AnimeNEXT 2017 – Yuri!!! on Ice Q&A with MAPPA (saturday)

The panel started really late, 25 minutes in actually. The fans screamed when the guests came onto the stage. From left to right, Producer Ogawa Takahiro, ice skating animator Tatenaka Junpei, prop designer and lead animation supervisor Ito Noriko and color designer Hirose Izumi. As they sat, Ito-san placed the Makkachin tissue box in the middle. I’m sure Makkachin will be present at all YOI events. He is very much a part of the staff.

Aside with learning about the animation process of Yuri!!! on Ice, it’s nice to hear in detail about how the animation team works together on a single project. It’s not simple line art genga and douga sketches that the director/creator works on for the animators to draw from, but there are different people who work intensely on specific jobs to make sure the feel and look of the series works out. Similar to how the designers, lighting specialists and prop specialists work together on a live action movie or show.

They started with the first opening song from episode 1 and everyone screamed and sang along. It was awesome to be a part of that moment, singing something so powerful together as ‘History Maker’. This song is special on so many levels. The words ‘born to make history’ is one that echoes in all the fans. This series is history making, the messages, the love, the animation, the connection amongst fans. And for it to be in English, a language that connects so many so easily. I’m sure it means differently for the Japanese fans but for English speaking fans, it’s one that we all could easily grasp. From the looks and expressions of the animation staff, I’m sure they were happy to see us so moved by simply the opening.

Laughter went about the crowd as the host noted simply, “It seems you already heard of Yuri!!! on Ice.” The host went ahead and spoke about the premise of the series, a 2016 anime of male figure skaters by creators, Kubo Mitsuro and director Yamamoto Sayo in Studio MAPPA. The guests were introduced, first with Producer Ogawa, explaining that he manages the schedules of the animation staff, making sure the episode gets done. Next was animation director Tatenaka who focuses alot on the ice skating scenes in the series. Prop designer and lead animator supervisor for the series, Ito-san also designs the explanations of Yuuri and the triplets in the series as well as the cell phone covers for the characters. The color designer Hirose determines the mood and atmosphere of the series.

The host opened the floor for questions with the mic being in the middle front of the stage. The host reminded fans to focus on the animation questions and mention only the series of Yuri!!! on Ice. When the host asked the fans to politely approach the mic, he remarked that the fans indeed were very politely moving towards the line.

    Q: Why was the color scheme for Victor purple and for Yuuri blue?
    Hirose: Deciding on the color scheme for the characters is made in conversation with the director about each character and their personalities. They are based on real life models. With these three elements, the color scheme is decided.

    Q: There are alot of different styles of traditional animation from CG to rotoscoping. What are the challenges of getting all of these style in on the show?
    Ogawa: We use CG animation to make the skating scenes. We draw in the characters into the skating rink. The skating scene is a composition of CG and manual drawing. We started using CG to draw in the backgrounds in episode. We created a huge background from many different perspectives. We created a huge background where the animators can take parts of the backgrounds and draw in various characters in various settings which led to a success. It would have been a problem if it didn’t work so we’re glad it worked.

    Q: When you were choreographing the routine for the skaters, were there moves that you had to cut out because they were too difficult or too unrealistic?
    Host: The animators don’t necessarily choreograph the routines.

    Q: Did you have any issues working with the choreographer in translating the routines to animation? Many ice skaters expressed that the scenes were done very well.
    Tatenaka: There were alot of challenges. The choreography is first created, then they film it on the ice. That film is brought to us. Since every pose is unique, it needs to be drawn for the first time. That is the biggest challenge since it never has been done. They were difficult since they’re not poses you would do on a daily basis. *audience laughs*

    Q: Where do you get the inspiration on how you animate Yuri!!! on Ice?
    Tatenaka: I was familiar with the director Yamamoto Sayo with her work on Fujiko Mine. It was a very unique style so I was very interested in it. I did the ending storyboard art with her. I really wanted to work with her again. When Director Yamamoto originally came up with the idea for male figuring skating series, I was very interested in working on it. When MAPPA was the studio to make the series, I became involved with the series.

    Q: Alot of care was taken with the series, especially the different cultural backgrounds and general animation in the skating. While we were working on it, did you imagine it would be as popular as it is? *audience laughed when everyone shook their heads*
    Ogawa: I didn’t imagine that I would be coming to the US with this. Director Yamamoto and Kubo-sensei probably had this vision in their minds all along. *audience laughed and applaud*

    Q: With the color scheme in the opening gradually increasing in every episode, who came up with the idea to do that?
    Ogawa: If the director Yamamoto feels that she can make something better, she will do it, again and again. When we got the opening for episode one, she asked for updates and more updates. Improvements and improvements. *audience laughs*

Ogawa stated that he wanted to show the opening sequence in a way that has never been shown anywhere before, even in Japan. *audience applauds* The opening scene was shown to the cheers and awws of the fans. In true form of art, the skaters were shown without any clothes, only the lines of their muscles were drawn. The fans were ecstatic.

Ogawa noted that it was 3 test takes before it was completed. Next, Ogawa show some test takes of the opening. “Not here, but a Ms. Park did the opening.” *audience applauds*

    Q: Were there any themes or episodes that were difficult to release?
    Ito: When characters show emotions like crying. How much emotions to show for each character.

    Q: Were sketches made of the clothing designs?
    Ogawa: The costumes were made by a real ice skating company, Chacott Pro. They were the ones who made the designs of the ice skaters. They submitted some designs and the director gives the okay.

The host noted that they were cutting the questions short since they were showing the exhibition skate for Yuri Plisetsky, ‘Welcome to the Madness’. The short was an extra on the 6th BD release for the series in Japan. The fans cheer to everything that Yuri did, turn, jump, slide on the ice. When Otabek appeared, needless to say the fans went wild. The sliding off the gloves and throwing the sunglasses moment threw everyone into frenzy. Everyone was applauding and cheering for the scene.

    Ogawa: I was very surprised at your expressions. *audience laughs* It was great!
    Tatenaka: I did the work for the figure skating scenes. *fans cheer loudly*

I believe Tatenaka meant that he was moved to see the wonderful reception to the scenes. We were indeed thrilled to see his hard work so beautifully done on the screen.

Ogawa show the pencil test to the exhibition short. It was wonderful to see the drawings that brought the characters and animation to life. The full short was shown in pencil, notes and light color to the music which is something also rarely seen. The fans were still excited when Otabek simply appeared. It was an awesome way to end the panel.