The figure skating anime’s pilot episode has a great premise and characters as well as outstanding animation, making it a model for anime even now.
Yuri on the ice has been praised before for its many qualities, from its depiction of a positive same-sex relationship to its stunning animation. But what’s really shocking is how sudden and surprising its rise in popularity was — the anime was the most tweeted about fall 2016 season, and it swept this year’s Crunchyroll Awards, winning Anime of the Year among other titles.
The audience’s enthusiastic response to Yuri on the ice can perhaps be traced back to the quality of the pilot episode. With a great hook, contemplative themes, beautiful animation and great characters, the show opens with an impact that many anime lack.
A Great Hook: Yuri on Ice features adults with adult problems
Yuri on the iceits teaser scene shows Victor Nikiforov skating to a melancholic piece, Yuri Katsuki’s voice comments that “He never fails to surprise me. Ever since I first saw his skating, it’s been a series of surprises.” Not only is the scene visually striking, but it also introduces the audience to the main character: an adult with a strong passion for a sport that has steadily become his entire life. When the show starts, Yuri has just lost her first Grand Prix figure skating final and is about to give up. However, something will convince him to try to rise again.
Instead of a high schooler with incredible talent and overpowered signature moves, Yuri on the ice picks an average adult skater — at least at the world-class level — who, despite being 23, is at the end of his career. Yuri Katsuki is an adult with adult problems; among other things, having to face reality after following his dream for so long. The hook is strong enough to captivate a wide audience – after all, who hasn’t failed and had to get up at least once? Surprisingly, considering the relatability, it’s not a common trope in sports anime.
Great characters with realistic journeys ahead
The first few minutes also skillfully introduce the main characters of the show: Yuri Katsuki, Victor Nikiforov and Yuri Plisetsky. Victor is Yuri’s figure skating idol and current Grand Prix champion; Yuri Plisetsky, on the other hand, is a young up-and-coming Russian skater with great talent and a fearsome personality. Victor is painted as a genius with great skills and a generous soul, who has grown tired of always winning and is looking for new ways to surprise himself and the audience.
Yuri Plisetsky’s first appearance shows him yelling in Yuri Katsuki’s face that he should stop skating because there is no need for two Yuris in the senior Grand Prix series. Despite his unlikeliness, the pilot episode already hints at his character arc: he’s a talented, ambitious skater who needs to work on his arrogance, but will make an incredible rival. All characters are immediately ready to hook the audience to follow their journey: Yuri Katsuki’s climb back to the top, Victor’s search for something meaningful, and Yuri Plisetsky’s growth into a mature and well-rounded person, as well as a better skater.
The beautiful animation pays tribute to figure skating in an accurate way
From the teaser scene, the artistic race presented in the pilot episode becomes a wonderful visual experience. In addition to being beautifully animated, all technical elements are accurately depicted and carefully explained, adding another element to the overall charm of the show. The characters in the series are all inspired by real skaters, their routines studied in detail to appear as realistic as possible. It’s hard not to fall in love with the sport after watching the whole thing Yuri on the iceand it all starts with the pilot episode.
Yuri on the ice is now six years old, and yet many other sports anime – even recent ones – pale in comparison. The pilot episode is the starting point for its greatness, the strong hook, the characters and the depiction of the sport that make it a masterclass in anime writing, even today.