Some of you are probably looking at the title of this video and thinking to yourselves: “Who does this guy think he is?” or possibly: “Why does Geoff hate Yuri on Ice all of a sudden?” And the answers to those questions are, respectively, I’m Geoff Thew, professional shitbag, and this is My Mother’s Basement and… I don’t. In fact, Yuri on Ice is one of my favourite shows of last year so if you’re in the other camp and excited for some anti-fanboy backlash against the series, that’s… not what you’re going to get here. I think that Yuri on Ice is a fundamentally good show with great characters and a great plot. However, the series falters, sometimes quite severely, in executing on the promise of that great foundation. Which is why today’s episode of What’s in a Scene? is gonna be… a little different. Although not so different that I’d avoid using spoilers for once in my goddamn life so if you want to know what’s going on, you should head on over to crunchyroll.com/basement and use that sweet 30-day free trial to watch yourself some Yuri on Ice and get caught up on what I’m talking about. Instead of praising what Yuri on Ice does right in one of its better scenes, and don’t get me wrong, there IS a lot to praise, I’m gonna be looking at a scene doesn’t work quite so well, breaking down where it falls flat and offering some suggestions for ways that the scene, and the series as a whole, could be improved. The scene in question is the first big event of the series, the “Hot Springs on Ice” promotional competition between Yuri Katsuki and Yuri Plisetsky. It exemplifies many of the issues that hold the series back from greatness, but it also shows hints of how many of them can be fixed. Those issues stem mainly from how the series is directed and how its plot is paced And to understand why the show has these problems, you kind of need to understand how it came to be. Yuri on Ice is the brainchild of Sayo Yamamoto, a brilliant director best known for her work on Michiko & Hatchin, and Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine. But, more relevant to this channel, she has worked on a number of fantastic anime openings, including the simple yet evocative first opening to Psychopass, both openings of Arakawa Under the Bridge which, man I’ve really got to get around to, and, in the video game space, the flashy, funky opening to Persona 5. Between that opening, her animator expo short Endless Night and, now, Yuri on Ice, one very important thing is clear: this woman really, really likes figure skating. Yuri on Ice is a passion project for her, something that she’s been developing and pushing to get made for years now. And while it’s amazing to see someone’s dream project finally get off the ground like this, the reality of TV production doesn’t always allow for dreams to come true, exactly as they were envisioned. Compromises have to be made to get a show off the ground, especially one about risky subject matter like figure skating. The most frustrating thing about Yuri on Ice is that you can clearly see where those compromises were made and where Yamamoto seemingly refused to make the compromises that might have otherwise improved the overall quality of the show. The first two episodes Yuri on Ice are fairly well paced, they set up Yuri’s struggles within the world of figure skating, establish his relationship with his friends and family back home, as well as his new one with Victor, and create a solid basis for the story moving forward, but almost every episode after that seems incredibly rushed. Episode 3 has some problems condensing a small competition as well as the training montage leading up to it, into a single episode. But that’s nothing next to what follows it. The show folds four full competition arcs, each with six unique competitors, into the space of just eight episodes. That means that it needs to tell, effectively, almost twenty different stories in under five hours. I understand, to an extent, why the show is this way. Yamamoto spent a lot of time developing backstories for each of these characters, placing special focus on their countries of origin, making the concerted effort to tell a truly universal, international tale. I don’t blame her for not wanting to toss that quirk out, having only twelve episodes to work with, she had two options, neither of which was palatable. She could either cut the story short, and hope for a second season, or cut some of the characters and detail from each tournament arc to give the main story the focus that it really deserves. She chose to do neither of those things and the problems this causes are two-fold: Firstly, neither Yuri’s journey to become a champion skater, nor his blossoming romance with Viktor, are given a chance to breathe. With all of the skating programs in each episode, this may as well be a half-length, 15 minute series. This is perhaps most egregious in episode 7, which keeps awkwardly cutting away from Yuri having a panic attack to the free skate programs of five other skaters. The whimsy of their performances clashes horribly with the tone of Yuri’s emotional struggle and the unfortunate result of that is when he finally overcomes his worries, it doesn’t have the triumphant punch that it should. The other problem is