Kenji Miyamoto on skating as the characters of Yuri!!! on ICE

kenjis-room_shimada
Kenji Miyamoto with Japanese junior skater Koshiro Shimada (source)

My plans for blogging and translating have been all over the place these last few weeks. I’ve actually been sitting on an early interview with Kubo Mitsurou, but the editorial that I’m drafting to accompany it is still in the works. The skating songs and Rakugo Shinjuu interview that I highlighted last week are also in various states of progress, and one of them should be finished by early next week. But then I started reading this interview…and got to a point where I couldn’t stop laughing for about a minute. Imagining Yuuri and Yurio as those animals…oh, Kenji-sensei!

In any case, this is the last interview from the “Miracle on ICE” special that came with the Jan 2017 issue of Animage. After I translated Kubo-sensei’s long interview back in December, Toraonice has slowly been working through the rest. If you’ve missed them, you’ll be able to find all the links in the masterpost.

I honestly wish I’d found time to translate this interview back in December. Being a former figure skater himself, Kenji-sensei has always been the one best able to share just how realistic Yuri!!! on ICE has been, and he goes into far more detail here than in any other interview I’ve read so far. The wrap-up posts I’m planning will be dominated by just how much I love this show as a figure skating fan, but I’m tempted to just let Kenji-sensei do all the talking for me! So please enjoy this interview, and let me know what you think of it in the comments!

I skated the choreography as if I were playing the characters themselves.

Kenji Miyamoto (Figure Skating Choreography)

Profile:
Born November 6, 1978, from Hyogo Prefecture. Represented Japan in figure skating (ice dance). Repeat Japanese National champion (with partner Rie Arikawa). After retiring in 2006, he has been active both within Japan and overseas as a choreographer.

NB: Please note that all figure skater names are in “first name-surname” order, as per ISU protocol. All other Japanese names are in traditional “surname-first name” order.

Meeting the staff that are holding up a world that’s real

miyamoto-kubo-cast
(source NB: The only YOI-related photos of Director Yamamoto at present are here. )

Miyamoto-san, you’re both a skater and a choreographer actively representing Japan.1 But the first time you met Director Yamamoto Sayo was when you worked on ENDLESS NIGHT, isn’t it?

Miyamoto: Yamamoto-san is a director of animation, so I thought that I would first have to tell her what skating is all about. But of course, it scarcely needs to be said that she knows just about everything there is to know about skating. To the point where I even found myself thinking “Actually, you can skate as well, can’t you?” (chuckles). And it wasn’t just the technical side, she knew all about the performance aspect of it as well, so she would have quite specific comments and questions for me. For example, she’d look at what I proposed and ask if we could change a particular section in a particular way. I realised that she must really love skating.

If both of you have background knowledge on a topic, then meetings go more smoothly, don’t they?

Miyamoto: Being able to go over things so quickly was a great help to me, as was the fact that I was able to leave explanations and clarifications of the choreography entirely to the director. When she first told me about what they were trying to do with Yuri!!! on ICE, I asked that they allow me to choreograph all of the programs. I went so far as to say that I wouldn’t be able to accept the job if they didn’t let me do that, but I was really happy that they trusted me and left it all to me.

Is Kubo Mitsurou-san, who partnered with the director to develop the story, also very knowledgeable about skating?

Miyamoto: Incredibly so. Kubo-san is such a big fan of skating that she does not just cheer for the skaters, but also really takes in the atmosphere of the arenas. I think she’s usually amongst the spectators, but she also pays a lot of attention to everything else that’s happening. For example, when I watched the competition in episode 5 with Minami Kenjirou-kun and the other regional competitors, I couldn’t help going “Yeah, this is just what it feels like before you perform!” Watching what was going on in the backstage and warmup areas, and all those training scenes, even I began to feel quite tense!

As a professional from the skating world, which of the characters are you interested in?

