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Interview With Yuri!!! on ICE Creator Sayo Yamamoto: Part 1

June 30, 2017 12:00am
by Lachlan Johnston

Sayo Yamamoto is, without a doubt, one of the most diversely talented individuals in the Japanese animation industry. She's a woman shrouded in a veil of mystery, cast simply to ensure attention is set on her work, rather than herself as an creator. Set aside a few convention appearances, Sayo Yamamoto has always been one to ensure that her own hard work does all the talking she could ever need to do herself. That's why when the unique opportunity to conduct the first ever English-language interview with Ms. Yamamoto presented itself, there was no way we would turn it down.

Even if you're not familiar with Sayo Yamamoto as a person, it's almost certain that you will be familiar with her works. From "Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine" to "Michiko and Hatchin", all the way to her more recent "Yuri!!! on ICE", it would appear that everything Sayo Yamamoto touches is destined to turn to gold. She started off at the bottom and worked her way to the top, one step at a time. Unafraid to move forward without ever looking back, Ms. Yamamoto is more than just a role model for women, she's a role model for society as a whole. Her signature style would go on to portray women as more than just side characters, but as powerful leaders that could do everything their male counterparts could and so much more.

Conducting the interview was Dai Sato -- an individual who is equal parts a collaborator and friend of Sayo Yamamoto's. In the past, the pair worked together on animated treasures such as "Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine", "Samurai Champloo", and "Space Dandy", amongst a diverse list of other titles. The interview had a distinct air to it, feeling more like a discussion between old friends than the nitty-gritty talks between publication and director. Split up into multiple-parts, you can find the first part of our interview with Sayo Yamamoto below:

Let’s talk about your latest animated series, “Yuri!!! on ICE”, and jump right into the deep-end of it. First off, in the credits there’s a section under the title of “Name (Rough Sketch)”, but what exactly entailed for this position? Both your name, as well as the established mangaka Misturo Kubo are both listed under this “Name” title, rather than the more traditional “screenplay”. Could you tell us why it is that you chose to work under this title?

Well, I originally sat down and thought about the structure and plot of the series; following this myself and Ms. Kubo worked out the details for episodes 1 - 5. From episode 6 onwards however, it was a totally different dimension (laughs). In the Grand Prix, we wanted to have at least six skaters go up against each other. The actual episode of the series ran for about 20 minutes and 10 seconds, with the actual short programs running for about 2 minutes and 50 seconds, while the free programs would run for 4 minutes and 30 seconds.

When we ordered the music, we reduced the length of it to about 2 minutes. In a bid to keep all of the elements from the skating program, we had our choreographer Kenji Miyamoto make adjustments to transitions and spins so it would all fit the cut. Even then, we still had to make it shorter; this is where we decided how many minutes each character would skate, we pretty much calculated absolutely everything. Then both Ms. Kubo and I decided on the key elements we wanted to incorporate into each episode, and would write them into the plot. After all these discussions, this was the point in which Ms. Kubo would start writing the names.

When comparing a “name” to a “script”, the sketches are kind of like stage directions. It’s as if each drawing or sketch represented a different movement or scene. As a matter of fact, these “names” were the script. Try not to overthink it though, it’s essentially just the same thing as a regular script… (laughs). Given the nature of “names” however, they actually helped a whole lot when we began drawing details such as facial expressions for the characters.

Generally when an anime is created, it’s based on a pre-existing manga series or light novel, making it a little easier to work with. With “Yuri!!! on ICE” however, there was no source manga to be used as a basis. So the thought of you bringing on board a manga artist to work with you on an original anime was quite revolutionary. Where was it this idea came from?

When I first thought of the project, I was considering working together with a screenwriter, thus taking the traditional route. I quickly realized however that screenwriters are typically working on multiple projects simultaneously, so I felt as though it would be difficult to find someone who could dedicate all their time and think about figure skating as seriously as myself (laughs). Right around that time, I was avidly listening to a radio show called “All Night Nippon”, which featured both Ms. Kubo and Mineko Noumachi. Even though I was just a listener, I always thought I could probably become good friends with Ms. Kubo (laughs).