that none of the other skaters are given much room for character development, with the exceptions of JJ, Christophe and Phichit, who make recurring appearances in two tournaments, we barely see anything of them off the ice at all. And the show’s painfully awkward solution to this is to have each skater monologue over their skating program like they’re using copyrighted music and trying to avoid content id. Instead of showing us what their deal is through cutaways and asides between performances, they have to just straight up tell us. “My whole country is counting on me to represent them on the world stage and I wanna do them proud!” “My ex-girlfriend is watching this and I hope she dies! (but also I hope that she still loves me)” “I’m the best character in this whole show, but the way that I hide my insecurity with false bravado is gonna get 4 minutes total screen time!” This is a lot to take in already, but each performer is also trying to tell a story through their skating choreography. Stories which are often presented with cool, unique, artistic flourishes, and are interesting and complex enough to carry a scene on their own, and when you pile both of these stories on top of each other, it becomes difficult to fully appreciate either one. One thing that I like about the competition in episode 3 is that for both Yuris, the stories that they tell on the ice are largely about them, which means that at least the conflict is mostly eliminated, but even so, the show could put a lot more effort into showing, rather than telling us what’s going on with them or in some cases just put faith in the viewer to “get” it. The show *almost* does this toward the tail-end of Yuri P’s program while he’s spinning out, both physically and emotionally, and losing his composure. The animation, erratic camera work and sound design, which has the sound of Yuri’s skates overwhelming the music, really sells it. Most of his monologue consists of simply swearing or berating himself inside his head in stark contrast to the praise of those around him. And it works really well. We feel the emotion of the moment for him, but when we cut to Yuri K watching from the sidelines, the monologue about how Russian Yuri is this ever-evolving monster is totally unnecessary. We can tell just by looking at his face that Yuri K is intimidated by his rival’s skill and that he, like everyone else, is being sucked into the performance. And for that matter, we don’t need this jarring flash-back to understand that the waterfall scene is where Yuri P made this transformation. The scene was clearly added late in production, it’s so out of place in the rest of the scene that they had to abruptly change the music for a half a second just to stick it in. And it’s totally unnecessary, we just saw it happen not 10 minutes ago! We can connect the dots! It drastically improves the pacing of this scene to remove the flashback, and it could honestly do with a few more cuts on top of that. If we’re seeing everything from either Yuri’s perspective right now, then we should be feeling the performance anxiety that they feel. But between Yuri P’s exhausted, defeated finish to his performance and Yuri K’s existential crisis, there’s 8 seconds of the one confidently posing and the other clapping along happily. It creates this weird tonal whiplash that pulls you out of the mood which is supposed to be what happens when Victor talks to Yuri but since it’s already happened, the beat has no effect. It’s important to sell that Yuri’s a good sport who just loves skating, but not at the expense of the emotional impact of the rest of the scene. If we just cut it a little differently, with a different initial reaction from Yuri Katsuki and a more drawn out moment of despair, I think it works much more effectively. The scene just doesn’t need the extra voice-over, period. And the same applies to Yuri Katsuki’s skating. Everything from his flirtatious gesture toward Victor to the fact that his routine has a new, seductive edge to it can be understood without a word of this monologue from all of the characters. And while it’s not quite as easy to understand the full context without the flashback to a cut-scene of him training with his dance teacher, that could have been done so much better, if it had been given more time, that is. If this scene where he visits her studio late at night had come either earlier in the episode or a previous episode, all she’d need to do is give his performance a knowing smile and we’d get it. Plus the performance would have a smoother flow. Instead, she has to explain it to us, again cutting away from the music, and it’s just clumsy. In general, I’m of the opinion that inner monologues like third-person narration are something that should be very sparingly, especially in stories that attempt to be grounded in reality. Because they give the impression of the character being stuck inside their own head. That’s why they work well when Yuri P is losing his cool, and even when Yuri K is trying to psyche himself back up after making a mistake. But coming from the audience, they feel very, very forced. It’s a lot more natural for characters to just say what they’re thinking to each other. And that would make sense in the context of people