The second of three major essays I was tasked with writing in Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda’s First Year Writing class, what follows is a source analysis of the opening theme to Yuri!!! on ICE 2016’s most beloved anime. Having been pressed for time, I decided to exclude my discussion on the visual elements from the paper, but you can still see the remnants of my arguments in the summary.
Born to Make Fantasy
In Crunchyroll’s inaugural Anime Awards, “Yuri!!! on ICE” won awards for Best Boy, Best Animation, Most Heartwarming Scene, Best Couple, Best Opening, Best Closing, and Anime of the Year–all of the awards it was nominated for and half of the available awards. This heartwarming series about a talented ice skater finding love and the self-esteem needed to shine captivated audiences across the world. As such, we can use it to examine the mores of otaku culture. In this paper we will consider Dean Fujioka’s “History Maker,” the opening theme to “Yuri!!! on ICE,” and how it exemplifies the mores of escapism.
In the opening sequence, we are presented with an exciting arpeggiation punctuated by a downward glissando while trails of light blue saturate the screen, darting around splashes of differing shades. The primary trail leads us to an ice skater’s (Yuri) blades in the midst of a step sequence. As the camera pans out, we see more of the skater as he brings a hand to his ear in time with the first line of the song. Throughout the first verse, we see this skater dancing with a green background splashing into and then out of white. But as we transition into the pre-chorus a new skater (Victor) takes his place and the background becomes a shade of heliotrope.
Throughout the pre-chorus, there is a slow crescendo building to the reveal of a third skater (Yurio) skating with the first two in the chorus. The three dance in synchronicity with a bright, white background cycling through all three combinations of two before all three enter the frame to flourish before the massive post-chorus. The title is displayed on the blue splashes from before in screen encompassing lettering as strings play triumphantly. The chorus repeats as the skaters perform more of the synchronized dance from before, cutting in and out of frame. As the final post-chorus plays, we hear the arpeggiation and glissando from the beginning, and the skaters perform the pre-title flourish to exit the scene on the last sustained chord of the song. Finally, the end captioning is punctuated by three splashes of color appearing on the screen: one purple, one blue, and one yellow.
3 Lyrical Content
An argument by straw man fallacy against immersion in “reality” and in favor of immersion in fiction rests at the core of escapism. Fujioka’s limited vocabulary in “History Maker” establishes a theme of idealized simplicity to contrast with the inherent complexity of reality. The first two lines of the opening verse are associated with the struggles of real life–concepts such as loneliness and frustration with feelings of failure. The song extends this hand into reality to grab the viewer and pull them in to the fiction to come.
After that, the lyrical content largely consists of motivational phrases and does not contain descriptive context other than the line “dancing on the blades”. With this, the song tells us all we need to know about the world we are about to enter: Ice skating is the theme, and “your dreams will come true.” The implied dichotomy emphasizes the lack of guarantee of fulfillment in real life and enforces a false binary by coupling this promise with the fiction of the show. In fact, we see that there are only 60 unique words used in “History Maker,” less than half of the total word count. What is lacking informs the listener more than what is being sung.
4 Musical Analysis
In contrast, however, the chord progression used in the song is not typical of most Japanese pop music, which often use swift modulation between the Ionian and Aeolian modes (Aftershoc). That is, they switch between the major key and its relative minor key. Instead, the music is more anthemic in nature; the progression used in Fujioka’s verses resolves pleasantly back to the tonic (the root note) and stays solidly within the major key. The listener is contented by the satisfying nature of the progression and establishes an association between the lyrical content and the subdued minor chords embedded in the progression. As we established previously, the verse is meant to be associated with reality.
Before we continue our exploration of the music theoretical elements of “History Maker,” let us introduce some vocabulary. Roman numeral notation is used to indicate chords by their root note relative to the key’s root note. For example, in the key of C, C major would be I chord (also called the tonic), E minor would be the iii chord (mediant), and F major would be the IV chord (subdominant). This is because E and F are two and three notes away from C in the scale, respectively.
The listeners contentment in this reality is broken as the pre-chorus’ builds tension with alternation between the mediant and subdominant chords. The steady crescendo adds to the anticipation and guides the listener with the promise of something better, something more. And the chorus fufills that promise with the classic I-V-vi-IV chord progression used in almost all American pop music for its up beat nature. The string melody in the post-chorus completes the energy profile of the song and becomes the backbone which holds up all the work done by the lyrics. Just as Steppenwolf’s howling claim of being “born to be wild” means little without a wild guitar solo to follow it up, just as K’naan’s command to “wave your flag” doesn’t feel fulfilled without a chant we can all join, Fujioka’s claim of being “born to make history” collapses without an epic orchestral announcement that history is being made (Bonfire and K’naan).
We have seen how the limited lyrical content and musically anthemic structure of “History Maker” illustrate the mores of escapism. Lyrical simplicity contributes to the straw man fallacy and implicit false binary at the core of escapism. The vapid but stimulating and motivational lyrics serve to lull the listener into acceptance for premises of the show. Musical buildup through dynamics and chord progression also play a major part in constructing an atmosphere of positivity. Indeed, we note the intentionality behind this anthemic nature as it differs drastically from the norm in Japanese pop music. Through close analysis of the lyrical and musical elements in “History Maker,” we reveal the ultimate purpose for the work: emphasizing the role of escapism in the listener’s life.
Through close examination of “History Maker,” we uncover the potential to make statements about the anime industry as a whole–or about its viewers themselves. With just an eighty second opening sequence, “Yuri!!! on ICE” very effectively spoils the viewer’s contentment in reality and turns their gaze to fantasy. This leads us to wonder: what does our susceptibility to this kind of manipulation say about us as consumers? The media we consume can tell us more about ourselves and perhaps even do more to us than we might think.