Eventually I heard her talk about figure skating on the radio, and I thought her perspective was extremely interesting. I knew she had contributed to the 2011 film “Moteki” as a screenwriter in the same “name” format we utilized. However, after doing some further research, I found out she had been writing for “Shonen Magazine” here in Japan for quite some time. It was after this discovery that I started to picture her writing scripts for a TV series. Admittedly, it was also a huge bonus to know that she was experienced in making manga based on novels as well. I had this idea that she must be accustomed to collaborating and creating various projects with others.

Were you acquainted with Ms. Kubo from the beginning?

No, not at all. I had previously made a PV for Japanese singer/songwriter Yasuyuki Okamura, and at the time Ms. Kubo was writing creating special manga boards as a bonus with Okamura’s releases. At a later point, I was invited for drinks with Mr. Okamura, and I mentioned me listening to Ms. Kubo on the radio, where he then mentioned him having her contact information (laughs). I guess you could say that my first real contact with Ms. Kubo was through this discussion with Mr. Okamura.  

“Yuri!!! on ICE” has been met with much praise internationally, and not just because of it’s figure skating theme. It features a diverse cast of foreign characters throughout the anime, and whilst that isn’t exactly very special in and of itself, it’s believed that they were drawn and animated extremely naturally. It isn’t exactly something that is done often in Japan, so was this done with a certain demographic in mind?

Actually, we weren’t thinking about a market demographic at all (laughs). It’s impossible to write about figure skating without depicting foreign characters, which is how that happened. What I always wanted to do was recreate and depict the stories of the top class skaters in each seasons final competitions. So it was kind of inevitable that the setting would take place on a global scale.

I went to the Figure Skating Championships which was held in the Czech Republic this past January and happened to see a spectator in cosplay. They were minding their own business, but I saw them in the hallways dressed like Victor. I accidentally yelled out “Wow! It’s Victor!” and they ended up hearing me, so they asked if I wanted to take a photo with them. I answered yes, and we ended up taking a picture together. I asked if they knew “Yuri!!! on ICE” and they said they knew about the show (laughs). Later on I saw the same person at the station, but this time they were dressed as Otabek… waiting and sitting there, just like Otabek would. It was really cute honestly.

It’s almost like there’s a totally different feeling when interacting with foreign fans, right?

Exactly! It wasn’t like they were jokingly going to the tournament wearing an outfit that just happened to look like cosplay either. I was completely overwhelmed with joy when I realized that people were starting to take interest in the sport of figure skating because they watched “Yuri!!! on ICE”. I’m sure you’re aware, but I’m not necessarily promoting the wearing of cosplay at figure skating tournaments. We wouldn’t want to distract the competitors, would we? (Laughs)

Since this was the first ever anime to revolve around the world of figure skating, there must have been quite a few challenges. After all, animating figure skating would appear to be an incredibly difficult process. Did MAPPA know what they were getting themselves into right from the early proposal stages of the project?

You know, there’s no real guarantee that any original anime will be a success. I realize how difficult it can be just to get a proposal through, but I thought that if I ever made something, I would just throw it out there regardless of how reckless it may seem (laughs). I believe it’s important that when proposing such an idea, you take a moment to think and verbalize as many interesting ideas as you possibly can.

As for whether or not the production staff were aware of the difficulty of the figure skating scenes, we had already given the work orders for the songs and the choreography during the series construction stage, so I’m sure they were aware. There were moments however where I was asked to reduce some aspects during production when the team were struggling to get the work done.  

How was the planning originally decided?

It was around the year 2012 when I started having these desires to make an anime about figure skating. I was previously the director for a project called “Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine’, and it was during that process that I decided my next animated project would be about something I truly care about, which was of course figure skating. There were often times when people would approach me and ask if I had any original ideas, and when I would suggest a figure skating anime, they would typically reject the thought (laughs). Usually they’d simply shake their head due to the sheer difficulty of such a project. I’d also get a lot of questions regarding whether it would be a “student figure skating club”.

