Yuri!!! on Ice: Interview with Our Three Skaters (Otomedia, January 2017)

The following article was originally published in the January 2017 issue of Otomedia. The interview has been translated by Tumblr user Tora © 2017 Wave Motion Cannon

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Starting from the sensational skating scenes, they talk extensively about how they created their roles and the relationship between the characters.

An Interview with: Toshiyuki Toyonaga (Yuuri Katsuki), Junichi Suwabe (Victor Nikiforov), Kouki Uchiyama (Yuri Plisetsky)

Victor, a character created by clashing opinions.

—We interviewed Toyonaga-san for the + Autumn issue before the show started airing. What are your impressions now that you have watched it?

Toyonaga: The pace and the amount of information is amazing. When the A part is over and the commercials start you’re like “Wait, was this just the A part!?” but then you get completely absorbed in it and when you see the ED you’re like “It’s already over!?” (laughs). It’s a show that gives you this curious sensation.

Suwabe: It really feels like an instant, but there is so much information. It’s really rich in content. Many people commented that they were impressed by the shocking end of the 1st episode, that is Victor’s ass followed by his full naked shot.

Toyonaga: Oh, that was a nice ass (laughs).

Uchiyama: It was really a remarkable start. I’m telling all people I meet to watch Yuri on Ice because it’s an amazing show.

Toyonaga: Seconded. You really feel like saying that!

Uchiyama: I’m saying it even to staff from other shows (laughs). There are so many things crammed in it, the skating scenes are fantastic, and the deformed feeling that only an anime can have is also exciting. I feel that this show has so many fascinating elements that it’s difficult to list them all. Actually there are many characters who make an appearance right from the 1st episode, so it’s probably fun to rewatch it again afterwards.

Suwabe: There are many characters that will make you think “he appeared here!” Like Georgi Popovich, who can be spotted in the background quite a lot (laughs).

Toyonaga: Also, the one next to Victor in the Grand Prix Final of episode 1 is Chris (Christophe Giacometti). And there’s Phichit-kun saying “Ah, Yuuri!”

—The skating scenes are very talked about too.

Suwabe: It’s really amazing that (Kenji) Miyamoto-san created programs with different nuances to match each character’s personality. Most skating scenes are drawn based on the footage of Miyamoto-san himself skating, but for example Yurio has a more slender body line, therefore his programs were performed by a female skater. The show is full of this kind of hidden details too.

Toyonaga: The step sequence of figure skating consists of a combination of movements chosen among the allowed ones. However, what is interesting about it is that different skaters have such different styles that you would never think that they are choosing from the same limited number of movements.

Suwabe: Apparently, when figure skating fans watch the performances in the show they are able to recognize Miyamoto-san’s touch in various moments. We don’t have as much knowledge about figure skating, so of course we cannot catch such details, but I found it interesting that the show can also be enjoyed that way.

Uchiyama: I’m also wondering about the scenes where they fall. Not all jumps are successful, and I’m curious to see how the scenes will look when someone flubs a jump due to bad timing and how they will represent it with the animation.

—I would also like to ask you how you prepared for your roles. What do you pay attention to when you play your characters?

Suwabe: Victor is a difficult character. In the first recordings it often happened that my interpretation was differed from the sound director’s. But maybe it’s because he was developed through trial and error that he became a character with such multifaceted charm. Victor is not a character that fits nicely within myself, and except for when I’m playing him I look at him objectively.

—Which sides of him do not fit nicely?

Suwabe: First of all, I cannot really relate to Victor’s personality and nature. He’s an absolute genius, and sometimes he cannot understand and sympathize with people who cannot do the things he can, but honestly if I resembled him in this it wouldn’t be very nice (laughs). Same goes for when he acts as he pleases twisting people around his little finger. However, it’s because he has some weird traits as a human being that the creative process of thinking how to construct his psychology inside my mind and how to output it is enjoyable. Ah, actually there’s something in which I feel similar to him! We are both dog lovers (laughs). I can understand why he took Makkachin with him all the way to Japan and why he felt the need to hurry back to Japan when he heard that Makkachin was in danger.

Uchiyama: Yurio doesn’t really feel like I created the character. The first thing I paid attention to was to sound reckless. And I focus on the force and pace of his lines. There are many lines where he speaks aggressively, but I’m told to start them “with low tension”. There are also scenes where the pictures become deformed in a manga-like style, so I’m using lots of voice variations when I play him. Something I relate to is…… I’m not a punk, but I kind of sympathize with him.

Toyonaga: Do you!? (laughs)

Uchiyama: I don’t mean that I would call people names. But I can understand his aggressive mentality. I think I’m more the humanities type person, and in crucial moments I pull out the theory that gives importance to grit and I’m like, “In the end it’s a matter of fighting spirit!” Even after much theorizing, in the end I’m an advocate of fighting spirit (laughs).

—Toyonaga-san, you said that you can empathize a lot with Yuuri.

