This is one of the earliest interviews that Mitsurō Kubo did for Yuri!!! on ICE. It comes from Spoon.2Di vol.18, which was published on September 30, 2016, about a week before the show started its original broadcast run. That’s why Kubo does not go into any specifics about what happens in the show itself. And that’s also one of the reasons why I need to address it, because the only full-ish ‘translation’ previously available was quite problematic as a result.
I’ve created this post as an appendix to this editorial, in order to highlight the significant differences between that translation and my own. By “significant,” I mean that it completely changed what Kubo actually said. The most problematic sections are highlighted in yellow, so feel free to skip straight to them.
The other translation, which was originally posted on 4chan, seems to have been done in November. I found it in this pastebin in January, after someone alerted me to the fact that there were other translations floating around. Seeing how different it was from my own, which I’d already completed by that point, I asked my friend and fellow translator frog-kun to check the translations for me. He had no major changes to suggest for my translation, and fully backs me on it. But if you are fluent in Japanese and wish verify it for yourself, aliasanonyme has shared the scans here.
NB: all names in my translation are in first name-surname order, rather than the traditional order I tend to use on my main blog.
Interview: Mitsurō Kubo
Original Story, Scripts (written as manga-style storyboards), Original Character Design
Meet Mitsurō Kubo, who worked with Director Sayo Yamamoto to create the foundations of Yuri!!! on ICE. In this interview, we ask her about the show’s highlights as well as some juicy production secrets!
|4chan translation||My translation (checked by frog-kun)|
|—Yuri!!! On ICE is finally about to hit our screens, so may I ask how you are feeling at the moment?
At present, no one loves the characters called Yūri Katsuki and Victor Nikiforov more than Director Yamamoto and myself (chuckles), so I really want them to step out into the world as soon as possible and become loved by everyone.
|This interview with Kubo opens by asking about how the anime came to be, being inspired from Yamamoto’s previous figure skating short (broadcasted in the animator’s expo I think), and the Sochi Olympics.||—Then, to begin, could you tell us about how you came to be involved in this project?
The story I’ve heard is that Director Yamamoto had long been thinking of making an anime about figure skating, but because it would be very difficult to make such a show as a TV series, she kept getting turned down. Then at the time of the Sochi Olympics in 2014, the director went overseas by herself to cheer for the skaters, and whilst she was there, she happened to have the opportunity to speak to a producer she knew over the phone. The question of “Is there an anime that you would like to do?” came up in the conversation, and, thinking that it just might be fate, she answered “I want to make a show about figure skating!” And, caught up in the Olympic mood, the producer told her “Great idea!” (chuckles). That was the breakthrough.
And so, having been given the green light, the director started looking for a screenwriter. Right around that time, it just so happened that my last manga, Again!!, had finished its run in Weekly Shōnen Magazine. Being a heavy listener of the radio I was doing, she saw a tweet of mine saying that “I have absolutely no plans for what I’m doing next,” and told the producers “Kubo-san doesn’t seem to be working at the moment, so now’s our chance!” (chuckles). I’d been talking about figure skating both on radio and on TV, purely as a fan, and Director Yamamoto knew about that, and also about how I’d done the script for the Moteki live-action film in the form of manga storyboards. And so she chose me, thinking to ask me to do the same—to draw the manga storyboards that would be the foundation of the story that they would then animate. But at that point in time, we hadn’t even met… (chuckles).
|—Is that how it was?!
Someone I knew became the link that pulled the two of us together, and so we met for the first time two years ago, in the summer of 2014. Upon hearing about what they’d been planning, my immediate reaction was “Oh, that sounds interesting!” and so I gave the director an affirmative answer right there and then. After that, I threw myself completely into it, going to figure skating competitions and stuff, with the full intention of spending two years working hard under the surface.
But while we were immersed in research and story development, Tatsuki Machida announced his retirement and I fell into complete shock at the news…I made a hand-drawn banner to cheer for him and was caught on TV doing just that (chuckles). By that time, this project had already gotten well off the ground, and my feelings of wanting to support figure skating even more wholeheartedly synthesised with my own hopes and expectations with regards to the sport. And so I made a “men’s figure skaters flip board manga” and unveiled it on a TV show I was invited to (chuckles). I did many things of that sort around that time, but the project was still at a point where I could not say that “we’re making a figure skating anime!” so I had to just grit my teeth and keep it to myself. And last year, the director, my manager and I went location scouting overseas, making our way to a whole lot of different competitions.
|Then she talks about how while researching for locations to use in the show, she found it interesting how the official hotels where skaters stayed also housed regular people like fans.||—In actually heading overseas for location scouting, was there anything that left a particularly deep impression on you?
