Back to home
Interview

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.

Continue to part 2 of our interview with Sayo Yamamoto.

READ COMMENTS...
News

Kevin Penkin to Return to Anime with ‘The Rising of the Shield Hero’

August 14, 2018 4:00pm
by Jacob Parker-Dalton

I've had a keen eye on London-born composer Kevin Penkin for quite some time now, with his work originally coming onto my radar following his incredible work on the Kickstarter-funded Under the Dog, with his later work on the critically acclaimed Made in Abyss only adding to his repertoire. It's only natural then that I'd be excited to see announcements that he's fresh off the press for the upcoming Made in Abyss films, and already getting on Twitter to announce his involvement as a composer on the upcoming The Rising of the Shield Hero animated series.
 


Kevin Penkin’s contributions to the Made in Abyss anime adaptation were instrumental in elevating the most poignant scenes and filling the world with a mystical wonder that wasn’t present in the original manga, and his soundtrack for Under the Dog was easily the best part of the project, so no matter the source material, I’d always be excited to hear new music from him.

But even more than that, Penkin’s rare position as a foreigner working in anime makes him worth keeping an eye on. After all, limiting anime staff to only those living and working in Japan denies future anime of talented individuals that would greatly improve the project. Another name that springs to mind is Austrian animator Bahi JD, who’s animation cuts have always stood out and improved the overall project, whether it be his first job on Kids on the Slope or his latest work on FLCL: Progressive. In this sense, Penkin and others’ efforts are helping to improve anime in the long term, so I couldn’t be happier that he is continuing to work in the industry.

Only adding to this, Penkin’s genius towards dark and somber soundtracks seems like a perfect fit when it comes to the dark tone of the Shield Hero series, which is often praised as a dark isekai story in the same vein as Re;Zero. While I can’t say that that particular subgenre is my cup of tea, if it allows Penkin to continue to do what he does best, then I can’t complain. I’ll just be waiting to see what kind of magic he can work this time.

Penkin joins director Takao Abo and others at Kinema Citrus for The Rising of the Shield Hero, which is set to premiere it’s first episode at Crunchyroll Expo this September.

READ COMMENTS...
News

Puniden Shares Powerful New Single 'Kimi wa Queen'

August 14, 2018 3:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

Whether its the charming allure of a slow jazz jam or the high-paced burst of energy that is funkot, there's no denying that Tokyo-based vocalist Punipunidenki, otherwise known as Puniden, is a master of all genres. With a dynamic range capable of blowing me away every single time, it comes as no surprise that her latest single "Kimi wa Queen" strikes hot as a powerful masterpiece; a release that deserves every bit of attention it receives and an extra layer on top of that.
 


Featuring production, lyrics, and vocals entirely handled by Puniden, "Kimi wa Queen" is a self-described rooftop grove capable of redefining the mood of any moment. There's no denying the track's undeniable charm, with Puniden's signature flare shining in every corner of the song. It's simple, but the complimentary music video does a lot to build upon the atmosphere created by the song through its simple themes and city skyline.

Available now for streaming via Puniden's official SoundCloud and YouTube channel, further information on the latest release can be found here.

READ COMMENTS...
News

lulu & Mikeneko Homeless Announce 'Umi ni Ikitai' Vinyl Release

August 14, 2018 2:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

Tokyo-based electronic duo Mikeneko Homeless have long been praised as masters of their genre, flawlessly crafting hit single after hit single that always seems to find their way into my yearly favorites. That's why when announcements were made regarding the release of an all-new joint 10-inch vinyl alongside vocalist lulu for their upcoming summer single "Umi ni Ikitai", I jumped onto it immediately. It's not often you see physical releases from Mikeneko Homeless, so it's important to cherish it when there are some -- and "Umi ni Ikitai" is jam-packed with incredible sounds that have long defined the summertime vibe.
 


Spread out across four tracks, including summertime anthems "Asagao" and "Watermelon", Mikeneko Homeless and lulu are going all out on the latest release, and I couldn't be gladder. Set to release during October 2018, the upcoming release is currently priced around 2,300 yen, though it's unknown just how much inventory is being produced. The tracklist for "Umi ni Ikitai" can be found below:

lulu + Mikeneko Homeless - Umi ni Ikitai

Tracklist:
SIDE A

1. 海に行きたい (lulu + Mikeniko Homeless + Shin Sakiura)
2. Asagao
SIDE B
1. Watermelon
2. ここ

Those interested in checking out further information about the upcoming release, or those who are interested in picking up a copy for themselves, the official store can be found here.

READ COMMENTS...
News

Anime NYC to Host 'Fate/stay night [Heaven’s Feel] Special Event featuring Aimer'

August 14, 2018 12:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

With the much-anticipated Anime NYC inching closer and closer, we've been seeing announcements made left and right to drum up excitement for New York's premiere anime convention. Announced over the weekend, the anime convention is working alongside Aniplex of America and Sony Music Entertainment Japan to bring a slice of worldwide phenomenon Fate/stay night [Heaven's Feel] to New York in the "Fate/stay night [Heaven’s Feel] Special Event featuring Aimer" event on November 17.

