Second article for Yuri on Ice, because why not. So for those of you who follow this blog, you’ve probably noticed my first article for the anime Yuri on Ice. In that, I said that while I didn’t like it that much, I was still a bit of a fan of its animation, however wavering, and its general character direction. Since then, my opinion of the anime has worsened, and part of it has to do with the direction between Yuri and Victor, but I think that might be a topic for another article once it’s wrapped up. But something I’ve noticed more and more over the course of the series is my attachment to the character of Yuri Plisetsky, the Russian Punk. At first, he seems like a two-bit throwaway character for the Japanese Yuri (henceforth Katsuki) to get off his feet and then he poofs into non-existence. But as time went on, the Russian Yuri (henceforth Plisetsky), not only became a decent character to hold attention, but actually becomes more of an interesting plot than the main leads of Katsuki and Victor. There are a couple of reasons why.
First off, while I enjoyed Katsuki’s star-gazing demeanor in the beginning, it began to wear thin once I realized that was pretty much all he was good for. The same kind of goes for Victor, who very rarely goes through an actual dialogue sequence without a smirk or with anything I can actually take seriously. Plisetsky, on the other hand, goes through all the hallmarks of a struggling athlete, and a pretty decent plot to hold its own anime. Being only 15 and one of the top skaters in the field, Plisetsky has got it made and his attitude shows complete confidence. Suddenly, the guy who said he would choreograph a program for him vanishes to Japan to teach some wash-up. But after a quick competition, Katsuki wipes the floor with Plisetsky since he couldn’t fully grasp the theme of his program. He then tries everything he can to not only up his technical points, but to completely understand the meaning of Agape, a love unconditional. That sounds like an actual synopsis to a different anime entirely, and it both works as a plus and a minus to Yuri on Ice. A plus in the sense that Katsuki has a really good rival with decent build-up, but a minus because Katsuki doesn’t have the same level of back-up. Instead, most if not all sequences with Katsuki’s “development” are 100% derivative of Victor, which even in a romantic type of show gets annoying. Plisetsky’s development comes from multiple sources, a major one being his grandfather.
Plisetsky’s grandfather is a pretty heavy player in his conceptualization of Agape, and this actually works well with his change as a character. From a brutish and rather original concept of a very aggressive figure skater, which lends itself both to developmental and to comedic contrast, to a more calm and dignified persona is a good direction for character. It also helps because Plisetsky isn’t a complete ass, well at least not to the people he cares about. All of his interactions with his grandfather are great, since we’re so used to seeing Plisetsky kick a chair and scream at everyone in the vicinity. When he’s talking to his grandfather, it’s nice and calm. There’s an immediate connection when you see the two of them, it’s not just two people who’ve been slapped with the title of relatives. A little tweaking, and even the grandfather can become a dramatic key holder had this anime been focused on Plisetsky. Unfortunately, the most drama we’ve gotten so far is Victor’s dog eating shit he shouldn’t have and almost choking and JJ’s out-of-the-blue panic attack. But that’s probably what leads me into liking Plisetsky better than Katsuki.
Even though the dramatic stakes should be enormously in favor of Katsuki, him being almost too old to compete anymore, it never really feels like that. With anime like Diamond no Ace or Haikyuu, the students who are going to graduate soon have more urgency. That’s what makes it so heart-breaking and sad when they blow it and can’t fulfill their dreams. But in Yuri on Ice, Katsuki has this awkward development where it’s difficult to tell how hard he’s training to actually fulfill his goals. The assumption is that he’s doing it a lot, but it’s hard to truly gauge a screw-up because it seems to happen at random. The build-up in this anime is all over the place, with skaters either doing amazingly or horribly because the plot felt like it. The only time a skater nails or blows his performance and it feels justified is when it comes to Plisetsky. Unlike Katsuki who is able to understand his own version of Eros practically immediately, which will open a whole other can of worms if I decide to do a full anime review, Plisetsky can’t really figure out his feeling of Agape even until the Grand Prix Finals. It makes sense that he can’t though, because he lived his life being brash and egotistical, and now he suddenly has to feel composed and quaint. He struggles in the middle of his performances, begging for it to end, and while he doesn’t completely screw-up, you feel actually disappointed when you don’t see him pull it off.