The official hotels that the skaters stay at aren’t actually booked out, so normal people can also reserve rooms and stay there. Hence, fans can stay at those same hotels, and there are times when they pass by the skaters in the common areas and stuff—I thought that was pretty crazy. I won’t even try to deny that we also wanted to pass by the skaters ourselves (chuckles)…but far more important was the desire to document those hotels properly so that we could depict them in the show! This time, we weren’t actually able to document the backstage areas of the rinks during the competition, so we had no choice but to do our best surveying them from outside. There are many areas that we simply could not depict just through our imaginations, so the research we did on those overseas trips was all for reference.
|Kubo: International skaters do a lot of fanservice, so we tried to incorporate that into the characters as well. Furthermore, many skaters, Japanese and beyond, often use social media like Instagram to upload pictures. They upload pictures from off-season when they’re on vacation, so I wanted to draw vacation scenes completely unrelated to skating too!
We tend to exaggerate what skaters are like in our imaginations, so even when we drew things that were somewhat unreasonable in the anime, we told ourselves that ‘real skaters probably do this too!’ (laughs) If you draw manga you know that unrealistic stuff often happens. But I believe that if you create something with meaning and some truth to it, then even that world can be established in reality.
|—In watching/following overseas skaters, were there any moments when you saw something that would be good as a reference?
Overseas skaters are incredibly generous about dishing out “fanservice,” so I felt that this was something that we could bring out in our characters. And both Japanese and overseas skaters also use Instagram and other kinds of social media, incessantly uploading tonnes of photos of themselves, and that’s really got our creative juices going. Like, we want to include things like vacation photos, and holiday scenes that have absolutely nothing to do with skating! (chuckles) Those skaters really do many things that go beyond all our imaginations, so even if we do something really crazy in this show, we can say that “Real life skaters do this kind of thing too, you know?” (chuckles).
But what really surprised me was that, when we had the characters do something that we really thought no real skater would ever do, we’d find real skaters unexpectedly doing exactly what we’ve depicted. It’s a bit like…reality is replicating fiction…! (chuckles) But to tell the truth, it’s quite common for something similar to what you’ve depicted in a manga to occur in real life. To me, I think that’s proof that you’ve done well in creating a particular work—you feel as though you’ve created a fictional world that could actually exist in reality. So that made me incredibly happy.
See Translation Note #1.1
|Kubo: The people who most admire works about a sport tend to be people who are players of that same sport. Love too has such a deep bond, doesn’t it? I decided that I wanted to carefully depict people who struggle with that. The story of Yuri on Ice was written up last year and during the stage where I fleshed out the drafts, the character relationships were deepened more than I could have imagined. … In the end we didn’t think about what we were writing and drawing into these characters, rather we were going off what the characters they themselves would want.||—For this production, you’ve worked on the episode scripts, but in the form of manga-style storyboards—could I ask if there was anything that you placed great importance on as you were working on them?
I paid a lot of attention to “sensuality.” Since this is a story about men’s figure skating, we just have male skaters taking the stage one after another. But apparently, Director Yamamoto kept ‘finding fault’ with the work that the animators were putting out, telling them that she wanted them to carefully animate these male characters in the style that is a requisite for *bishōjo* anime (chuckles). But I, too, drew the manga storyboards with the full intention of conveying that same message, like “Let’s put the sensuality right out there!” Don’t you think that one of the greatest draws about sports anime and manga is that there’s an incredibly deep bond between people who are committed to the same sport? One that’s different from the feelings of romantic love? We want to depict that world as sincerely as we can, a world full of people that seem out of our reach. The basic plot was already written last year, but as I was drawing the manga storyboards to fill the story out, their relationships with each other became even deeper than we could have imagined. It was like “Could it be…the characters have started moving on their own?!”…like a phenomenon where you’re no longer able to distinguish between fiction and reality. The director and I keep saying to each other that it’s like it’s no longer a story that we’re writing; rather, it’s what the characters themselves want to do, so it can’t be helped (chuckles).
