In 2016, Yuri!!! on Ice took the anime fandom by storm, and while it isn't atypical for a series to capture the imagination of many fans, Yuri!!! on Ice was an odd case. It was an entirely original anime focused on ice skating. It came up against some steep competition from other sports anime like Free! and Haikyuu!!, and those two were based on pre-existing source material.
Despite this, Yuri!!! on Ice became a mega-hit, being one of the most-watched anime of 2016, sweeping Crunchyroll's first Anime Awards, and proving to be so popular that, even years later, the hype was still intense for its follow-up, Yuri!!! on Ice: Ice Adolescence. Many anime come and go every year, so what's the secret behind Yuri!!! on Ice's lasting power, and what can future anime production crews learn from it to create content that sticks in the public consciousness?
Yuri!!! on Ice's Secret is Strong Character Writing
Without burying the lead, Yuri!!! on Ice worked because it had very well-developed characterization. While the show introduces arguably too many characters, the core three figures -- Yuri Katsuki, Yuri Plisetsky and Victor Nikiforov -- are incredibly well-realized characters with deeply explored ambitions, flaws, and desires, all of which are worked throughout the series. Their relatable struggles make audiences immediately sympathize with them too.
Victor is the least developed of the three -- though his upcoming prequel film should offer a more in-depth insight into his life. Victor's 27-years-old, which, for Olympic-level skating, means he's close to retirement. It's clear from the start that Victor is incredibly self-conscious about his age. He's a very private, melancholy person who hides his sadness through cheer and flamboyant excitement.
Victor is expected to train Yuri Plisetsky, a hot-shot 15-year-old skater with anger issues. Instead, he chooses to train Yuri Katsuki, a washed-up skater who, in his last world championship competition, placed last and had all but given up on himself.
Yuri Katsuki is a Painfully Relatable Main Character
On that note, let's talk about Yuri Katsuki, the main character. Yuri is an immediately sympathetic protagonist in part due to just how vulnerable this guy is. He loses his first competition because he found out his dog died the day of the event. He struggles with some undiagnosed anxiety issues that result in emotional eating, profoundly low self-esteem and an inability to feel proud of his numerous accomplishments.
What makes this series fantastic is how these three characters all manage to help each other grow and overcome their demons over the course of the series. Yuri Plisetsky's arc centers on him being less brash and arrogant, allowing him to come in contact with his more emotional, softer side. Victor manages to open up more to people and allow himself to move beyond being a skater and being a coach. Yuri Katsuki's arc shows him come to understand his value as a skater and recognize his incredible talent and self-worth.
Yuri!!! on Ice is Diverse Wish Fulfillment
Another reason why Yuri!!! on Ice gained international appeal is because it's an international anime. Due to its competition's nature, essentially being a world tournament, many of the minor characters come from all over the globe. Because of this, you see a lot of different cultures represented in the series. Phichit is Thai, Chris is Swiss, Otabek is Kazakh, etc..
However, when people talk about Yuri!!! on Ice and diversity, what they're usually referring to is how it arguably stands as one of the best works of LGBTQ+ representation in recent memory. When the show first came out, many fans thought that Yuri's admiration of Victor seemed a little too intense to be just platonic. This was made all the more apparent when Yuri comes home to find Victor naked in one of his family's hot springs, a sight that leaves him quite red in the face.
As the show went on, many fans debated whether or not Yuri!!! on Ice was engaging in queerbaiting, where a creator teases a same-sex relationship without ever intending on going through with it. Then, halfway through the series, the two kiss on-screen -- treating the many same-sex romances in the show as most anime do with hetero ones.
Despite the diverse population in the series, it exists in a world without any bigotry -- with no explicit racism or homophobia. It exists as a wish-fulfillment fantasy of the world for many people. It is arguably for that reason why Yuri!!! on Ice managed to stand apart from so many other single-season anime. Plus, the superb animation as well.