Toyonaga: I often play my roles looking for hints in what the character I play and myself resemble the most based on my life experience, but in Yuuri’s case I feel that some sides of him are similar to the way I am. Yuuri has been practicing figure skating ever since he was a child, and I also have been doing this work since I was little. I can understand a lot the small details like the warmth of your family, the mortifying feeling of when you return home, the feelings of shame and all that. Also, the fact that deep down he is doing his best, and the people around him are cheering on him aware of that, but he’s the only one that doesn’t realize it. If I compare Yuuri’s and my life so far, when I think that I can understand his feelings I feel like crying (strained smile).

Suwabe: He always cries right away.

Uchiyama: Cheap tears (laughs).

Toyonaga: That’s not true! (laughs). Actually I don’t cry that much, you know!? It’s just in this show that I cry right away!

Suwabe: Both Toyonaga-kun and Uchiyama-kun feel like they’re getting into their characters in a very natural way. It doesn’t feel like they’re using tricks, the lines they speak as the characters all sound very spontaneous. When I work with them there are many instances where they touch me emotionally.

Toyonaga & Uchiyama: Thank you!

Suwabe: It’s not only during the recording. I find it very nice when I watch the broadcast too. The way Yuuri panics, Yurio’s “Old hag!” are exquisite. I wouldn’t be able to say, “Old hag!” so naturally (laughs). Compared to Yuuri and Yurio, I think that Victor is a very deformed character. But I absolutely don’t want him to become a stereotyped “template” character, so sometimes I destroy what I accurately and logically assembled once, and based on that I basically play him as it comes. He’s a very challenging role and I always get suddenly tired after every recording, but at the same time I also feel a sense of accomplishment.

Toyonaga: It’s the first time that I’m involved so much with Suwabe-san.

Suwabe: Even though we’ve been in the same show quite a few times.

Toyonaga: When Yuuri actually met his idol Victor he was kind of surprised, like “ah, so that’s how he really is”. Similarly, I can feel a touch of kindness and generosity in the way Suwabe-san plays Victor, and I really enjoy playing my role.

Suwabe: The kindness I’m trying to hide just leaks out sometimes~ (laughs).

Toyonaga: I appreciate that kindness, it feels warm (laughs).

Yuuri and Victor influencing each other.

—The Grand Prix Series is going smoothly for Yuuri. What do you think about the way he changed, Toyonaga-san?

Toyonaga: I can perceive that he’s had emotional changes and up and downs because of Victor’s presence. In episode 7 there is a moment where Victor breaks Yuuri emotionally by telling him, “If you fail the free skate, I’ll take responsibility and quit being your coach,” and I think that after that there was a big change in Yuuri’s feelings and mind. However, something I’ve always thought is that Yuuri isn’t just a weak guy who is only negative. That’s another thing that Victor was able to crush, but it’s not like Yuuri changed a lot, it’s more like Victor was able to pull out the original potential that Yuuri had inside from the start.

—Yuuri and Victor’s relationship also changes little by little.

Some of the little fights and arguments they have are seen by Yuuri as Victor being selfish. I could sense the process that brought from Victor being the athlete Yuuri admires to their relationship as coach and skater. Victor only steps into Yuuri’s territory as much as Yuuri steps into his, and he’s always very open, so for Yuuri Victor is shifting from being the target of his admiration to someone closer to him.

—Suwabe-san, how do you feel about the scene where Victor spurs Yuuri on in episode 7?

Suwabe: Victor is ‘a super genius with extraordinary talent and skills, and as such sometimes he is unable to show consideration for the emotional status of other people,’ but now that Yuuri is his partner and they are getting closer to each other, I have the feeling that he’s gradually starting to be considerate at times. In that scene from episode 7 he was very shaken by the fact that Yuuri burst out crying because he drove him into a corner. I think that in the beginning Victor saw Yuuri as, in a way, a ‘tool’ to create the surprise and entertainment he was looking for, but then, as Yuuri keeps on reacting in ways that surpass his imagination, he gradually becomes irreplaceable to him… at least this is what I feel. As the story progresses, we start to see Victor’s monologues and there are more occasions to look directly inside his mind. And that’s nice, because he feels all the more human.

—Uchiyama-san, do you feel that Yurio is growing and changing?

Uchiyama: I’m not sure about his emotional growth, but the environment around him changed drastically with the arrival of his new choreographer Lilia Baranovskaya, and now he’s being worked hard every day. Maybe Yurio himself also felt that he needed to change, and his surroundings have changed quite a lot, therefore I do think that he also grew or changed in some way.

Suwabe: Yurio also has his own worries, although in a different way than Yuuri. Yurio is young and physically growing, therefore his body is going to change a lot. He understands that there are things he can only do now and he has an ambition to use that as a weapon to win, but at the same time he might also feel anxious about it. By parting from Victor, actually he might have grown more than Yuuri.

—As Yakov also said, maybe getting separated from Victor at an early stage actually had a good influence on Yurio.

Uchiyama: I wonder. In about 10 years from now he might look back and think that it was actually a good thing that his promise with Victor wasn’t kept, but I have the feeling this is something that will only become clear in the long run.

If Yurio breaks his shell Yuuri is in danger!?

—Do you sense any change in the relationship between the 3 of them?