Miyamoto: Well, of course I’m interested in the two Yuris as well, but since I’m a choreographer myself, my attention is drawn to the coach, Victor. Because he says things that I have started to forget, having been in figure skating for so many years. When I watch Yuri!!! on ICE, I find myself thinking that I need to try harder to think of the skaters first and foremost, and face them head on.

victor-coach

Both coach and choreographers are the ones backing up the skaters, after all.

Miyamoto: Each skater gives it everything he or she has got, but they all have their own idiosyncracies. The question we face is how to raise their spirits and get them to peak at the important tournaments—that’s our role as coaches and choreographers.

Do you think that Victor is suited for coaching?

Miyamoto: Well, that’s not something I can say one way or the other (chuckles), but when I watch him, I feel that “If you had a coach like him, practice would be fun too, huh?” and also that I need to brush up my own skills more.

On that note, then, as a choreographer, what kind of skaters would you say Yuuri and Yurio are?

Miyamoto: In the first episode, there’s a scene where we find Yuuri crying in the men’s toilet. That kind of thing really does happen. Even though the people around them passionately get behind them, and even though the skaters themselves have given it their all, somehow it just doesn’t produce the result that they want. When that happens, you just feel like bowing your head and saying “I’m sorry…” The people cheering them on on understand that even though they’re always doing their best training, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll perform well on the day of the competition. And the skaters also want to return their calls of support with a smile on their faces, but sometimes they just can’t hold the tears back. So in terms of both his strengths and his weaknesses, I think that Yuuri is a character that realistically embodies what figure skaters feel. Seriously, there are many skaters like him out there.

You can say that as a skater, Yuuri is a real, life-sized character.

Miyamoto: Whether they are young children that have just started skating, or competitors well into their careers, I think there are many skaters that have experienced similar feelings to Yuuri. I was really close to crying myself when I watched that scene. I’ve heard that there are many skaters who are watching Yuri!!! on ICE, and I suspect that they’re stunned by just how real it feels. It’s like, I had to ask myself “Is this really fiction?”

How about Yurio, then?

Miyamoto: Skaters who really don’t want to lose, like Yurio, really do exist as well. Though they don’t round-house kick other people (chuckles). Figure skating is a contest where artistry is highly valued, but because it is a sport, it is a world driven by competition. So you need to have a strong will to win by any means. On that point, Yurio frankly put what I myself have thought into words, and just went about carrying out what he said. I find myself being drawn to that aspect of Yurio, but at the same time, I’m a little jealous.

yurio-sell

Speaking of how realistic the show is, you can see how the character designs are the product of someone who’s spent a lot of time really looking at the builds of real skaters.

Miyamoto: Real life figure skaters really do have those kinds of builds. The height of their calves, the shape of their knees, the curvature of their spine and so on and so forth. In particular, their leg muscles look so incredibly real that it just astounded me. The first time I saw the completed animation, I just went “Wow, those are the legs of a figure skater!” That they’re able to depict something to this sheer level of detail—animators are simply amazing.

Bringing out the beauty of each skater in the choreography

How did you come up with the choreography for each character? Are there any differences when you’re choreographing for a real skater, versus for an anime character?

Miyamoto: In the case of a real skater, I’d look at the way they skate, and skate with them as I’m thinking about their choreography. But that’s impossible in the case of an anime character, so here, Kubo-san told me about each character’s personality, whilst Director Yamamoto informed me of the settings and situations they’d find themselves in. That’s how I built up an image of who they were.

I’ve heard that you even reference the way that animals and plants move when you’re coming up with a program.

Miyamoto: In Victor’s case, it wasn’t an animal; rather, I used the image of a sculpture. A beautiful, white marble statue, moving in a way that makes it seem like he’s actually still, such that you can see his movement clearly. In contrast, I figured that Yuuri was some kind of long, slim mammal. No quite as long and thin as an anteater, but not as muscular as a horse…like a standard-sized poodle that has had its hair cut (chuckles). To put it another way, Yuuri’s got the image of an animal that’s close to you, that’s familiar. Because Victor is like someone from another dimension, I thought that it would be good have give Yuuri choreography that felt more human. Having him try to embody the theme of “Eros” on top of that would be pretty interesting, I thought.

poodle

How about the image you have of Yurio, then?

