The ISU Judging System: A Primer

We’re bringing back the #yoiconph2017 blog, just in time for World 2017, Men’s SP with this quick guide to the ISU Judging System by Judith! Find a working stream here!


For some figure skating viewers, there comes a time when they question why a skater got on the podium and another didn’t, why their favorite who skated a clean program did not win over someone who fell, and why someone who had more difficult jumps didn’t win over someone who “just skated nicely”.

Of course, the sensible course of action is to look at the scorecard in hopes of finding answers…

…only to find a pile of skating jargon and numbers that don’t seem to make sense.

What in quadnation are these dang letters and numbers.

In the hopes of making things a bit easier to understand, here’s a breakdown of the components in an ISU event scorecard.

Note: This is not a catch-all explanation for the judging system and only serves as a primer. More complicated terminologies such as underrotations, edge calls and invalid elements will not be covered.


SUMMARY

This contains the basic information about the skater: name, country represented, when they skated, their total score (including any deductions), the summary of the Technical Element Score (TES), Program Component Score (PCS), and if they had any deductions. Simple enough, right?

Until we get to the TES.


Is… is that a CCSp2?! Fix your levels, Katsuki-senshu.

TECHNICAL ELEMENTS SCORE

The TES for the short program consists of the required elements, their corresponding base value and the scaled grade of execution (GOE) based on the judges’ assessment. These are then added up to determine the technical score of the skater.

  • Executed elements – there are seven for the Men’s discipline: three jumps (one of which has to be a combination of two jumps), three spins and one step sequence.
    • Anything with a number in the beginning is a Jump, with the number indicating the number of rotations per jump. The letter after it indicates the type of jump – check them out here.
    • StSq stands for Step Sequence, with the number at the end indicating its level (where 4 is the highest). This level is determined by the technical panel based on the complexity of the moves within the step sequence.
    • Anything with Sp indicates a Spin. There are many variations, and once again its level is determined by the technical panel (with 4 once again being the highest level that can be awarded).
  • Base Value – each element has an assigned base value or default number of points. This is why quads are important for men; it’s getting harder and harder to get on the podium without it. Moreover, the x beside the element indicates a +10% added to its base value because it was skated during the second half of the program. This is awarded exclusively to jumps.
  • GOE and J1 to J9 – these stand for Grade of Execution and Judges 1 to 9*, respectively. The judges’ job is to assign a GOE per element based on the skater’s performance, with +3 as the highest and -3 as the lowest. The highest and lowest GOE per element are removed and they average the remaining seven to get the final GOE. These values are scaled, meaning a +3 GOE does not necessarily merit a +3 on the scorecard; a smaller base value merits a smaller maximum GOE.
  • Scores of panel – this is the combined score of the base value and GOE. They are then added up to determine the TES.

For the full list of elements and their corresponding base and scaled values, click here.

* Not all events have 9 judges; some have as little as 5, in which case none of the GOEs are taken out.


“Even if there’s only one quad, get a perfect score on the program components!” – Victor Nikiforov

PROGRAM COMPONENT SCORE

A lot of people tend to focus more on the TES than PCS, but the PCS is something that could make or break a skater’s score. Moreover, the PCS is an indication of how holistic a skater’s program is. The judges rate each category from 0.25 to 10, with 0.25 being the lowest and 10 as the highest.

  • Skating skills – focuses on the precision of the skater. Do they look like they’re gliding on the ice or stomping on it? How precise are their movements? Do they skate fast and yet look effortless or always look rushed and uncoordinated? How often do they skate on just one foot?
  • Transitions – focuses on how “full” the program looks. Do they just skate from one end of the rink to the other before performing their elements? If they fill their program with transitions such as spirals or split jumps, are their movements varied and complicated but still cohesive?
  • Performance – focuses on the skater’s personality on the ice. How connected is the skater to the program? Are they fierce/sassy/gentle when the program calls for it? How well can they project their emotions on the ice?
  • Composition – focuses on the choreography. How well do the movements match the music? Do they encompass the whole ice or just half of it? How boring or fresh is the program? Due to these factors, the choreographer’s job is important. No matter how talented a skater is both technically and artistically, a badly-designed program can negatively affect the composition.
  • Interpretation of the Music – focuses on the skater’s relationship with the music. How synchronized are their movements? Are their actions rhythmically sound? Do their movements match the grace or strength of the music?

For the full description of how program components are graded, click here.

So how does the Factor – well, factor into all this? The factor serves as the multiplier for the PCS. For Men’s senior events, the short program has a factor of 1.0, making 50 the maximum score they can receive.

DEDUCTIONS

Deductions are “awarded” to skaters with flawed programs; it’s most commonly given when a skater falls on their knees or butt during a jump, but it can also be given for not starting and ending in time with the music, skaters stopping in the middle of their program, and fallen accessories from their costume, among others.


LONG PROGRAM/FREE SKATE

The judging works the same way for the free skate, with a couple of notable differences:

  • Instead of 7 elements, there are 13: 8 jumps (with two jumps in combination), 3 spins, 1 step sequence, and 1 choreographic sequence (ChSq).
  • The factor is raised to 2.0 since it’s a longer program, making the maximum PCS score a 100.

The judging system can be unnecessarily complicated, so I hope this managed to make things a little easier to understand. Still confused about some things? Sound off in the comments!

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The Life and Love of Joel Minas

There is a mild-mannered effortlessness in the way that Joel Minas carries himself, an elegantly understated sense of poise that seems to belong to a time before this one. Meeting Joel is, at the risk of sounding overly poetic, like watching a sunrise – a warm glow that gradually grows brighter and brighter. He possesses a natural grace that not many can claim, and a natural graciousness that endears him to all who encounter him.

John Samuel Minas, more commonly known as Joel, is all of twenty-four-years-old, but glows with the enthusiasm and excitement of a boy a fraction of his age. His charm and musicality pours out of him as this figure-skater-turned-coach settles in to talk about the sport that he loves so much.

He began skating almost fifteen years ago, in 2002. His first foray into figure skating was a happy accident, a circumstance of convenience when he was nine years old. “My mom, whenever she would go shopping in SM, would leave me in the day care centers inside the mall. I was too naughty when she was going to shop so she would leave me there. And there was this one time, she just tried leaving me at the rink.When she came back, I didn’t want to go. She enrolled me in lessons, I started with the Milo Clinic, and the rest was history.”

His features light up as he remembers his first time on the ice, how easily and naturally he took to the sport at that young age. “It was just natural for me, I guess. I just got the hang of it. The sense of balance was there, I didn’t know where that came from.” He never had a coach assist him during his casual visits to the rink, so the Milo Clinic was his first venture into formal training.

Though he only enrolled in the Milo Clinic in April of 2002, he already entered his first competition by the first week of May in that same year, competing on the pre-alpha level at the age of nine. Later, the same year would bring him to Thailand for his first international competition for the same level.

Prior to figure skating, Joel did not involve himself in many sports; he, however, describes himself as a very active kid. “I used to play a lot outside, I was really active as a kid. I was a little bit hyperactive when I was young, and skating kind of put me in a spot where in okay, here, here lang.”

Joel began his competitive career at the age of 9 in 2002, and continued to compete until 2010, retiring from competition at the junior level at the age of 17. During his competitive career, he was able to compete in several local and international competitions and managed to bag 30 gold medals, 8 silver medals, and 7 bronze medals. He was the 2010 Asian Junior National Champion, and was also a member of the Philippine Figure Skating Team.

His education was the deciding point of his retirement. It came to the point where a compromise between school and skating was not possible, and he’d really have to stop one in order to pursue the other. “It was the reality kicking in, me thinking about my future as a skater. Will I get that far, really? What will be my career after my competitive season? It was the reality kicking in, me thinking long term.”

One of the circumstances that factored into the decision of his retirement was the extremely hectic schedule he had to face as both a student and a skater. “[The Philippines] is not like other countries where the school has its own rink. There are schools in the USA, Korea, and Japan that have skating rinks on campus, so it’s very convenient for them to train. I would wake up at 4:00am, train at SM Mall of Asia from 5:00am to 6:00am, then travel for school in San Beda College, Alabang at 8:00am.”

On this note, Joel mentions the struggle that all competitive figure skaters face when training in the Philippines. “We don’t have facilities to cater to competitive training,” listing harness use, pilates, and gymnastics as some examples of training areas not covered by local rinks. “The rinks here are mainly built for recreational skating, not competitive. [If] you really need to do that, you need to go somewhere else that offers that. It’s very possible, but really difficult, to jump from one area to another just to get the full cycle of training that you need to be competitive.” Those who really want to make it, he says, are therefore forced to train outside the country, where facilities are more accessible.

Did it hurt to stop to stop skating? “Of course it did!” he exclaims in a burst of emotion. “It’s like losing a limb!”

