Skate-Leading Stars Is a Soap Opera Version of Yuri!!! on Ice

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Skate-Leading Stars Episode 1, "Pact," now streaming on Funimation.

Skate-Leading Stars is a much anticipated original sports anime by Code Geass's director Goro Taniguchi, and the main reason for the anticipation is its similarities to the mega-hit Yuri!!! on Ice. Both series are about male figure skating and have beautiful character designs. Both series also seem to center on the relationship between a competitor who is ready to quit the sport and his coach, with a super-talented rival character completing a trio of main characters. Episode 1 of Skate-Leading Stars, however, suggests that it is a more over-the-top series than Yuri!!! on Ice ever was.

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In terms of portraying figure skating, the two series could not be more different. Yuri!!! on Ice features the real-life competition of the ISU Grand Prix, with realistic competition rules and procedures. Real figure skaters are used as inspirations for character designs, and the series even invited real figure skaters to be guest voice actors.

On the other hand, Skate-Leading Stars’ main sport “skate-leading” or team figure skating is an invented team sport based on figure skating. There is one lead/point-getter responsible for doing the most difficult jumps, two wings responsible for tougher moves like twist lifts, and two guards doing the rest of the moves like steps and lifts. But for people who are familiar with figure skating, these rules do not make a lot of sense. Figure skating is not a contact sport like hockey, so positions like “guards” should not exist. All this sport seems to be doing is delegating the job of one or two skaters in actual figure skating to five people for no reason other than to feature more characters.

Since Episode 1 has not really shown any skate-leading routines, it is difficult to comment on how effective the sport will be presented. What makes the series truly over-the-top is its characters. For instance, the protagonist Kensei Maeshima gave up skating because his childhood rival Reo Shinozaki would not acknowledge him as a rival. After years, he is still easily triggered just by seeing Reo's image on TV. But Kensei has the ability to copy any moves he sees just like Ryota Kise from Kuroko no Basuke, so even though he quit figure skating for years, he can still perfectly imitate difficult moves with little effort.

Even more melodramatic is Kensei’s coach Hayato Sasugai’s backstory. Hayato claims to be Reo’s younger half-brother, whose rich father played around and conceived Hayato soon after Reo, so they are the same age. Hayato feels that Reo looks down upon him since they were kids, so he decides to seek revenge. Hayato does not have the talent to beat Reo at figure skating, so he pretends to be disabled in order to recruit Kensei and carry out his revenge.

The soap-opera-ish character motivations are only accentuated by how seriously they take their goals. In order to reignite Kensei’s passion for skating, Hayato kidnaps one of the skaters scheduled to perform after Reo, and let Kensei take his place. The fact that Kensei performs a whole routine with no practice, copying complicated choreography from Reo, and no one in the arena even notices it's a different person, is just a bit beyond the realm of believability. It is also probably the worst possible way for a character to regain his mojo, though it's admittedly pretty funny.

Of course, realism isn't necessary for anime. A fun and unconventional sports anime with a lot of bishonen characters, Skate-Leading Stars could satisfy a lot of viewers, if you're not expecting it to be the next Yuri!!! on Ice. The skating animation in Skate-Leading Stars is competent, but it does not have the breathtaking quality of Yuri!!! on Ice's best-animated routines. What sets the series apart from Yuri!!! on Ice is its melodramatic characters, which Episode 1 seems to be only scratching the surface of. If you’re watching for the figure skating, you might want to stay for the ample drama.

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