Miyamoto: If Yuuri is a mammal, then Yurio is more like a bird. Something like a cross between the peacock and the Japanese pheasant. He’s not quite as flashy as a peacock, and yet he’s shrewd like a pheasant. Depending on the song, I also see him as a grey heron.

I’ve heard that, when working on the animation at the production studio, the animators referred to footage of you skating the programs you choreographed yourself.

Miyamoto: I endeavoured to skate as if I were each of the characters themselves. If there’s a character that skates really carefully, then there’d also be one that has dynamic skating. Even the simple act of picking up a plastic bottle—if there’s a character who’d grab it roughly, there’d be one who does it gently. Keeping each character’s individuality in mine, I changed the way that I moved when performing their programs. In that sense, it wasn’t all that different from choreographing for real skaters. The most difficult thing about it was that I had to skate all of those programs myself (chuckles).

And what kinds of feelings did you carry with you when you skated their programs?

Miyamoto: When choreographing the programs, I went in with the mindset of a choreographer. But when skating, I did it as if I were playing the characters themselves. Like, I had to imagine things like “when stepping out onto the rink, he’d be nervous, thinking about this kind of thing” or “when he completes this skate, he’d move like this” and stuff.

For example, in Yuuri’s case, you had the key phrase of “a skater on the edge of a cliff,” whilst for Victor, it was “living legend.”

Miyamoto: In that manner, I also looked at the circumstances surrounding them. When we first meet him, Yuuri is frantically trying his best, like “I’ve got to do something,” and that’s what I tried to convey in my skating. On the other hand, Victor was completely in control, so I just focused on charming the audience.

Who was the easiest character to skate as?

Miyamoto: Victor was. And then Yuuri and Christophe Giacometti after him. Also, characters trying to appeal to something, like Georgi Popovich, were easy to skate as. Conversely, that made JJ really difficult for me. Good or bad, he’s always all about himself, so I really struggled with trying to figure out how to skate as him.

jj

And Yurio’s skating is soft and incredibly beautiful.

Miyamoto: We wanted Yurio to have really supple movement, so we asked a female skater to perform as him. The choreography has a male character moving as if he were female, so we asked her to do detailed movements like twist her body more, and not to stand up straight.

Well, one thing about Yurio that draws you in is his androgynous quality.

Miyamoto: Because of that, we also directed her not to flick her fingers out forcefully. Rather, it was as if she had dipped her hands into honey, or as if she was drawing threads out from the tips of her finders. We also asked her not to make sharp movements with her head, so that her hair wouldn’t be flung around. We had her move as if she was lingering a little as she passed, so I’d be really happy if you tried to pay attention to that as you watch the anime.

So you choreographed programs that would bring out the characters in their most beautiful forms. Could you tell us, then, about what you think is “the beauty” of each of the characters?

Miyamoto: For Yurio, it’s the curvature of his back, whereas for Yuuri, it’s the way his fringe flows. In Victor’s case, it’s his jaw, particularly the angle between his nose and his jaw when he lifts his head—when he stands fully upright, I think you can see the core of who he is. Other than that, for Minami-kun, it’s how he gets everyone clapping in time to his music. I wanted to choreograph a program that had him becoming one with the audience, and just being buoyant. But Phichit Chulanont’s programs were actually the most difficult for me to do.

Phichit’s choreography incorporates elements from Thai dances, doesn’t it?

Miyamoto: Phichit-kun is a character that the director and Kubo-san were incredibly particular about. They also gave me some materials on Thai traditional dances, and I used them to research what I could do, but when it came time to film me skating his program, my left shoulder fell apart and I couldn’t move it.