Joel stopped skating competitively, but nothing could keep him off the ice for too long. At 19, about to graduate from college, with few units and the OJT left to do, Joel found the time to begin coaching. He is now a high-level figure skating coach at SM Megamall and SM Mall of Asia, training skaters for competition.

There is an ideal age to start skating, says Joel, but he emphasizes that that only applies for competitive skating. “If you really want to be in the competitive scene, the preferred age for you to start is at around 6 or 7. You really have to start young, and start training competitively young. A lot of skaters start early, then play around for three to four years or so with no rigorous training. Then they figure out that they want to make it big, but then they’re too old.”

A lot of people find themselves concerned about the factor of age. Many people think they are too old or too late for skating, but Joel voices his encouragement. While competitive skating may not be an option for those starting in their late teens or early to mid-20s, Joel does not want those who are interested in the sport to be dissuaded from trying it. He encourages anyone at any age to pick up skating if they wish to do so. “For the record, I have a lot of skating friends that are adult skaters, who are learning all of these really difficult elements for their age. That just amazes me because of their drive to learn. You can pick it up at any age, just keep going. Enroll yourself with a good coach and surround yourself with people who will help you achieve your goals as a skater.”

As a Yuri!!! on ICE fan himself, Joel appreciates how the anime helped people take an interest in the sport that he loves. “It’s a really good feeling that a lot of people want to skate because of it. I get a lot of comments on my YouTube videos saying that they got inspired to skate, or some have quit skating, saw the anime, and got inspired to skate again. That’s really good.”

If anyone wants to skate because of Yuri!!! on ICE, Joel is all for it. “Just do it. Skating is for anyone who has the passion to do it, who really, really wants it. You may not make it to the big leagues or whatever, but it’s just a matter of you and your relationship with the sport. If you like what you’re doing and you love the sport, that wouldn’t matter.”

When asked about why he skates, what makes him skate, Joel glows in response as he attempts to word out the depth of fulfillment the sport gives him. “When I was progressing as a skater, there’s this fulfillment that I couldn’t get from anything else. When you learn a new element or when you add more revolutions to your spins, just a sense of fulfillment that I couldn’t get from anything else. Me, I’m the type of person that gets bored easily when I don’t like what I’m doing. When i do like what i’m doing, I’m really focused, I’m really, really focused. Skating is one of the things I’m really passionate about.”

“The fulfillment that you get from skating is personal,” Joel muses, “And nothing, no one, could take that away from you. That’s your relationship with the sport. What made me fall in love with the sport [was] proving to yourself that you can do it, just by training and wanting to do it. It makes you feel like you can do anything.”


Listen to Joel talk more about figure skating and Yuri!!! on ICE at #yoiconph2017! Visit him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube!

Smiles, Hugs, and Leopard Print: Judee Zee

She bounds into the room, all smiles, hugs, and leopard print. Her personality in real life shines as much as it does online. She is candid, vibrant, and endearingly entertaining. She is Judee Zee.

Her name is Judy Zabala, a twenty-six-year-old illustrator-graphic designer by trade better known to her thousands of followers on Facebook and YouTube as Judee Zee, a singer-songwriter-music producer best known for her anime and video game cover songs and parodies.

Though she works in the visual arts, Judee considers music to be her main creative outlet. Her knowledge about music production was acquired through intensive self-study as an adult, but Judee notes that her involvement in the art and practice of music started even at a very young age. “Since I was a kid, I was always part of the chorale,” she recounts enthusiastically in a mix of English and Filipino. “Meron rin akong parang special classes for the best music students nung grade school.”

Judee, when asked about her musical preferences, laughs. “Lahat ng genre, wag kang yung pinapatugtog sa bus,” she says, amused. Her love for music leads her to listen, and thus be influenced by, all sorts of genres. This extends not only to what she listens to, but also to what she makes herself. “Ayoko nang may certain style ako, Gusto ko, kaya ko sabayan lahat” says Judee.

Music, says Judee, was always a part of her life but never its priority, citing her studies as her main focus at the time. It was only recently that she started getting back into music. “Out of the blue, i just wanted to try making my own backing track,” she says on how she got into making music for YouTube. “Lahat ni-research ko lang dun, kung paano mag music production, tas dun nagwork. Mahilig rin ako sa self study.”

When asked about what makes a song stand out to her, she cites its words. Judee says that she likes songs with really good lyrics. Her bias towards words trickles down to her own process as an songwriter. “Every time I write a song, kailangan one week sa akin. Usually, one week ko sinusulat ang song. Kailangan perfect, kailangan rhyming, kailangang may makakarelate na tao.”

Judee discusses the initial shyness that overwhelmed her before ever got around posting her music on YouTube. “At first, I was really shy to make a cover,” she says in a mix of English and Filipino. “I wrote lyrics, but I gave it to someone else, because I wasn’t confident enough to do that cover myself.” The singer she gave it to, who has a YouTube following of her own, encouraged her to do the cover herself, complimenting her voice and assuring her of her talent. Motivated by this encouragement, Judee then psyched herself up. “Okay, fine, face your fears, Judee, do it. Okay. Okay, make a cover,” she says, recalling the words she told herself.

She also recalls an experience from her high school days, one that encouraged her to pursue writing. “I had this habit of writing poetry and stuff in high school,” she says. “There was a contest, write a grad song, and my song ended up winning. Yung yung naging grad song ng batch ko. Dun ako nagkaroon ng confidence na magaling ako magsulat.” 

It was when she finally finished her first song that she realized that she couldn’t stop at just one. “The feeling of having a song of mine playing on my computer or on YouTube, it’s nice. So, I wanted to keep doing it.”

Many people are surprised to learn that Judee is, in fact, a Filipino. She receives a lot of comments on social media about this, and she finds it funny. “Oh my god, Pinoy ka din!” she says, as her immediate reaction to receiving such. “Tas, yun, friends na kami after. Uun yung gusto ko eh, instant friends pag Pinoy.”

Judee describes her initial hesitation at revealing or owning her nationality, citing an undercurrent of racism among YouTube musicians. Nowadays, she does not let this affect her, and, in fact, feels proud whenever she has the chance to show of her home country. “Pati yung people from other countries, natutuwa din, parang na appreciate nila na Pinoy ako and everything. Tas natutuwa sila na,  kahit dun sa cover ko ng Tagalog na first time ever, yung random na baduy BL song.” Judee says that even foreigners appreciate her work, regardless of the language she sings it in. “May comments rin ako from other countries, may Russian pa nga,  who said, I didn’t understand a thing but please do more.”

And do more, she does. Judee says that her goal is to never be satisfied with her work. “Ang goal ko lagi is, yung next cover ko, dapat better than the previous one, yun yung lagi kong goal. Hanggang sa ngayon, kung pinapanood ko yung una kong video, parang oh my god, this is crap, Nakakahiya. pero, never akong magsa-stop, kailangan di ako satisfied lagi. Yun yung talagang goal ko.”

It takes a certain kind of bravery to put yourself out there, to display something you’ve worked hard on for the judgment and consumption of a faceless online mass. To anyone who finds themselves intimidated by this idea, Judee says not to be. “Just do it. Wala namang mawawala sa yo eh,” says Judee with conviction. “Nasasayo rin kung ano yung reception rin ng mga tao pero as much as possible, negative or positive, yun ang gagamitin mo. Learn from them. “

Beyond any potential for negativity or embarrassment, Judee glows about the opportunities for personal growth and interpersonal connection. “Yung feeling rin na nag go-grow ka din, na hino-hone mo yung talent mo, na you do what you love… Sobrang, ang saya niya talaga. When people love your work, sobrang humbling siya. Sila yung reason kung bakit gumagawa ako ng stuff ko – because there’s at least one person waiting for another thing that I make. Regardless of number of subscribers, or whatever, may isang tao who appreciates your work, so i-appreciate mo din sila.”


Catch Judee Zee live for the first time at #yoiconph2017! Visit her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube!

The Long Way Home: On Love, Departures, and What Detroit Means to Me

In today’s #yoiconph2017 #blog, Meg presents a beautifully thoughtful exposition on love, letting go, and growing up but not necessarily apart, with the help of Yuri Katsuki, Phichit Chulanont, and a place fondly known as Detroit.


The Long Way Home: On Love, Departures, and What Detroit Means to Me
by Meg

The fourth episode of Yuri!!! on Ice was a pivotal episode for me for many reasons. Prior to that my investment in the series’ early episodes was always tempered by a kind of caution—I’d been enjoying the push-and-pull between Yuri and Victor as Yuri struggled to come to terms with the fact that his idol had taken any degree of interest in him and Victor attempted to draw him out of his shell, and seeing the seed of what would eventually develop into a complex dynamic between him and Yuri Plisetsky, partly admiration, partly rivalry, partly a care and concern that neither of them quite knew how to express. But likewise I’d made it a point to be a little guarded—to hang back and wait until fuller character arcs for the protagonists and for the people in their world began to emerge before I gave the series my heart and soul. (I was a little scared, do you see? I didn’t want things to just turn out like another carrot-and-stick game between the shy anxious boy and the hot foreign guy he’d idolized forever who had taken a sudden and inexplicable interest in him. It didn’t help matters that at the time all the conspiracy theories floating around were that Victor was evil, or that he was dying. But anyway.)

