Feature: The Soundtrack of Yuri!!! On Ice

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“I was in a Little Chef once, and I read the menu, and it said: ‘Try one of our desserts. Go on, you only live once.’ And I thought: ‘That’s a bit of blow for the Buddhists, isn’t it?’ What a way to find out that everything you believe in is utter bollocks.” – Ross Noble

Earlier this week Yuri!!! On Ice, the hit anime series of last year – if both the Crunchyroll Anime Awards and the Tokyo Anime Award Festival are to be believed – made a slight return.

A new video (see below) promoting a forthcoming DVD and Blu-ray release in Japan was released featuring animation of Yuri Plisetsky and Otabek Altin performing a routine. It was intended to be broadcast in the show itself but never made it to air and is now being made available as an extra.

The music the characters are skating to is called “Welcome to the Madness” and is composed by Tarou Umebayashi, who was one of the main composers of the soundtrack along with Taku Matsushiba. Given this new footage it seems timely to look at the soundtrack of the anime in general (and when I say “timely”, I mean I was originally going to write about this when the anime went out, but I got distracted by other things, and thanks to this new clip I now have a decent opportunity to finally get to work on it).

Before we do, however, it is worth making a note that for once, the majority of the music for an anime has been made available in the west. It has always been an annoyance to me that so much Japanese music is not made available to legally purchase (even X Japan, the country’s biggest rock band, still haven’t released three of their five studio albums on the UK iTunes). But with Yuri!!! On Ice the entire soundtrack is available as an album, and the opening and closing themes are available as singles, released separately by their respective artists. It should be mentioned that not all of the music is available yet, because there are some background pieces not released, but most of the music is there.

Let’s start then with those opening and closing themes. The opening, “History Maker” by Dean Fujioka, certainly seems to encapsulate the series as a whole. It stands out from many other anime themes for several reasons. For starters there is the introduction played on the xylophone, which makes for an unusual choice of instrument and thus also makes the tune distinctive. Then you have the fact that the song is sung in English rather than Japanese, which again seems to be making a statement. It feels as if the anime is deliberately trying to reach outside Japan and gain an international audience by using English to attract foreign viewers. On top of this you have the unusual time signature for an OP which uses (I have been told by one of my editors, Sarah, who knows much more about these sort of things than I do) three beats in a bar rather than the standard four, making it arguably a waltz. This is fitting for a show that is about a form of dance, but on ice rather than a normal dance floor. Also, because you need two people to dance to a waltz, it makes for a possible connection between two people like Yuri Katsuki and Victor Nikiforov – although, as the opening title sequence also features Yurio, it does complicate things a bit.

Lastly you get to the sentiment of the song: “We were born to make history.” When you first listen, it sounds rather rousing, but as you watch the series progress, especially when the relationship between Yuri K. and Victor becomes ever more romantic, you then realise that the series itself is making history in its own way, by having what is almost universally considered to be a gay couple in a sport anime. The song suits the tone of the series, because it is jolly, stirring and moving.

The end theme, “You Only Live Once”, is performed by Wataru Hatano, who is one of the voice actors in the show, playing the role of Georgi Popovich, the Russian skater suffering from heartbreak after his girlfriend has left him. The song is sung in a mixture of English and Japanese, and indeed is the only track in this whole article that features some Japanese dialogue. The main chorus line is always sung in English, and the verses are mixed up in both languages. Personally I prefer the opening over the ending if we are just going on the songs themselves, but with the end animation the song seems to work better.

The majority of the music available comes from the album Oh! SkaTra!!! Yuri!!! On Ice Original Skating Collection, which contains the pieces that are used in the skating routines. When it was released it topped the Oricon Digital Album Charts, and came third in the CD charts too.

It begins with “Aria (Stammi Vicino, Non Te Ne Andare)”, or in English, “Aria: Stay Close to Me”, composed by Matsushiba. It is the classical track performed by Victor which Yuri K. later copies, which in turn is filmed and sparks the whole sequence of Victor coming to Japan to coach Yuri K. This track illustrates again a point made by the opening theme: the international nature of the show, because it is sung in Italian. Looking at the translation you see that it talks about two people who, “are blending together”.

Then we move onto the most famous of the tracks: “In Regards to Love: Eros”, composed by Matsushiba. This is the Spanish flamenco number that Yuri K. performs in all of his routines. Having watched the anime, in my head all I can think of now is Yuri skating. The other notable feature of it is that in a way it pans to the international aspect again, not only because it is Spanish music, but because there are no lyrics at all, so nothing hampers your enjoyment, regardless of where you come from. The same is true of the next piece, which is also the title track: “Yuri On ICE”, which Yuri K. performs in his free skate routine. In the anime, this is the track that Yuri gets his old friend Ketty Abelashvilli to compose for him, but in reality it is Umebayashi who composed it.

