While episode seven of Yuri!!! On ICE has been met with wild jubilation among fans across the various online platforms with regards to a certain “Did they? Did they not?” moment (and yes, it was brilliantly directed–but that goes without saying), I think it stands out for one other important aspect. That is, the growth of Viktor in his new role as coach.
After having idolized Viktor at a distance from a young age, Yuri Katsuki suddenly found Viktor in his corner of the world at the end of the first episode–offering his services as Yuri’s own coach.
The training regime Yuri was then subjected to was tough, but Viktor remained smiling and good-humored throughout.
Looking back through those early episodes, it appears that Viktor was and is still struggling to cope with the methodology of coaching in terms of mental motivation. How much of Yuri’s proactive efforts are down to the rigid training Viktor has put together in his program? How much of it is simply coming from Yuri himself, in an effort to better his rivals, to prove himself to his own, previously self-doubting mind? How much is down to his own idolization of Viktor?
Since Viktor’s arrival, the two have become inseparable–and the whole world has, of course, noticed. As the rumor mill drove dozens of reporters to Yuri’s home, Viktor appeared more than pleased to field all sorts of questions.
Certainly Viktor’s intentions are to see Yuri succeed, but his style of coaching is clearly different to the other Russian coaches we have seen so far in the series–namely the overly strict Yakov and Lilia. Viktor’s strictness instead comes from an image of kindness and gentle smiles. But we are not sure if this coaching style is affecting Yuri’s performance, or if it is something else.
In a pivotal scene of episode seven, Yuri is becoming more and more anxious about his peers’ performances and how they might affect his own result. Viktor notices this and sets him aside for what he intended to be a quick word of advice. However, he is unsure of how to calm Yuri’s nerves and provide encouragement.
Viktor imagines the heart of a figure skater as being made of glass–being a skater himself, he must have a certain level of conviction here. He thus comes to the conclusion that to get Yuri to snap out of this slump, he must be shattered first. Viktor looks straight at Yuri and tells him that he will quit as his coach if he does not manage to get a medal today.
A beat passes, and a bead of sweat appears on the side of Viktor’s face. Immediately, tears begin to stream down Yuri’s cheeks. Viktor thinks to himself, “He’s broken.” But it was not the result he was aiming for.
Viktor tries everything he can to undo this. He tells Yuri he didn’t mean what he said, and genuinely seems apologetic, but at the same time, shows how much of a novice he is as a coach.
Professional status as a figure skater does not automatically translate to professional instructor. A teacher is supposed to be always in tune with their student. He had so far failed to understand Yuri’s perspective–especially when it comes to how Yuri views Viktor as a person.
For Yuri, Viktor was someone he admired, looked up to, and moved towards as a target. Standing in front of him before his performance, Yuri wanted nothing more than Viktor’s gaze upon him. He didn’t need him to say or do anything. Yuri just wanted Viktor to believe in him–believe that he can win–even when he has trouble beliving in himself. He wanted Viktor’s attention as a form of mental support.
Yet when the two of them finally emerge and Yuri enters the rink, he drops a tissue just far enough away from Viktor’s hand that Viktor has to struggle to catch it. Yuri then pokes the top of Viktor’s head mischievously, as he skates away to take his place at the center of the rink. Yakov, from a distance, notices this and makes a mental note that Viktor still has a long way to go if he is being made fun of by his own apprentice.
One great thing about Yuri!!! On ICE is how every time the skaters are on the ice, we hear their inner thoughts, what’s going through their mind as they perform. It is rather telling that everything Yuri thinks during his set is about Victor’s reaction to what he’s about to do. He wants to surprise him. Before, during, and after, Yuri is concerned about what Victor will think of him. He grew up watching him; now, it is his turn to be seen.
Yuri!!! on ICE is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.