All of that reserve flew out the window by the fourth episode, which essentially took the little hints the earlier episodes had been making at the characters’ hidden depths and cranked them up to eleven. There’s so much wonderful insight that comes out of this episode—from the by-now iconic “When I open up, he meets me where I am,” to the way Victor challenges Yuri to put together his own free skate as a way to build his confidence. The conversation they both have with Yuri’s former coach, Celestino, is especially telling of Yuri’s personal challenges and what he needs in order to grow: Victor asks, “Why didn’t you let Yuri choose his own music?” to which Celestino replies that he chooses the music for his skaters unless they tell him that they’d like to pick their own. He proceeds to add that Yuri only brought him a piece once, but that he’d gone back on it when asked if he believed he could win skating to it: “Please choose the music for me after all, Coach.”

In a sense, this conversation with his former coach reveals to Victor how past!Yuri failed a kind of test—one that had to do with his capacity to trust his own choices—and that present!Yuri now needs to face and surmount a similar test before he can move on. The difference is, of course, that Victor’s not going to let him give up on himself. Where Celestino withdraws and lets Yuri fold, Victor insists on pushing. I also like how this short conversation is illustrative of the fact that, for all that it didn’t work out between them, and for all that his methods differ from Victor’s, Celestino knows Yuri and has his best interests at heart, and understands what he needs in order to succeed, even if it’s not something he can help Yuri with at this point.

Suffice to say that there’s a lot to like about this episode, a lot to love, but the real kicker for me came a little under ten minutes in, when Yuri’s slumped at his desk at a loss as to what to do with his program, and he’s scrolling through his Instagram feed. He sees a friend of his is practicing in Thailand—and right then and there, he calls this friend. Yuri, who’s anxious and overthinky and shy and has such a hard time opening up to people, just calls up this random boy from Instagram in the middle of the night, like it’s the most natural thing in the world. He greets him with “Sawasdee krab.” Cue me bringing my hand to my mouth in dismay—He has a Thai friend and he’s greeting him in Thai, oh my god. I felt the axe hovering above my head about to drop.

Suffice to say that it was love at first sight for me, as far as Phichit Chulanont was concerned. From his very first appearance as a smiley image on Yuri’s phone screen, he exudes a natural warmth and an effervescence that it’s difficult to look away from, and that have proceeded to endear him to the fandom surprisingly thoroughly for a supporting character without too much screentime/internal monologue time/poignant backstory reveal time. But more than that, it was the ease with which I saw him and Yuri talk to each other that intrigued me, and the idea of their shared past—“Detroit’s boring now that you’re gone!” he said, and I felt the axe smash me right down into extrapolation hell, because cute former rinkmate? Cute former rinkmate whose wiki entry later told me was also a former roommate? Look at all the fanfic waiting to happen.

(Spoiler: Happen it did, and then some.)

***

I think one of my favorite things about fanfiction—possibly my favorite thing—is that you never start from zero. There’s a joy to be derived from building upon the foundations of a preexisting universe—taking the characters and fleshing them out in ways that canon doesn’t get to, dropping them into entirely new scenarios or even entirely new worlds, exploring “what if” scenarios. In other words, the act of filling in gaps.

I love visiting other people’s worlds to play. Add to this the fact that I’m the kind of person who enjoys thinking a lot about how our pasts shape who we eventually become, and who can get pretty obsessive about going back over my own memories with a fine-toothed comb and trying to trace how the various people I used to be might have been built, brick by brick, experience by experience, into the person I am now. So maybe it only stands to reason that I’d latch on to the idea of Yuri’s time in Detroit, that long formative period in his life that’s talked about in canon but we never actually get to see except in the tiniest glimpses, and turn that strange obsessiveness of mine toward extrapolating the life out of it. Or, well, extrapolating the life into it, I guess I should say—making it real, trying my best to build it into a world of its own. I’ve never been to Motor City myself, but in the process of all this extrapolation I’ve looked at so many maps of the city, so many long lists of shops and restaurants, so many photos in particular of the Detroit River and of Ambassador Bridge, that it kind of makes my head spin. The imaginative exercise has made Phichit and Yuri’s Detroit so real to me that sometimes I think I can almost smell the air. It’s honestly kind of weird when I stop and think about it, but that’s what the imagination can do if you take it and run with it.

Yuri leaves home at eighteen, and spends the next five years in Detroit. He trains under Celestino, goes to college, makes it to his first Grand Prix Final. It’s never established in canon how many of those years he spends living with Phichit—usually I go with around two, on the assumption that Phichit moves to the US at eighteen, as Yuri does, though this varies depending on who you ask—and how they come to be such good friends, different as they are. In other words, lots of gaps to fill in. Lots of room to play, and to extrapolate.

In the Detroit that I imagine, Yuri and Phichit go to school and train together. They do the groceries and the laundry. They explore the city. They get hamsters. Somewhere in the middle of everything, Phichit gets his driver’s license, which means long late-night drives in Celestino’s car. Sometimes they go to parties. Sometimes they dance. They eat and watch TV and clean up their apartment and study together, and eventually they push their beds together so they can sleep next to each other too. Probably in that shared space they talk more and more deeply with each other than they ever have with anyone else. (Needless to say I was happy beyond words to see that little flashback in episode 11, where Phichit tells Yuri about his dream to skate to “Shall We Skate?” at a major competition, and how important it is that Yuri be there too when it finally happens. Needless to say at least three friends who saw it before I did were kind enough to tweet me a warning that the episode was going to kick my ass. Shout-out to my friends. I love my friends.)

In my imagination, all of this leads to them falling in love, though weirdly enough that’s almost beside the point—secondary to the fact that, somehow, they come to love each other. More on the difference between those two things in a bit.

***

Yuri tanks at the Grand Prix Final in December. He returns home to Hasetsu in March of the following year. In the intervening months you can imagine him as caught in a kind of downward spiral—how depressed he must be from what he imagines is the worst performance of his life, how lost he probably feels. The competitive season has ended early for him, and he’s right about to finish his college degree, so in a lot of ways he’s at a crossroadsand there are a lot of things he’s unsure about. Should he leave Detroit or stay? Should he keep skating, or start trying to imagine a life where he does something different? Can he see himself taking over the family business, even?

What little we learn from canon about Yuri’s eventual decision to leave Detroit is zeroed-in on Yuri to the exclusion of everything else. All we know is that he doesn’t think that what he’s doing is working anymore, so the only decision that makes sense to him in this time of intense personal crisis is to seek a change of scenery. We learn that he’s trying to recover the love for skating that he’s somehow lost along the way, and the way he’s decided to do it is to make his way back to his origins. We see him return to Hasetsu, his hometown, and skate Victor’s “Stay Close to Me” program for his childhood friend Yuuko, a nod back to when they were little and fell in love with skating copying Victor’s iconic performances. We’re not told anything about what he’s chosen to walk away from, what he’s decided to leave behind.

Detroit City is one of those things. Celestino is one of those things, as is Phichit, as is the skating club they practice at, and the place where they live, and the hamsters. And it’s possible from here to spin out versions of this story that are sad and painful and poignant especially with regard to Phichit’s place in this quite complicated order of things—to look at it from bittersweet pining Phichit angles and I’m-sad-I-couldn’t-help-you-love-skating-again angles and I-know-you-don’t-love-me-like-I-love-you angles, and from here it makes sense that in some imaginative spaces this develops into a deep undercurrent of helpless sadness that those Phichits carry with them into the canon timeline, sometimes past it, sometimes forever. And I get the place those Phichits grow from, I do. I know what it’s like to love someone you’re scared you can’t help because you don’t completely understand what they’re going through, and how easy it is to feel like you failed them, and to carry that with you so long it starts to feel like part of you—but that’s another story for another time, and the bottom line is that, with all the respect due the imaginations of others, my particular imagination always gives me back something different.

My imagination hits a wall whenever it tries to imagine Phichit wishing that Yuri might stay when he knows he’s not happy, or that he isn’t growing. I can’t see Phichit looking at Yuri and feeling like he’s the one that got away. In some versions of this story, sad!Phichit exists, but mine isn’t one of them. It can’t be, just because my imagination—the tiny, not-so-significant-for-all-its-obsessive-extrapolations little theater of my mind—doesn’t play it out that way for me. I’ve already told you that I’ve watched them fall in love; now I see them not so much fall out of love as decide that it might not be good for them to be in love anymore if they’re going to be apart in such a big way, and that this decision is just one of the many things Yuri has to set in order if he’s going to go home. And he needs to go home, if he’s going to move forward with his life. I’d like to imagine that, not only does Phichit know this, but he commits wholeheartedly to helping him. Because, any way you want to slice it, he loves him.

