Yuri!!! On ICE might’ve been one of the best things about 2016. I know that’s is a low bar, but roll with me. It engaged viewers inside and outside anime fandom alike, it offered one of the most positive portrayals of a queer relationship I’ve ever seen in anime, and – most importantly – it’s offered me a chance to talk about Sayo Yamamoto, a director whose works have until now struggled to gain attention despite their high quality.
While Mitsurou Kubo has gotten a completely earned bevvy of praise for her hard work writing the story for Yuri!!! on ICE (thanks in no small part, I would suspect, to her availability on social media), any familiarity with Yamamoto’s past works makes it clear that this is very much a joint effort. While many anime directors might not have the same recognizable stamp on their work as the western conception of a (usually film, usually auteur) director, there are exceptions. And Yamomoto, now with three full series under her belt, is proving herself to be as easy to spot as Kon, Watanabe, or Ikuhara.
For those unaware, Sayo Yamamoto has been working in anime for almost 20 years now, getting her first job doing storyboards on the anime adaptation of CLAMP’s X (2001). She got her first big creative break working as an episode director on Samurai Champloo (2004), where she flourished under the mentorship of director Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop). The impact of that experience shows in her work.