See Translation Note #2.2
|Q: When you were working on the character drafts, what were some key points about the main three that you can share? Please start with Katsuki Yuuri.
Kubo: When it comes to Katsuki Yuuri’s aggressive but innocent sex appeal, the theme focuses on the innocent part of it. Normally he has low self-esteem, but he’s the kind of character that has the potential to break free of it. I thought of a story like, a protagonist discovers figure skating for the first time through high school club activities or something like that, and grows as a person through it. That kind of story is common, but I couldn’t get through all of that in one cour! (laughs) so instead it became about the resurrection of a skater’s career. When I draw him at first glance he seems mediocre, but in actuality he’s really talented and a really good skater in Japan. When I heard Toyonaga TOshiyuki’s voice at the auditions, the patheticness in his voice was great and it suddenly switched to a strong voice, which was wonderful. I had an image of Yuuri in my head from long ago, and hearing his voice made me excited for what kind of sexiness could come out of it.
|—I see! (chuckles) And this time, you’re also credited with creating the original character designs, so may I ask you about the key points that drove the way you developed the three main characters? Let’s start with Yūri Katsuki.
The theme for Yūri Katsuki was that “his pure, unadulterated sensuality just blows you away,” so we always placed great importance on that sense of purity. He’s a character that gives off the impression that he’s kind of hopeless, but also holds the potential for undergoing a complete transformation. If we were making a story about high school club activities, then he’s the normal protagonist that we’d see learn how to skate for the first time, and his character growth comes through that process. I think that’s the pattern of character development that we usually see in such stories. But we realised that “There’s absolutely no way that would fit into a one-cour show!” (chuckles), so what we’ve ended up with is a story about Yūri being resurrected as a skater.
Hence, although his appearance makes him seem like an average guy at first glance, he’s actually incredibly talented, someone regarded as a really good skater in Japan. When I heard Toshiyuki Toyonaga’s voice during the audition, the “I’m hopeless” impression that his quavering voice gave off worked really well, but he was also fantastic when he just flipped over to a more confident tone. At a glance, Yūri gives off the image that there’s so much potential in him, so when I heard his voice, I became even more excited about just what kind of sensuality we’d find coming out of him.
|Q: How about Victor Nikiforov?
Kubo: People might get mad at me for saying this, but when I was thinking of a place that embodies good skating and a lover-like (playboy?) character…. I thought of Russia. If you talk about great Russian skaters, everyone will think of Plushenko, right? It’s not like we were modelling Victor off of him, but we’re not denying the similarities either. If people decide that ‘these two are similar’ then that’s just another way for people to enjoy the show. Victor’s appearance was modelled off of John Cameron Mitchell from the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. When I went to New York last year to see the musical, they had the original cast there (John Cameron Mitchell) and his sex appeal was so amazing that I had to base Victor off of him. Victor is a kind of dreamboat character I haven’t drawn much of up until now, so I wanted to make him the most attractive guy of my manga career. Suwabe’s reliable dreamboat voice is wonderful, isn’t it? At the auditions, others thought his ‘Amazing!’ line was really good, practised or not (laughs). Also, I heard that Suwabe is the kind of person who takes his roles very seriously, so I thought that was fitting for Victor’s character as well.
|—And can we talk about Victor Nikiforov next?
People may get mad at me for saying this kind of thing, but when I thought about what country might be fitting for a great skater who’s also something of an oddball, Russia was the one that came to mind… (chuckles) And if we talk about great Russian skaters, everyone will automatically think of Plushenko. It’s not that we actually made him the model for Victor, but I’m not going to deny that there are similarities—if you can enjoy the show even more because you can see a resemblance between the characters and some real life skaters, I think that’s great too.
Victor’s appearance is based on John Cameron Mitchell, who wrote the story and script for Hedwig and the Angry Inch. When we went to see that musical in New York last year, Mitchell himself was playing the title role again, and he really had this magnificent presence, full of sensuality—and that’s why we made him the model. In my career as a mangaka, I haven’t created many characters that you’d say are really good-looking, but I’ve drawn Victor with the intent of making him the most attractive character I’ve ever created.
Jun’ichi Suwabe is also fantastic, with that undoubtedly dreamy voice that he has. At the time of the auditions, I also thought it wonderful that he’d practiced and practiced that line of “Amazing!,” which no one else had done (chuckles). I’d also heard that Suwabe-san is someone who approaches each of the roles he takes on with great care. That’s another aspect of him that matches with Victor, so there was absolutely no doubt in my mind about entrusting the character to him.
