The world behind Yuri!!! on ICE: some real life figure skaters
October 5, 2016 3 Comments
Just a couple of months ago, my most anticipated series of this fall season was Sound! Euphonium 2. However, even as a few incidents on twitter and various forums reminded me that it’s not likely to be something I’ll enjoy watching alongside other fans, another series has slowly crept up my list.
Yuri!!! on ICE! is Yamamoto Sayo’s third series as director, and a number of sakuga fans I follow on twitter have already marvelled over the wonderful animation in the PVs. Having loved the Endless Night short that Yamamoto released in August last year, I join them in anticipation for this upcoming festival of traditional hand-drawn animation. So far, Yuri!!! looks even more glorious than both that short and the skating sequence in Death Parade last year. However, there is a far more important reason that I’m really looking forward to Yuri!!! On ICE!: at present, after storytelling in anime, my second passion as a fan is figure skating.
The appeal of figure skating
It’s probably a little strange that someone like me likes watching figure skating. In the land down under where I currently live—Australia, for those of you who don’t know—this sport is typically shown on TV several weeks after the actual competitions are held. Furthermore, we only get the highlights. There aren’t many ice-skating rinks around the place either; in fact, the last time my friends and I tried to go, the local rink was shut for renovations. There’s usually a temporary rink set up in the city every winter, but it’s small and crowded, and thus far from ideal if you actually want to learn or practice any figure skating moves.1
However, one of my clearest memories as a kid was watching a professional figure skating competition on TV where one of the male competitors ‘danced’ to Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping.” I couldn’t remember his name, but thanks to Tara Lipinski’s win in the same competition sticking in my memory, I’ve traced it to the 1998 Rock ’N’ Roll Skating Championship. Watching it now, I can see that Viacheslav Zagorodniuk wasn’t an absolutely fantastic skater, but the energy and sense of fun that he displayed in this program still brings a grin to my face:
So it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that I got back into figure skating recently. I paid attention whenever the Winter Olympics rolled around, and marvelled at Yuzuru Hanyu’s short program at Sochi in 2014.2 But it was only towards the end of the following skating season (2014-2015) that I really got back into it. If memory serves, the trigger was coming across Yuzu’s next short program when Your Lie in April was on our screens—he skated with exquisite grace and passion to Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23, which is the final piece the main character performed in that show. And I just continued following Yuzu as he perfected it and blazed his way to six world record scores last year. I also highly recommend his free skate from last season, “Seimei.” Here’s his magnificent performance at the NHK Trophy in November 2015:
Performances to behold
In the course of that, however, I found several other programs that I loved. That’s when I realised: it’s not just the skater or couple—the program, too, helps make the performance what it is. Each individual or pair will have two programs—short and long—comprising a number of jumps, spins and step sequences choreographed to music. The right music and style can win audiences over, as the Shibutanis’ “Fix You” did last season. Conversely, the wrong choice of music or style of movement can alienate those who are watching. I won’t mention any names, but several programs last season put me off because they involved massacring some of my favourite classical music.
In other words, alongside the coaches under whom the skaters train, the hidden stars behind the scenes of the skating world are the choreographers. Many, such as Shae-Lynn Bourne and Pasquale Camerlengo are former skaters themselves.3 Working with each skater or couple, these artists take days to weeks to design individual programs, and may give advice and further assistance as the performers refine them throughout the season, which runs from August to April. It’s an intimate and time consuming process, and the high levels of difficulty that contemporary skaters attempt mean that they often fall or have some lesser imperfections in their performances. However, when all the stars align, the results can be magnificent.
Another program I loved watching during the 2015-2016 season: Piper Gilles and Paul Poirer’s Free Dance.
The choreographer for Yuri!!! on ICE: Kenji Miyamoto
Hence I was curious about the person credited for choreographing the programs that our characters will be skating to in Yuri!!! on ICE. Kenji Miyamoto is a former ice dancer (with Rie Arikawa) who retired in 2006 and is now a coach and choreographer for ice shows and current competitive skaters. He’s worked with several of the top Japanese skaters in recent years, including Yuzu—the current Olympic champion—and Daisuke Takahashi, who was the first Japanese man to win a medal at the Olympics, back in 2010. Let’s have a look at one of the gala programs that Miyamoto has choreographed for the former:
Watching this video, I can see a similar style of movement in the short clips we see of Victor in the PVs. However, Miyamoto has also created more powerful pieces, such as Takahashi’s short program from the 2009-2010 season. Going by the costume designs on the official Yuri!!! website, he’s probably choreographed at least six programs, so there should be plenty of variety to see. As Miyamoto himself performed the programs to be recorded for reference during production, I suspect we won’t be seeing too many quad jumps, since they’re incredibly difficult to pull off—not to mention that he was an ice dancer rather than a singles skater. In fact, the little dog on the website, too, is talking only about various doubles and triples. But perhaps they’ll surprise us, as the top male skaters these days all have at least two different quad jumps across their programs.
So, yes, I am incredibly excited for Yuri!!! on ICE, which finally hits our screens in just over 24 hours. For me personally, it’ll be fun trying to work out all the different elements across all of the programs—so far, if I’m not mistaken, the 2nd PV has shown Victor taking off on a toe-loop and an axel, whilst the “History Maker” PV has him performing a (triple?) lutz.4 I hope those of you following me on twitter won’t be put off by the flood of skating terms suddenly appearing on your feeds!
- Do note that you’ll need the correct equipment as well! ↩
- NB: Due to the conventions in the skating world, the name order of all figure skaters and related individuals will be first name – last name. ↩
- Interestingly, there seem to be an inordinate number of former ice dancers among the coaching ranks. My hypothesis would be that this is because ice dancing is far and away the most artistic discipline in competitive figure-skating. ↩
- (edit, 2016-10-06) I was right about the axel–though it’s in the History Maker vid rather than PV2–but turns out the first jump was a flip (it’s obvious once you can see Victor preparing to take off from his left) and the lutz was a quad. Well, now that it’s out, I’ll be spending a bit more time slowly going over all of these skating sequences. ↩