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Interview With Yuri!!! on ICE Creator Sayo Yamamoto: Part 2

July 28, 2017 10:30pm
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 for greatness. 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 second and final part of our interview with Sayo Yamamoto below:

-- Sayo Yamamoto, it’s an honor to have you here with us. Before anything else, I’d like to ask what experiences lead to you becoming an anime director?​

When I first entered the industry, I worked as a production manager at Studio Madhouse. That was around the turn of the century. From my very first day working there, I was driven to eventually become a producer. To do that however, I had to start as a production manager. Though, I didn’t really think that the job of production manager suited me very well. Managing schedules and wrangling people was not suited for me at all (laughs). I was thinking that if I had any breaks, I could try out some of the duties of a producer. I kept telling myself  “You can do this!” While performing production manager duties, I was also drawing storyboards - I was assisting in producing.

-- So what project did you first do storyboarding for?

At the request of my art director, Hideyuki Tanaka, I started working on some animations which were used as live visuals at a SMAP concert. The character designer and producer was animator Takeshi Koike. I was put in charge putting the storyboards into clean copy using Tanaka’s directorial notes and memos. Prior to this, I’d never actually storyboarded, yet I somehow manage to learn simply by watching others. 

Because I went to an art college, I was familiar with programs such as Photoshop and Illustrator. It seemed like everyone at the Studio wanted me to make use of these skills, so I began studying key animation illustration so I could assist in those areas. I worked on Koike’s "TRAVA," "World Record" from "The Animatrix," and "Redline."

-- After that, what was your first project as an independent producer?

The first story I produced was an OVA called ‘Trava: Fist Planet, episode 1’ for a DVD magazine known as "Grasshoppa!". I was doing storyboarding and producing, but Takeshi Koike was director on top of doing all of the series key animation, there wasn’t much I could actually “produce” (laughs). Koike made most layout timing decisions when he reviewed them, and even when it came time for editing, most of those decisions were left intact. There wasn’t much left for me to do because the degree of completion on those layouts was already very high. 

-- You continued to have a good relationship with Takeshi Koike after this, and even did some more projects with him, right?

That’s right; I took up more jobs at Takeshi Koike’s side. During that first project, I felt like I had seen something quite amazing. Koike truly is a genius.

-- Following this, you moved from Studio Madhouse to Studio Manglobe, if I remember correctly? 

I wanted to continue honing my production ability by getting used to handling television series, but there weren’t many opportunities for me to do so at Madhouse, especially since I was asked to serve as an assistant director on one of their new film projects. If I were to continue being employed at Madhouse, I wouldn’t have much control over my workflow, so I started to consider my options. It was around this time that I first met Watanabe Shinichiro.

-- It would seem that you meeting with Watanabe Shinichiro would go on to shape a large portion of your career. What was it that lead to you two first meeting?

A fellow animator and acquaintance of mine was working at Madhouse at the time doing key animation for "Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door," who was invited to work on "Samurai Champloo." Around the same time Watanabe was looking for someone to fill a production role, where I was introduced shortly after. I believe that was sometime around the Autumn of 2003. I quit Madhouse and switched over to freelancing. As a freelancer, I joined with Studio Manglobe, and participated in "Samurai Champloo" as an episode director.

-- After this you would take on many more episode directorial roles, with your first full directorial work being the animated series Michiko and Hatchin. Before that however, I’d like to take a step back and ask about some other things. What anime influenced you, and was there any series in particular that prompted you to begin working towards a job in the industry?

There really wasn’t any series in particular that prompted me to work towards the industry. However while I was an art student, there was this Mac program called "Director." It was basically this presentation software that allowed you to animate things in 24 frames per second, which is the same as anime. Around this time I came across some still-shots of "Yojimbo" at school. (laughs)

-- Akira Kurosawa’s "Yojimbo"?

That’s the one. Especially the scenes in which Toshiro Mifune drew his sword and slashed people. I watched all those scenes and thought they were really cool. I tried drawing and animating the scenes myself in ‘Director’, and that was probably my first real inspiration for working in the anime industry. 