When talking about modern anime that share similar themes, such as “Yowamushi Pedal” and “Haikyuu!!”, it’s not often that you’ll see professionals of the sport being drawn, but I think that’s just the style of anime. With this work however, you flipped that convention on its head, and I think we all found that extremely interesting.

Thank you very much! When you’re in the process of planning an anime, you get a large amount of pressure to make the main characters young, and if the story is set in a modern time, they inevitably leads to the character being a student. I think that’s why a lot of the people who aren’t interested in figure skating thought this would be about a school club. On top of that, I feel as though people thought it would be easier to simply jump on the bandwagon of previous anime that have found success with amateur sports clubs. I also had a lot of people telling me that the series wouldn’t find success if it wasn’t based in Japan, and that nobody would follow it if the characters didn’t have Japanese names. But my usual reply was “Huh? What’s makes you think that?” (laughs).

Looking back now, I think that “Yuri!!! on Ice” was the result of me ignoring all this “advice”, and simply making an anime that I myself would enjoy watching -- the story of a character who has already matured and is taking on their final skating season, not some story about a character who is just getting started. I feel as though that would make conveying my ideal image so much more difficult. So when I shared the idea of “Yuri!!! on ICE” with everyone, people said “If you have more matches, we’d have to draw more skaters and that’d make things even more complicated!” (laughs). I couldn’t even get a nod or a “That sounds interesting.”, but I was absolutely determined to create something incredible. If I tried creating something that people would simply “like”, it’d end up being nothing but commonplace and mundane.

What kept me motivated through the whole process was the inspiration I received from actual figure skaters while watching their matches. Even when their retirement could be just around the corner, they’d continue to keep fighting and challenging themselves -- that compassion for what they loved really stuck with me. That’s why I first came up with the idea of Yuri and Victor; a skater on the edge of retirement and a world champion who becomes his coach, all while remaining both his hero and rival.

It almost seems like you were on some sort of lifelong mission to turn your passion for figure skating into an anime. Was there any particular moment that triggered this?

During the production process for “Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine”, Japan was devastated by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, and then immediately after that, one of my relatives passed away. My mental state was a total disaster. Usually as a director, there’s a certain element that drives you to create something interesting based on what you’re given, but I’d lost any emotional capacity to do that. I started to think to myself that it would be impossible to pull anything great out of someone else’s idea. It was at this point I realized I needed to create something from the heart, and for me that was figure skating.

I’ve heard there’s a lot of writers and creators in the industry who are afraid to apply the things they truly like into their works.​

I hear that quite often too, the belief that you shouldn’t bring the things you like into your work. I had actually forgotten all about this, but the reason it was important for me to turn my figure skating passion into an anime was that doing anything else would have been impossible. The process of creating anime has become a really tough operation for me as of late. It was like I was creating, yet at the same time I was beating myself to death over it. My hands moved slow, and I would force myself to stay awake just in order to finish a project on time. So I thought to myself that I needed to work on a topic that I would never grow tired of, something that would keep me awake all day. Otherwise, I don’t think I could have ever made another anime, all while thinking “Someday I’m going to make something I like” (laughs).

A woman talented well beyond her years, Sayo Yamamoto is a model example of just what the Japanese animation industry needs. We continue to expand upon this in the second part of the interview which will be made available in the near future. A preview of the second part is featured in our 'Yuri!!! on ICE' film announcement piece, which was made available here.


Naoko Yamada’s ‘A Silent Voice’ Film Review

October 20, 2017 12:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

What do fan-favorite animated works “K-On,” “Tamako Market,” and more recently, “A Silent Voice,” all have in common? Each of them were directed by powerhouse talent Naoko Yamada — one of Kyoto Animation’s best in-house creative minds.

The self-described “method” director has time and time again left a powerful impact through her works, and “A Silent Voice” is by no means an exception. The motif of the film is clear, and the delivery exceptional; from start to finish viewers are strapped-in for a heartwrenching rollercoaster.

After transferring to her new elementary school, Shoko Nishimiya is often targeted by her fellow classmates for her inability to hear. Leading the unrelenting harassment would be Shoya Ishida, who we find much of the film based around. Discarded as “harmless fun” by his peers, it takes no time at all for the effects of Shoya’s bullying to surface — this would be the beginning of Shoya’s undoing. Following an incident in which the harassment is finally called out, Shoya rapidly loses the trust of those around him, and is rightfully demonized for his actions, thus resulting in the tables turning on him.