Then we move on to Yurio. First there is “In Regards to Love: Agape” by Umebayashi, which sounds more melancholy than the “In Regards to Love” track Yuri K. dances to, and arguably shows Yurio’s frustration with Victor. If Yuri K.’s pieces are international because there are no lyrics, Yurio’s track is is international because it is sung in a language that has no native speakers at all: Latin, and thus everyone is sharing in collective ignorance. His free skate track however, “Piano Concerto in B Minor: Allegro Appassionato” by Matsushiba, is a classical piece with no lyrics, performed by string orchestra and piano.

After this, we then get onto the other skaters in the show. It is also where we see a much wider range of musical styles. We start with young Kenjirou Minami and his jazz instrumental “Minami’s Boogie” used in the qualifying rounds, and then we move onto the Cup of China. We have Yuri K.’s old friend from Thailand, Phichit Chulanont, whose two pieces of music, “Shall We Skate?” and “Terra Incognita”, are tracks from a soundtrack of a fictional film, one in English and the other in an unspecified language. Chinese skater Guang Hong Ji performs to instrumentals: string track “La Parfum de Fleurs”, and then “The Inferno”, from a fictional action movie soundtrack. Then heartbroken Russian Georgi performs to the English song “A Tales of Sleeping Prince”, a sad track sung by an R&B singer; followed by American Leo de la Iglesia with “Still Alive”, which features a bit of rap in it. His song is also in English, but as he is American it does feel less significant.

Following on from this, we get to the final of the Grand Prix. The first track is “Intoxicated” sung in English, performed by the Swiss skater Christophe Giacometti, followed by Christophe’s free skate classical instrumental piece “Rapsodie Espagnole”. Next is the Korean skater Seung-gil Lee, beginning with “Almavivo”, a Spanish number with mambo elements; followed by Czech skater Emil Nekola and “Anastasis”, an electronic piece from a fictional sci-fi film; then the Italian Michele Crispino and “L’homme Armé” a fanfare from another fictional soundtrack, and then Crispino’s free skate track “Serenade for Two”, a ballad sung in English. After this is the egotistical Canadian Jean-Jacques Leroy and his own “Theme for King JJ”, which you cannot help but find infuriatingly catchy; followed by his slow free skate piece “Partizan Hope”. Then comes Otabek, starting with “Samarkand Overture”, an instrumental piece that pays tribute to a city in Uzbekistan, a country bordering his homeland of Kazakhstan; and then his free skate piece, a rearranged version of the second movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s 9th symphony, with an added chorus singing in German.

Last are the two pieces for the final exhibition skate at the end of the series, the already mentioned “Welcome to the Madness”, and the finale to the album, “Duet: Stay Close to Me”, a version of Victor’s original theme, but with two singers now, and skated to by both Victor and Yuri K. Thus the album ends with a piece of music that bring the central couple together at last.

While I did say that the album has an international bent to it, the most commonly performed language across the tracks is still English. No surprise as English is the dominant language across the world, but still it shows that the anime is trying to reach out. Then it is mixed with Italian, German and Latin, as well as plenty of instrumental tracks. We also see a wide variety of genres of music played including classical, modern orchestral music, Latin American pieces, jazz, rock and pop.

Listening to the album, and appreciating it alongside the anime, the main theme that seems to run through the entire thing is diversity. You have not just the diversity of musical styles and languages, but you then have the diversity of the cast. It is a series set across different countries and featuring competitors from across the globe. Then there is the already heavily discussed diversity in terms of sexuality. Because of this, the joy with a soundtrack like this is that you will be able to find at least one track on it that you really like, one you will be able to enjoy again and again.

For me, my personal favourite tracks would be “In Regards to Love: Eros” for its role in the story; “Minami’s Boogie” for its swinging, fun sound; “A Tales of Sleeping Prince” for being the most emotional track; “Theme for King JJ” for being a guilty pleasure (the character is annoying but the tune is catchy); and the final “Duet: Stay Close to Me”, for the way it unites Yuri K. and Victor.

All of the tracks are available to download from iTunes.

