「超超超がんばらんば!!! グランプリファイナルFS」 (Cho cho cho Ganbaranba!!! Guranpurifainaru FS)
“Gotta Super-Super-Supercharge it! Grand Prix Final Free Skate”
I would describe this finale as thoroughly satisfying. I wasn’t sure how it was all going to end, but I think this has to be the best possible outcome. If rumours are to be believed (and it would be a fair assumption in the first place), this was intended to be a single-cour anime that would have wrapped up its story here. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case given the teaser at the end of the episode and the fact that Yuri!!! on Ice is an anime phenomenon at this point, becoming mainstream with anime fans and non-anime viewers alike, attracting the attention of world-famous ice skaters who watch it weekly just like us and post photos with the creators and cameo in the episodes whenever the opportunities arise. Yuri!!! on Ice is a pretty big deal, and it’s projected to sell at least 20k in its first week sales, which would make it one of the best-selling titles of the year.
Before diving into my overall impressions and my hopes going forward, I should talk about this excellent finale. Like I said, I didn’t know who was going to win in the end, which made this oh so thrilling to watch, even with Yuri performing mid-way through in a position that should normally break the dramatic tension. But I didn’t feel that way at all, because finally, finally, he gave a perfect performance. He’s tripped or missed some important spins or tricks in every other routine, but here we have him delivering his absolute best, like this is the last time he’s ever going to skate. Although we’ve seen this routine plenty of times already, it managed to feel fresh and exciting with his next level execution. We didn’t need to be told he did great, it was obvious just by watching it, and totally believable. He pushed his boundaries and did it for Victor… and broke his record in doing so.
And then there’s Yurio, who went on and won the whole thing by the skin of his teeth. Up until the big reveal I had no idea who was going to get the gold – because either Yuri would have made sense – but I think the better man (or boy) won. Yurio is a true prodigy, and his routines have always been beautiful to behold. Seeing him take Victor’s record with his short routine and then become the youngest to take this gold makes for great viewing, and make total sense. Even when our main character doesn’t reach his goal, the fact that Yurio’s victory comes off as well-earned and rewarding is testamont to his character growth throughout this season. I didn’t care for him when he was introduced, but he’s a sweet kid now whose passion shine bright and I’m glad he won.
There’s also the fact that with Yuri taking silver, now he has motivation to not retire. After him essentially “dumping” Victor and telling him not to be his coach after today, him not reaching that final goal is sure to push him to continue as a skater, especially after Victor’s inspiring words. Until the very last moment their interactions were a joy to watch, and I’m glad their emotional bump in the road was a brief one. Whether they remain coach and pupil or not, they’ve made an incredible bond that’s sure to go down in the anime hall of victory. Gay couples really exist outside of tired tropes and niche titles, so seeing this sort of love and celebration in one of the most popular anime of the last few years is enough to put a big, stupid smile on my face.
I love this show. I had high hopes for it going in. In the Fall Preview I pointed out that Yamamoto Sayo is one of the best directors in the industry today, and that I believed she could deliver something truly great. And she did. Compare that to the expectations yuri fans had when this show was first announced and later revealed to have no yuri at all (quite the contrary), and it’s easy to see how Yuri!!! on Ice got off on bad footing with some fans. Thankfully, that exceptional premiere blew all expectations away and got everyone talking. The buzz only grew with each passing week, to the point where non-anime fans and famous people have been tuning into this show week to week. Crunchyroll even crashed the minute this finale was released, which I don’t believe is a common occurrence. I had reason to believe this show would be great, but I never expected it to be popular – to be the most mainstream title currently airing, and have a gay couple front and centre and their bond being celebrated every minute they were together on-screen.
I don’t want to harp on about the fact forever, because in an ideal world (like the characters inhabit here), I shouldn’t have to. But it’s such a rarity in anime that I just have talk about how big of a deal that is. As a gay man and a hardcore anime fan, I’d always just accepted that anime wasn’t going to deliver a truly fair and supportive same-sex relationship between two men like we saw here. I thought maybe in 5 or 10 years it’ll happen, but this came out of the blue and I couldn’t be more thrilled. But will it change the trends of anime? It’s hard to say so soon, but if something this popular was unafraid to embrace that love story between Yuri and Victor, then surely the producers and studios and creators out there will realise that there’s no guarantee that including those elements is going to make their products commercial failures. 2016 has been a shitty year for the world, but Yuri!!! on Ice pretended the world wasn’t a hateful, horrible place, and it benefited greatly from it.
Overall, Yuri!!! on Ice is one of my top shows of the year. It managed to surpass my already high expectations, and knowing it’s also got an army of dedicated fans across the globe makes me even more happy. At its best, the art and animation was breathtaking, but there were noticable dips that are both amusing and unfortunate, since you can tell the staff were trying their best to match the Yamamoto Sayo’s ambition that frankly exceeds the general limitations of TV animation. It may not have been perfect in that regard, but I’ll take ambition over perfection any day of the week. It was a joy to watch and I expect there to be more before too long given that teaser at the end. If it does come back and Yuri and Victor get married, maybe then we can call it anime of the decade. But for now let’s settle for what we’ve got and count ourselves blessed.