-- It was quite the coincidence that you would get to work on ‘Samurai Champloo’ then, wasn’t it?

Of course, at the time I had no idea that I would ever be doing that. (laughs) Looking back on it, I think that if I had seen pictures from Akira Kurosawa’s other work, "Ikiru," instead of "Yojimbo," I may have never even thought about trying out animation. 

-- So it was around the time you were in art school that you started to think about working in the anime industry? 

That’s right. At the time, Japan was undergoing some sort of employment recession, which made things quite difficult. Art school students already didn’t seek employment in traditional ways. If you were a graphic design student, then it would be common for you to join a design company, but for people like illustrators and painters, it’s not common to go job hunting. I was into environmental design, so I was in a similar situation. Many others lost the motivation to continue job hunting and decided to simply start their own businesses. I didn’t have that kind of confidence though. 

I was under the belief that having no job would be the equivalent to being homeless, and this led me to think that if I didn’t do something with momentum, I’d be stuck in a rut after graduation. However, I also didn’t have any distinct qualities as part of my artistic nature, so I figured I needed to hurry up and join some kind of organization or else I’d be in trouble. 

-- Since you mentioned your “artistic nature,” I’d like to discuss that briefly. In your directorial works "Michiko and Hatchin" and "LUPIN the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine," the protagonists were women who can, in many ways, be seen as both cool and strong in nature. However in your latest work, "Yuri!!! on ICE," this seems to change completely with the introduction of a mostly-male cast; and while there are some strong-willed women involved in the anime, the show still largely revolves around their male counterparts. To me, this seems to be your biggest artistic change. Would you mind explaining the reason behind that? 

For me, my artistic nature and the gender of my protagonists have no relation. In the case of Michiko, it was more the president (of Manglobe) saying that he wanted to do an action-battle show with a female protagonist. Since I had worked with Koike in the past, I suspect that I was seen as having a knack for a more “American Comics” style... Of course, in terms of my work, I can more or less tackle drawing (the depiction of) women, but really I had no strong interest to do so (laughs).

I think I was sometimes also seen as being skilled at drawing woman because I was a woman myself. But if you do watch my works, you’ll realize that I haven’t drawn women all that much! Requests for specific character traits like “lovers” or “family” are just that -- requests. Sometimes, I feel that to be a bit stifling. I like to depict whomever I please, regardless of age, race, and gender. With “Yuri!!!”, I was able to depict relationships and bonds without creative influence from others. This time, I wanted to create an impactful depiction of Men’s singles in figure skating in anime form! It wasn’t so much a matter of “I’m definitely going to draw men this time.” I had a love for figure skating that could not be suppressed, and since I did not have any orders from above, I planned the project with an attitude rather of “I’m definitely going to draw figure skating this time!”

-- The Japanese anime industry is often considered to be a place where women don’t really have the opportunity to flourish. Do you think that bias exists, even now?​

It was true that there were few women on production staff in the industry. When I was first looking for work, it was like that as well. And because there were few women on production staff, it was the men who moved up from those roles to become general producers and directors. But even in the past, I don’t think there was any huge split in the number of male and female animators.

-- Do you think this is changing?

I think so. I’m currently working at MAPPA, and most of the people who come on to projects are women. 

-- What do you think changed?

Although I’m not really interested in defining people in rigid terms of two genders… I feel like girls are more likely to get the job these days. That’s really all there is to it. (laughs) There’s a lot of diligent women, and there’s a lot of men who drift around a little too much. Perhaps men have gotten used to an easygoing lifestyle -- but that’s just life. 

I think it’s just because they can continue doing what they love at work their whole lives. Women on the other hand; they get married, have kids --these are critical junctures that place a limit on what they can do throughout their lives, and they realize that they don’t have time to rest on their laurels as much. As soon as you realize that, it’s difficult to live that easygoing lifestyle. Before I originally began looking for a job, I knew an assistant stylist who was in her 50’s. She once told me that “idiocy is only forgiven until age 26.” And “If you only do as well as a man, you’ll never be recognized.” She probably lived quite a tough life to have said that. She originally started working in the 70’s, and I felt a really persuasive tone from her. It really got me thinking about a lot of things.