Phichit knows that Yuri needs to go—and yes, this knowledge is a sad thing, but that’s not all it is. I want to think it’s also a decision that makes sense to him. For one, he’s a skater himself and knows how ephemeral their existence as professional athletes is and how tumultuous lifestyle setups can be when your craft necessitates you shuttle back and forth all over the world. In addition to that, though, there are certain things I imagine someone like him—someone who by every token seems to be such a giver, such an emotionally generous and caring and other-directed person—would probably understand about the nature of love.

It’s easy to see the act of letting someone go, of ending a relationship, as essentially black and white. If you really loved this person, you would never have left them, or if you can’t make someone you love stay with you, then you’ve failed them and yourself. But the thing is, a lot of the time it’s not like that. It’s entirely possible to love someone a lot and still need to recognize that your time together has run its course, at least for now. It’s a loss that needs to be grieved, for sure, and it can feel like your whole world has been turned on its head because suddenly you’re missing an important presence, so many routines have fallen through, certain places look weird to visit now without them beside you. I know.

But the sad thing about getting stuck on what-might-have-beens and if-onlys is that you miss the possibility of something good coming out of that necessary separation—which you probably can’t think of at all in that moment, I know. It’s hard. Sometimes you can’t even imagine what life would be like after you let someone go, because naturally human beings find comfort in consistency, resist change because the unknown is frightening. If you let someone go, how can you be sure you’ll ever reencounter each other? How do you know you’ll ever be happy again?

On the flipside of that, we talk all the time about how love is wanting the best for the other person. I think what we talk about less often is that part and parcel of wanting the best for someone you love is giving up control over them and their decisions—trusting the other person to know what’s best for themselves, to do what’s best, to make their way back to you eventually in the ways that are best. Or maybe not, if life happens and leads them so far away it doesn’t make sense to reconnect; that’s the risk you take. But if you do find your way back to each other, after you’ve had the chance to be apart and grow up a little bit and become essentially new versions of yourselves, how can the chance to pick up again be anything but a gift?

There’s a very specific nuance here to the act of letting go. It needs to be total. You don’t let go halfheartedly, while still partially clinging, still wanting to hold on. You don’t let go kind of hoping to be vindicated somehow for your selflessness. You let go with grace, in good faith, and trust the process that may or may not bring you and the one you love back around. (The feelings are running high at the moment, so let me pass you briefly to Maya Angelou, one of my favorite poets, who captures the idea of true unconditionality better than I ever could: “I am grateful to have been loved and to be loved now and to be able to love, because that liberates. Love liberates. It doesn’t just hold—that’s ego. Love liberates. It doesn’t bind. Love says, ‘I love you. I love you if you’re in China. I love you if you’re across town. I love you if you’re in Harlem. I love you. I would like to be near you. I’d like to have your arms around me. I’d like to hear your voice in my ear. But that’s not possible now, so I love you. Go.’” The last words are gratitude and acceptance. That imperative she ends on is really, really important. She said Go.)

***

One of the things that makes Yuri such a compelling protagonist is that all throughout his narrative the biggest, most frightening, most important struggles are against himself. His greatest battle is the battle to recognize himself as a person of worth, and so much of that has to do with how he learns to recognize love—to recognize himself not just as someone who’s capable of immense love but as someone who is loved. It’s a battle you see him begin to win in (again!) episode four—which practically deserves an Oscar just on its own, IMO—and it’s a thing of joy to see him work at it, sometimes mastering his demons, sometimes folding under them, but always coming back a little stronger each time.

It can be terrifying, paralyzing to realize that you are loved. Often it makes people push others away—don’t look at me, don’t care for me, I’m not worth your time or attention, direct it at someone or something more worthy—but I like to think it can be inspiring too, and that there’s so much strength to be gained from resting securely in the love of others. And I don’t mean this in the sense that you have to constantly depend on others to build you up because you can’t do it for yourself; rather that sometimes it’s enough to recognize that you’re not alone, to draw strength from that and to become, in turn, a more loving person. Yuri starts off utterly unable to imagine what Victor sees in him—which, if you think about it, dovetails entirely too well with his difficulties with accepting support from anyone else in his life—but everything is changed by the fact that Victor insists, continuously, that it doesn’t matter. He won’t be beaten down by Yuri’s stubbornly deep-rooted poor opinion of himself. Instead, it becomes a challenge: Try to see in yourself what I see in you. Try. Try your hardest. Use your imagination.

I haven’t spoken a lot about Victor in this rambly, weirdly convoluted little essay, I realize. Part of it is because I never quite feel like I need to—so many wonderful things have already been said about his and Yuri’s relationship, and about how important they are to each other’s journeys toward becoming more loving people and learning to own what they do and who they are. Part of it is also because I’m looking at him right now as a link—albeit a singularly important one—in a chain of events that precedes his and Yuri’s relationship and spirals incessantly beyond it. And that’s one other really wonderful thing about love, I think—that love in the true sense doesn’t close the world. Instead, it opens up the world; it makes everything look more whole.

In light of all these things, I find it so compelling that so much of what Yuri learns, through Victor and everyone else, is retrospective—that not only is he loved and supported and believed in now, but that he always has been. Victor helps him see something that’s existed all along—that love has passed from person to person and from place to place and that never for a moment has Yuri been without it. For one reason or another he hasn’t always felt it, recognized it for what it was—anxiety, terror, the impossible standards to which he holds himself—but it’s an idea we see him grow into little by little, with help. And by the end, when he’s running down the sidewalk in St. Petersburg toward Yurio and Victor and thinking “We call everything on the ice ‘love,’” he knows. Suddenly it makes sense now how everything that came before had a hand in bringing all of us here to each other; suddenly it makes sense that all of us are meeting here, where we are.

***

Let me wax extra self-indulgent for a bit and talk about one imaginary scene I always go back to whenever I think about Yuri and Phichit. Whenever I think about Yuri leaving Detroit, I always think about Phichit taking him to the airport. Twice now I’ve written out that scene in a fic, Phichit behind the wheel of Celestino’s car (legally borrowed, this time, because it’s an Important Day), Yuri in the passenger’s seat playing the music as he’s done on so many similar drives that I’ve imagined. Except this drive is a little different, because it’s the last for the foreseeable future. They see the end coming; they’re moving together towards it.

It took me a while to figure it out well enough to get it down in words (instead of, you know, emotional keysmashing) but now I know why I always imagine things this way. I understand why I need to put Phichit where I do, right on the knife’s edge of that departure, carrying him all the way to the last possible moment before the separation happens. I think at the heart of things it’s me trying to emphasize something to myself about goodbyes—that yes, they’re sad, and they hurt, and for a long time you’ll inevitably miss the person or place or thing you’ve let go of. Sometimes deeply, sometimes for a long time, like an arm or a leg or a chunk of your heart. Of course you will. But then I think about Phichit and Yuri in that moment I imagine, idling in the airport driveway—and part of my mind is already flashing forward some months later, to that first Skype call and Phichit’s smiling face on Yuri’s phone screen, forward still to Beijing and Phichit turning up by chance in the very hotpot place Yuri and Victor have decided to eat at—and I can’t help wanting to believe that that’s not all there is.

I want to imagine Phichit smiling at Yuri across the car, maybe squeezing his hand for courage and good luck. I want to imagine in that moment things are as simple as they’ve always been between them—that while it’s not easy, because departures never are, these two silly boys rest secure in the knowledge that they’ll always have each other even when they’re not side by side, that it won’t be impossible to pick up again anytime they get the chance to. That’s how much I want to believe they trust each other, how important they are to each other—and how much I want to think that holds, no matter where they go and what they choose to do.

A couple of days ago a friend of mine pointed out that in Japanese the expressions mata ashita and mata ne, which mean see you again, are so much more common than sayonara, which signals a more permanent, or at least a more long-lasting kind of goodbye. I think about how in my native Tagalog the word for goodbye—paalam—has its roots in the verb alam, which means “to know.” When you say goodbye to someone—pamamaalam—you’re letting them know something, and somehow in my imagination that act of telling someone that you’ll be leaving works to make the absent person even more present. Weirdly enough it helps me remember the idea of returns.

