Kubo Mitsurou on Yuri!!! on ICE: an early interview

yoi_early-promo-image

And here’s my ‘Anime Writing’ post for this week! This interview, from Spoon.2Di vol.18 (published September 30, 2016) is one of the earliest interviews that Kubo Mitsurou did for Yuri!!! on ICE. If I’m not mistaken, it’s her second magazine interview, after the short one in the October edition of Pash!1 In it, Kubo expands on the way all the stars lined up such that, in the summer of 2014, she embarked on a journey to help Director Yamamoto Sayo create the figure skating anime that the latter had long been dreaming about. If you prefer to read the Japanese original for yourself, aliasanonyme has shared the scans here.

This is the full translation of the interview that I discussed in this editorial. As I mentioned there, I originally intended to post it back in January, until frog-kun advised me to write a more in-depth piece about the mistranslations and misinterpretations we found. I only addressed one of them in the editorial, but if you’re curious about the other major mistakes, you can take a look at them here.

But if you’re only interested in what Kubo herself said about Yuri!!! on ICE just before it started its broadcast, you can find it right here, just under the cut.

Interview: Kubo Mitsurou

Original Story, Scripts (written as manga-style storyboards), Original Character Design

Meet Kubo Mitsurō, who worked with Director Yamamoto Sayo to create the foundations of Yuri!!! on ICE. In this interview, we ask her about the show’s highlights as well as some juicy production secrets!

Yuri!!! On ICE is finally about to hit our screens, so may I ask how you are feeling at the moment?

At present, no one loves the characters called Yūri Katsuki and Victor Nikiforov more than Director Yamamoto and myself (chuckles), so I really want them to step out into the world as soon as possible and become loved by everyone.

yuri_01

—Then, to begin, could you tell us about how you came to be involved in this project?

The story I’ve heard is that Director Yamamoto had long been thinking of making an anime about figure skating, but because it would be very difficult to make such a show as a TV series, she kept getting turned down. Then at the time of the Sochi Olympics in 2014, the director went overseas by herself to cheer for the skaters, and whilst she was there, she happened to have the opportunity to speak to a producer she knew over the phone. The question of “Is there an anime that you would like to do?” came up in the conversation, and, thinking that it just might be fate, she answered “I want to make a show about figure skating!” And, caught up in the Olympic mood, the producer told her “Great idea!” (chuckles). That was the breakthrough.

And so, having been given the green light, the director started looking for a screenwriter. Right around that time, it just so happened that my last manga, Again!!, had finished its run in Weekly Shōnen Magazine. Being a heavy listener of the radio I was doing, she saw a tweet of mine saying that “I have absolutely no plans for what I’m doing next,” and told the producers “Kubo-san doesn’t seem to be working at the moment, so now’s our chance!” (chuckles). I’d been talking about figure skating both on radio and on TV, purely as a fan, and Director Yamamoto knew about that, and also about how I’d done the script for the Moteki live-action film in the form of manga storyboards. And so she chose me, thinking to ask me to do the same—to draw the manga storyboards that would be the foundation of the story that they would then animate. But at that point in time, we hadn’t even met… (chuckles).

—Is that how it was?!

Someone I knew became the link that pulled the two of us together,2 and so we met for the first time two years ago, in the summer of 2014. Upon hearing about what they’d been planning, my immediate reaction was “Oh, that sounds interesting!” and so I gave the director an affirmative answer right there and then. After that, I threw myself completely into it, going to figure skating competitions and stuff, with the full intention of spending two years working hard under the surface.

But while we were immersed in research and story development, Tatsuki Machida announced his retirement (T/N: at Japanese Nationals in December 2014) and I fell into complete shock at the news…I made a hand-drawn banner to cheer for him and was caught on TV doing just that (chuckles). By that time, this project had already gotten well off the ground, and my feelings of wanting to support figure skating even more wholeheartedly synthesised with my own hopes and expectations with regards to the sport. And so I made a “men’s figure skaters flip board manga” and unveiled it on a TV show I was invited to (chuckles). I did many things of that sort around that time, but the project was still at a point where I could not say that “we’re making a figure skating anime!” so I had to just grit my teeth and keep it to myself. And last year, the director, my manager and I went location scouting overseas, making our way to a whole lot of different competitions.

kubo-machida
{source; more pics here)

—In actually heading overseas for location scouting, was there anything that left a particularly deep impression on you?

