Kubo Mitsurou on “love and figure skating”

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Given what’s been happening to a fellow Yuri!!! on ICE fan, translator and friend on tumblr in the wake of the stage event on April 29, I’ve decided to publish a transcript and translation of something that Kubo Mitsurou said about “love in the figure skating world” on live radio last December.

On December 14, 2016,1 Kubo appeared on All Night Nippon’s Myu~Komi Plus radio, where she regaled hosts Yoshida Hisanori and Ogino Karin with tales from behind-the-scenes of the show and her growing love for the world of figure skating. Towards the end of the discussion, she started talking talking about the love ( “ai”「愛」) that permeates that world. Here is the entire two-minute segment of that discussion, along with the transcript and translation that I made.

English translation

And then, in “the world on the ice,” there’s a real love there that goes far above and beyond things like “romantic love” between men and women. Skaters talk about “expressing their love” through figure skating. Like, in order to become even better competitors, the love behind that is quite illogical. For example, you have ice dancers who aren’t dating each other, or who are brother and sister, or who are married (T/N: based on context, I assume she means “to other people”). But just on the ice, they appear to kiss and hug, they’re connected by this huge bond, this feeling of wanting to win the competition; and no one ridicules them for it. Like, it’s allowed in this world alone. There’s a world like that.

This is something that I’ve avoided writing about in my manga until now, out of embarrassment. Like, “giving one’s all for the sake of love,” and the bond between two people who are striving for victory together— you could say that’s a classic feature of shōnen manga. Tackling this figure skating anime is something like a chance for me to thoroughly explore relationships based on such bonds, based on that kind of love, which I’ve been avoiding out of embarrassment. That feeling of wanting to flip through this concept and follow it through to the end—I’ve crammed it all into Yuri!!! on ICE. And it’s because the real figure skating world is so wonderful that it is actually possible.

Japanese transcript

でしかも、その、「氷の上の世界」って、なんでしょうね、「男女の恋愛」とか、そういうものを超越してなんか愛が本当にあるんですよ。愛を表現されているという、その、フィギュアスケートを通してそれをより、なんか、競技として強くなるためにそこに「愛」というものに理屈はなくて。例え、アイスダンサーのカップルとか、お互い付き合ってなくても、例え兄妹(兄と妹)であっても、例え結婚していても、そこが、なんだろ、氷の上だけで、キスしていようが、抱きあってようが、大き絆で、その試合で勝とうという気持ちで繋がっているということに対して、なんか、誰もヤユしたりもしないし、なんか、そこだけで許される世界というのがあって。

それってなんか、自分が今まで漫画とかを書いてて、結構恥ずかしくて避けてた部分なんですよね。「愛のために頑張る」とか、なんか、その、絆で二人が繋がって何か勝利に向くも、多分それは少年漫画的、王道の側面なんですけど。一度このフィギュアスケートものを取り組むということで、自分がちょっと恥ずかしくて逃げていたその、愛なり絆なり関係性を一度、も、そういう概念をパラって、突き詰めたいというのは、この、「ユーリ!!! on ICE」にすごい突っ込んでるんですよ。そして、フィギュア、それは現実のフィギュアスケートの世界が素晴らしいから、その、可能のわけなんですね。2

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Commentary

First, I’d like to stress that the “love” that Kubo-sensei is talking about here is “ai 「愛」,” which she has placed “far above and beyond 「超越して」” the concept of “ren’ai 「恋愛」.” I’ve been meaning to write a follow-up post on this topic for years, so I took the opportunity to ask my housemate—a Korean guy who lived in Japan for 10 years before coming to my country to study—about the differences between these two concepts of love. And he confirmed that “ren’ai” is generally used for the early stages of a “romantic” relationship. As the relationship develops and deepens, it should change into the more genuine, accepting and giving love of “ai.” The last thing that’s important to note is that this concept of love, “ai,” is used for all kinds of relationships, not just the ones that started off with “ren’ai.”

The reason I bring this up is that the difference between these two concepts of love doesn’t actually fall quite along the lines of “romantic” and “platonic.” A lot of the people attacking tora (and, to a lesser extent, myself) seem to think that we’re claiming that the relationship between Yuuri and Victor is strictly platonic. But neither of us is saying that. I don’t want to put words into tora’s mouth, so I’ll just say this for myself: the point I am making is that Yamamoto and Kubo wanted to avoid the conceits and tropes of “ren’ai,” so that they could depict a “genuine love” 「真実の愛」, one that is not constrained by labels like “lover(s)” 「恋人」 or “family” 「家族」.3 This doesn’t mean that there’s no possibility for Yuuri and Victor’s relationship to be viewed as either of these; however, I prefer to think of their bond as being something beyond both of these relationships, something stronger and more significant than you’d see the average person have with a lover or family. Or, as Kubo put it in CREA, they’re “soulmates.”

