and i love the man

★ Yuri on Instagram, or, How this story lives in snapshots ★

This post wasn’t originally meant to happen; I wasn’t planning on writing for YOI, and it’s always a little hazardous to write extensively about shows that have yet to end anyway. But sometimes I get ideas that refuse to leave my head until I type them down, and I’ve spammed my twitter enough as is. So here’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while now; namely, a quick post I call Yuri on Instagram, or, How this story lives in snapshots.

I’ll try to contextualize a little: it took me a while to warm up to YOI. I’m the type of viewer who likes slow build-ups, to really witness dynamics evolve, but much of YOI’s pacing seemed to work on fast-forward. It wasn’t that I disliked it, but the show didn’t initially engage me as more than a casual viewer. However, halfway through the show that started to change. At first it was hard to pinpoint the reason; I’d always liked the themes and atmosphere, but also understood why some people felt the execution didn’t deliver. So why was I suddenly being pulled in by the narrative that left me somewhat detached before?

Interestingly enough, when trying to explain my new-found fondness for YOI irl, what came out was this:

“The show makes me feel like I’m watching snapshots. There are all these glimpses at themes, elements, personalities, dynamics – almost as if it’s not about a single, in-depth story, but several stories in snapshots instead. And so I can fill in all the gaps, however I see fit.”

Filling-in-the-gaps is, of course, a method often used to draw in the fujoshi audience. Its success often depends on the creator’s ability to recognize when and how much subtext and/or ambiguity to use, in order for the viewers to run off and transform the original text. Of course, this might accidentally make the pacing come off as confusing: isn’t leaving all these gaps between the extravagant scenes only a sign of bad writing, if the actual development is only referential on screen? Well, sometimes it can definitely be. But what I’m proposing is that with YOI, employing this snapshot-like subtext is actually a rather deliberate narrative choice through which to tell the entire story.

The first thing most of us noticed when we started watching was YOI’s gratuitous use of internet and social media, mainly Instagram. Shorter scenes are expanded through the use of “behind the scenes” material shared by Phichit and co. This relies on the way we’re taught to interpret social media: we understand that there is more to the image than we see. Moreover, we love the snapshots because it leaves that room for our imagination – a glimpse at someone’s photo feed only ever alludes to the real story behind the picture, one that’s ours to construct in our head.

In this manner, you can take almost any episode, any scene and apply the same logic: there’s more story behind these characters and their dynamics, their dreams and aspirations, even the training that goes into their skating programs. What we see isn’t the full picture, surely, but is it even meant to be? Or is it meant to give you a glimpse into this world, like a snapshot scene, just enough to cultivate thought and feeling before moving onto the next?

In this regard, I found episode 10 even more proof of the idea that YOI is intended to be told in snapshot scenes. We literally go back a year in history playing out in the images of a photo roll, and the stories they share are more incredible in our heads than they ever would be on screen. How long did this danceoff take? Did Yuuri drink all those champagne flutes? Who first pointed out the stripper pole? This is the world fanfics are made of, the world of imagination that fujoshi love. This is the real subtext of Yuri on Ice, and evidently very successful in what it’s trying to do.

For a story that takes place in so many countries and the minds of so many people, it makes sense for the narrative method to employ this kind of subtext/ambiguity. For example, my ultimate favourite JJ comes off as either a legendary egomaniac or a friendless loser depending on the scene you catch him in. This leaves it up to the viewer to construct how these identities work together, much the same way we piece people’s identities together through social media every day. Another example is my other favourite, Yurio, whose true loneliness was always hinted at (through the scenes with his grandfather, or things like being hung up on Viktor’s promise); yet when Otabek asks Yurio to be his friend, the scene is effective depending on how long you really think he’s been waiting for someone to ask him that question.

Admittedly, at the beginning of YOI it was tricky to suspend my disbelief at the rapid-fire rate everything was taking place. By the time episode 10 rolled in, though, combined with everything I’ve since learnt about Kubo-sensei’s fondness for ambiguity, I realized I had actually been following a pretty consistent internal logic all along. The end of that episode confirmed this for me, because when the audience learns of the memories Viktor has that Yuuri doesn’t, everything you’ve constructed in your head rearranges. A single snapshot is all it takes, because the expectations we’ve cultivated over Viktor’s motivations were based on snapshots too. The more ambiguity over this, the more our expectations are taken by surprise.

Still, in order for that twist to work, you’ve had to fill in the gaps between these snapshots with some sort of meaning in the first place. In other words, the success of constructing narrative in such scenes calls for voluntary participation. This is ultimately also the reason why this kind of style does not work for everyone; if the script relies on the willingness to imagine how the rest of the story happens, not every viewer is going to want to do that. If the chosen themes, characters or dynamics fail to strike a chord, not every viewer finds something worth imagining at all.

Even so, I would claim this ambiguity remains Yuri on Ice’s biggest strength. Not only does it piece the multifaceted narrative together (for such a character-oriented show, a good chunk of an episode can be spent on the sports alone), but it also doesn’t dictate how the story should be consumed. The way the show is structured really encourages that active participation: just jump right in! Here you’ll find enough solid content to get your imagination going, and enough freedom to interpret it as you see fit! Sure, you can turn down that opportunity if it doesn’t seem suited for your needs as a viewer, but like an Instagram feed, at its best it can turn into a colourful, vibrant platform – to be inspired, to be entertained, to dream.

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“Tonight, Ladies and Gentlemen, Joe White will have as his guest on this provocative hour of conversation, an American Nazi. A man who has claimed to have spent last weekend in a flying saucer, and a young lady whose remarkably successful first novel has created a storm of controversy.”