I love these boys too much—and I want to believe that they love each other too much—to keep them stuck on the idea that they’re losing each other. (Is such a thing is even possible?) I much prefer to put them in the space of “see you again,” of “catch you when I do,” like it’s not a big deal at all, even if at the same time it is. Imagine Phichit laughing and saying, “Text me when you get home,” which is something most of us have said to our friends at one point or another before parting. Never mind that home is across the sea, on the other side of the world, fourteen hours away. Imagine how strongly he’d need to believe that the two of them have the power to collapse that distance, make it feel like nothing. Imagine that Yuri, for all the things he’s afraid of in that moment, kind of believes it too.

***

There’s a tiny amount of actual footage from the show to go on, so maybe I’m making mountains out of molehills here, but from the very first moment I ever saw Yuri and Phichit interact, I’ve been struck by how simple things seem to be between them. I love that. I love that it’s uncomplicated, that the only way they seem to know how to be with each other is just tender and joyful and pure. I really love the idea that it’s possible to be that way with someone that you may have loved differently in the past, and that you can acknowledge how important it was to you without necessarily wanting to bring it back again, because that would take away from the integrity of what you share now. And while you can remember the then as something beautiful, so is the now in its own way—and that it’s okay, you’re here, you can be happy now with what you have.

Even if you don’t imagine them as having been in love before, look at how present with each other these two are, in the instances that they have to reconnect. They’ve been apart and come back together, attentive to how much they’ve grown but also to how little certain aspects of their relationship have changed. One of them can call the other in the middle of the night and greet him in his native language, like it’s the most natural thing in the world. They smile at each other on the phone. They bump into each other in a foreign country and sit down, organically, for hotpot. They allow themselves to be proud of each other, to cheer each other on in competition: He’s giving everything he has to this season, too.

In all instances, they’re still them, only grown-up enough now to stay in each other’s lives by choice. That’s what holds, regardless of where they end up or what they do or how much time passes in between. The next time I catch up with you, we’ll probably be totally new people, but I know that over and above everything else these moments are a chance to rediscover you, again and again. Even with the people you know best in the world there’s always something new to learn—and I choose to keep learning. That’s how much you mean to me.

I don’t want this to be a utopic scenario, something that’s thought of as unrealistic or too good to be true. It’s real and it can happen, and it’s worth all the work.

***

The tenth episode shows us a pair of photos of Phichit and Yuri at the Detroit Skating Club, taken at an unidentified point in their shared past. The first is a selfie at the entrance, where they have their thumbs up, and they’re laughing. The second is of them posing on the bleachers while Celestino sits in the background, looking away, thoroughly unamused.

I look at Yuri in these pictures—take in his smile and his silliness and how comfortable he looks in his own skin—and I can’t bring myself to think of those days as any less real than the days leading up to his departure. It’s easy to conceive of Detroit as the place Yuri chooses to walk away from, the place he needs to leave so his story can begin. But it’s also a place with stories of its own, and even if canon never reveals them to us, it’s not difficult to imagine the ways Yuri himself is touched by them even as he moves on.

I think this could be true for him as it’s probably true for many of us: you need Detroit to make it, in the end, to St. Petersburg, that wonderful faraway ending-place that you probably thought existed only in your dreams. You may not be in Detroit anymore, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it was a false start or a waste of time, or that it was never important—in fact, it’s precisely because you aren’t there now that you can maybe now begin to comprehend what it did for you, looking back over your shoulder in memory at all the places you’ve been and seeing with a clarity you didn’t have before just how far you’ve come from where and who you used to be.

On the one hand, of course you remember how hard things used to be. But maybe, just maybe, as you sift through all the things you remember, you’ll find that in more instances than you might originally have thought, you were happy too.

You don’t need to go back to Detroit, even. In a way, you never left—you carry that truth with you. You were happy then. You are happy now. All of it is real.


We welcome guest posts! If you’d like to write about Yuri!!! on ICE or figure skating for the #yoiconph2017 blog, please contact us!

What’s So Good About X Reader Fan Fics? Some Recommended Reading

In today’s #yoiconph2017 #blog, Chihaya walks us through a very interesting fan fiction genre: X Reader. What is an X Reader fic and what makes it so appealing? Read on to find out and pick up some fic recs along the way!


What’s So Good About X Reader Fan Fics? Some Recommended Reading
by Chihaya

First of all, let me tell you what an X Reader is to all the fans out there who don’t know about it. X Reader is basically a type of fan fiction where the reader – that’s you – is the protagonist of the story. Most of the time, it involves romance between the reader and a specific character from TV shows, anime, Vocaloid, and more.

This kind of fanfic is mostly targeted to female audiences – Male X Readers are very, very rare, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any!

Now, what’s so good about X Reader fan fics?

Well, let’s face it. At least one of you took a liking to Victor before shipping him with Yuri Katsuki —I guiltily raise my hand. I’m sure there are also others who are love with our Katsudon Boy too. And, of course, there’s also the Russian Fairy, Yuri Plisetsky, and many, many more characters in Yuri!!! on ICE.

X Reader fan fics can put you in the story, allowing you to imagine you are there. Unlike Original Characters (OCs), you can relate more in X Readers because the writers let you put your own description of your appearance in the story, your name, and, in some fan fics, your preferences about certain things like the favorite food you eat 24/7 or that shirt you love to wear during weekends at home. Basically, they do their best to try making it relatable as possible.

Here are a few X Reader fan fics I found on different sites:

  1. “Sweeter than Chocolate” by Winibie
    https://archiveofourown.org/works/9915071 (One Shot)

Premise: A Yuri Plisetsky x Reader one shot in which the two of you have been a dating for nearly a year. That made you understand that he wasn’t very good at being romantic, making you expect nothing for Valentine’s Day.

Excerpt: He looked at you for a moment, his eyes that reminded everyone of a soldier meeting your soft and welcoming ones, he broke the stare and instead turned his attention to the ice, he raised his one hand and asked so quietly you almost didn’t hear him, “Skate with me?”

Thoughts: A fluffy one shot where our little Russian Punk tries to be a very romantic boyfriend for you. I swear it’s really, really cute!

  1. “That Fateful Winter’s Night” by Tenfaced_matryoshka_girl http://archiveofourown.org/works/9293378/chapters/21062291 (Ongoing)

Premise: A Yuri Plisetsky x Reader fanfic wherein he met a girl the same age as him 11 years ago (specifically when they were 4-years-old), saving her from the cold winter snow. They eventually became friends for a short while, but the mysteriously disappeared right after—only to meet her again 11 years later in Japan.

Excerpt: “(y/n)’s parents came back. They tried to hurt her again. They…  they tried to kill her.” He said sadly.

“No! It’s not fair! Why can’t she just stay with us! We could help her!” Yuri yelled, sniffling. Kolya took his grandson into his arms and rocked him slightly.

“I know… I know, Yurochka.” Yuri clutched his grandfather’s shirt and sobbed for an hour on end.

“She wanted you to have this.” Kolya handed Yuri a letter.

It was a child’s drawing of a small blond boy and a (h/c) haired girl on a frozen pond in winter. 

The note read:
“We’ll see each other again. I promise.”

Thoughts: I’ll have to warn you all that this fanfic mentions sensitive topics like child abuse and alcohol. But that aside, this fanfic is great! On the next few chapters, they included the scenes in the anime and the only difference is that you, the reader, are in it!

 

  1. “In Focus || Viktor Nikiforov” by DarkkMatterAlchemist http://archiveofourown.org/works/9232454/chapters/20938292 (Ongoing)

Premise: A Victor Nikiforov x Reader fanfic in which the reader is one of Yuri Katsuki’s friend who loves to draw, but is not confident enough to share it with anybody.

Excerpt: Talent is blinding, no matter where you find it. On the ice, on a field, with an instrument, or on a canvas. Whether it’s in their blood or in their effort, talent is everywhere. Everyone has a talent for something and, once it’s exploited and worked with, it’s blinding and inspiring. Some with their own talents may find inspiration in the talents of others. When a creative artist finds inspiration in others, the other party is referred to as a muse.

Thoughts: I love the writer’s writing! I gotta say, the story really intrigued me when I read that the reader was an artist in the story and of course the very first few paragraphs of it. It currently has 9 chapters.

  1. “His First Love” by PrincessInTheShadows
    https://www.wattpad.com/361972246-yuri-on-ice-one-shots-his-first-love (One Shot)

Premise: A Yuri Katsuki x Reader angst one shot in which the story starts where Yuri met his first love and ended up never telling her how he really felt for her.

Excerpt: Yuri’s smile was enough to make her heart race and encourage her to do it. She slowly stepped three times before gliding her right foot on the ice. By the time she did, she immediately lost balance and expected a fall facedown. But what she felt was a warm and soft body pressed against hers. Arms wrapped around the waist that helped her balance again. Yuri, as promised, caught her. But not her heart.

Thoughts: All I can say is that I wrote this one shot so I don’t have much thoughts about this story, haha! I’m also a writer so I couldn’t help not sharing at least one of my works. But other than that, I can assure you that it’s a sad story since I also teared up while writing this. (Maybe because I easily get emotional, but whatever.)

