That’s what she said?! Kubo Mitsurou and Yuri!!! on ICE
February 21, 2017 3 Comments
If you’re a member of the hard-core Yuri!!! on ICE fandom, what has happened over the past few weeks can hardly have escaped your attention. On February 7, the March issue of CREA saw Kubo Mitsurou—who’s credited for the original story and the scripts—indicate that Victor and Yuuri can be thought of as “soulmates,” inciting cheers and celebrations in various places around the web. Then on February 10, her comments in Pash! about the rings being akin to items worn by “members of the same circle” created a fair amount of consternation amongst fans who believe Yuuri and Victor to be engaged.
|(Thank you to @sounatsu_ for passing me this scan from CREA!)|
The fallout was immediate. Some fans started criticising Kubo for again leaving mixed messages over what she really stood for. In response, others pointed out that what she said did not negate “just how much Yuuri and Victor truly love each other,” an interpretation that the show itself amply supports. But the order of the day seems to have been confusion—one person even asked that a major YOI translator not to translate what Kubo said about the rings so as “to keep everyone in YOI fandom happy.”
toraonice responded as I would have, saying that it would not be possible to do something like that. The reason the two of us translate interviews in full rather than just summarising the parts we find interesting is that we want everyone to have access to as much of what the creators have said as possible, and in its original context. This is why we’ve been working chronologically as much as possible, with a few important exceptions.1 I’m not trying to devalue the work that the other translators have done, but speaking for myself, this approach is something I developed because of experiences in several other fandoms over the years.
Flashback: a Kubo interview from September last year
A similar experience is now playing out before me with the Yuri!!! on ICE fandom. Unfortunately, some of the early material tora and I missed contributed to this latest flare-up. Today, I’m going to look at just one case: Kubo’s interview from Spoon2Di vol.18, which was released on September 30, just before the series hit our screens. I was actually going to post my translation of it a few weeks ago, until someone alerted me to the fact that parts of it had already been translated. I went looking, and was a little shocked by the translation I found. Here’s the part that’s relevant to what’s going on in the fandom today:
|Pastebin translation||My translation of the entire Q&A|
|Kubo: The people who most admire works about a sport tend to be people who are players of that same sport. Love too has such a deep bond, doesn’t it? I decided that I wanted to carefully depict people who struggle with that. The story of Yuri on Ice was written up last year and during the stage where I fleshed out the drafts, the character relationships were deepened more than I could have imagined. … In the end we didn’t think about what we were writing and drawing into these characters, rather we were going off what the characters they themselves would want.||—For this production, you’ve worked on the episode scripts, but in the form of manga-style storyboards—could I ask if there was anything that you placed great importance on as you were working on them?
I paid a lot of attention to “sensuality.” Since this is a story about men’s figure skating, we just have male skaters taking the stage one after another. But apparently, Director Yamamoto kept ‘finding fault’ with the work that the animators were putting out, telling them that she wanted them to carefully animate these male characters in the style that is a requisite for *bishōjo* anime (chuckles). But I, too, drew the manga storyboards with the full intention of conveying that same message, like “Let’s put the sensuality right out there!” Don’t you think that one of the greatest draws about sports anime and manga is that there’s an incredibly deep bond between people who are committed to the same sport? One that’s different from the feelings of romantic love? We want to depict that world as sincerely as we can, a world full of people that seem out of our reach. The basic plot was already written last year, but as I was drawing the manga storyboards to fill the story out, their relationships with each other became even deeper than we could have imagined. It was like “Could it be…the characters have started moving on their own?!”…like a phenomenon where you’re no longer able to distinguish between fiction and reality. The director and I keep saying to each other that it’s like it’s no longer a story that we’re writing; rather, it’s what the characters themselves want to do, so it can’t be helped (chuckles).
Disclaimer: My full translation of the interview can be found here (with extensive comments) or here (without those comments). It has been checked by my friend and fellow translator, frog-kun—though if you would rather read the Japanese original for yourself, aliasanonyme is the person who shared the scans in the first place.
The pastebin translation was originally posted on 4chan, I believe, around November going by some archiving sites. Other translators figured out the mistake shortly after the original person posted it, though this wasn’t captured in that pastebin.
If this had ended here, I don’t think it would have bothered me all that much. But shortly after, I found a different translation, one that, whilst pretty accurate, took the passage out of context and went for a conclusion that Kubo may not have intended.
The key sentence to note here is this one:
“She thought she was writing a sports story, but she ended up writing a romance and went with it.”
That’s not what Kubo actually said. Whilst she does say that “their relationships with each other became even deeper than we could have imagined,” Kubo does not make any indication that the bond(s) in question became “romantic.” That’s not to say that fans can’t make that leap, as this blogger obviously did.
However, Kubo might not have intended that interpretation at all. If you read her comments in context, she starts talking about “sensuality,” before moving on to “the deep bonds between athletes” that she differentiates from “the feelings of romantic love.” She then finishes off by talking about how the relationships became deeper than she and Yamamoto originally imagined, with the characters starting to move on their own.