I’ll leave my discussion of the show itself here. As Kubo has said time and time again, I think it’s best if everyone decides for themselves how they interpret that relationship.

karice_YOI_06-1.jpeg

I do, however, want to dive into what Kubo was referring to in the figure skating world. As in many other fields, most figure skaters marry others who hail from their world—fellow skaters, coaches, choreographers, perhaps even one of the other support staff like physios and nutritionists (admittedly, I haven’t heard of any of the latter). But what figure skating fans are often very curious about is whether couples in the ice dance or pairs disciplines are actually together in real life as well as on the ice. After all, the level of intimacy and trust they build up through the days and years they spend together is something that most of us average Joes would only ever experience with our life partners (if we’re so fortunate as to find them).

Some skating couples are indeed together both on and off the ice. Pairs skaters Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov actually skipped the 2016-17 season because they were expecting a baby, and they welcomed their first child into the world two months ago. But as Kubo implied, a significant number of couples are not actually together off the ice. They might be brother and sister, like Maia and Alex Shibutani. Or they might be married to or seeing someone else, like Charlie White and Meryl Davis, or Eric Radford and Meagan Duhamel. But all of these couples still see their bond as being incredibly strong, something on the level of “soulmates”:

To these skaters, this bond is pretty much unbreakable. Current ice dancing world champions Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue have long insisted that they are a couple only on the ice, but they both regard what they have together as an incredibly special relationship. Scott has said that he loves Tessa, and that his real life partner will have to accept her as an integral part of their lives. And there are photos of them kissing and embracing, on the ice in their performances, and also off the ice in the Kiss & Cry and various photoshoots. Of course, many of their fans keep hoping that they’ll eventually confirm that they’re actually together…but personally, I don’t really want to speculate—it’s up to them to decide what they mean to each other. Another dance couple, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, are still skating together despite breaking up a season or two ago—last I heard, they’re both dating other people (who they might be competing against, IIRC…)

These bonds aren’t unique to people who skate together as a couple. Ice dancer Madison Chock has spoken of being “soul skaters” with several other female skaters (whose names I can’t remember — it’s on episode 19 of Ice Talk), and Yuzuru Hanyu and Javier Fernandez consider each other brothers, even though they hardly ever hang out off the ice. From other generations of skaters, it seems that Johnny Weir and Stephane Lambiel get along very well, too.

Tessa-Virtue-and-Scott-Moir
(source)

But as I indicated above, I don’t want to use any of this to insist that you interpret Yuuri and Victor’s relationship in a certain way. I only wish to show where Yamamoto and Kubo are coming from, by sharing what I know of the figure skating world. I wanted to point out that many skaters regard the bonds that they have with their skating partners and peers as being incredibly special, even to the point of calling each other “soulmates,” whether they end up in a traditional “romantic relationship” or not.

These are the bonds that Yamamoto and Kubo wanted to depict. Other than that, you are free to believe or imagine whatever you want.

Further information: Myu~Komi Plus is an hour long radio show that is broadcast live every Monday to Thursday night. An avid anime and manga fan, Yoshida discusses a range of works and hosts many guests from the industry. You can listen to the rest of Kubo’s appearance on this program here on Nico Video.

Disclaimer: as usual, this translation is entirely my own, as are any mistakes. Please let me know if you spot any (either in the Japanese transcript or in the translation itself), and I’ll correct it. And with that, I’m out. —karice


  1. This was the Wednesday after episode 10 aired, and just before episode 11. 
  2. NB: the last 20 seconds(?) or so have Yoshida noting that Kubo really is a radio personality, because she has A LOT to say. She actually took so long to answer the questions up to this point that Yoshida had to skip the next/last one. 
  3. The “genuine love” comment came from Kubo’s interview in CREA; the comment about “lover” and “family” comes from Yamamoto’s interview in Febri vol.41. Yamamoto also used “love” (“ai” 「愛」) to describe Yuuri and Victor’s relationship at ConComic in Mexicon on May 6, 2017. 

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

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