  1. “Snowmen Don’t Survive the Winter” by Cirrocumulus http://archiveofourown.org/works/9534278/chapters/21559004 (Ongoing)

Premise: The silence is eerie and cuts itself in two, so that only voiceless gasps remain.

He’s more beautiful than ever then, as bare as the snow on a New Year’s Eve, though you know that this won’t survive till then.

Excerpt: Back in your room you quickly resume your place on the bed, only to still watch the sports channel despite the crossword puzzle calling for your attention. One bite and another vanish in your mouth, your sandwich soon reduced to little more than a tiny rectangle. Blond tresses sway with the music, skates slide over ice as though they could cut it in two. Inhale, exhale, muscles tense and yet tender. You wonder, briefly, how someone so young can accomplish so much with seemingly no effort. It’s jealousy and jarred joy that rip your mind in two as your body slowly shifts, closer towards the TV, hands on your knees so more details become yet more obvious. You believe he holds more grace in one finger than you do in your entire body and cannot refrain from wondering how such a life must feel like. All work, most likely. But pure joy and crushing defeat lay close beside each other, as though they are lovers in an eternal embrace. Maybe you prefer your way of living, never to be praised, but never to be facing the judgement of millions of people, either.

The announcer’s voice cuts away your remaining thoughts. “And this was Yuri Plisetsky, from Russia. An enthralling routine for sure, but let’s see what the scoreboards will say in a moment!”

Thoughts: I also don’t have much thoughts about this fanfic since it still only has one chapter. But all I can say is that the writing is so descriptive and beautiful! The reader, according to the story, seems to be older than Yurio.

And that’s all of the suggested stories I have in mind! Yuri!!! on ICE is still a pretty new anime so there aren’t a lot of other fan fics out there for other characters like Seung Gil, Guang Hong, Otabek, JJ, and the others, but I’m still on the go to finding – and maybe writing – one!

What about you guys? Do you know any good X  Readers you’re currently reading? Feel free t comment below!


We welcome guest posts! If you’d like to write about Yuri!!! on ICE or figure skating for the #yoiconph2017 blog, please contact us!

Where To Buy Ice Skates In Metro Manila

Yuri!!! on ICE has successfully reignited an active interest in figure skating much in the same way as Michael Christian Martinez’s participation in the 2014 Winter Olympics did. Fans have been flocking to local rinks in order to follow the footsteps – or glides, as it were – of their idols Yuri and Victor, and while it hasn’t been the easiest thing to do, a good number have decided to rise up to the challenge of formal lessons. Wow, amazing!

If you’re seriously interested in getting yourself a pair of skates, your best bet is to give In2Skating a call and a visit. In2Skating carries a wide range of skate brands and accessories. They’ll have everything you need for the first season of You!!! on ICE.

in2skating-brands

The two branches of In2Skating are conveniently located near two of the metro’s major rinks, so after you pick up your skates, skate bag, blade guard, and soakers – the very basic arsenal of any aspiring figure skater – you can get right on the ice and break those babies in!

In2Skating Pasay (near SM Mall of Asia)
2/F Phoenix Gas Station
Macapagal Ave. cor. EDSA Ext.
Central Business Park, Pasay City
0998 992 2453
0917 319 6702

In2Skating Mandaluyong (near SM Megamall)
#3905 BSA Tower B
Bank Ave., Ortigas Center, Mandaluyong
(Behind SM Megamall Building A)
0925 752 8464
0922 850 4003

The In2Skating Mandaluyong branch is located inside an office building and is thus by appointment only. If you wish to set an appointment, please call Ate Wheng at 0949 350 5110.

in2skating-map

We’ll discuss the price breakdown of basic figure skating equipment in another entry so you’ll know how much to save, but for now, you can call Ate Wheng at 0949 350 5110 for price inquiries and stock availability. Davai, history makers!

If I Could See You: On Friendship, the Creative Journey, and Yuri!!! on ICE

Today, on the #yoiconph2017 #blog, May, in a beautifully honest and wonderfully heartfelt narrative, shares her experience of watching Yuri!!! on ICE, and how the life and love of the series as led her to insight and appreciation of her own.


If I Could See You:
On Friendship, the Creative Journey, and Yuri!!! on ICE
by May

I was at my desk on a slow work day, half-heartedly browsing the internet, when I started noticing a set of screenshots circulating on social media. Over and over, I saw the same scene—a light snowfall descending upon the rocks of a traditional onsen, where a silver-haired man was emerging from the steamy bathwater, a bold smile on his face as he flung his hand out towards the viewer. From what I could gather, the pictures were from the first episode of a new anime about figure skating, which was…also gay, maybe?

Strangely, though I didn’t have much to go on, the little I did know was enough to pique my interest. I was never a sports anime fan, or a sports fan, period—but ice skating seemed accessible enough. Can’t hurt to give it a shot, I thought, as I opened a new browser tab and typed in “yuri on ice episode 1.” If I don’t like it after the first few episodes, I’ll just stop.

From the first few seconds, the animation had my heart. The first episode of Yuri!!! on ICE begins with a dreamlike sequence of Victor skating alone. He moves in and out of the shadows with a grace both fluid and cutting, backlit by the high windows surrounding the darkened rink. On the sidelines, Yuri watches as his childhood idol moves through his step sequence, then skates closer—smiling, reaching out to Yuri, but not touching him just yet. “He never fails to surprise me,” Yuri says in the voiceover narration, as onscreen his eyes light up, an expression of uninhibited joy giving way to one of determination.

After finishing the first two episodes, I got on Facebook and messaged my friend, Celeste, to tell her about it. Celeste is something of a skeptic when it comes to me recommending things to her, and she’s always told me she doesn’t like watching ongoing shows; she prefers to have all the episodes already available, ripe for the binging. But she was going through a bit of a slog at work, too, so like the good friend I am, I helpfully supplied her with the link. At the same time, I casually began browsing the YOI fanfiction archive, where in spite of the show’s just having come out, stories were already pouring in by the dozens. I made myself a cup of coffee. I waited.

When Celeste messaged me “I’M ONLY THREE MINUTES IN AND HE’S ALREADY CRYING???”, I knew she was sold, too.

***

I studied creative writing in college, and though I’d always known that I was a good writer, and that writing was what I wanted to do, it took me a while to hit my stride. Being in an arts course is no less competitive than being anywhere else; it can feel cutthroat even when much of the pressure is internalized. You become desperate to prove yourself—to your professors, all famous writers themselves, who have their bars set high and their eyes trained on you; to your parents, who love and support you, but who you know deep down are wondering if it’s really worth it for you to pursue this.

You watch as your peers get published in journals and get accepted to national writing workshops, while you are left behind. You look down at your own drafts folder, all your best attempts at capital-L Literature that you worked so hard to create, and suddenly you’re not so sure anymore. You start wondering whether you’re cut out for this at all. Whether it might be better to just give up.

Yuri’s breakdown in the first episode hit close to home for all those reasons. Faced with utter failure after finishing dead last in the Grand Prix Final, Yuri sneaks away and locks himself in a bathroom stall. He calls his mom. He says he’s sorry. He starts to cry, hands pressed over his mouth in an attempt to hold back his sobs.

Watching it, I remembered all the times in my life when I cried just like that—having lost all faith in myself, feeling helpless and utterly alone. It can seem so insurmountable, that feeling of what if I’ve just made the biggest mistake of my life? What if this is all there is? What do I do now?

***

Although we call each other best friends now, and although we were in the same course, Celeste and I didn’t really start getting close until about halfway through college. One semester, we got to chatting online while we were holed up in our respective dorm rooms. What initially brought us together was fandom—in between talking about what we’d learned in class or what we’d had for lunch, we discussed our Harry Potter and Marvel ships and linked each other to fan art, laughing at the imagined scenarios we spun out between us.

Gradually, this evolved into trusting each other with our fan fiction as well as our quote-unquote “serious” writing. I have fond memories of the night we spent analyzing character arcs and motivations, via text messages that were four paragraphs long. Apart from our creative impulses, we share an introverted nature, a closeness to our families, and what I believe is the sensitivity of a true conversationalist—not the ability to talk a mile a minute, but the ability to listen, to ask the right questions, to make the other person feel at home.

Over the years, we’ve seen each other through much more than just our senior theses and the finales of shows we didn’t want to end. When one of my family members passed away, I remember Celeste texting me while I sat in the chilly funerary chapel, reminding me not to accidentally set my hair on fire with my vigil candle again, giving me a small pocket of normalcy in the midst of my grief.