Geeks, Otaku & Weeaboos: The language and range of fandom

“Those of us who are geeks, OK, real geeks, who earned our geekhood at school through sweat and loneliness and wedgies will no long stand idly by and watch our geekly identity taken from us be people who think geekhood is nothing more than wearing cute glasses and an asymmetric fringe – particularly not when they are the very people who gave us the wedgies at school!” – John Finnemore

While I’ve been having many of the ideas for this piece for some time, the main impetus for writing this feature comes not from an anime, but from the new series of stand-up comedy show Dave Gorman: Modern Life is Goodish.

modern-life-is-goodish

In the first episode of the new series, starting on Dave on 8th November at 22.00, Gorman deals with the subject of guilty pleasures, fandom and why he is not a geek when loads of other people mistakenly think he is. When discussing fandom, he talks about those annoying groups of fans that seem to suck the joy out of a subject you might have an interest in, or as he calls them: “extractor fans”.

I would advise everyone to watch the episode, but for those of you living outside the UK and are unable to access the episode, here is a quick explanation. Gorman claims that “extractor fans” fall into three groups:

  • “I can’t believe you’ve never heard of…” – e.g., someone who is outraged by the fact you haven’t heard of a particular thing and then show off that they know all about it.
  • “Unless you like them as much as me, then you’re not a real fan of…” – e.g., annoying completists, which if you are an anime fan is troublesome because that also means the expense of importing expensive stuff from Japan.
  • “I don’t like them now everyone else likes them…” – e.g., people who hate anything once it becomes mainstream.

Now we in the anime community have our own group of annoying fans: “weeaboos”, or “weeb” for short. If we go by Wiktionary, their definition of weeaboo is: “A non-Japanese person (especially one of Caucasian ancestry) who is obsessed with Japan and behaves in a stereotypically Japanese manner.” For some people it is considered a useful term, pointing out when certain fans are being infuriating or ignorant, and perhaps should educate themselves more on the subject of Japan and its history. People must be aware that no country is perfect, and must acknowledge what they have done wrong as well as what they have done right. However, for other people the term “weeaboo” is a xenophobic word. To quote one of AUKN’s editors when I was drafting the article: “it tends to be rolled out to trash any fan who doesn’t display a cool dismissal of anime’s Japanese roots in certain communities, discouraging people from learning Japanese or engaging with the wider fan community across the world.”

Recently, I feel that the term “weeaboo” is now being misused, and no longer being used to describe annoying fans like many people do currently. I have seen on social media people calling anime fans “weeaboos” because they happen to like a popular anime. Anime-loving extractor fans are now calling people weeaboos because they like the most popular series around such as One Piece, Naruto and Sword Art Online.

One example I’ve found is a Tumblr post where an anonymous person says: “How can I tell if I’m a weeb?” The person responding says: “Easy. What is the first thing you think when you see this?” Then they post this picture.

luffy-hat

And then adds: “Thought so. Weeb.”

If this is a joke it is a rather pathetic one. What this person seems to be saying is that if you know that this hat is worn by Monkey D. Luffy, the main character in One Piece, that makes you a weeaboo and thus an annoying fan. That hat belongs to the lead character in the single most popular manga series ever made. Loads of people are going to recognise it because it is such a famous show. It is like accusing people of being annoying fans of all things American because they recognise a large stack of blue hair belongs to Marge Simpson, or you are annoying Anglophile because you know who says: “Don’t tell them Pike!” Knowing who wears that hat doesn’t make you a weeaboo – it means you have a basic working knowledge of anime and manga.

Mind you, it should be acknowledged that the snobbery can be reversed. If you are only into mainstream shows and think people who are into niche anime are being pretentious, then you are just as annoying the people who are only into the obscure stuff and shun the popular.

It saddens me to see such a term being misused, but at the same time I know that this sort of thing is inevitable. Language is constantly evolving. Words change and gain new meanings. Take the word “gay”. It used to mean “happy”, then it meant “homosexual”, and now some people use it to mean “rubbish” or “uncool”. Similarly the word “geek” had a very different meaning. A geek was originally a performer at a freak show – normally someone who bit the heads off live chickens.

The problem comes down to how you define something or someone as being geeky, something which again is dealt by Gorman. As he says, if you have seen Star Trek, that doesn’t make you a geek, because Star Trek is such an incredibly popular programme, but, “If you go to Star Trek conventions and speak Klingon”, that makes you a Star Trek geek.

Another term that has problems when defined is “otaku”. In the west, we use it to mean an anime fan, but in Japan the term is used to mean someone who is obsessive, and it doesn’t just refer to anime or manga. You can be an otaku about any subject. The term is also an insult, popularised by Akio Nakamori who is famous for his deeply-critical views on pop culture and people attending conventions. Later Tsutomu Miyazaki, dubbed the “Otaku Murderer” by the Japanese media, who would go on to make the term even more negative. Given this, “otaku” seems less of a synonym for “fan” or “geek”, and closer to our British term “anorak” in its negativity.