I heard that you filmed the choreography over a span of two weeks, and it was like a camp with the anime staff.

Miyamoto: I tried to be careful to look after my body, and had a training specialist look at me every day, so I somehow made it to the last day. But even though it was an incredibly harsh experience, in return, I was able to steel myself to do a character that moves that much. So I think I’m glad to have done it. In terms of the production of Yuri!!! on ICE, I was only involved over those two weeks, but even then, I feel a real sense of accomplishment to be a part of something that everyone made by putting all their strength together. It really has been a wonderful experience.

kenji_skating

Could you tell us about your memories from that camp?

Miyamoto: I usually put my skills to about 50~60 songs a year, but over those two weeks, I had to choreograph about 20 in total. So the schedule was completely packed, to the point where I felt that I simply wouldn’t be able to comply with a request to “please do that one more time.” So I told them when we started, “I’m sorry, but I’ll definitely skate it right the first time” and asked them to get it all in that one shot at it. Oh, and whenever I said “Shall we take a break?” everyone made a beeline for the heated rooms.

So the rinks really are quite cold, aren’t they?

Miyamoto: The temperature rinkside is about 5 degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit). I was moving around, so I was actually pretty hot, but some of the people who’d never been there before came in jeans, and without wearing socks…well, of course they’d feel it (chuckles).

On the charm of Yuri!!! on ICE, which has captured the attention of audiences worldwide

How did you all determine which songs would be used for the programs?

Miyamoto: I picked them from the original demo pieces that the composers had created. I’m used to listening to a lot of music, so I first try to grasp the atmosphere that the song gives off when you just hear it being played. If there was anything that I liked, I checked it on the list, and then the director and I would discuss them and choose the pieces (for each skater).

If there were to be a sequel, what kind of music would you like to have them skate to?

Miyamoto: For Victor, I’d have a classic orchestral piece. And not something individualised to him, but rather a piece that everyone would know, like “For Christmas, it’s gotta be Beethoven’s 9th” (i.e. “Ode to Joy”). For Yurio, I’d pick something featuring a cello or a violin, if possible, an emotional piece performed vigorously by a female instrumentalist. I’d go for something completely opposite with Yuuri, a comical piece. Presently, he doesn’t look like he’d be good with something like that, so I think it might be a nice challenge for him.

If the characters were actually real life skaters, who would you like to choreograph for?

Miyamoto: Each one of them has different idiosyncrasies, so I’d love to work with all of them. And if I did, I’d have to get to know each of them better, and the more information I get, the more I’d probably be able to expand the repertoire of songs that I can chose from.

Besides the costume and hair, it seems like you’d also specify what hair accessories and nails a skater should have, even how they should draw their eyebrows. What kind of suggestions would you give to Yuuri, Yurio and Victor?

Miyamoto: I think that Yuuri would be really cool even if he had a slight perm, and had sweat scattering off of him.2 In contrast, I’d have Yurio pull all of his hair back. As for Victor, he’s pretty much perfect as he is, so I’d be happy leaving him just like that. But if I had to do anything, then I’d do away with the hair parting and just have his hair hanging naturally. I think that would look wonderful too.

victor

Yuri!!! on ICE has captured the attention not just of anime fans, but also of numerous skating fans. Could you leave a message for those fans?

Miyamoto: All of the skaters who appear in Yuri!!! on ICE are people who have given 100% to get where they are. This is a show that has carefully captured the kind of training they do, and the feelings they have when they skate, so I hope that it will bring you even closer to the world of figure skating. In the end, the advancement of this sport can only occur because of your support. And if skaters work hard so as to pay you back for the support you have given them, then we will also be raising skaters who will chase after their backs, and the people in our world will increase in number. Hence, if you watch Yuri!!! on ICE and even have the smallest thought of “I’d like to try skating,” there is nothing that will make me happier. And when you make it out to a rink, if you see me there, please give me a yell!