After we graduated from college, we both got jobs that require us to spend a fair amount of time at our computers—so until now, we still find ourselves chatting almost every day. Celeste occasionally travels abroad for work, however, and I have a tendency to worry when someone close to me flies out of the country. So whenever she’s away, we send each other selfies—me from the office bright and early in the morning, her from the hotel room she’s just checked into close to midnight. Just our way of touching base, across the miles.

***

I can’t remember exactly how it started, but at some point one of us must have suggested watching the new Yuri!!! on ICE episode at the same time. It quickly became a regular thing, and I found myself building my weekly routine around it. On Thursday morning I’d wake up a few minutes early, and download the episode while I brushed my teeth. I knew there was no real need for this, since I wouldn’t be seeing it until later anyway; I just liked knowing I had the file on me.

The rest of the day would be spent avoiding social media like the plague, so as not to see any spoilers. Any other Thursday night plans were out of the question; if another friend asked me whether I was free for dinner, I’d tell them sorry, but I had a prior commitment. At 6 PM I’d leave work, and after eating and changing into my pajamas, I’d log back onto Facebook to ready myself for Celeste’s video call. The blip-blip sound as the connection was made filtered through my earphones, and I’d drum my fingers on my keyboard, waiting for the pixels on the screen to crystallize into a familiar face.

Prior to this, we’d tried using Rabbit, but eventually settled on something a little more old-school: queuing up the episode on our respective video players, and counting down three, two, one together so we could hit Play at the same time. As color splashed across the screen and the first strains of “History Maker” blared out, we’d laugh wildly or just start screaming, oh my god oh my god oh my god. For the next half hour, we’d lose ourselves in both Yuris’ stories—cheering as we watched them ascend the ranks of the competition, holding our breaths whenever someone made a particularly tricky jump, exhaling in relief when they landed clean. On some of my worst days, knowing I had all of this waiting for me was what got me through.

One week, Celeste had a lot of work lined up, and she told me she wouldn’t be able to make it to our usual viewing. That Thursday, I downloaded the episode as usual, but held off on watching it until later that weekend, when she was free again. When I asked her, Celeste said she’d already seen it without me, having snuck it in during a break—so she couldn’t understand why I hadn’t. “SMH, I can’t believe you,” her message to me read, and I could clearly imagine that look on her face that she gets, the way the corners of her mouth turn down as her brow scrunches up in incredulity. “Why did you wait?”

In hindsight, it was a little silly. I knew Celeste wouldn’t have minded me watching it alone, the way I didn’t mind that she had. But to me, there was no other way I could experience YOI; she and it were inexplicably linked in my mind. “I don’t know,” I typed back. “It felt weird without you.”

***

At the start of the show, Yuri is anxious and inclined towards self-doubt; whenever Victor addresses him, he retreats, stammering and blushing. Happy as Yuri is to have his idol become his coach—and move into his house, no less—he can’t fathom what Victor could have possibly seen in him.

In Episode 4, however, we witness a turning point. Victor tells Yuri to produce his own free skate, which Yuri agonizes over, never having trusted himself to select his own music or choreograph his own program before. The one time Yuri did ask someone to compose a piece for him, one that encompassed who he was as a skater—the song turned out wholly unremarkable. “Find something else,” Victor says bluntly. Later, he asks, “Why can’t you trust your own decisions?” Yuri can’t give him an answer.

It’s not until Victor invites Yuri to get away from the rink one morning that things become a little clearer. The two of them go down to the shore and sit on the sandy shelf that overlooks the ocean, watching the gulls wing their way across the gray sky. Here, away from the pressures of training for the competition, the boundaries between coach and skater begin to relax, and the two of them can just talk. Unexpectedly, Yuri starts to recall a former acquaintance of his—a girl back in Detroit who, during an emergency, took the liberty of giving him a comforting hug, assuming it was what he needed.

“I felt like she was intruding on my feelings or something,” Yuri murmurs, pulling his knees closer to his chest. “I hated it.” But then, he says, he realizes that all the people who really know him—his parents, his sister, Minako-sensei, his childhood friends—have never overstepped and made him feel weak or pathetic like that. Here, too, Yuri realizes that Victor doesn’t see him that way either. When I open up, Yuri thinks, as he takes Victor’s hand and the sky above them begins to clear, he meets me where I am.

It’s in this episode that Yuri comes to appreciate, perhaps concretely for the first time, the love that everyone in his life has for him, and the trust they have in him to grow and achieve his goals. Strangely, Victor’s waltzing into his life is what’s made him look back to see what was always there—and what now is helping him look forward with a newfound resolve.

The closing scenes of this episode show Yuri finally working on his free program. He has a new composition now, one that truly represents the journey he’s taken to get here. As they review the choreography, Victor asks if Yuri’s last jump in the second half can be a quadruple toe loop.

“I’ll do it,” Yuri says with complete certainty. The world is opening up before him. He’s not so afraid anymore.

***

Like I mentioned earlier, there was a time when as an undergrad I floundered in my craft, struggling with self-doubt and the need for external validation. Thanks to the kindness and constructive criticism of my teachers and my friends, however, it wasn’t too long before I found my own voice.

I became more secure in my writing after I learned what my strengths were—my patience in unfolding a series of images, my restraint when telling a difficult or emotional story, my capacity to carry a narrative arc through to the end. I learned to trust my best instincts; I learned to rewrite, to cut out, to start over. In time, I received recognition for my efforts, but I no longer felt that that recognition was the ultimate goal. My writing was born out of love, out of the sheer desire to create.

After I graduated, I started teaching. Every school day became full of small joys, as I began to discover each of my students’ talents. The more I gave them space to grow in the ways they needed, the more I witnessed each of them opening up to me and to their classmates, taking personal risks, blossoming. From the start, I knew I couldn’t take credit for any of their brilliance. All I was doing was giving them nudges in the right direction—showing them what they already had inside them all along.

In between classes and paper-checking sessions, however, I was aware that I should also be writing. I still had the impulse to write, but honestly, I had no clue what to write about. I’d open a new Word document, punch out a few lines—but every story or poem I started felt hollow, like a pale imitation of my own work instead of an actual earnest attempt.

I didn’t know what I needed, until I did. I always used to write about things that bothered me. Questions that were so big, they’d taken root inside my body. Now that I had mastered what I’d strived to master throughout my entire college journey, now that I was happily passing on what I’d learned to the next generation, I had no questions left to try to answer for myself. I was stable. I was safe. What I needed, I realized, was to feel just a little bit lost again.

So when Victor leaned in to embrace Yakov on that snow-covered sidewalk in St. Petersburg and whispered Dasvidanya in his ear, before boarding the plane that would take him to Japan, a world away from the dazzling success he’d worked all his life to achieve—I understood.

And when, just after the Grand Prix Final, Victor gently looped the silver medal around Yuri’s neck, saying I’m worried about making a full comeback even as they looked at each other, both knowing it was what he needed to doI understood completely.

***

In the middle of the Rostelecom Cup, after having skated a perfect short program, Yuri receives a call from his sister. Makkachin is at the vet, she says. They’re not sure he’ll make it. Without hesitation, Yuri tells Victor to fly back to Japan to be with his dog; the two of them argue about it, Yuri insisting he’ll be fine doing the free skate on his own, Victor insisting he can’t leave him.

It’s only after Yakov agrees to stand in as Yuri’s coach that Victor feels comfortable with going. As they say goodbye in the lobby of their hotel, Victor pulls Yuri in for a hug. “Even if I’m not here, I’ll always be with you in spirit,” Victor whispers.

During his free skate the next day, it’s clear Victor’s absence is taking something of a toll on Yuri. Right from the start he flubs several of his jumps, to everyone’s dismay as well as his own. But Yuri tells himself to shake it off, to keep skating this program that he loves, that he and Victor made together. I was able to come this far because Victor believed in me, he thinks. So it shouldn’t matter, really, whether Victor is watching or not. And despite his noticeable mistakes, he still captivates the crowd.

Yuri ends, as always, with a pose that involves him pointing to the spot where Victor would be standing. One hand outstretched, the other close to his heart.

***

Applying to graduate schools abroad is a process that is both tedious and slightly intimidating—but I stick it out, filling up every form and completing every personal essay. Surprisingly, I’m looking forward to being a student again. I tell myself that no matter where I get in, if I get in, I’ll be able to really focus on writing, the way I want.

Despite my excitement at the prospect of striking out on my own in a different country, part of me also thinks it would be nice to do it with a friend. I know Celeste was also thinking of going to grad school someday; we’ve talked about it once or twice, and I even know the program she’s interested in pursuing. So for a while, I entertain the idea of asking her if she wants to apply together.

It’s funny—I noticed a long time ago that the two of us are often thinking or feeling the same thing, but also that we’re both shy about confirming it with each other, afraid of overstepping some personal boundary. The few times that we do say anything, we preface it with an apology: sorry if this sounds douchey; sorry, is this weird; sorry, this might just be me, but. Case in point: it took us two years to figure out we’d been thinking of each other as best friends, because neither of us wanted to assume we meant as much to the other person as they did to us.