While early parts of the film follow a much more naive, younger Shoya, most of the film finds itself following his teenage years.  By this point in his life, it’s apparent he’s become a much more self-aware individual. Constantly haunted by the actions of his past, however, Shoya struggles with the effects of depression, a disorder which cripples his ability to partake in day-to-day interactions with those around him.

Visually manifesting such a personal issue is never an easy task, but that’s where Chief Animation Director and Character Designer Futoshi Nishiya’s veteran flare presents itself, constantly complimenting the story through the creative use of both color and contrast. 
While Shoya fights to correct the actions of the past, he learns to rediscover the Shoya of the present — even if he nearly destroys himself to achieve this. Building friendship, developing trust, and learning to love oneself — that’s the basic motif of the film. Touching on a number of different themes throughout, “A Silent Voice” is painstakingly crafted with attention to detail. Through the use of sound, color, and lighting, the film carefully delivers a powerful message that will stay with you for a lifetime. 

What we can expect to see next from Naoko Yamada remains to be seen, but if it lives up to the beauty of “A Silent Voice,” her place in the industry will only further be solidified as a creative. “A Silent Voice” is in theaters across North America now, with screening locations and tickets available to view here.


Adorable 'Fate/Grand Order' x Sanrio Collab is a Must-See

October 19, 2017 4:00pm
by Mike Tamburelli

Sanrio, the company behind the iconic Hello Kitty franchise and certified marketing powerhouse, are definitely no strangers when it comes to the world of collaborations. Heck, just earlier this year, they teamed up with the Fullmetal Alchemist franchise in preparation for the live-action movie for some seriously charming goods.

I'm happy to report that they're back at it again, but this time in collaboration with massively-popular mobile RPG Fate/Grand Order. Check out some of the goods you'll be able to get your hands on, beginning November 11.

Various iconic characters from the mobage have been plastered all over any type of collectible merch you could possibly think of -- pens, badges, phone cases, folders, t-shirts, bags -- you name it, they've got it. You'll be able to purchase the loot at Animate stores across Japan from November 11 until December 17, and at Tokyo Station's Character Street from December 12 through 25. If you aren't able to be in Japan at the time, I definitely suggest keeping an eye on your favorite online retailer. 

Perks for waiting though? The goods will also be available in early January of next year, at a special collaboration cafe planned for opening in Ikebukuro. I’ll admit that I can’t wait to see what kind of snacks cute Gilgamesh will be baked into. Need a closer look at the character designs? Check them out below:


Three New 'Mob Psycho 100' Projects Are in the Works

October 19, 2017 2:00pm
by Mike Tamburelli

Mob Psycho 100 was the surprise hit of the Summer 2016 anime season, bringing the unique and zany art style of author and illustrator ONE to lucid, strikingly-animated life. Seemingly, the show has proved to be popular enough to justify three different projects, seeking to shed further light on the daily life and struggles of secret-esper Shigeo Mob Kageyama.

Next year, the beloved franchise will receive a live-action TV drama, a stage play, and a special anime event.

Let's start with that TV drama.

We've seen a ton of investment from Netflix recently, in both Japanese live-action and anime production. As it would turn out, TV Tokyo is teaming up with the streaming service to produce this live-action adaptation of the esteemed franchise. It will star actor Tatsuomi Hamada as Mob, and will begin airing on the channel's "MokuDora25" time slot in January. There is no word yet on a possible Netflix streaming deal, nor of a release outside of Japan.

After you've soaked up Hamada's realistic rendition of the character, why not go see Mob's original voice actor fight it out on stage? In a surprise announcement, Setsuo Ito will reprise his role in a special stage event that will take place at Tokyo's Galaxy Theater from January 6-14. 

Whether you decide to take part in the aforementioned productions or not, take comfort in knowing that more anime is on the way, and that it is particularly special. Mob Psycho 100 Reigen ~Shirarezaru Kiseki Reinōryokusha~ (The Miraculous Unknown Psychic) is an OVA episode being produced by the exact team that crafted the original anime, and will heavily feature Mob's master Reigen as he crafts his autobiography.

