How yoi plays with sports story scheme
I was wondering recently why Yuri on Ice seemed to be so different and fresh to me and why so many people get so emotionally engaged with it. There is definitely a nice animation and great characters and representation and such a beautiful love story but I felt like there was something in the narration layer that I couldn’t name until I compared yoi storyline to the most common schemes.
When you look at most of the pop cultural stories, especially those where main plot focuses on sport, you’ll see that there is that one scheme they all follow - you have a hero who has talent but lacks something (like a good mentor or hard work or confidence), he finds a motivation to win (it may be anything from parent’s death to wish to impress a girl) and he finds a dedicated coach, he trains, he loses, he learns something about himself, he wins, he gets an award. This is the basic way of constructing such stories and it’s catchy because we all want to believe that we are able to fight our weaknesses and win by ourselves. You may modify this scheme to a large extent but the main core will always be a single hero who needs to grow in order to win and actually I think that this scheme is present in Yuri on Ice but in Yurio’s not Yuuri’s story. Yurio has talent, lacks hard work and needs to learn something about himself, his skate-off with Yuuri gives him a motivation to win, he trains hard, he loses, he grows, he wins. This doesn’t make his story or his character less interesting but I wanted to give you an example of what am I talking about so I could compare it to Yuuri’s story.
So now, where is Yuuri’s plot different you could say. Well, in a way you could find all those elements in Yuuri’s story too but his development is where it all turns to be innovative. You see in the basic scheme the hero needs to learn to win by himself while Yuuri has got to that point a long time ago. He had all of that: his motivation, his hard work, most of his abilities, his own strength before he met Victor. He was fighting by himself for five years before and even if his anxiety makes him look like a weak loser it is obvious he is already beyond that “learning about myself” phase. Even this confidence Victor helps him to find he already had just hidden. Yuuri knows his emotions and some of his strengths and most of the weak points himself and either he wins or loses those minor competitions it doesn’t change him too deeply. But what Victor gives him is the belief that he doesn’t have to fight by himself anymore. Not in a “you can learn from other people” or “teamwork is important” kind of way (’cause they are still used in most of the stories) but in acknowledging that you may become better if you let someone close to you (this lesson applies to Victor to btw but he is not the main hero so I’ll skip this part).
I won’t say this reverses the scheme completely as this is still some kind of personal development that helps to win (though the fact that Yuuri does not finally win is interesting by itself) but it definitely changes the subtext of the whole story. We like stories about heroes fighting by themselves because we often struggle with our problems alone and we need to believe me can do it. But Yuri on Ice gives us the idea that thought you are strong enough to fight maybe you don’t have to fight alone at all. I guess this is why it has such a great emotional impact because in a world that tells you all the time that it’s only for you to win the story of someone who still needed help even if he already was strong and beautiful is really hopeful, positive and in a way more realistic then the basic “hero can only win by himself” scheme.
There is also the whole layer of how Victor doesn’t fit to the standard portrayal of a mentor figure but I think this is quite easy to spot and maybe let’s not make this longer than it has to be but the last quick reflection I had is that the most common way of portraying romantic relationships in the sports stories is either when the hero needs to sacrifice his relationship in order to focus (which is the trope I personally hate) or when he wins the attention of his love interest by winning the final competition (so the love is somehow a reward then). What is great in Yuuri and Victor’s relationship is how Yuuri doesn’t have to win to prove his worth to Victor. Almost from the beginning, Victor knows Yuuri’s flaws and he falls for him anyway. So Yuuri is not only given support that helps him to become better but also he doesn’t need to earn that support. Which I think again is quite moving because everyone dreams of this kind of relationship. We are all scared that we are not good enough to let someone help us in the first place and this is where yoi tells us it doesn’t have to be this way.
I’m sure there are much more tropes that are reversed in yoi and there is the whole narration layer that is also quite original but as storytelling is what I have the most experience with I decided to focus on this aspect only. And I may be wrong I just like to find and discuss narration schemes so please argue if you disagree but I love the fact that even when yoi takes those basic narration schemes it uses it to send a very positive message across and for me it could be a reason why there is such an enthusiastic fandom around it - because this anime exchanges the story of fighting alone for a story about growing in a relationship though it does not change a sports story for a cheaply romantic one.