Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Japanese Nationals 2010: The Restoration of a Champion, Part II

Things are so much easier to watch when you know the outcome...

I know that there are various, well-informed figure skating observers who would disagree, but I actually don't really like Akiko Suzuki's skating. It's true, she has good musicality--great, I would even say, for an Asian--but there is a vague sloppiness to her jumps that is off-putting. Her complete lack of a personality doesn't help either. I can forgive the odd pairing that is this white dress with the Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack, since it's absurd that she would try to actually portray anything from it anyway, and the style of the music actually suits her perfectly.

However, Akiko's clean jumps still seemed low to me, and there was a wild, rushed quality to them. She didn't quite warm up to the audience and sell her program until the step sequence at the end, which I do have to commend her for attacking. In any case, she is the latest sacrificial skater for Japan, and this time she made it easier for everyone by botching several key jumps.

In stark contrast to this study in tragedy is Kanako Murakami, who is the latest possessor of a bandwagon. I'm all for youth and smiles, but her technique worries me a lot. Her triple toe + triple toe combination is solid, but her Lutz will become a major problem soon. She is super fast, though--look at how the advertisements around the rink are blurred on camera! I loved her triple flip + double Axel sequence, and other than the generics, I really like her music choice. The Mask of Zorro plays to her speed and youthful energy while using a mature sound to help her grow as a performer. Mao Asada's debut senior free skate was done to the Nutcracker in a pink and white puffy dress. It was cute and worked well for her, but Kanako's equivalent program here feels more mature.

Kanako's expression at the end says it all--she's young, she's new, and she's here to take it all. Love it.

It is kind of fitting that Kanako's idol, mentor, friend, and sister figure Mao would be next. Now, I know that some of Mao's costuming choices have been pretty suspect (I think the last dress I really liked was from 2007, aside from her exhibition dresses...), and that people have continued to hate her current season's styles, but I actually love this periwinkle. It's elegant, sparkly, modest, and mature. It has a softness that matches the music, and it just works.

What stands out for me in this program is Mao's artistry. Earlier in the season, when her jumps completely abandoned her, it was difficult to make heads or tails of her skating in general, but now that they are mostly back but still not her strong point, the strength of the rest of her skating becomes evident. Her lines, the way she carries her arms, her knees... lovely. Speaking of jumps, though, I'm not convinced of the wisdom of planning a triple Axel in the second half of her program.

Although the triple Lutz received an edge call, it looked better than it initially did. It will probably never be as fixed as Tatiana Tarasova claimed, but we all can dream, I suppose. And, oh dear god--her spirals were gorgeous. And she actually smiled.

Nationals are such a magical stage for Mao. Look at the mess on the ice! Those little girls are working overtime to deal with the love of an entire country. It's actually kind of hilarious to watch. Welcome back!

I wouldn't call Risa Shoji's position particularly envious. Not only does she have to skate right after Mao, the coloring of her dress is similar but lesser. The direct comparison allowed me to realize--or rather to remember--that she is actually quite young.

Risa has incredible speed, and it's unfortunate that the pressure seemed to get to her in her early jumps. She also seemed a little more withdrawn than in the short program, which is not altogether surprising but also not necessarily typical of a junior fresh up the ranks. When she was fifteen, Mao used to seem completely blind to where she was placed after the short, and just skate with incredible reckless abandon. That's gone now, and this is where she's ended up.

Actually, Risa might benefit from choosing more dramatic music until she can define her own artistry and style--the quiet quality sometimes seemed to allow her skating to become lost. It'll all come together, though.

I almost skipped Fumie Suguri, but then I realized that earlier in the season Rafael sent me a picture of her with a weird head sash, and I knew I just had to watch. Sadly, the sash has been ditched, but the rest of her costume has not.

Fumie has surprising speed in her skating, and her straight-line footwork sequence had good energy to it, but to me there's nothing that really stands out in her performances. It pains me to think about all the money she spends on her career now.

I am appalled by the margin with which Miki Ando won. I'm not particularly appalled that she won--I don't have a very strong opinion on this either way--but there is no reason for a 10-point difference. Come on. The fact that Miki beat Mao even in the PCS is really troubling.

After a string of really hideous costumes, Miki looks fairly decent in this dress. There is a jarring quality to many of her jumps--I'm not sure what it is--but at least they were done cleanly. What bothers me most, though, is that Miki could essentially be skating to any music and you wouldn't really know the difference. There are moments in this program when she tries to be soft and to emote a graceful elegance, and I appreciate that, but as a whole Miki is simply just heavy to watch.

Miki's reaction at the end of her program was what left the greatest impression on me. Far too often in recent years, she's failed to live up to her hype, and has always looked disappointed at the end of her performances while blaming her shoulder or her back or her leg or whatever it is that is currently bothering her. This time, though, there was none of that. She was satisfied, plain and simple, and while I would have been able to warm more to her had she celebrated in giddiness instead of this aggressive glare, it's still refreshing and reassuring to see her actually pleased with herself for once.

The commentators need to calm down, though. Her skating wasn't so great that you'd want to watch it forever.

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