Reportedly, this special episode will incorporate some scenes from the original show, but will also include some new bits supposedly from Reigen’s perspective. The special episode will be shown just two times at Chiba Maihama Ampitheater near Tokyo on March 18. There is currently no word on any sort of wider release after the event.

So what do you think, Mob fans? Has any of this got you jazzed? Be sure to let us know below! And for those of you who have yet to partake in this absolute trip of a storytelling experience, Funimation has provided a synopsis of the original anime below:

Kageyama Shigeo (a.k.a. Mob) is an 8th grader with powerful psychic abilities. Working under his not-so-capable master, Reigen, Mob uses his powers to exorcise evil spirits. But his will to be normal causes him to suppress his powers and feelings until he hits 100 percent — a point where his pent-up emotions are unleased and a darker power takes over.


Netflix is About to Release a Ton of Original Anime

October 19, 2017 12:00pm
by Mike Tamburelli

Netflix has been making a huge push for original content on their platform, and during a recent call with analysts, the company's Chief Content Officer Ted Serandos outlined an ambitious plan to increase the amount of original programming available on the streaming service dramatically. 

As it would turn out, anime will be playing a large part in the company's efforts to ensure that at least 50% of their programming is original content by the end of 2018. With an $8 billion investment, Netflix will introduce thirty new anime series and eighty original films to their streaming ecosystem by the end of 2018 alone. 

Until recently, Netflix had been content with simply licensing anime for streaming outside of Japan. Successful examples of that strategy date back to 2014's Knights of Sidonia and include such fan-favorites as Little Witch Academia, Kakegurui, and Fate/Apocrypha, the latter two having yet to be released. Unlike services such as Crunchyroll which simulcast new shows weekly, Netflix releases their licenses in seasonal chunks, in an effort to encourage binge-watching.

That trend certainly shows no signs of decline anytime soon, as Netflix already has a number of high-profile licenses in the ranks for next year in addition to the above-mentioned; the least of which being Kyoto Animation'Violet Evergarden and Maasaki Yuasa's DEVILMAN crybaby
In what could have only served as a precursor to this announcement, we reported in the past of anime like Studio Bones' A.I.C.O -Incarnation-, a show which is funded in part by a chunk of Netflix cash. This is the kind of production we’re all expecting to see more of following this news. Even the recent sensation that was the Ezra Koenig, Production I.G. and Studio Deen co-production Neo Yokio did not strictly follow this framework, as that project saw first saw the light of day and obtained its first stack of cash from Fox's now-defunct Animation Domination programming block.
So now that we know that Netflix is serious about either fully-funding or partly-funding their anime releases, thus landing them a spot on said shows' production committees, the possibilities have certainly been widened endlessly. Will this result in individual projects having higher budgets? Will it result in there simply being more anime content? For the answers to those questions and more, we'll just have to wait a little bit longer and see.


‘DARLING in the FRANXX’ Receives First CM, Release Date

October 18, 2017 4:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

After so much waiting and anticipation, we couldn’t be more excited to share that the latest CM for A-1 Pictures and Studio TRIGGER’s collaborative animated series “DARLING in the FRANXX” is finally here. Included alongside the CM is our all-new key visual for the series, as well as the January 2018 premiere date we’ve all been clammering to find out. 

The translated text from the trailer can be read below:

This place is a "birdcage."
A place that is shut
A place that is controlled
There is only one reason to live —
We battle
For the sake of our fathers
To someday fly away —
For the sake of the world
But that girl, Zero Two, was different
Won't you become my darling?

Originally announced during Anime Expo 2017 at the Studio TRIGGER panel, “DARLING in the FRANXX” is the latest brainchild of Atsushi Nishigori, following a group of teenagers and their Franxx. There’s currently little known about the project beyond a campaign of PVs released to introduce each of the series’ main characters, though from those alone the series already shows potential. 

