That’s what she said?! Kubo Mitsurou on ⚤ romance

Pardon me for putting this post off—I was, shall we say, more than a little distracted by certain figure skating competitions over the last month and a half. But now that Worlds and the World Team Trophy have come and gone, I’ve finally been able to get back to the third of three major misinterpretations that arguably led Yuri!!! on ICE fans to criticise Kubo for leaving mixed messages about what she stood for.

Credit: Jason Brown, aka the inspiration for Leo de la Iglesia ^^;

The issue I address here was actually the first one that I personally witnessed, right from the time it started. The comments in question were tweeted by Kubo towards the end of August 2016, though they were only picked up and translated—often separately—for the Western fandom around November 20.

The August tweets

Since context is especially important in this case, let me first present all four of the relevant tweets. The first tweet was posted really early in the morning on August 26:

Previously, when I’ve tried to depict a deep relationship in a wholesome way, there’s a tendency for people to think “If they’re that close, why aren’t they going out?” where it involves a male-female pair, so I’ve ended up depicting it is a more roundabout way. But when I choose to write about people of the same sex in order to write such a strong relationship in a more straightforward way, then they say that I’m pandering.1 I really don’t have the stamina to depict the roundabout kind of relationships that I portrayed in “Moteki” anymore…

One of Kubo’s followers soon replied:

You can do it, you can do it. I’m sure of that. Rather than stamina, it’s a matter of will.

Which then led to Kubo’s next comment:

Relationships between men and women have that kind of baggage attached. To tell the truth, I no longer find them appealing enough to expand all the effort needed to get over that baggage. I can’t see the dream in that…like, a manga about becoming good friends with animals is better in that sense.

Shortly afterwards, Kubo posted one final tweet on the subject:

I have absolutely no interest in writing a story about someone who wants to be in a relationship, or who wants to get married. And if we’re inundated with romances between men and women, then it doesn’t matter if I don’t write one, right? I just really want to write a deep, wholesome relationship…and so I don’t feel the need for me to choose a male-female pair—that’s all it is. Well, once you see it you’ll understand, so end of explanation.

Discussion

Back in November, these tweets sparked a mini-explosion in the English-speaking fandom, after two of them were picked up by the Western Yuri!!! on ICE fandom (see these three posts). Many fans promptly speculated about whether Kubo was talking about the show—and several thousand people on various social media platforms seem to have come to the conclusion that she probably was. But more importantly, many also took it to mean that she was talking about wanting to write a romantic relationship between two people of the same sex/gender.

This interpretation surprised me, because that’s not what I’d taken from them at all. I’d also translated that first tweet when it showed up on my timeline. But although I compared it with something that Asano Atsuko had said about a relationship that most people regard as queer, I was celebrating it for quite a different reason. To me, Kubo had joined the ranks of writers expressing a desire to write relationships without worrying about the “Will they or won’t they?” dynamic that often accompanies a male-female pair.2 Or to put it another way, Kubo appeared to be weary of the way audiences tend to focus on romantic relationships, on wanting characters to end up ‘together’.

The X-files is the first series I remember going downhill after its creators gave in to their audience’s expectations and had its two leads get together…
Of course, correlation doesn’t mean causation, but still…

As usual, I decided to check my interpretation with several other translators. The first agreed with me once she had a good look at Kubo’s original tweet, but since I’d mentioned my own interpretation pretty early on in our conversation, I decided to ask frog_kun via DM as well. This was his response to Kubo’s three tweets:

Well, just based on those three tweets she sounds like she’s tired of generic romance stories between a man and woman but like other than that, i dunno what to make of it

After a short discussion, I told frog-kun my own conclusion, which was: “I think she chose to write about two men because she wanted to focus on their relationship (= their connection with each other), as opposed to the ‘will they or won’t they?’ question…” And he responded that “this would explain why the show skips over a lot of relationship building and quickly establishes their “coach/student” dynamic.”

At that time, I didn’t actually know toraonice yet—I only contacted her a few days after the fandom discovered those August tweets. But when we finally got around to discussing the topic via email in January, I learned that her independent conclusion had been similar to mine:

(Kubo) just didn’t want people’s attention to be directed to the romance instead of the actual character development.

E.g. how Yuuri decided that he would continue skating!

As you can see, the tweets were vague enough that none of us could automatically say she was talking about Yuri!!! on ICE. However, what all four of us agreed upon was that Kubo didn’t go so far as to imply that “she wanted to write about a male-male romance.” Personally speaking, another reason this interpretation struck me as being rather strange is that it contradicts the other often-cited point that “She thought she was writing a sports story, but she ended up writing a romance and went with it.”3 Logically, if one of these two claims is true, then the other has to be false.

To be fair, most of the fandom translators that I did not contact also pointed out that we couldn’t be sure Kubo was referring to Yuri!!! on ICE. We have no idea what prompted Kubo to write that series of tweets that morning, so it could have been a reaction to something completely unrelated. But given the timing of the tweets—just after Kubo began a packed schedule of publicity engagements and media interviews for the show—I think it’s actually quite likely.

In fact, something Yamamoto said in her recent Febri interview also supports the idea that Kubo was indeed talking about Yuri!!! on ICE. When the interviewer commented that Victor and Yuuri’s relationship is quite similar to that between Michiko and Hatchin, the titular characters from Yamamoto’s directorial debut, her reply led to the following:

Personally, I find relationships labelled with names like “lover” or “family” to be oppressive. I wanted to depict bonds (between people) without being bound by such names.

Another of Kubo’s early media engagements that I’ve been meaning to translate…

In closing

Of course, I still can’t be 100% certain that Kubo was indeed referring to Yuri!!! on ICE. But if she was, then there are two things we should remember. First, as lookiamnotcreative also pointed out, the relationship in question is not meant to be ‘bait’—Kubo was serious about writing what she called “a deep, wholesome relationship.” And second, that she did not define what kind of relationship it was. But outside of those two points, feel free to make of these tweets what you will…though please don’t don’t bash Kubo—or each other—over any of this.

And that’s it from me on “That’s what Kubo said?!,” at least for now. I’ll respond to comments, of course, but otherwise, I’ll be looking forward to the rest of director Yamamoto Sayo’s interviews—and hoping that I won’t have to reopen this series of posts!


  1. One of the tumblr translators I link to in this piece translated the term 「狙いすぎ」 as “baiting.” The reason I went with “pandering” instead is because the issue Kubo is referring to is the issue of “fujoshi baiting,” not the more politically-charged issue of “queerbaiting.” The main differences between the two are (1) that the former is specific to the manga, anime and game industry in Japan whilst the latter is currently more of an issue in the Western entertainment industry, and (2) that the primary target of queerbaiting is understood to be the queer community, whereas fujoshi tend to be straight women. There’s a longer discussion to be had about the interaction between these two communities and these two issues, though it lies outside the scope of this piece. 
  2. Besides Asano and now Kubo, both Buffy creator Joss Whedon and Sound! Euphonium author Takeda Ayano have said something quite similar. And with her recent interview in Febri, Yamamoto Sayo is also confirmed to be a member of this club. 
  3. This is another misinterpretation, stemming from something that Kubo said in an early interview. 

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

One Response to That’s what she said?! Kubo Mitsurou on ⚤ romance

  1. Pingback: PSA on what’s happening around me in the YOI fandom | HOT CHOCOLATE IN A BOWL

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