TV World {Yuri!!! On Ice}

Glittering and gasp-worthy. Some observers might describe the figure skating world this way, but it would also be an apt summary of Yuri on Ice, the figure skating anime that’s taken the interwebs by storm.

Credit to YOI creators and Honeyfeed.fm

Never in my adult life did I imagine my nerd-doms would collide in such a charming series. And never did I imagine so many others would be taken by it too. However, whether you were a figure skater or not, you’ll be drawn to the story of Yuri Katsuki, an elite Japanese athlete who needs some help getting back up on his skates. Like in many competitive sports that favor youth, hitting your early twenties in figure skating usually leads to the sunset of one’s amateur career. Yuri is twenty-three, and his crisis of confidence doesn’t go ignored by Viktor Nikiforov, a silver-haired Russian star in the field. Love-is-love deniers beware, there is a sweet romance brewing between the two that anyone would have trouble saying it’s not endearing. Thankfully, the promise of more isn’t far off as a second season is in the works due to the surprise popularity of Yuri’s debut.

You’ll meet a vibrant cast of supporting characters whose personalities and motivations are memorable and distinguishable. I don’t know how the animators and writers managed, but in relatively short twenty-minute episodes, I find myself empathizing with not only Yuri but his competitors whom he also deeply respects. My favorite is Phichit Chulanont, the Thai wunderkid who’s trailblazing as an elite skater from Southeast Asia. I just can’t wait to see how many country jackets may be seen at Anime Expo, where there will for sure be many cosplayers of Yuri Plisetsky, the relentless Russian star, or maybe Otabek Altin, the prideful Kazakh stud. This room for bold and maybe even melodramatic characterization is something that the medium of anime lends itself well to. With a blank canvas or screen, there’s no excuse not to go all-out. Need I remind you of Naruto?

Most importantly, the figure skating world is painstakingly and lovingly rendered in 2D, and as a former rink rat, I was impressed by the details I saw even in the background art. For example, at most rinks people skate counterclockwise, and in YOI, I saw a sign in the background with kanji indicating “to the left.” The real marvel is the actual animation of the figure skating. Skeptical at first, I changed my mind when I realized I felt like I was watching the real thing. The intro alone is a work of art, and I often held my breath when a skater attempted their third quad jump in the routine (program, as we formally call it). The skater fell, and I felt for them much as I would watching live figure skating with real medals at stake.

Credit to YOI creators and gamenguide.com

Beyond the movements, the stresses, struggles, and surprises of the figure skating world were outlined faithfully. Yuri Katsuki is a small-town hero in a nation that now often stands at the top of figure skating podiums (search Yuzuru Hanyu, be amazed), while Yuri Plisetsky, his chief rival, comes from a nation with a long history of champions. So it would make absolute sense for the figure skating world to be shocked when the Russian prince Viktor takes a break at the height of his career to coach a Japanese skater. This is about as far-fetched as the series gets though, and it’s necessary since it gives Yuri K. new and intriguing (sparks! fly!) motivations to skate well. As for me, I will never be able to think about a bowl of savory katsudon the same ever again.

However, the happiest aspect of the series for my fellow former figure skater viewing friend (say that five times fast!) and I is how sportsmanship is depicted in the anime. I’ll admit, it’s been a while since I watched Prince of Tennis, so I don’t have a recent point of comparison. I can say that in YOI, everyone’s biggest competitor is truly themselves, and rather than cut their fellow athletes down, they want them to do well to make for interesting competition. In a show about figure skating, whose athletes aren’t immune to the temptations of doping or even clubbing another’s knees to get ahead, it would have been easy to capitalize on this history of scandals to make for cliffhangers that would keep people watching.

Don’t be swayed by the crazy costumes in this series (indeed, I think they’re one of the best parts) and give a different type of sports-based show a try! As the Russians would might say, davai!

TV World // China {God of War, Zhao Yun}

Recently I’ve rediscovered Viki, a site I often visited in college when I was due (or not) for a study break. Suffice it to say that I am open to all kinds of life advice (quit your job, travel, don’t quit your job, etc.), but I tend to ignore the occasional “don’t waste your time on TV” line that shows up in listicles.

Viki’s layout has changed a bit since I first started using it to watch my beloved Asian shows, while the offering has expanded significantly. You can find content from Korea, Taiwan, China, Mexico, Indonesia, the Philippines, and more places. Put it another way, Viki has made content that may be filed under niche genres in other SVOD services into its main value proposition.

With their international expansion, Netflix has stepped up its efforts to bring in just this type of global content. Viki’s original show Dramaworld has started streaming on the SVOD giant’s site, and Netflix is also looking to license Descendants of the Sun, a Korean show already on Viki. On first glance, these content plays make obvious sense for Asian markets, but explore the comments section under any episode on Viki. You’ll find discussion among fans in English, Spanish, Russian, and some Slavic languages I can’t name. It’s proof that TV can bring the world together (no drama intended).

This phenomenon becomes abundantly clear when a South Korean pop star carries a huge part of the draw to God of War, Zhao Yun, a Chinese martial arts fantasy. Girls’ Generation member Yoona is heavily featured in the marketing materials, and at least when I watched the first episode, the comments in the video player were from fans clamoring for her first line. (Spoiler: she does not show up yet.) It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say they were watching the show only because of her. This cross-pollination is not new though, as South Korean pop groups often include members from ChinaThailand, and elsewhere.

god of war art
Show art with Yoona front and center. (Source: dramovies.com)

Towards the end of the episode, I kind of felt the same. My curiosity about when she’d make her appearance was what kept me watching. There is a slight Game of Thrones aspect to the saga, but only slight. I realized halfway through that I just couldn’t connect with the story, and I was plain confused by some bits.

At one point, our gang of heroes come across an imposing white tiger mom who leads them to a trap, where she implies that she needs their help extracting her babies safely. They do, and a sentimental moment ensues as they acknowledge each other and separate on their respective paths once more. Perhaps the symbolism will come through later on in the series.

A strength contest occurs in the Chinese emperor’s court, where soldiers magically lift a heavy metal cauldron with their bare hands. For Godfrey Gao’s character (you may know him as Magnus Bane in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones movie), he does this with one hand. I’ve been away from the fantasy genre for a while, it seems!

Godfrey Gao in God of War (Source: fanpop.com)

You also can’t ignore the lavish and grand production design, and the language is incredibly poetic. It’s escapist drama at its best, although it still requires a significant suspension of disbelief. All the hallmarks of a classic Chinese period (and therefore, costume) drama are there, but now they’ve been upgraded for the modern omni-Asian entertainment fan. They may study Chinese in school because it’s the business language of the future, listen to Korean pop in the car, and have a passion for Tex-Mex. …Or maybe I just described myself!