The following article was originally published in the October 2016 issue of Newtype. Scans for translation provided by @NaChiKyoTsuki97. This interview has been translated by Twitter user @karice67 © 2016 Wave Motion Cannon
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Gleaming brightly on the ice, that unadulterated sensuality just blows you away!
—How did this project, an original anime about men’s figure skating, come about?
Kubo: Apparently, Director Sayo Yamamoto had ideas for the plot as far back as the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. But the project finally got its legs around the time of the Sochi Olympics (2014).
—Sochi is the Games where Yuzuru Hanyu gave Japan its first gold medal in the men’s competition, and where Mao Asada skated her legendary free program, isn’t it?
Kubo: Japan was also crazy about figure skating then, and I, too, was talking about how amazing Mao-chan was on TV and the radio and stuff. And right around that time, I completed the manga that I’d been drawing for Weekly Shōnen Magazine, Again!!, and apparently posted on Twitter that “I have not come up with any plans for another manga.” When Director Yamamoto saw that, she went “Now’s our chance to snag her!” (chuckles). So she reached out to me, and after a number of twists and turns, she finally got through to me via Yasuyuki Okamura-san (chuckles). Okamura-san was responsible for the theme song to the anime, Space Dandy, for which Yamamoto-san had been an episode director. And that was how we first met, two years ago, back in August 2014.
—So you hadn’t interacted at all prior to that?
Kubo: That’s right. None of my manga have ever been adapted into anime, so it’s always been one-sided, with me just watching whatever I found interesting. Hence, I wasn’t very familiar with anime, and nor was I all that knowledgeable about figure skating either; I was quite worried to be starting from that point. But when I met with Director Yamamoto, she laughed quite strangely as we were talking, like “DOhoho” (chuckles). I mean, she just didn’t seem to be the type of person who would laugh in that way, “DOhoho”…and so I felt some kind of affinity with her well up inside of me — in that one moment, I just felt like I could depend on this person. And she told me that she was aiming for broadcast alongside the Grand Prix Series in two years time (i.e. 2016). When I realized that she was going that far, I was well past debating whether I should do it, it was more like “Well, how about we start collecting all the reference material we’ll need?” I basically just plunged headlong into it.
—What was the story like at that point?
Kubo: The director had already settled on a vision centered around two characters: a Japanese skater who, unable to fully bring his talent to bear, had come to a critical point in his career, and his complete opposite, a foreign genius who’d swept all before him. And from that starting point, we set out to fill the story out.
—And just like you’ve done for the Moteki live-action film, here, you’ve drawn the story out in ‘names’, or manga-style storyboards.
Kubo: Director Yamamoto put together quite a detailed plot, and that’s what I’m bringing to life. It was important to us to be constantly talking to each other, working together to create a shared image of the characters before they were animated.
—In manga storyboards so detailed that you wouldn’t think they were names.
Kubo: Because there was no source material to work from, I realized that it would be incredibly difficult to ensure that everyone would share the same view as to what was interesting about the story, and of what kind of show we are aiming for. Even if the director and I share the same ideas, if we’re unable to convey that to the entire PR team, then they won’t be disseminated, and we won’t be able to get viewers to like the show. With that in mind, I figured that my role was to depict those details as carefully as possible so that our ideas would come through.
—Have Tadashi Hiramatsu-san’s character designs or the animation triggered some kind of spark in you?
Kubo: Because this is the first time that someone else is taking my drawings to the finish line, it’s something I’m happy about, but it’s also something that worried me. My style of art isn’t really suited for anime, so I’m still rather nervous about it. But after Hiramatsu-san translated my drawings into the character design sheets, the characters really come to life, becoming incredibly charming when they move. It was like, “Golly! I’ve really taken the manga form of expression for granted, haven’t I?”—that’s the kind of shock I got. Hiramatsu-san is someone with a reputation for drawing cute girls, but this time, he’s drawn a large number of captivating male characters for us. Also, a special feature of the first part of the show is that each skater has been assigned to one single animator. As a result, I think that they’ll really be able to bring out each character’s individuality.
—I heard that you were at the studio when the voice actors were recording the first episode. How was that?
Kubo: Everyone in the cast really is wonderful, but (Toshiyuki) Toyonaga-san—who plays Yūri—had the most lines. The sense of naive purity that he gives off is just great. The vast majority of real-life skaters also give off a sense of purity, so Toyonaga-san is completely in line with that. Furthermore, in this episode, we’re having him bring out a sensuality within that sense of purity. That unadulterated sensuality just blows you away, doesn’t it? That’s what Director Yamamoto and I have been getting all excited about, and we’re hoping to have it steadily exploding throughout the course of the show.
—What kind of director is Director Yamamoto?
Kubo: She’s really dynamic and passionate, someone capable of thinking “If I don’t make a figure skating anime, I’m gonna die!” (chuckles). When I was drawing the names, I had her come over to my house, and we’d talk about it while cooking—we were meeting pretty much every day for several months. Just yesterday, including a prearranged discussion session, we spoke for about 5 and a-half hours over the phone. She’s definitely the person I’ve gotten along with best in recent years!