Taking place over two hours, the upcoming event will see numerous members of the English-language voice cast take to the stage, including Kari Wahlgren (Voice of Saber), Cristina Vee (Voice of Sakura Matou), Bryce Papenbrook (Voice of Shirou Emiya), and Tony Oliver (English ADR Director and Voice of Lancer); followed up by unseen previews of the upcoming Fate/stay night [Heaven’s Feel] II.lost butterfly film ahead of its theatrical release. Finally, the event will conclude with a massive performance from musician Aimer live at Anime NYC. 

Taking place on November 17 at the Javits Center in Manhattan, Anime NYC is truly shaping up to be an event not to be missed for those both on the East Coast and beyond. Further information can be found via the anime convention's official website.

READ COMMENTS...
News

Weekly Shonen Jump Begins Streaming Classic Anime for Free in Japan

August 13, 2018 6:00pm
by Jacob Parker-Dalton

While the manga of Weekly Shonen Jump is plenty legendary by itself, it’s the anime adaptations of that manga that ha always fared best in the West and have introduced many to the magazine itself as a result. With that being said, no 50th-anniversary celebration of Weekly Shonen Jump would be complete without a celebration of the anime it has spawned - many of which are now available to watch, for free and legally, on YouTube if you live in Japan.

Weekly Shonen Jump launched their official 50th-anniversary channel on August 10 with the intent of allowing fans to watch classic anime of their properties for free. By navigating to the “playlists” tab, you can see that, as of the time of writing, episodes of Yu Yu Hakusho, Slam Dunk, Fist of the North Star, and Kinnikuman are available for streaming - provided you access it from a Japanese IP address. 

As if that wasn’t enough, Weekly Shonen Jump also plans to add new episodes every weekday, not only allowing fans to watch the above four series in full, for free, but also many other amazing Jump shows, including One Piece, Naruto, Dr. Slump, to name but a few. When certain shows will be added will be conveyed using the channel’s official Twitter account, so keep your eye on that for more.

You’ll be able to watch these shows on the channel until March 31 next year, so you’ll have plenty of time to sit back, relax, and take in some good old Jump anime goodness - whether it’s for reveling in nostalgia or discovering something new. I’d definitely recommend checking out Yu Yu Hakusho if you haven’t had a chance to see it already.

READ COMMENTS...
News

Production I.G. to Helm Original Anime Based on the Infamous ‘Kabukicho’

August 13, 2018 5:00pm
by Jacob Parker-Dalton

Production I.G., the studio behind numerous anime such as Psycho-Pass, Haikyuu!, and a number of other titles, have announced a new, original anime project titled Shinjuku-ku Kabukicho. The original project has been in development since 2014, As the title suggests, the story will take place in the Kabukicho area of Shinjuku-ward, which is known for its vibrant nightlife as well as for it’s more unsavory elements. If you played any of the Yakuza games, then it is Kabukicho upon which Kamurocho is based, which should help you understand what kind of place it is if you haven’t had the opportunity to visit it yet.

Using this setting, the original anime series will tell the story of a “bizarre murder case,” and from the looks of the Sherlock Holmes-esque character in the key visual released alongside the announcement, it seems that the characters will be trying to solve that case: 



Other than the above key visual, we don’t have much more information as to the story or characters, but what we do know is that a lot of the key staff positions have already been filled - suggesting that it may air sooner than we think. Directing the series is Ai Yoshimura (Cheer Boys, Dance With Devils), handling the series composition is Kishimoto Taku (91 Days, Usagi Drop), and penning the character designs will be Yabaki Toshiyuki (Persona 5, Joker Game)

Production I.G. has had a good history with producing original anime, with Psycho-Pass being a keen critical favorite to this day. Combine this with the already interesting setting of Kabukicho, and it’s safe to say that I’m keen to see how this project will turn out.

READ COMMENTS...
News

Classic ‘Dragon Ball’ Movies to Receive HD Blu-ray Releases

August 13, 2018 4:00pm
by Jacob Parker-Dalton

We haven’t got long to wait for the next installment in the beloved Dragon Ball franchise in this December’s movie Dragon Ball Super: Broly, but I wouldn’t blame you if you’re already desperate for some more Super Saiyan goodness. Many of you will have seen the original series, so how about checking the theatrical entries for some new ground? 

Luckily for us, Toei Animatiohasve recently unveiled their plans to release previous Dragon Ball movies on Blu-ray for the first time ever. While not all of the movies will be getting a Blu-ray release, the most important (and best) will be - from the first Dragon Ball Z movie, Dead Zone, all the way up to the first movie featuring Broly, Dragon Ball Z: Broly - The Legendary Super Saiyan. Even some classic movies from the pre-Z days will be seeing the light of day with Curse of the Blood Rubies, Sleeping Princess in the Devil’s Castle and Mystical Adventure all getting a Blu-ray release.

These new Blu-ray's will be based on a rescan of the original cels, allowing the movies to be upscaled to 1080p HD without affecting the quality of the picture. The technology allowing this to be performed has advanced considerably in recent years, and I can confirm for myself that these new rescans look absolutely incredibly from my experience watching the 4K-remaster of Ashita no Joe 2.

Toei plans to release eight Blu-ray's collecting 17 movies from 1986 to 1996 as of the time of writing, but they may decide to do more if sales are good. The first wave is available from November 2, so if you’re hankering for more Dragon Ball, definitely consider picking them up.

READ COMMENTS...