’s attention and heart, a breath of fresh air blasting away that haze, and it’s enough for him to drop everything at a moment’s notice to fly across the world and be his coach. Victor’s life has been spent on a people-pleasing quest in search of inspiration, yet casting aside all that enables him to be selfish for what appears to be the very first time, focusing on what the man as opposed to the international icon desires. So strong is Victor’s conviction that he cares little about public opinion despite being criticized at every turn, Yuuri in turn taking delight in having stolen his idol away from the world. In a rare reflective moment, Victor later mentions that prior to meeting Yuuri he had always neglected “the two L words – life and love”. Through the pair’s fateful meeting however, they are able to at last find a glimmer of hope in that all-consuming void. What comes after that dead end, life and love opening up a dazzling new world.

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Between mental health issues clawing into Yuuri’s back and petty resistance on Victor’s behalf when it comes to directly engaging with burgeoning issues seeping into their relationship, slapping a salve over a gaping wound, their intertwined narrative reveals itself to be one that could only flourish amidst the vestiges of a medium rushing towards a nerve-wracking demise. Yuri on Ice’s existence serves as a contentious resistance against corporate insistence that sports-orientated shows ought to take place in high school, rigidly adhering to traditionally adolescent conceits straining against the claustrophobic confines of an insular high school setting. However Yuuri and Victor instead battle inner turmoil along with relationship ups and downs across a profoundly international scale – “it was kind of inevitable that the setting would take place on a global scale” [1]. Their story is not one that could be told through the restrictive lens of teenagers finding their feet, thrust into the world of skating for the first time; their eyes glittering alongside the ice. In an interview conducted with Yamamoto Sayo, the auteur par excellence supports the notion through stating that Yuri on Ice only came to fruition due to casting aside those pressures inextricably tied to the medium, suggesting that an anime of its nature could only thrive in the shade of all the amateur sports clubs which came before it.

Tatara’s considerably juvenile conceits run an anticipated salacious gamut as as he internally muses about not having touched a girl’s hand since primary school, walking in on a girl changing and (of course) getting ceremoniously booted out, the sport’s sales pitch initially relying on him being able to touch a girl’s body, partner-to-be disapprovingly asking if he’s a pervert. It’s nowhere near as compelling, the glitz and glamour of ballroom dancing unconvincing as this everylead is mechanically guided through steps we’ve all seen countless times before. In startling contrast Yuri on Ice is “the story of a character who has already matured and is taking on their final skating season, not some story about a character who is just getting started” [1]. It’s an entirely different beginning through Yuri and Victor finding a reason to transcend the wall which hinders their development, as opposed to Tatara picking up the first brick to erect a wall of his very own.

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Sources Addressed

[1] Interview With “Yuri!!! on ICE” Creator Sayo Yamamoto: Part 1. (2017). Retrieved from http://beta.otaquest.com/sayo-yamamoto-interview-part-1/

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2 thoughts on “If I Could Only See You, from Hope Eternity Would Be Born: Beginnings in Yuri on Ice and Welcome to the Ballroom

    • nana says:

      A few minutes into that first episode and I felt similarly, that I had loaded up a film as opposed to yet another bright ‘n ‘shiny seasonal premiere! Everything about it came across as unusually cinematic, and even with the… questionable structural issues later on that feeling only strengthened. 12/10 would go to the cinema and cheer on my boy katsudon all over again.

      Liked by 1 person

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