-- She must have lived through a much crueler time, right?

I agree. That’s why I ended up leaving Studio Madhouse when I was 26 years old. I believed that I had to become a producer on my own, and it was at this time I became involved in the aforementioned "Samurai Champloo."

-- Not only women, but now more and more foreigners are getting involved in Japanese animation. Do you think the industry will accept such changes in the future?

I think that it’s best that we embrace this. I don’t think there is any difference between Japanese and non, besides our nationality. If one has a vision of what they want to create, then as an industry, it’s best for us to work together. If you are motivated, then I urge anyone to get involved in the industry regardless of race.

-- Going back to your first directorial work, "Michiko and Hatchin," what aspects of your workflow and planning have changed significantly leading up to your more recent works? ​

The director creates while imagining what they want to make. The director can embody the image of the project while sharing what they can say "is the most interesting" with their staff... as I had imagined. It is completely different.

-- As you mentioned earlier, you were a young lady working to manage on your own in the animation industry, which meant your first work was a turning point.

Yes, and even though I don’t like to place a whole lot of focus on my being a woman, of course being tasked with directing was a huge turning point.

-- Are there ever times that you look back on your previous works?

I don’t do that at all, actually. (laughs) When you start to look back on previous works, doesn’t it all become a bit scary? I start to think “Aren’t I going to die soon?” thinking about the years passed since. I feel like when I’m working on something, I’ve already checked it to death in the process. I always work to the absolute best of my ability on everything, so I really don’t need to look back on it anymore. (laughs) 

This became especially apparent when I became a director and began creating plots myself. When those plots became screenplays, I checked them. Even when someone else created the storyboards, I was always checking them. I’ve seen it all so much (laughs). So I always give priority to making new things. And now, even though I am working on the theatrical version of "Yuri!!!", my head is pretty occupied with the current figure skating season too. The Olympics only come once every 4 years!!!

An exemplatory talent well beyond her years, Sayo Yamamoto is without a doubt an individual who was born to make history. Through her progressive mindset, we're offered a peak into the innerworkings of the anime industry, that only she could offer. It was shared yesterday that her animated series "Michiko & Hatchin" is also now available on Crunchyrollwhich is excellent news. With the anticipation leading into the Yuri!!! on ICE film reaching it's peak, we couldn't be more excited to share the second and final part of our interview with Sayo Yamamoto with everyone. If you're interested in checking out the first part of our interview, you can find it here


Sony Flaunts Their PlayStation VR Library in New Montage Trailer

December 14, 2018 3:47pm
by Paul Hartling

PlayStation Europe has hit the ground running with a new montage trailer featuring new and previously released (but still relevant) PlayStation VR titles. Sony’s PlayStation VR lineup has come a long way since the peripherals release back in 2016 and the new bundles for the Holiday season have hit quite the mark. With over 200 compatible games along with genres ranging from shooting, puzzle, and platforming, it’s obvious that now is the time to join in on virtual reality as the form of entertainment with the headset continues to expand at a steady rate.

With the many games shown in the montage that include favorites such as Moss, Beat Saber, Astro Bot Rescue Mission, Tetris Effect, Borderlands 2 VR and SUPERHOT VR, Sony has hit the right nerve on what people are looking for in terms of support in a VR headset and not packing in extra accessories that you ordinarily just wouldn’t use for some games. Playing both Moss at E3 2017 and Tetris Effect during E3 2018, along with a few other titles within the past year, has cemented my believing in VR.