See Translation Note #3.3
|On Yuri Plisetsky
Kubo: To watch the Grand Prix Final in 2014, I went to Barcelona and saw Russian skater Yulia Lipnitskaya in plain clothes. She was wearing leopard print over black, with leopard print luggage. The handle of it was gold and had a really ORA ORA kind of fashion sense to it (laughs). When I was looking over my research material for the visuals, I thought, ‘It’d be cool if there was a male skater like this’, and that’s how Yuri came to be. Even though that was the basis of his character, he was easy to draw and characterise. I felt that Uchiyama’s slightly relaxed voice was a great fit for his personality. When I heard his audition tape I wanted to tell him to stay in that relaxed, can’t-be-bothered voice (laughs).
|—So that’s how it was… And how about Yuri Plisetsky?
When we went to Barcelona in 2014 to watch the Grand Prix Final, we caught sight of Yulia Lipnitskaya in her casual wear. On top of black as a basic colour, she was wearing a leopard print pattern, and her suitcase, too, gave off this “Where in the world did you buy that?!” vibe—it had that same leopard print, and gold handles. Like, she had this incredibly flashy sense of fashion (chuckles).
But that was the visual image that left the deepest impression on me during our overseas trips, and I thought “Fantastic! Wouldn’t it be great if we had a male skater like that?” And so I piled all of those elements right into Yuri. And because that became the basis of his character, he was really easy to write. And I think that it goes well with the blasé attitude that rings through Kōki Uchiyama’s voice. Even since we heard him on the audition tape, sounding so indifferent, we’ve basically been telling him “Please keep it just like that, don’t perk up or anything!” (chuckles).
|—Next, could you give us a tip or two as to what we should pay attention to in order to get even more enjoyment out of this show?
This time, we asked former figure skater Kenji Miyamoto, who now works as a choreographer, to put together the figure skating programs. But that’s not all—we also had Kenji-sensei skate them himself, recording video from multiple angles, up close as well. Much of that footage is being used in the show, and to be honest, a lot of it is from angles that you can’t see in real competitions. So even though it’s an anime, I think that being able to see skating with such lively movement is a really important aspect of this show.
On top of that, we also asked Chacott, who designed Nobunari Oda’s costumes when he competed, to design costumes that suited each skater, and so and and so forth. So many people who are actually involved in the figure skating world have cooperated with us in this endeavour, so I think that figure skating fans will definitely be able to enjoy the show as well.
And finally, with figure skating, the skater on the ice always becomes the main character of that moment. So we are not treating the other skaters as background characters, but are depicting them all as if any one of them could, quite rightly, come out on top. We’d like you to pay attention to that rivalry of these warlords, and enjoy each individual skating to songs that were created for them alone.
|—And finally, could you leave a message for our readers who are looking forward to the show, including what you would say is its main draw?
Please go all out to take on board the bonds that you will see deepen before your very eyes! The staff have, without concern for their own wellbeing, completely thrown themselves into making this anime, and I, too, want you to see the fruits of their labour as quickly as possible. Furthermore, the real Grand Prix series of figure skating will also be broadcast on TV Asahi each week. So I’d be incredibly pleased if, alongside the anime, you’ll spend this winter feeling a refreshing sense of excitement every day, to the point where you’d think “I won’t be able to sleep for another week!”
1. As you can see, the 4chan translator and I have translated the last part in the exact opposite way. Kubo wasn’t saying anything about making an unrealistic world a reality by giving it meaning; rather, she was talking about how she and Yamamoto found reality replicating what they thought could only happen in fiction. Of course, I don’t know exactly why that translator got it wrong, and I’m not going to speculate.
Moving on to the term “fanservice.” This wasei-eigo term that came from the English words “fan service,” but in Japan, it isn’t used in quite the same way as it is in the West. Basically, it refers to the things that celebrities do to make their fans happy, such as autograph and handshake events, playing it up on stage or in front of the camera, or even interacting with their fans on social media. Through all of these avenues, fans get a glimpse of their personalities—at least, the ones the celebrities cultivate for public display—which helps them feel ever closer to the famous stars that they love.