In terms of a solid definition, I would recommend this piece from Tofugu, dealing with the term’s origins, controversy and meaning. Here, they claim that otaku focus on the following:

  • Sharing information.
  • Possessing their passion – examining it in every detail.
  • Going further by creating their own works: costumes, fiction, art, etc.

The article also differentiates between an “otaku” and a “maniac”. The latter are “spectators in their obsession” and want to collect things, whereas the former, an otaku, combines both the physical and the intangible. They want the action-figure and to learn more about the series in question. They want the homemade, derivative products too. As a result, I would say a “maniac” is closer in definition to “anorak” than “otaku” is. After all, you don’t tend to hear about train-spotters making their own creative projects. The only example I can think of is the co-creator of the British adult comic book Viz Chris Donald who collects full-size train stations, one of which he turned into the world’s most geographically remote restaurant.

Having examined all these terms, I think it is possible to try to define and rank fandom terms more accurately. Thus I present…

The Wolf Scale of Fandom

wolf-scale

On this scale – which let’s be honest I have named after myself mainly as a way of inflating my own ego – the higher your rank, the more obsessed you are with your subject and normally the more weird you appear to be to those outside the fandom. As this is brand new, it won’t be perfect, so I would encourage debate to improve the scale in any way possible.

I would also argue that the following scale can by used on any form of fandom. This is not just applied to subjects normally considered geeky like comic books or anime, but anything. A sports fan who has an obsessive knowledge of their favourite team is just as passionate as someone who is into sci-fi. You can be an otaku about western comics as much as an otaku on manga.

-1 or 0 Hater or Disinterested

People in this rank either dislike or have no interest in the subject in question. Thus, there is little to say about this rank.

1 – Fan

The entry level. This, going back to Gorman, includes people who have watched a particular show and like it, but don’t feel the need to go beyond any level of deeper devotion. For example, the Star Trek fan Gorman refers to in his programme. No-one generally thinks of fans as being weird.

2 – Geek

This is where things start to get interesting. How do we define a geek? There are many ways, but having started this feature by talking about one comedy show, I would like to reference another one. My preferred definition of geek is taken from this sketch from BBC Radio 4’s John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme.

Thus the central elements of being a geek should be:

  1. You should, “know loads and loads and loads about it”.
  2. You should be, “a bit weird about it.”
  3. You can’t like it all.

Going by this definition, a “geek” is mostly concerned with knowledge. A geek should we willing to put the hours into their subject, to the point those outside the fandom think that you becoming a bit too obsessed. However, this is not proper obsession yet. You also need to have your own opinions. If you just like everything in your fandom then you have not been looking hard enough. I know there are certain anime and manga that I don’t like. To give one example, Cardfight!! Vanguard, which in my view is way too commercial in comparison to Yu-Gi-Oh!, which at least began as a manga before the trading card game version took off.

However, it is easy in your hatred to stray into extractor fan/weeaboo territory. You need to have a valid reason for hating something, and if you become involved in an argument with some you should not resort to any form of snobbery. We need civilised debate. People are not going to get anywhere if people suddenly accuse you of being a weeaboo because you happen to favour dubs over subs. In fact, I suspect that if you call someone else a weeaboo, then it is you yourself that are the weeaboo.

3 – Nerd

Here we start to see more practical applications being used. If the “geek” ranking is mainly concerned with knowledge, it is the “nerd” that starts putting that knowledge to some kind of use.

Think of the classic computer nerd. Here they have taken their knowledge of computers and use it to improve the design and functionality of the next generation of computers, gadgets and so on. To use an analogy, the nerds are like the people who work backstage on a film, TV show or play. They are the people who make the stars look good, getting the action caught on camera, perfecting the lighting and sound and so on.

The end result is a product that people want. At the same time, they tend to shun the limelight. They are too busy working on the next big thing to concern themselves with other projects. This therefore makes them weirder than geeks in my opinion, because a nerd will probably be too busy working to go out and have a normal social life. They would either be too busy making something or learning something new.

This is also what separates the nerds from otaku. Otaku spend their time sharing information. The nerd is alone, busy working on their projects. They are misers of knowledge, reluctant to share what they know if others unless it is worth their while. Think a nerd will share what they know if you for free? Bah humbug! Give them an incentive like a job in which they might earn money from their nerdiness and then they may progress.