The official hotels that the skaters stay at aren’t actually booked out, so normal people can also reserve rooms and stay there. Hence, fans can stay at those same hotels, and there are times when they pass by the skaters in the common areas and stuff—I thought that was pretty crazy. I won’t even try to deny that we also wanted to pass by the skaters ourselves (chuckles)…but far more important was the desire to document those hotels properly so that we could depict them in the show! This time, we weren’t actually able to document the backstage areas at the competitions,3 so we had no choice but to do our best surveying them from outside. There are many areas that we simply could not depict just through our imaginations, so the research we did on those overseas trips was all for reference.

—In watching/following overseas skaters, were there any moments when you saw something that would be good as a reference?

Overseas skaters are incredibly generous about catering to their fans (dishing out “fan service”),4 so I felt that this was something that we could bring out in our characters. And both Japanese and overseas skaters also use Instagram and other kinds of social media, incessantly uploading tonnes of photos of themselves, and that’s really got our creative juices going. Like, we want to include things like vacation photos, and holiday scenes that have absolutely nothing to do with skating! (chuckles) Those skaters really do many things that go beyond all our imaginations, so even if we do something really crazy in this show, we can say that “Real life skaters do this kind of thing too, you know?” (chuckles).

But what really surprised me was that, when we had the characters do something that we really thought no real skater would ever do, we’d find real skaters unexpectedly doing exactly what we’ve depicted. It’s a bit like…reality is replicating fiction…! (chuckles) But to tell the truth, it’s quite common for something similar to what you’ve depicted in a manga to occur in real life. To me, I think that’s proof that you’ve done well in creating a particular work—you feel as though you’ve created a fictional world that could actually exist in reality. So that made me incredibly happy.5

Here’s one e.g. of the crazy, fan-servicey things RL skaters do:

—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).

—I see! (chuckles) And this time, you’re also credited with creating the original character designs, so may I ask you about the key points that drove the way you developed the three main characters? Let’s start with Yūri Katsuki .

The theme for Yūri Katsuki was that “his pure, unadulterated sensuality just blows you away,” so we always placed great importance on that sense of purity. He’s a character that gives off the impression that he’s kind of hopeless, but also holds the potential for undergoing a complete transformation. If we were making a story about high school club activities, then he’s the normal protagonist that we’d see learn how to skate for the first time, and his character growth comes through that process. I think that’s the pattern of character development that we usually see in such stories. But we realised that “There’s absolutely no way that would fit into a one-cour show!” (chuckles), so what we’ve ended up with is a story about Yūri being resurrected as a skater.

Hence, although his appearance makes him seem like an average guy at first glance, he’s actually incredibly talented, someone regarded as a really good skater in Japan. When I heard Toshiyuki Toyonaga-san’s voice during the audition, the “I’m hopeless” impression that his quavering voice gave off worked really well, but he was also fantastic when he just flipped over to a more confident tone. At a glance, Yūri gives off the image that there’s so much potential in him, so when I heard his voice, I became even more excited about just what kind of sensuality we’d find coming out of him.

yuri_eros

—And can we talk about Victor Nikiforov next?

People may get mad at me for saying this kind of thing, but when I thought about what country might be fitting for a great skater who’s also something of an oddball, Russia was the one that came to mind… (chuckles) And if we talk about great Russian skaters, everyone will automatically think of Plushenko. It’s not that we actually made him the model for Victor, but I’m not going to deny that there are similarities—if you can enjoy the show even more because you can see a resemblance between the characters and some real life skaters, I think that’s great too.

Victor’s appearance is based on John Cameron Mitchell, who wrote the story and script for Hedwig and the Angry Inch. When we went to see that musical in New York last year, Mitchell himself was playing the title role again, and he really had this magnificent presence, full of sensuality—and that’s why we made him the model. In my career as a mangaka, I haven’t created many characters that you’d say are really good-looking, but I’ve drawn Victor with the intent of making him the most attractive character I’ve ever created.

Suwabe Jun’ichi-san is also fantastic, with that undoubtedly dreamy voice that he has. At the time of the auditions, I also thought it wonderful that he’d practiced and practiced that line of “Amazing!,” which no one else had done (chuckles). I’d also heard that Suwabe-san is someone who approaches each of the roles he takes on with great care. That’s another aspect of him that matches with Victor, so there was absolutely no doubt in my mind about entrusting the character to him.

victor_amazing

—So that’s how it was… And how about Yuri Plisetsky?

When we went to Barcelona in 2014 to watch the Grand Prix Final, we caught sight of Yulia Lipnitskaya in her casual wear. On top of black as a basic colour, she was wearing a leopard print pattern, and her suitcase, too, gave off this “Where in the world did you buy that?!” vibe—it had that same leopard print, and gold handles. Like, she had this incredibly flashy fashion sense (chuckles).