Although we don’t talk about it in so many words, we both know that Celeste is in a good place right now. She loves her job, and though she does want to go to grad school eventually, asking her to join me right now would be rushing her into something she isn’t ready for. Waiting for her, on the other hand, would be holding me back. Although we’ve shared a journey up to this point, I know we’re going through life at different paces now—and that this is a necessary thing, for both of us.

So I don’t ask her, or even tell her I was thinking of asking her, until after I have already been accepted to a university in the UK. Celeste congratulates me during one of our Facebook chats, and asks me when I’ll be leaving. Late 2017, I tell her. In the fall.

After that, I start to give her minor updates every so often. I found a few scholarships I might be eligible for. I just submitted my housing application. I have to start buying winter clothes. Though it’s not something I’m actively thinking about day to day, these small, casual mentions help make it feel more real to me. We’re chatting about it one morning when Celeste makes one of her rare confessions. “Sorry, this sounds so selfish,” she says, “but—I can’t imagine you being away.”

I pause, trying to think of a response. I try to tell myself it’s not going to matter. Most of our interactions happen online anyway—so even though we won’t be in the same country anymore, things won’t be any different.

Then I realize I can’t be sure of that. That I won’t know until I get there. So when I finally do reply, it’s to say, “No, it’s okay. I can’t imagine it either.”

***

Yuri!!! on ICE boasts a stellar soundtrack throughout, but arguably one of the most famous tracks is the aria “Stammi Vicino, Non Te Ne Andare”—in English, “Stay Close to Me,” which Victor skates to when he wins the World Championship back in the first episode. There is a deep sadness that emanates from him throughout the routine, and though it might seem like a performance to the rest of the world, what they don’t see is that it stems from his own loneliness and discontent with himself. Victor’s first jump is a quadruple Lutz, followed by his signature quadruple flip. He lands both clean. Sento una voce che piange lontano, the singer warbles over the speakers; I hear a voice weeping in the distance.

Unbeknownst to Victor, at least for the moment, Yuri is skating the exact same program, in an empty rink in his small hometown. His jumps are slightly clunkier, his movements more tentative. It doesn’t matter, Yuri thinks; no one will ever see this. This is just for him. He launches into a camel spin, moving to music only he can hear; se potessi vederti dalla speranza nascerà l’eternità—if I could see you, eternity will be born from hope. Here, skating by himself, Yuri is reaching for something he doesn’t quite know the shape of yet.

Ho paura di perderti. I’m afraid of losing you.

***

One morning, I wake up and am almost immediately assaulted by an anxiety attack. Though I’ve known it for months now, it seems to hit me all at once—the fact that I’m going to be leaving a job I love, the house I grew up in, the people I’ve known all my life. Normally, when attacks like this happen, I’m able to deal with them myself, by taking deep breaths and listening to music. For some reason, it doesn’t work this time. I go to work and sit behind my desk fighting to breathe, feeling betrayed by my body, locked inside my own head.

Celeste finds out what’s happening, and messages to ask me if I’m okay. I try to explain, brokenly, my hands shaking as I attempt to put words to the old questions that have returned to haunt me—what if I’m not as ready for this as I thought I was? What if I’ve just made the biggest mistake of my life? What do I do now?

Calmly, Celeste looks at each of my fears, and dispels them one by one. There are so many things for you to look forward to. You’ve grown so much. Maybe you can’t see it, but all the people around you can. Remind yourself you’re in control of this—all of which I know means, You’ll be okay.

Then, a miracle happens. Slowly, I feel the tightness in my chest begin to unravel, and the noise in my head starts to quiet down. Celeste gives me a book to read. She sends me part of a new story she’s writing. She makes me laugh. For the first time in a long while, I take a deep breath, and let it go, steady and clean.

***

Though Yuri!!! on ICE is about many things, what I think I took away from it the most was its depiction of the tough but much-needed process of building up belief in yourself. All of the characters are chasing something, and what many of them come to realize is that they can’t do it on their own. The show is largely, of course, about how Victor and Yuri find courage in each other—but we also come to see that what keeps Yurio going is his desire to make his grandfather proud, and that there’s a give-and-take in the unlikely friendship he strikes up with Otabek Altin as well. Even JJ, after having a breakdown on the ice, is able to come up smiling when his fiancée, Isabella, begins a rousing cheer for him.

My friend Meg always says that even if you already know something yourself—that you’re smart, or talented, or brave—it sometimes just helps to hear someone else say it, and I think she’s right. Real love, I think, doesn’t make you dependent on the other person, but reminds you of your own strength when you need it the most, and lets you know that you’re never alone.

Looking back on everything I’ve done in the past five years—gaining confidence as a writer, becoming a teacher, applying to grad school—I can say that I’m proud of how far I’ve come. But I also know that I couldn’t have done any of it without the encouragement and support of all the people in my life, in the same way that I know I’ll always be there for them when they need it. The assurance of that love is something I’ll continue to take with me—day by day, year after year, no matter where I go.

***

Whenever I read a book or watch a TV show, I always try to find a character to latch onto. I joke that I’m weak for the bratty fifteen-year-old in anything, and sure enough, Yuri Plisetsky both skates and kicks down bathroom stall doors with a beautiful fury that I aspire to possess. Victor’s breezy confidence and shameless sense of humor, but also his deep understanding and his ability to push others to reach their full potential, make him impossible not to fall for. I identify largely with Yuri Katsuki as well; not only with his constant worrying, but with the pensive and tender nature it stems from.

But of all the skaters in the show, I think I like Leo de la Iglesia the best. I love that the only featured American is a brown boy; I love Leo’s gentle, easygoing demeanor, and how the upbeat R&B-rap number he uses for his short program, “Still Alive,” is about finding God in music and in all of nature. Leo choreographs his own routines, and he doesn’t rely on quads to rack up points—“I just want to skate the way the music feels,” he says honestly. To me, no one else skates quite so freely to the beat of their own drum, just reveling in what makes them feel most alive.

Apart from Leo himself, what strikes a chord with me is his friendship with fellow teenager Guanghong Ji. Where Leo is quiet and steady, Guanghong is fiery and excitable. During his free skate, Guanghong imagines he is an assassin working in the seedy underworld of Shanghai, reunited with an old ally in the middle of his last dangerous job. This ally, of course, wears Leo’s face, and Guanghong’s final pose is him sinking to the ice, taking a bullet for the cornered Leo in the private theater of his mind.

I think sometimes about these two boys—best friends fourteen hours apart, seeing each other only when they’re in competition, keeping in touch purely through the internet. Most likely they send each other selfies. Maybe once in a while, when their training and sleep schedules allow, they make time for a video call—remaining constants in each other’s lives, even though they’re on opposite sides of the world. I wonder if they sometimes feel like it’s a lesser friendship, as opposed to the friendship they would easily have if there wasn’t such a great distance between them.

I look at Guanghong sprawled out on his bed in his sweats, propping himself up with his elbows and smiling into his webcam; at Leo sitting rinkside with a steaming tumbler of tea, glancing back and forth between the finals livestream on his laptop and his phone as he fires off message after message, there they are, Guanghong! Are you seeing this? Oh my god, that was amazing!

I decide, once and for all, that they are happy.

***

I’m bad at goodbyes.

When I have to go home at the end of a party, I can’t walk out until I’ve hugged every single person in the room, sometimes twice. When a friend moves away, I struggle to even write them a letter, because I have no idea what to say. I love picking people up from the airport, but hate taking them to it; I can’t count the number of times I’ve pretended to be asleep when someone was leaving, in the dark hours of early morning, because I just couldn’t face those final moments with them.

Recently, I noticed that when Celeste and I chat, we rarely ever say good night to one another. As we’re packing up at the end of a work day, we say TTYL, talk to you later—and although most times, we don’t even wind up talking later that evening, all it means is that we can pick the conversation right up again the next morning. As though we’re just having one long conversation that never ends.

Sometimes, back when we were watching YOI, our three, two, one, play countdown would be a little out of sync. Because we were on video chat, I could hear the audio of the episode coming through Celeste’s speakers as well as my own, so I could tell whenever I was a little behind, or a little bit ahead. Instead of interrupting the viewing by telling her, I got good at scrubbing forward to the right time in the video, or pausing mine so hers could catch up.

For a brief moment, I’d sit there in the half-silence, listening to the tinny echo of the skaters’ blades carving across the ice, waiting for the few seconds it would take for us to sync up again. Then, at exactly the right moment, I’d hit Play and settle back in my chair—the music swelling to a crescendo as finally, Yuri pushed off from the edge of the rink, raising his arms and sailing out on a wave of thunderous roars, into light.


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