4 – Anorak

If the thing that moves you up to “nerd” is the practicality, then the thing that moves you up to “anorak” is the weirdness.

For those living outside the UK, an “anorak” is normally defined as someone who obsessed with their hobbies and often being boring to those not part of their fandom. The term is most associated with train-spotters, wearing unfashionable waterproof anoraks while indulging their passion.

The key thing that moves you from “nerd” to “anorak” is you yourself moving. If the nerdy Scrooge is trapped inside with all of his knowledge, then the anorak is the newly reformed Scrooge who is willing to be friendlier after his spiritual visitation. The anorak moves away from their work and takes it elsewhere, making it public, often to the derision of passers-by. If the train-spotter is proud to wear their anorak and be humiliated, then the cosplayer should be proud of their outfit as they walk down the street, as well as the sports fan who’s painted their body in their team’s colours when going to an away-game.

In fact, not only should the reaction be one of weirdness, but possibly one of hostility. If you know that you are angering people then that probably means you are doing something right. The anorak should expect to be insulted. They should walk towards the gunfire, but they should also be ready to fight back. They know how to ignore the haters, or even better are able to come up with a way of fighting back.

5 – Otaku

As mentioned before when talking about Tofugu’s article, an “anorak” is close to a “maniac”. To reach “otaku” they not only must be collecting information, but also to be making their own stuff.

The otaku takes their passion, and with their expert knowledge change it into something they want, and then they share it with others. They share their ideas, art, stories and more. The otaku becomes a figurehead of the community, respected by others around. Not necessarily liked, as an otaku can be a divisive figure and it is only right that geeks may not like said otaku, but a figure that people know about and at least have an opinion on.

6 – Otaking

otaku-no-video-1

This last rank is purely hypothetical as there is currently no otaking.

This term comes from the anime Otaku no Video. For those who haven’t seen it, the central character, Kubo Takeshi, becomes an otaku and his obsessions take over his life. He eventually becomes annoyed by people’s prejudices towards otaku and thus decides to overturn them by becoming the greatest otaku of all, the “otaking”, which he does by setting up a garage kit business which slowly becomes a multi-million yen company. His ultimate plan is to set up an otaku-themed amusement park where otaku all around the world can indulge in their passions without fear, and thus slowly make everyone in the whole world otaku.

While this anime may be a flattering portrayal of otaku, it is mixed with a live-action mock documentary called Portrait of an Otaku which shows otaku in a negative light, and thus production company Gainax got criticism from the otaku community when it was released in the early 1990s.

The “otaking” (if you prefer “otaqueen” or some other gender neutral term, I’m not fussy) is thus a lone position. There can only be one. The otaking must be able to turn the public to their side and join them. In effect, the otaking is a world dictator, with the masses all joining in with that otaking’s passion, whether it be manga, sci-fi, sport or whatever.

Thus, the person who is closest to the rank of otaking is the one with the largest following of any sort. Therefore, in terms of who is the closest to becoming the otaking at the moment, to once again reference Dave Gorman from an earlier episode of Modern Life is Goodish: “I’m gonna go… with the Pope.” The Catholic Church currently has 1.27 billion members, so currently Pope Francis probably has the largest loyal following. You could also argue that the president of China, currently Xi Jinping is even closer as the country has a population of 1.33 billion, but membership of the Communist Party of China is just shy of 89 million, so it is probably safe to assume his following is less committed. You might even consider the General-Secretary of the United Nations for the role as so many countries are members of the UN, but again there is the question of actual support for the person in the role, which at the time of writing is currently in transition.

This then raises the question of where I would consider myself in the ranking. Obviously I’m being subjective, but I personally think than when it comes to anime and manga I’m somewhere between “anorak” and “otaku”. There are certain bits of knowledge I am still lacking in, such as not speaking Japanese. I’ve never even visited Japan at the time of writing. However, I believe my writing does help count towards the area of making my own works. I certainly suspect I will become more humiliated and hated when this article goes out.

To conclude, I would like to thank all the writers who I have used as sources and in particular Dave Gorman, who just for clarification is not a geek – well, he admits he could be a geek geek, but hopefully you know what I mean.

Dave Gorman: Modern Life is Goodish is on the TV channel Dave, and airs at 22.00 on Tuesday nights. The previous three series can be watched in the UK on UKTV Play.

John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme is available to download or by on CD. The first five series are available now, with a sixth series to begin on 27th December. Episodes are often repeated on BBC Radio 4 and 4 Extra.

Otaku no Video is available on a region free DVD and Blu-Ray from US distributor AnimEigo.