With PlayStation VR FINALLY being affordable to the market with impressive bundles that have just the right amount of content for anybody, plus the patched PSVR content included into games already by developers that you might already own, PSVR can safely be adoptable by the masses. With bundles ranging from $199 to $349 at most retailers, consumers have quite an option here. Bundling the PSVR together with a couple of interesting games isn’t bad for the cheaper SKU and even if VR isn’t going to catapult into popularity as many had hoped, it’s always some good fun to mess around with for a while. It also means you get to play other excellent games as VR experiences such as Resident Evil VII and Gran Turismo Sport.

Is PlayStation VR on your Holiday wishlist?


Release Date for Masaaki Yuasa’s 'Kimi to, Nami ni Noretara' Revealed

December 14, 2018 2:51pm
by Petrit Elshani

Solidifying the June-July period as an exciting period for anime movie fans, Masaaki Yuasa’s upcoming film Kimi to, Nami ni Noretara has been slated for a June 21, 2019 release in Japan. Placing it less than a month before Makoto Shinkai's Tenki no Ko: Weathering into You (July 19) makes this perhaps the most promising month for anime movies in recent history. With Reiko Yoshida (Liz and the Blue Bird, A Silent Voice) penning the script and Michiru Oshima (Lu Over the Wall, Little Witch Academia) conducting the score, this film is certainly not one to miss. 

“The story centers on the relationship between Hinako, who has moved to a coastal town upon entering university and Minato, a young firefighter with a strong sense of justice. Hinako loves surfing and while fearless on the sea, she's still uncertain about her future. Following a fire mishap in the town, Hinako and Minato encounter each other. As they spend more time surfing together, Hinako feels drawn to Minato, who dedicates himself to help others.” 

Masaaki Yuasa is perhaps one of only a few truly distinct auteurs in the Japanese animation industry today. With classics like Kaiba, Tatami Galaxy, and Ping Pong the Animation behind his back, as well as recent hits such as Lu Over the Wall, and Night is Short, Walk on Girl, and this year’s Devilman Crybaby, this movie is almost guaranteed to be good. For those of you who may not be sure what to expect, Yuasa is particularly renowned for pushing the boundaries of what animation has to offer. Constantly changing up the art direction and style of his works, he doesn’t shy away from whatever does his stories the most justice on screen. In some sense, he’s the opposite of Makoto Shinkai, who wants to deliver on a highly refined and polish visual experience as opposed to a raw and emotional one like Yuasa is known for. 

It’s almost profound that Yuasa is able to consistently put out new projects. Considering that both of his recent movies were released in 2017, with Devilman Crybaby hitting Netflix so soon after, it’s amazing that we’re getting another feature film so soon. Yuasa’s team previously reported some delays in the production at the time when Kimi to, Nami ni Noretara was first unveiled in October, so the fact that it’s still hitting the cinemas so soon is quite a surprise. Hopefully, this doesn’t mean that the team is clambering to finish in too short of time. 

Those interested in checking out further information on the upcoming film, be sure to check out Kimi to, Nami ni Noretara's official website.


New Mob Psycho 100 Season 2 Trailer Unleashed

December 14, 2018 1:45pm
by Petrit Elshani

With Mob Psycho 100's explosive second season 2 just around the corner, there is absolutely no better time to hype people up than right now -- and that’s precisely what Studio Bones have decided to do by dropping an incredible all-new trailer today. With some breathtaking action cuts, coupled with the return of MOB CHOIR for the new opening “99.9 (feat. sajou no hana)", Mob Psycho is coming in hot. Set to air on January 7, 2019, this trailer has effectively solidified Mob Psycho 100 as being one of next season’s biggest shows. 

After the light-hearted and somewhat unremarkable first trailer that was released at the end of October, this new, brilliantly choreographed trailer reminds fans why exactly they love this series. Starting with a number of cuts featuring almost all of the notable characters, the trailer manages to remind everyone of the sincere aspects of the series without making it mellow. After all, it wouldn’t be a good Mob Psycho 100 trailer if it didn’t feature its fair share of fan-favorite character Arataka Reigen.

