Here at Anime Ushi, anime is our number 1 whether it be sharing news, reviews, podcasts, interviews or a fun musing, we strive to provide content our audience will want to read. The same can be said of our friends at Otaquest. A newer site to the anime world, they have made it a point to provide engaging content for fans.  Their exclusive interviews provide a look into the industry that not many get to see.

Otaquest sat down with acclaimed Japanese animation director Sayo Yamamoto for an in-depth interview about Yuri!!! on Ice, her career and what it’s like being a woman in the industry. I am personally addicted to the series; I love what it has provided to the anime community and it is my privilege to share this on Anime Ushi. While I have received special permission from an editor of Otaquest to share this amazing interview with our own readers, I am only publishing a portion.

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.  

Please check visit Otaquest for the full interview and be on the look out for part 2.

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