Show, Don’t Tell: Yuri on Ice Masters the #1 Rule of Storytelling
Yuri on Ice is one of those masterpieces that I want to know inside and out, as as I’m watching it again I’m catching its artistry of Show Don’t Tell. Everyone knows the obvious lovey-dovey moments between our two leads… but it’s the smaller moments that speak volumes, and the writers go extra lengths to ensure this. In this post I’ll be discussing ep. 7 starting with the kiss, to what we see afterwards in ep. 8.
Everyone knows the kiss scene. Everyone loves the kiss scene. But what happens after? First of all let’s talk for a moment just what Yuri must be feeling here. I mean his face says it all:
Think of what Victor is to Yuri. “A glistening god out of reach.” “I’ve chased after him for years, trying to catch up to his genius.” Yuri idolizes Victor as a skater, Victor is the very person who inspired Yuri to do so well at skating at all… and now this “glistening god” just planted a kiss on his lips on national television. It’s more than a dream come true – it’s unreal. He can’t believe it. He’s in shock. After a moment like that Yuri is more than elated – he must be stupid happy; the surge of emotion so great the crowd and even the scoreboard just washes into a blur. And… what happens after the kiss? No kiss and cry. No waiting for the score. All we get is a recap from a much more composed Yuri, clearly having recovered from the emotional surge of the kiss to narrate. But he’s not narrating in real time – it’s a recap. Cut to Yuri in real time shortly after the kiss, and what do we see?
…I think he has awhile left before he comes back to earth. Just LOOK at that face. You can practically see the giant cupid arrow sticking out of his chest. Another note: Victor is also still blushing. You think Yuri’s the only one on a mountain right now? They’re both a blubbering mess. Not only that, but in this moment Victor just interrupted Yuri’s interview to say “Yuri’s already proven he’s the skater to beat this year. Now with the quad flip in his roster, I’m sure he’ll win the Rostelecom Cup and advance to the Grand Prix Final!” To the first-time viewer, both Yuri’s suddenly composed recap and Victor’s comment on the skating feels jarring – like the writers are sweeping our grand moment out from under us. THERE IT IS, they kissed – ! …aaaand back to the skating. When in fact, by avoiding explicit discussion altogether, the creators allow room to show the effect of that moment both on Yuri and Victor through their actions. Victor is bubbling with pride, barely able to contain himself even on national TV. Meanwhile Yuri just stands off in a lovestruck daze as he watches his idol gush over him to the world. In fact, when you take the enormity of the emotion into account here, it’s almost unfair to expect a rigid explanation or direct thought from either of them. As Victor himself said earlier in the show: “It’s an emotion, so why waste time trying to put it into words, you know?” To poke and prod our leads until they “tell us how they feel” would just cheapen the rawness of that moment.
This is where I start reading in between the lines… but you have to in order to understand YOI’s brilliance. Check out the first real moment we get between Yuri and Victor since the kiss in ep. 7:
The shot starts with a close-up of Victor’s gloves tying Yuri’s skates. This is the first time we’ve seen this, and it goes without saying it’s a significant gesture. This is shown even more by the shot panning up from Yuri’s skates to his head. For a moment all we see is Victor selflessly serving Yuri with the upmost sincerity (What was that Yakov said at the beginning? “Victor doesn’t think of anyone but himself, he could never be somebody’s coach!” Victor’s action of tying the skates can also be likened to Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, the epitome of a selfless act) and when we get to see Yuri’s face, he is surprisingly calm about it. Wait – they have to be blushing a little bit, right?
Nope. Not at all. Whatever firehose of emotion these boys went through in ch. 7, it seems to have completely worn off. Again, to the viewer this can feel like we’re being cheated. “But WHERE is my cute moment?! HOW can they be so calm about this!?”
First let’s talk about how much time has passed since the last episode. That was the end of the Cup of China. They had to go back to the hotel together. They had to get back on the plane together. Now whether that plane went back to Japan or straight to Russia is unclear, but I can speak from experience that airports and plane rides take a very long time. Then they had to get from the airport to the hotel – keep in mind they are in Victor’s country, and I’m sure he is thrilled to point out different culture tips and landmarks to Yuri. There is still no confirmation that Yuri and Victor are sharing a hotel room – this info is saved for ep. 10 – but we at least know from Victor’s interview and Yuri getting into the elevator that they are in the same hotel. In other words, there is a HUGE time gap between the emotionally charged kiss in ep 7. and this tying-of-the-ice-skates in ep. 8 – a time gap during which Victor and Yuri practically spent every second together. We get no explicit information as to what happened during that time, except that Victor and Yuri seem much more comfortable in the romantic element their relationship – particularly Yuri who before was a blushing, blubbery mess just at the sight of Victor. Who could forget this moment:
Now from a storytelling perspective this part felt like fan service, mainly because it seemed sudden. Waitwaitwaitwait, this is moving way to fast! Why is Yuri acting all confident and seductive, where is this coming from!?
…until you remember the time gap. And you realize Victor and Yuri had to work out those crazy emotions somehow. And whichever method they chose, it changed the tone of their relationship completely. Yuri’s move seems to invoke a shared memory between them, confirmed by the fact that Victor isn’t blushing but fighting down a grin at Yuri’s hot breath against his ear. There is no discovery here, no embarrassed newness. There’s a familiarity between them that wasn’t there before. Look back up at Yuri’s face while Victor ties his skates. He’s not fangirling like he would have earlier in the show – like he just did in ep. 7 – he almost expects that kind of devotion from Victor, and he treasures it. Oh, they’ve come down the mountain alright. They’ve come down and moved on, and now we are in a totally different valley.
A lot of the criticism I saw for YOI was that the story wasn’t as clear about Yuri and Victor’s relationship as it should have been. And I felt the same way… until I started paying attention to tiny details like this. The nature of their relationship couldn’t be any clearer – the creators just chose to SKIP what was probably the most defining moment for these two and then SHOW it through their actions after the fact. We don’t need to see what happened when Yuri and Victor got a private moment after the Cup of China. What little we see of them in ep. 8 tells us everything we need to know, keeping the focus off the more private aspects of their relationship and on the beauty of the relationship itself. Even better, YOI continues this method of storytelling through Yuri’s skating routine. He is skating to Eros, after all – and not without blowing a kiss to the judges, an addition to his routine that was only shown in this episode. And I don’t even need to comment on the way Victor watches him:
With episode 8, the creators are telling us: “These two have come leaps and bounds.” This is made clear when, as Yuri comes off the ice, the focus of the narrative shifts to Yurio. For the first time, we watch Yuri and Victor at the kiss and cry from a distance, and from a different character’s POV. This passing of the baton is brilliantly done, and leaves a feeling of (temporary) completion of Yuri and Victor’s arcs. I mean just look at them:
No conflict here, folks, nothing to see! Move along, move along! … and the story does, until Makkachin swallows a steam bun and we have a new problem to tackle. Just to drive home the genius of this kind of subtle storytelling, check out this two-second shot of Yuri and Victor after Yurio’s performance:
Victor isn’t even looking at the score. He’s looking at Yuri looking at the score. And he is hopelessly in love. We don’t need to see what happened between the kiss and the Rostelecom Cup – the writers show that development through tiny moments like this. And that is just one of the elements that makes this show a masterpiece.