Disclaimer: As always, the translation is entirely mine, as are any mistakes and misinterpretations. Please do not copy and paste large portions of it anywhere else, though feel free to link to the post itself if you wish. —karice


  1. Although Kenji-sensei doesn’t skate competitively anymore, he gets invited to and performs for ice shows as well. I’m fairly certain that he choreographs for at least some of the ones in Japan as well. 
  2. Hm…à la Daisuke Takahashi? 

About karice
MAG fan, freelance translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

5 Responses to Kenji Miyamoto on skating as the characters of Yuri!!! on ICE

  1. sikvod00 says:

    Hi. I haven’t commented in a bit, but I’ve still been reading most of your translations.
    In case you care, I found two small typos:

    Phichit-kun is a character that the director and Kubo-san were incredibly particular about. They also gave me some materials on Thai traditional dances, and I used them to research what I could do, but when it came time to film me skating his program, my left shoulder fell apart and I couldn’t moved it.

    In the first episode, there’s a scene where we find Yuuri crying in the mens toilet.

    These interviews with Kenji great because of the unique background he brings to the table. His analysis of Yuuri crying in the men’s toilet in ep. 1 really resonated with me. Failing to live up to your own expectations is common among competitors in general, but failing to live up to your fans and others expectations of you seems to be a bigger deal in Asian countries. You’re just carrying this additional weight on your back, and even if people understand, you feel like you’ve still let everyone down. The fact that Kenji almost cried while watching that scene speaks for itself.
    His comments on a coach’s role being to help a skater “peak at the important tournaments” sounds obvious, but lots of people forget this. There can only be one winner, but certainly all of the competitors put their heart and soul into it, working hard as hell. They might have had the best performance of their lives while training, but simply failed when it “really mattered” at a big event. That can happen to the best. They’re all still human and can’t be at 100% all the time.
    I found the 2 week choreography “boot camp” with him and the anime crew strangely intimate. I’m just imagining Director Yamamoto and Kubo-sense encouraging and cheering him on and complimenting his ass! That kind of work must be brutal and exhausting, but at least he was in good company with some supportive fan girls. I’m a total newbie at figure skating, but going to a rink without socks sounds like a bad idea. :/ All of these behind-the-scene details with the staff show just how excited and passionate they were to work on this. Positive vibes really does help to reduce the stress from overwork.
    As always, thanks for translating these interviews! I know you, toraonice and other translators have experienced some frustrations with the community at large. But there are definitely folks who appreciate your efforts.

    Like

    • karice says:

      Re: the crying scene in episode 1

      Yeah, that really got to me as well, though I first learned of it through this earlier interview of Kenji-sensei’s.

      On the coaches — during this skating season, I started following FS a lot more closely, reading interviews, listening to podcasts and stuff, and I’ve found the ones with the coaches really interesting. The latest IceTalk that I listened to had a discussion on what skaters try to aim for in competitions — and it’s basically to skate the best that they can. Two clean programs. It is, as they say, first and foremost a battle against themselves, a battle to achieve what they know they can achieve, and then to push themselves just that little bit further. It’s really fascinating reading and listening to them all talk about this.

      Re: the choreography camp

      I remember that so well! When I saw those tweets, I just had to sit down and translate them! I must admit, though, i never really paid attention to their butts until this season. Now, though, it’s impossible to unsee!

      Thanks ^^. Going to be launching the next phase of this “translate YOI project either tonight or tomorrow”…will be interesting to see what happens from here on out.

      Like

  2. inksquid43 says:

    Now I understand why Yurio sometimes flaps his arms in a bird-like way!

    Like

    • karice says:

      Haha – that could certainly explain it! I’ve mostly been rewatching Yuuri’s programs, largely because they’ve definitely the most complete at this point. But once I get all those BDs, I’ll definitely be rewatching Yurio’s skates too, to try to get all those details!

      Like

  3. Pingback: A figure skating fan talks Yuri!!! on ICE (and the film sequel!) | Wave Motion Cannon

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