Much like Mob himself, this trailer goes from 0 to 100. After gradually building up for the first 30 seconds, the trailer finally unleashes it’s pent-up collection of spectacularly animated cuts and, oh boy, does it not disappoint. Ranging from grueling transformations sequences, dramatic character moments, stunning action, and mind-blowing effect animation, this trailer really gives a taste of what the animated series has to offer. 

The way it wraps things up really keeps the audience wanting more. Ending on such a dramatic moment with the tagline “World becomes something else from a different point of view” coming across the screen, the trailer leads the audience in strongly as to what they can expect from Mob and his upcoming internal struggles. 

Additionally “Memo Sepia” by sajou no hana has been revealed as the ED, as well as Akira Ishida doing the voicework for upcoming major character “Keiji Mogami”. If you are intrigued for more, be sure to check out Mob Psycho 100’s official website.


GAME FREAK's Junichi Masuda and Kensaku Nabana Play 'Who's That Pokémon?'

December 14, 2018 12:17pm
by Mike Tamburelli

I think that I speak for many when saying that the “Who’s That Pokémon” segments in the original Pokémon anime were among my favorite moments in the show every week. The anime was airing at exactly the right time in North America when the hype for the new series was at a fever pitch after the release of both Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue on the Game Boy in 1998.

Pokémon truly became one of those rare franchises wherein multiple media projects worked in synergy with each other; the fanbase was truly hooked. The concept existed in the Japanese version as well, known as the “Silhouette Game,” and the concept was quite simple: audience members were tasked with identifying a Pokémon based only a blacked-out version of a piece of artwork, sometimes with clever angular tricks thrown in. 

Now, two of the franchise’s most important creatives take a stab at a slightly modified version of the game for our enjoyment -- the silhouettes are made from the pixel models of the Pokémon in both the Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! releases on Switch. Exactly how well do series director Junichi Masuda and graphic designer Kensaku Nabana do at identifying the creatures in their own games? Let’s take a look.

Things start off on a pretty sarcastic clip, a tone that never really subsides throughout the entirety of the almost eight-minute video.

The video was way more entertaining than I thought it would be, with the two guys ribbing each other at a nice clip, complete with some quite surprising failures. You’ll have to check out the whole video above for the rest of their fun. How’d you do? Did you end up beating the masters at (literally) their own game?

Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! released for the Nintendo Switch on November 16, 2018, worldwide and is available both digitally and physically.


VIZ Media Releases Final Volume of Nishio Yuhta's Essential 'After Hours'

December 14, 2018 11:09am
by Lachlan Johnston

Easily one of my most recommended manga series of the past few years, Nishio Yuhta's incredible After Hours is a masterpiece of its genre and an incredible representation of Tokyo's vivid club scene. Though the final volume of this incredible series saw an early-2018 release here in Japan, fans in the West are finally now able to see just how the series concludes with VIZ Media earlier this week publishing After Hours Vol. 3 in English. 

Already an established name within Tokyo's club music circuit, Nishio Yuhta has been closely associated with artists such as Mikeneko Homeless and DJ WILDPARTY for some time now, as well as being the designer behind some of MOGRA's most iconic event imagery. For someone already so established within the club scene, you really couldn't ask for anyone better to introduce these cultures to international audiences through After Hours, and boy what an introduction it is. 

For those unfamiliar, After Hours finds itself centered around Emi Asahina, a girl who is by every definition of the word, ordinary. After being invited to a club event by a good friend, Emi's life takes a surprising turn after her chance encounter with DJ and club frequent Kei. Throughout the course of the rest of the manga, we see both Emi's feelings towards Kei flourish, as well as her love of DJ'ing start to bloom. 

Filled to the brim with references to iconic moments in modern club culture, as well as the people that pioneered them, After Hours is absolutely not to be slept on. It's no secret that Yuhta is quite the fan of both internet-age musicians, as well as early pioneers in the French House scene, giving the series a much more authentic appeal. 