Katsuki’s solution for figuring out Eros, while pretty funny, doesn’t really explain his character or help it grow. He’s still the meek and mild dork off the ice, but on the ice he suddenly becomes this male erotic spectacle. There’s never really a good segue into it, and it’s a jarring contrast especially when he makes the point very early on that he can’t be the playboy. This would make sense if Katsuki’s attitude off the ice changed noticeably as well, but it doesn’t. Arguably, Plisetsky’s attitude doesn’t change much either, but there’s a different level of aggression because he’s trying to calm down to really understand something. His interactions with his grandfather help sell that he CAN be lovable and adorable, but that adorable center is encrusted with 6-foot thick walls of hate. This makes it viable when he starts to become more approachable, and even his, albeit out-of-left-field, befriending of Otabek is understandable. Katsuki doesn’t become greedy, he doesn’t become more evocative, he just seems like more hookable bait for his husbando Victor. This is a problem BECAUSE Katsuki started as a good person with a couple flaws. Now it seems like those flaws aren’t being healed or worsened, because the story is stuck in limbo trying to balance a good sports anime with a decent romantic subplot. I want to know more about Plisetsky and his relationship with his grandfather. Is he an orphan? How did he lose his parents? What made him so attached to his grandfather? I constantly ask those questions, but I only get bombarded with really poor typical romcom fare.
But the biggest problem is that at this point, I don’t even think Katsuki OR Victor are even that necessary. I mean, obviously they’re main characters so they’re needed for the sake of…because they’re main characters, come on, I don’t really have to spell it out. But for what the story is trying to convey, I think Plisetsky serves as a much better catalyst. Something that keeps you going, and something that picks you up from your most dark times. Love is a very dry and abused plot point to serve this type of narrative, but a love unconditional is something I haven’t really seen that often. The only type of anime I see this type of plot in is slice-of-life dramas that delve a bit into psychology, and those take a lot of setup and understanding to pull off. With sports anime, the strive to be the best or it having something to do with typical love is painfully commonplace. But what better way to convey that unconditional love is also a very powerful force than with the love that Plisetsky has for his grandfather or even his friendship with Otabek? Hell, even the anime so far kind of has a conclusion for Plisetsky’s arc, culminating his months of mulling over Agape into one fiery display of not only his usual aggression, but a contrasting calm performance. It ends with the highest score of his career, and I genuinely felt ecstatic when he got that high of a score. I was even glad that he beat Katsuki, his rival that he had been beaten by multiple times.
But what could’ve made it EVEN BETTER, but then was sacrificed for a pathetically obvious device to put everyone on equal ground at the Grand Prix Finals was JJ. Jean-Jacques Leroy is the definition of egotism, but the skills to back it up. He lands every difficult jump with easy and bathes in his master-class of skills and abilities. But what happens at the Grand Prix Finals, which the anime tries to convince you happens out of anxiety but I’m convinced it was just because the plot felt like it, is JJ becomes nervous in the middle of his routine and blows it. Coming first in every qualifying round and suddenly being stuck in last place at the Grand Prix Finals would be a severe blow to both his ego and his character. Had this actually been orchestrated well, this would be a great way for Plisetsky to fully recognize compassion. JJ has been a full-on turd since his introduction, and Plisetsky has no shortage of hatred for this guy. But Plisetsky first coming into the anime as an egotist who had his ass handed to him by some schmuck from Japan, the plots could’ve converged here. Plisetsky is coming to understand his confidence and learning to be more calm and collected, although he still sports his trademark cynicism. Now that he has this level of humbleness, seeing JJ take a massive blow to his ego would make for a FANTASTIC plot intersection. There’s something there that could’ve been explored to make them both better characters, but we still have to sit through Katsuki getting jelly that his foreigny husbando is watching other skaters with interest.
So mostly what makes Plisetsky a better character than Katsuki is because he goes through the most change. From being on top, to being at the bottom, and then crawling his way back up after understanding his flaws, its a good and wholesome plot for this type of anime. Even his concept of unconditional love is well-developed enough to hold its own moral and message. He’s not only a joy to watch, him being the rather funny contrast of an aggressive and brutish figure skater, but also a joy to analyze. Katsuki, and Victor by extension, are just uninteresting. Every developmental twist is foreseeable, and it doesn’t help much that I’ve seen those turns countless times. The build-up also being almost non-existent with Katsuki just being a better skater and not a better person while Victor is there for….I have no idea. Both these characters end up stuck in developmental limbo while I’m begging for more screen-time with characters like Plisetsky and Otabek, probably because those are some of the few characters that don’t annoy the piss out of me. The romance is really bland and really, really standard, a romance that would make Sword Art Online look like Your Lie in April. So at the end of the day, I just like Plisetsky because I just like to watch him grow, watch him fumble, and just watch him be a dick. Katsuki, I just don’t like to watch at all.