watching a sporting event too. Hell, even the announcer already does that. And while he could do a better job of explaining the rules of figure skating for viewers who don’t really understand it, he does help you appreciate the skill that goes into Yuri’s moves. Compare this to the first big performance in Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju. That scene also involves multiple stories being told at once, three actually. There’s Yotarō’s telling of Dekigokoro, his evolution as he feeds off the energy of the audience in his first really successful performance, and his former boss coming to accept his new career. But aside from a few whispered comments from the characters in the audience, and one little monologue at the beginning where the character is inside his own head, it’s all told with visual cues and good sound design. Konatsu doesn’t have to say “Oh no, Dekigokoro! He was struggling with this one earlier!” The name and the tone of her delivery is plenty to remind us of what we need to know. The problem compounds itself compounds itself as the scene goes on. We keep cutting away to other characters thinking about what Yuri is doing, to the point that it actively contradicts some of what we’re hearing. When Takeshi says “No one can take their eyes off Yuri”, all I can think is “Then why do we keep cutting away from him?!” Obviously the reaction shots are needed to hammer home the significance of what’s going on, I’ve explained as much in my videos about Baby Steps and Haikyuu!! but considering the spell-binding nature of Yuri’s performance, they really should’ve framed it in such a way that he’s almost never off-screen. Simply putting glass between Yuri and the audience could’ve gone a long way toward fixing this. Then he could’ve simply been reflected in front of the other characters as they showed their reactions, preventing us from taking our eyes off him. And we wouldn’t need Takeshi to tell us this thing that the directing failed to convey. The only shot where it’s really acceptable for us to look away is when Russian Yuri leaves early in defeat, since he’s also looking away. And the proceeding shot of Victor’s head since it’s used to build up a small reveal later when Yuko chases after him and asks if he’s gonna stick around. And I will say that the conclusion of this scene does work, mostly because it makes use of dialogue rather than internal monologue. And it trusts the audience enough to figure out what characters are thinking and what their actions mean without narrating it. With that said, I do think it ends way too abruptly but that’s a very difficult problem to fix because saying “this show needs more episodes” basically translates to “they should’ve spent more money” and often that’s just not feasible, especially for an original animation project where you can’t make the case that the plot of the manga or light novel worked better a certain way already and changing it would be a bad idea. The obvious alternative is to cut content but again, I think Sayo Yamamoto had a very good reason not to do that. Improving the pacing and emotional weight of the story in that way would’ve compromised her artistic vision for the message of the show. But as I hope I’ve demonstrated here, there is one more alternative solution that’s a little more practical: To pack more of the story into each scene through visual information and the language of film. With more thoughtful editing and small changes to shots, as well as maybe cutting a little bit of some of the figure skating performances, the show could convey just as much without compromising its own emotional impact or its meaning. Of course, even that would’ve been difficult. The show’s production famously came down to the wire every week it was airing which is not the optimal situation for encouraging careful, methodical direction. I think Sayo Yamamoto and her team at MAPPA did an excellent job with the resources they had in creating this show. Clearly a lot of people agree with that sentiment, considering the size of its audience and how much love people have for it. But I also think that its production woes really hold it back from being a proper anime of the year contender so I can understand a bit of backlash towards its sweeping certain award shows. Speaking personally, I love Yuri on Ice and I just hope that the team behind it can get enough time and money for the sequel to turn it into the master piece that this show so clearly strives to be. I think that, given the opportunity, they can really pull it off. Anyway whether you’re a fan of the show or not, thank for you sticking around through this critique. I hope that it gave you a new perspective on the show at least. And of course, special thanks go out to the patrons who help me do what I do and make videos like this possible. If you want to hear me talk up an anime that I think is a true masterpiece, then you should check out this video where I name my anime of the year. Or if you want to hear about more dumb sports stuff then you might enjoy these videos about Haikyuu!! If you wanna see everything that I make from here on out, be sure to turn on Notifications from Mother’s Basement. For now though, I’m Geoff Thew, professional shitbag, and this is G.G. Style.