In figure skating, this fanservice appears on a number of platforms, including official broadcasts, special TV programs, and social media. In particular, you’ll find many skaters sharing photos and videos of themselves training or travelling to competitions and meeting up with other skaters, fooling around at home, on vacation or at those competitions. But you’ll also find skaters being cute and amusing on official event coverage and in interviews for TV or even magazine shoots. Fans of Yuzuru Hanyu, who doesn’t use social media, will certainly attest to that.
I’ll leave you all to decide for yourself which moments in the show were fanservice and which were not. But let me end here with a couple of fanservice moments from last weekend’s Four Continents Championship:
(1) Boyang Jin, Patrick Chan and Jason Brown; and (2) Piper Gilles and Paul Poirer, fooling around in the green room as they wait to get kicked out…
Yuzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno continuing the little “wedding pose” joke they started at the GPF in 2015… ↩
2. At just a glance, the difference between these two translations is clear. The 4chan one gives the impression that this story is about characters struggling with (romantic) love. But what Kubo actually said was that she and Yamamoto were striving to depict the world of elite sportspeople, people who share a deep bond with each other because of their dedication to their sport, one that is “different from the feelings of romantic love (恋愛).” In other words, Kubo seems to be differentiating the bonds that they’re depicting in this show from the bond of “romantic love.” The significance of this mistranslation is clear: although Kubo was talking about the incredibly deep bonds between fellow athletes, I bet that anyone who read the translation thought that she’d come right out and said that Victor and Yuuri’s relationship ended up taking a romantic turn that hadn’t been in their initial plans. You can interpret the show in that way if you wish; just be careful to note that Kubo herself never says that that’s what happened.
I discuss this particular segment in more detail in the editorial I’ve linked above. It’s the most controversial one, so feel free to comment on that post if you disagree etc. ↩
3. This last example is a lot more straightforward, though there two separate issues. The difference in translation in the second part probably matters only to people who are fans of Victor’s seiyuu (or of seiyuu in general). Kubo was basically praising Suwabe for doing something that no one else did—all together now: “Amazing!”—and framed it in a way that really shows how much she trusted him to help bring Victor to life. Some of the earliest interviews suggest that he had some difficulty nailing his character down at the start, but the more I’ve read and watched , the more certain I am that Suwabe found his character relatively quickly.
On the other hand, the first mistake is far more significant, because what Kubo actually said is the key to understanding Victor’s character. Basically, the 4chan translator misread “henjin (変人)” as “koibito (恋人).” In case you don’t believe me, here’s a scan of the relevant part of the interview. The kanji characters are similar, so I can see why they might have done that, but changing “oddball” to “lover-like (playboy?)” positions readers to view Victor through a “romance lens,” predisposing them to assume that his character arc has him looking specifically for romance.
Whether or not such an arc is what Kubo and Yamamoto intended for his character, Kubo clearly meant something along the lines of “oddball” here. And based on all the other comments I’ve read about Victor, that is precisely how we’re supposed to read him in the early episodes: as an odd, forgetful guy who just does what he wants, all in the name of achieving his own goals, whatever they may be. In other words, the mistranslation of “lover-like” gives a completely different impression of Victor’s character from what Kubo actually intended. ↩
I don’t actually know how far these problematic translations were spread. As I noted in the editorial linked above, a few other translators found some of these mistakes pretty quickly; unfortunately, those corrections didn’t make it into the pastebin record.
But it’s not difficult to imagine the impact that these mistranslations might have had. In two of the three examples, the mistranslations give the impression that Kubo basically confirmed—in an interview released before the show even started!—that Yuri!!! on ICE turned into an unintended romance because the characters started moving on their own. However, that’s merely the fandom’s predominant interpretation of what Kubo said. I’m not trying to argue that Victor and Yuuri’s relationship is definitely ‘non-romantic’, just that this interview does not confirm it.
I’m also not suggesting that the translators in question are going out of their way to twist what Kubo and other creators have said. Usually, it’s just a matter of fans taking an ambiguous passage and interpreting it to support their read on the show. So I’m not going to ask anyone to stop doing flash translations. I get that it’s a fun and exciting part of the fan experience, especially for those who don’t know Japanese or who have to wait forever before their own copies are delivered—I am one of the latter myself, after all!
But I do hope that translators and fans alike learn to recognise the difference between what creators say, and how they interpret what is said. What’s happening in the Yuri!!! on ICE fandom whenever new interviews are released is just one example of the consequences we face if we don’t.