Available now both physically and digitally, you absolutely do not want to miss the wave on this one. Those interested in checking out even more on the English-language release of Nishio Yuhta's incredible After Hours, be sure to check out VIZ Media's official website.


Asobi System Launches Monthly Tokyo Street Fashion Magazine 'weam'

December 14, 2018 10:12am
by Lachlan Johnston

Asobi System is a company that has long been on the pulse of Harajuku's ever-evolving street fashion and music culture, dating all the way back to when they first came onto the scene over ten years ago. They're the team behind some of Harajuku and Shibuya's most iconic exports, including both Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and Yasutaka Nakata, and have dedicated a large stake of their time into the continued output of culture in the area. Acting as both creators and curators, Asobi System tends to have a pretty significant amount of knowledge about the streets that they call home.

In February 2017 the global fashion scene was taken by surprise with the announcement that effective immediately, FRUiTS Magazine would be ceasing publication due to the lack of "cool kids" to photograph. It was an announcement that left the world questioning where Harajuku culture had gone, as well as just how long Japan's "fashion capital" would be able to keep their title. But while I maintain nothing but respect for Shoichi Aoki and his 20 years of photography work within Harajuku, the concept of there being no more "cool kids" to photograph couldn't be more disconnected.

Apparently, I'm not the only one to think this either, with Asobi System earlier this month launching their latest project -- "weam". Revitalizing the concept of a monthly street snap magazine, weam takes to the streets of both Harajuku and Shibuya to give a voice to the next generation of "cool kids" that define the cities modern street fashion sensibilities. The forced foreign concept that Harajuku needs to remain this hyper-colorful capital couldn't be further removed from reality, with little-to-no knowledge shared amongst international onlookers as to the very real modern street culture sweeping the area.

With the first volume going into print and publication earlier this month, the significance of "weam" magazine is immediately visible, yet the concept isn't necessarily anything new. Each issue contains roughly 77 different co-ord photos, as well as a breakdown of the name, age, occupation, and IDs on each item worn by the photographed outfit. The end result is an easy to digest, hyper-relevant look at just what the youth of today are hitting the streets with, all while allowing readers to be inspired to try out their own looks.

While the magazine is still very much in its early days, it'll be interesting to see just how much staying power weam holds in comparison to other street snap magazines before it. With the backing of such a firmly-embedded company like Asobi System, however, I can certainly see this magazine continuing to expand and inform for years to come. Available now in bookstores across Japan, further details on weam can be found via Asobi System's official website.


Makoto Shinkai Announces His Next Project, Tenki no Ko: Weathering With You

December 13, 2018 6:30pm
by Eddie Lehecka

While now-legendary anime director Makoto Shinkai is anything but a new face in the industry, it wouldn't be until 2016 that he was truly able to captivate the world with his game-changing film, "Your Name.". Now over two years later, he's finally setting the stage for his grand return with today's announcement of his all-new original film "Tenki no Ko: Weathering With You". Set to hit theaters across Japan on July 19, 2019, the upcoming film sees Makoto's return to form alongside studio CoMix Wave Films.

Credited as director of the original project, Makoto Shinkai will also be penning the film's script, while "Your Name." character designer Masayoshi Tanaka will be making a return to again handle character design. Makoto Shinkai originally began teasing the film earlier this year, stating that he'd like his next feature film to tell the story of adolescence.

While it comes as little surprise, the film has already been confirmed for international theatrical screenings, with confirmation locked in for Asia, North America, South America, and Europe. Following the massive global success of "Your Name.", I can only imagine how quick publishers must have had to snap this one up. With that being said, screening dates have yet to be announced for any of these countries, though it would be great to see a simultaneous release if possible.

Though we're yet to see the film in motion, we're sure we'll start seeing all sorts of teasers and trailers in the coming few months to really drum up hype. When that day does come, we'll be sure to deliver the news as it breaks. Until then, however, CoMix Wave Films have launched an official website for the upcoming film that can be found here.

What do you think, are you excited for an all-new Makoto Shinkai adventure, and what are you hoping to see throughout the film?