With the series premiere slated for January 2018, we can only imagine the slew of story-filled information we’ll be receiving in the coming weeks and months. We’ll be sure to keep you updated as even more is announced, and if you’re interested in checking out our past write-ups on the series, you can view our archives. 

DARLING in the FRANXX Official Website


Pachinko ‘Madoka Magica’ Offers Exclusive Happy End For Mami

October 18, 2017 2:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

For many fans of anime, it’s common knowledge that there will always be more official material than what is presented to you within the constraints of any given cour — whether that be manga, light novel, or even video game. What many don’t realize, however, is that deep within the confines of any given pachinko parlor here in Japan, you’ll often find an entire world of never-seen anime content that players are tasked with grinding through to unlock. One recent example that particularly exemplifies this is “CR Pachinko Mahou Shoujoi Madoka Magica,” a pachinko title that completely flips the story of “Madoka Magica” around, should you pull off the right combo. 

Spoilers below:

It goes without saying that there’s one scene early on in the “Madoka Magica” animated series that stands out a little more than the rest. It was this very scene that would go on to shape much of the story from then onwards, and it’s this very scene that is completely altered within the pachinko spinoff game. Before we get too into that, check out the video below:

What’s totally different from the original series, just in case you didn’t manage to catch it, is that within the gameplay of this new pachinko title, Mami actually survives, rather than her untimely passing as it was originally set. Fending off Charlotte, it’s unclear just what repurcussions this would bring forward. There does exist numerous other pieces of “Madoka Magica” media in which Mami does survive, or simply doesn’t have the interaction with Charlotte at all; including the spinoff manga series “Madoka Magica: The Different Story,” as well as the third entry into the film series, “Madoka Magica: Rebellion.”

With just how recent this pachinko title is, one can only wonder just how many story-altering animated scenes there are. What makes this clip so interesting is the fact that it’s a real animated realization of just how the fight between Mami and Charlotte could have played out. So while I don’t exactly fancy myself playing the pachinko title myself, I’ll certainly be keeping a close eye on just what those who do play it discover. 


Famitsu Provides Fresh Details on Nippon Ichi's New Game

October 18, 2017 12:00am
by Mike Tamburelli

Just a few days ago, word came via Nippon Ichi Software's official Twitter account that they were developing a brand-new title, and that the four colors in the announcement graphic were of particular importance.

Now, thanks to Famitsu, Japan's biggest gaming news magazine, we have a few more solid details behind the cryptic blue, yellow, green, and red hues in the tweet and on the official teaser site. It would seem that they represent the colors of four unique princesses who will be the basis of the game.

Anata no Shikihime Kyodotan, which can be translated as "Your Four Princess Knights Training Story" (something that is likely to be smoothed over for localization) is an RPG debuting for PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, and perhaps most excitingly in my opinion, the Nintendo Switch. It will feature art by NIS character designer, who most recently worked on The Witch and the Hundred Knight 2, Madoka Hanshiro. 

As for that training aspect? Well, knowing NIS, I imagine that it'll involve a fair bit of innuendo, but the game's system is described as a "communication" RPG wherein you raise the characters and issue commands to them in battle. You get to praise them for a job well done, or scold them for their failures. I guess it remains to be seen if this goes as far as what we've seen in the past with games like Criminal Girls

The battle system involves issuing commands to your force of soldiers through both the game's protagonist (you, the commander), and the princesses themselves. 

Details of each of the four princesses backstories have also been provided by the magazine:

  • Veronica (voice: Hiromi Igarashi) - A gifted young witch who is part of a magical guild. Wants to take over the world with fear for her own self-gain.
  • Liliati (voice: Ayane Sakura) - Princess of her kingdom and commander of its knights. She is well-loved by her subjects.
  • Monomaria (voice: Rarisa Tago Takeda) - A princess of Yudaria, who are a fallen noble family of a merchant alliance. Makes a living through her mercenary business. 
  • Alpana (voice: Yuka Kuwahara) - Princess of the Dragon God Family. She preaches the word of the 'Great Makara Teachings,' and aims to unify all other families.
The game will be released in Japan on January 25, 2018. We'll bring you more as it's revealed, including character art and screenshots, so be sure to stay tuned!