Suwabe: I guess that seeing Victor, the skater he admired, become Yuuri’s coach is not really funny from Yurio’s point of view. From Victor’s point of view…… it actually doesn’t look like he thinks about Yurio that much (strained smile).

Toyonaga: I think it’s the same for Yuuri (laughs). He doesn’t really consider Yurio like his big rival.

Suwabe: If anything, it looks more like Yurio has Yuuri on his mind a lot. I have the feeling that Yuuri is more interesting to Victor because he has more “uncertain factors” than Yurio and therefore provides for more surprise. In manga contests you often see comments like “it’s unrefined but I can feel power” and “it’s beautiful but modest”, and the one getting the prize is the first one (laughs). But if Yurio really removes his mask…… Victor might be like, “Uh? Maybe Yurio is more interesting!” and switch over (laughs).

Toyonaga: I also feel that Yurio is more thirsty for victory. For example, in the beginning Yurio was already determined to win, while Yuuri didn’t really think about winning.

Uchiyama: Maybe his competitive spirit keeps up his motivation. I’m not sure whether he really hates someone, but maybe he purposely thinks that he feels hatred. When I work I also happen to raise my motivation by harboring negative feelings that I actually don’t have at all, I think it acts as a stimulant in a way.

—Let us know what scenes impressed you.

Uchiyama: I’d say Yurio and Lilia-san’s scene in episode 4. When she tells him, “If you are willing to sell your soul to win, become a prima,” and he replies, “If I can win by selling my soul… you can have my whole body at any time.” I was really captivated by this line when I read the script.

Suwabe: That was a cool line.

Uchiyama: His determination was really scary, as if he’s ready to go to hell for the sake of winning. After the test recording I was told that the scene is made in a way that Lilia only says her name for the first time after she hears Yurio’s resolve, and this scene left a strong impression on me because I thought that was quite remarkable as their first meeting.

Suwabe: I still haven’t seen all the footage in its complete form, so more than being impressed it’s like there are many scenes I can’t wait to watch.

Uchiyama: That’s right, during the recording we are gazing at Miyamoto-san a lot (laughs).

Toyonaga: That’s true! A large part is footage of Miyamoto-san, and another large part is (Taihei) Katou-san’s announcer Morooka speaking (laughs).

Uchiyama: Especially in the second half of the story there are lots of skating scenes, so announcer Morooka speaks even more (laughs). Also, I’m kind of looking forward to the JJ Girls.

Toyonaga: I can’t wait to see how they are used in the matches. And I’m also curious about Popovich I guess.

Suwabe: I think that the skating scenes are one of the highlights of this show, therefore I’m really looking forward to seeing how the finished footage looks. They filmed Miyamoto-san’s skating in the middle of the night, and the MAPPA staff is killing themselves to turn it into pictures. It’s literally the result of blood, sweat and tears. I believe that the best reward is that all of you watch it… so please praise them without hesitation! (laughs)

—Lastly, please leave a message for the readers!

Uchiyama: I’m looking forward to the new episodes every week, and I participate in the recording hoping that you all feel the same. I don’t know a lot about figure skating, but since the real Grand Prix series has started too I’m planning to watch it, and I think that it will be really great/wonderful if some people get an interest in figure skating because of this show.

Suwabe: While it’s a difficult role to create I’m really having fun playing it, so I hope that the staff survive until the end (laughs) and that more people can enjoy this show. Since it’s being broadcast in the same period as the Grand Prix series on purpose, I also recommend that you take this occasion to enjoy real figure skating too. In any case, please keep on supporting Yuri on Ice.

Toyonaga: I think that if you have watched up to episode 10 you probably have a favorite athlete that you are supporting as in a real tournament. Now that only a few episodes are left before the climax, please watch over them until the end to see who is going to win the Grand Prix Final. Thankfully enough we are getting lots of response from foreign fans as well, which makes me feel that this has become a global show, and there are infinite possibilities for it, such as spin-offs for the single characters. I strongly feel that it would be a real pity for this series to end with just 1 cour, therefore I’ll be really happy if you keep on supporting us!

Extra question!

-Please tell us about the skaters participating in the Grand Prix Final.

Suwabe: JJ is super annoying.

Toyonaga: He’s almost exactly Mamoru Miyano (laughs), and I think probably only Mamo-chan can play him.

Uchiyama: After the episode where JJ shows up, “JJ style” will definitely trend on Twitter. I can see that happen! (laughs)

Suwabe: He was really stealing the scene in that episode. We were overshadowed. Showy characters are lucky roles. I’m also curious about Christophe Giacometti. He’s almost crossing the line of what can be shown on TV. There’s a sexually dangerous scent coming from him (laughs).

Uchiyama: Well you’re free to imagine that! (laughs)

Suwabe: It might depend on people’s individual interpretation, but anyway he’s pretty astonishing. His sexy nuance is too intense.

Toyonaga: Not even Yuuri can win against his eros.

Suwabe: I guess they probably need to be aggressive because they are top athletes who compete fiercely at the highest international levels, but really, they’re all characters with a very strong personality and stand out a lot (laughs).

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