I’m meant to have been working all day, but my concentration is shot. So let me write a few more thoughts on where I think YOI is headed…
First, much as I enjoyed joining in the shipping this week, with the usual playful baiting that the writers are putting into the episode previews, I still don’t think Yuri and Victor are in a relationship. Which would also mean that I don’t think either of them is considering romance at the moment. Why? Well…it's to do with the love that Yuri feels for his sport.
This last episode, I think, really clarified for me why Yuri is the protagonist. We are really looking very deeply into one figure skater’s relationship with figure skating and the immense pressure that comes with it. From the start, we’ve been told and shown that Yuri has the skills to win (look at his frigging short program scores! Currently, only Yuzuru Hanyu has ever gotten more than 109!)—it’s the mental pressure that he has been unable to withstand. And given what Japan’s skating ranks are in the world of YOI, I can see it somewhat. Can you imagine having the hopes of an entire country on you?
Importantly, the show demonstrates that this is a struggle that is not so easily overcome. Yuri has grown so much over the last two competitions, and Victor having to return to Japan was, perhaps, the perfect opportunity for Yuri to show us just how much he’s grown. But now that I think about it, that would have been unrealistic. Indeed, Yuri made mistakes with his early jumps, and then made even more mistakes trying to compensate for them. Non-figure skating fans wouldn’t have noticed this, since it wasn’t mentioned, but Yuri changing his final 4T into a combination jump was a costly mistake that saw him miss out on the podium.
Let me explain with a bit more detail — though feel free to skip to the next paragraph if figure skating technicalities bore you. In the senior men’s free program, you’re only allowed to have three combination jumps (out of a total of eight jumping passes — the rest have to be solo jumps). The penalty is that only the first jump of the pass is counted, and with only 70% of the base value. So instead of having a base value of 11.33 (10.3 for a 4T with the 1.1x bonus for it being in the second half of the program), Yuri would have started with 7.93. Then because he put his hand down on the second jump in the combo, he’d have been hit with a GOE of -2 or thereabouts, leaving him with around just 6 points for the jump max, instead of say 11 or 12. Emil (5th) had 271.58 in total, whilst Michele (3rd) had 282.89. Yuri got 282.84—if he hadn’t messed around with that last jump, he’d have finished third, and safely gone through to the GPF with the same number of points as Phichit (24). Instead, he snuck in on a technicality, because he’d gotten a silver at the Cup of China, versus Michele’s two bronzes.
Hence, it’s not just the original mistakes that almost messed up Yuri’s qualification, it was also him panicking and making further mistakes. That’s what Yakov was scolding Yuri about in the Kiss & Cry. And it’s another black mark against Victor as a coach—as someone who probably hasn’t ever made mistakes like that, he wouldn’t have thought to prepare Yuri and have him practice for such a possibility. In contrast, Yurio changing his program so drastically (moving two jumps from the first to the second half of the programs means that he’d have had to swap them out for at least one spin, or perhaps the step sequence) suggests that he has been working on several different versions of his program just in case. This also happens in real life. Just last weekend at the NHK Trophy, Nathan Chen became the first person to land a 4F+3T in competition after he messed up on his opening jump and didn’t complete the combination there. But he wouldn’t have been able to do that if he hadn’t prepared for such a scenario, and it is ultimately his coach's responsibility to make sure that he considers it.
These are some of the issues that are weighing on Yuri’s mind after the Rostelecom Cup in the show. He's taken Victor away from the sport for an entire season, but he feels that he's also dragging his name and reputation down with the poor showings he keeps having. This is why he decides that, no matter what happens, he’s going to have Victor stop being his coach. A number of other viewers seem to have interpreted Yuri’s “Please be my coach until I retire” at the end of the episode as representing a change of mind…that seeing Victor made him reconsider and realise that he wanted to have him by his side for as long as possible. And that’s probably how I processed the scene on my first viewing.
But there was a niggling doubt in my mind, and after watching it all again and thinking this through, I suspect that Yuri made up his mind on the flight home from Russia: whatever happens in Barcelona, he’s going to retire so that Victor can return as a competitive skater. He’s been selfish in wanting to keep beside him the person that he so admires, and who has come to mean so much to him, but he’s also felt the additional pressure of the expectations that have come from it. And he also knows that the rest of the skating world, and especially their fellow competitors, also want Victor back so that they have someone to aim for, to be acknowledged by, and to try to surpass. In short, I think that because of the Rostelecom Cup, Yuri has come to the conclusion that he will only be able to skate at his best if Victor is by his side. And so, for the sake of the world that he loves so much, he has to quit to that he doesn’t deprive that world of its brightest star.
I haven’t dealt with Victor’s feelings here because, to be honest, he’s still a mystery to me. His response of “I wish you’d never retire” suggests that he wants to keep trying to bring out Yuri’s potential, but is it for himself, or is it for Yuri’s sake? I hope it’s for the latter, or perhaps even that he wants to skate against Yuri, and end up on the same podium one day…but even then, there’s also the question of what Yuri wants for Victor himself, and for the skating world that they both love so much. How will the two of them deal with all of these conflicting desires?
To be honest, I don't know whether I want to be right or wrong about how I'm reading this. Kubo-sensei and Yamamoto-san have created two characters and a relationship that I've really loved watching develop over the past nine episodes, and it's become increasingly clear to me that Victor and Yuri are changing each other in ways that both will value long after this Grand Prix Series is over. So, in my heart, I'd like to be wrong about this, even though it would be such a blow to my confidence in my ability to read and interpret a story that I'm following. But on the other hand, my sense of the creators' priorities--gleaned from a number of places around the web--are pushing me into seeing what I've laid out here in this post...
GDI, I was ok when I watched the episode at least three times yesterday…but now I’m tearing up just thinking about this!
And about Tatsuki Machida and his relatively early retirement back in 2014, too...