The most important thing to note, however, is that this was all in answer to one question. Kubo was telling the interviewer about what she placed great importance on in the manga storyboards she drew: “the sensuality.”2 In other words, everything Kubo mentioned in her answer to this question is probably connected to this “sensuality,” which is meant to rival that of bishōjo anime.
|Apparently, Seiren is the top-ranked “bishōjo anime” this season…|
The highlight is the sensuality!
But what does she mean by this? Well, the first few episodes of Yuri!!! on ICE give us an answer. As frog-kun put it in one of our conversations, there’s a sense that characters like Yuuri give off “a kind of sexy ‘aura’…without being sexualised in the way an attractive girl might be. It’s a subtle kind of sexuality that has as much to do with the way he skates as it does with his body itself.”
If you think about it, that’s the kind of sexiness that sportspeople naturally exude. The sheer physicality of the activities they participate in, the sweat that shines on their well-toned bodies as a result of their exertions… It’s not like they’re trying to be sexy for the sake of being sexy. Rather, that’s just a by-product of their efforts to be the best at their sport. What they are is something that you’d want to sense not just visually, but also through sound and touch in particular, which is why “sensual” is the right word to use.
So let’s return to Kubo’s comments about the characters “moving on their own” and doing things of their own accord. If we take just these sentences alone, then they could refer to anything, and indeed, Kubo appears to be talking about Victor and Yuuri building a much deeper relationship than she and Yamamoto first envisioned. In the context of the rest of the answer though, may Kubo have been referring to all the scenes where they upped “the sensuality,” meaning that she’s referring to the actions that let them draw close-ups of lips (and butts!) in particular?
In short, I suspect that Kubo is definitely talking about Victor and Yuuri’s relationship—possibly amongst others—becoming deeper and closer than planned. However, she may well have been using this comment to justify some of the rather suggestive actions characters took at various points in the story, such as Victor—and later Chris—being so touchy-feely with Yuuri. Admittedly, this “sensuality take” is also an interpretation, one that is not made explicit by the text itself. However, it’s an interpretation I cannot dismiss, because of the context within which those sentences are set.
Do you disagree with this interpretation? Or has my suggestion made you think about this segment of the interview again? Let me know in the comments!
“But what is your point?” I hear you ask. “If the ‘romance take’ and the ‘sensuality take’ are both interpretations, then surely it’s ok to use the one that seems to be supported by the show itself?!” Well, I’m not going to force my interpretation on anyone. I mean, I don’t know exactly what Kubo was referring to in this interview, because, being a pre-broadcast interview, she wouldn’t have wanted to spoil anything.
But the same applies for the romance interpretation. And this is where the issue lies, because the fandom thinks that Kubo has actually confirmed that it’s about romance. On Tumblr, a few thousand fans have already celebrated how “Kubo thought she was writing a sports story, but she ended up writing a romance and went with it.” Similarly, putting “Kubo” and “romance” into Twitter’s search engine revealed a few hundred fans cheering over the same thought.
These are relatively small numbers, all things considered, but they are just the examples I’ve found for this post. I also seem to recall it being mentioned on blog comments, and on podcasts and videos, despite how infrequently I actually look for fan responses such as these. Fans aren’t even referencing exactly where they heard or read it anymore, they just accept it as a fact and use it as such in discussion.
This worries me because that is NOT what Kubo said. It is the fandom’s interpretation of what Kubo said in this interview (and in others, like this recent Febri one). By insisting that it is something she has actually said, fans created a false context through which they are now judging her most recent comments.
|Kubo with figure skater Takahito Mura.|
Hence, I contend that Kubo isn’t actually flip-flopping on her message. Rather, fans just think she is because of how they’ve interpreted some rather ambiguous comments that she has made in the past. Granted, with the rings being “a symbol that they are soulmates” one day, and then like “members of the same circle deciding to have a matching item” the next—it does sound like she’s saying two different things. However, having followed Kubo very closely since the show started airing, I do not think that those two comments are irreconcilable.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Kubo’s “the word of god,” so you should listen to her—for example, for some reason, she remembers “Hanarezuni soba ni ite” having lyrics that it doesn’t! Nevertheless, on the whole, what she’s been saying about the core story of Yuri!!! on ICE has been remarkably consistent. I’m also not saying that all the interpretations fans have put out about what Kubo has said are as problematic as the one I addressed here. However, there are a few others I have found. This post was just about the first of them; next week, I will tackle another.
- Six so far; Kubo in Animage Jan 2017, on Yuri!!! on RADIO (Dec 26, 2016), in Spoon2Di vol.21, in CREA Mar 2017, in Pash! Mar 2017, and in Febri vol.40. ↩
- This term (お色気) has previously been translated as “sexiness” or “sex appeal.” frog-kun and I agreed that “sensuality” was a better fit, for the reasoning I’ve included above. ↩