But that was the visual image that left the deepest impression on me during our overseas trips, and I thought “Fantastic! Wouldn’t it be great if we had a male skater like that?” And so I piled all of those elements into Yuri. And because that became the basis of his character, he was really easy to write. And I think that it goes well with the blasé attitude that rings through Uchiyama Kōki-san’s voice. Even since we heard him on the audition tape, sounding so indifferent, we’ve basically been telling him “Please keep it just like that, don’t perk up or anything!” (chuckles).

—Next, could you give us a tip or two as to what we should pay attention to in order to get even more enjoyment out of this show?

This time, we asked former figure skater Kenji Miyamoto-sensei, who now works as a choreographer, to put together the figure skating programs. But that’s not all—we also had Kenji-sensei skate them himself, recording video from multiple angles, up close as well. Much of that footage is being used in the show, and to be honest, a lot of it is from angles that you can’t see in real competitions. So even though it’s an anime, I think that being able to see skating with such lively movement is a really important aspect of this show.

On top of that, we also asked Chacott, who designed Nobunari Oda’s costumes when he competed, to design costumes that suited each skater, and so and and so forth. So many people who are actually involved in the figure skating world have cooperated with us in this endeavour, so I think that figure skating fans will definitely be able to enjoy the show as well.

And finally, with figure skating, the skater on the ice always becomes the main character of that moment. So we are not treating the other skaters as background characters, but are depicting them all as if any one of them could, quite rightly, come out on top. We’d like you to pay attention to that rivalry of these warlords, and enjoy each individual skating to songs that were created for them alone.

phichit

—And finally, could you leave a message for our readers who are looking forward to the show, including what you would say is its main draw?

Please go all out to take on board the bonds that you will see deepen before your very eyes! The staff have, without concern for their own wellbeing, completely thrown themselves into making this anime, and I, too, want you to see the fruits of their labour as quickly as possible. Furthermore, the real Grand Prix series of figure skating will also be broadcast on TV Asahi each week. So I’d be incredibly pleased if, alongside the anime, you’ll spend this winter feeling a refreshing sense of excitement every day, to the point where you’d think “I won’t be able to sleep for another week!”


  1. (edit, 2017-03-01) It’s actually the third. There was another interview in Newtype October, which was published on September 10. 
  2. Yasuyuki Okamura, who did the theme song for Space Dandy. Mentioned in Kubo’s interview in Newtype, Oct 2016
  3. (edit 2017-03-02) At first, I thought that “backyards” referred to training facilities, because that’s the connotation the English word give me. But it should be no surprise that backstage areas of the rinks are open only to officials, skaters and their coaches, and members of the press. The rinks/facilities that they train at are also private, for use by skating club members only. But this apparently varies from country to country. In Japan, for example, many skaters use public rinks, so they have to hire them in the early mornings or late evenings (from BD/DVD booklet 2). 
  4. The term used here is the wasei-eigo “fan service.” In Japan, it has a broader meaning than the narrow, sexual-pandering one that we associate with it in English, and refers to the things that celebrities do to make their fans happy. This includes things like handshake and autograph events, playing it up on stage or in front of the camera, or even showing their own personalities on social media. In figure skating, the bulk of this involves stuff like sharing photos and videos of themselves training or travelling to competitions and meeting up with other skaters, fooling around at home or at those competitions. If you want to see what they mean, check out Misha Ge, the Shibutani siblings, or google “figure skater kabedon”… 
  5. And it keeps happening. Recently, in this extra to the March 2017 issue of Pash!, Kubo mentioned how surprised she and Yamamoto were when they found out that Stéphane Lambiel had gone through a very similar experience to the one they wrote for Victor in episode 7. If I’m not mistaken, she’s actually referring to this interview, where Stéphane talks about how he struggled to find the right kind of advice to give his highest profile student, Deniss Vasiljevs, when the judges gave him an unexpectedly low score. 

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

4 Responses to Kubo Mitsurou on Yuri!!! on ICE: an early interview

  1. Pingback: That’s what she said?! Kubo Mitsurou and Yuri!!! on ICE | HOT CHOCOLATE IN A BOWL

  2. Pingback: Masterpost: On Anime ‘Writing’ Project | HOT CHOCOLATE IN A BOWL

  3. Cat says:

    Thanks for translating this, much appreciated! 😻

    Like

  4. naru yassu says:

    thank you ❤

    Like

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