In alphabetical order, here are our judges:
Alejandro can be found on Twitter.
D L runs the Tumblr, "So You Want to Watch Figure Skating" (which I use constantly for rule clarifications and streaming options!) and can be found on Twitter.
Joanna is on Tumblr.
Justine is busy coaching and writing about skating. You can also find her on Twitter.
LET'S GET JUDGING. When you're finished reading, leave a comment to let us know what you thought about Japanese Nationals, how you think the real judges did, and how you think our judges did. If you disagree, sign up to judge an event later in the year and share your thoughts!
Judging Japanese Nationals
Alejandro: Only ladies and men's.
D L: Everything that was uploaded online (which unfortunately wasn't much). All the top skaters in every discipline, at least.
Joanna: I saw the ladies on live stream, Pairs LPs and Dance FDs, and by far not as much of the men as I wanted to.
Justine: Yuzu's SP in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve, and then the top 7 or so SP and FS of the Ladies and Men a few days later and both the Pairs and Dance champions.
Who had the best performance of the event?
Alejandro: She is not my favourite skater, but Rika Hongo had an amazing short program. She clearly has improved her interpretation skills and I can feel the hand of Akiko Suzuki on this program. I just wish she could improve those spins and get a better posture.
Alejandro: Takahito Mura. He improved a lot since his Grand Prix events were bad. He finally got the rotation on the quad toe and that gave him confidence to come to nationals and give two good performance that gave him the bronze medal.
Alejandro: Kanako Murakami's short program. She is so gorgeous and I always feel that she is so underscored due to under rotation. What I like about her is, despite the score she gets, she is always smiling. She is a joy to watch.
Alejandro: Satoko's short program. I don't feel that that program deserves more than 70 points. Jumps don't deserve high GOE and I don't find the program very exciting. And she needs to fix the edge on her flip. If I was her I would change the flip for a loop in the short program, she just loses 0.2 points (I think) and she avoids the edge problem.
D L: The overscoring wasn't too egregious this time. Considering it's a national championship, the judges were relatively restrained with their scores for most skaters (especially compared to some other nationals). I would have given Wakaba Higuchi and Shoma Uno somewhat lower PCS, though.
Alejandro: Yuna Aoki's short program. The program is so delicate and I love she went for the difficult combination 3Lz-3Lo even though it was called downgraded.
Joanna: Yuna Aoki, especially her SP. I just have a soft spot for her, she's lovely and has a gentle, expressive style that is nice to watch, with good flow over the ice and a cuddly, heart-warming smile and personality. Given her less than stellar JGP skates and her mistakes here and at Junior nationals, it was clear she'd have no shot at the Junior Worlds team, but she has all the potential for next year. Also, she goes for a 3-3Lo combination, and while that is a recipe for potential disaster and little reward, I just like 3-3Lo combos so much more than 3-3T's!
Justine: I guess I had to watch more than the Top 7 to answer this one....Kaori Sakamoto and Koshiro Shimada had the cleanest FS protocols AND placed 5 and 8 spots higher in the FS. I haven't seen them skate but I'm guessing they were pretty good.
What surprised you most about this event?
Alejandro: That Mao Asada wasn't treated as the queen that she is. She deserved the best PCS by far and Satoko had more in the SP and almost the same in the FS.
D L: None of the results were particularly surprising for me; in a field as deep as Japanese Nationals, pretty much anything could've happened. (Though I was definitely surprised when Shoma decided to replace the last combination in his free skate with another quad attempt, and not in a good way. Nearly gave me a heart attack.)
Joanna: Keiji Tanaka and Takahito Mura doing so well. I wish I could say I was surprised about Kozuka and his struggles, but that's depressingly expected at this point. Also I'm still trying to tell myself Daisuke Murakami just wasn't at nationals at all, because I was sure he'd manage to skate up to potential this time. And now his season is already over.
Justine: Yuzu is human and can still make mistakes!?! What?!?! A little shocking but we knew it was coming. I'm just glad it happened here and not in Boston. Also, the high level of skating from the Japanese ladies! I had heard there was great depth in ladies skating in Japan but hadn't paid too much attention before now. There were 21 attempted 3-3 in the SP alone and only 7 weren't clean! That's insane! When are these little babies going to start taking down the Russian babies?? I can't wait!
Preparing for Euros and Worlds
Alejandro: I think they were fair. I don't know if Wakaba is old enough to go to 4CC and Worlds but I think she is not ready yet to go with the older girls.
D L: I wish Kanako could have been on the 4CC team, but I can understand why the JSF chose the team they did; Satoko has a good shot at winning 4CC, and Mao and Rika can use that competition to improve their world ranking/get more experience before Worlds. I'm happy that Takahito and Keiji get to go to 4CC, and the World team was just as I expected.
Joanna: The world team is what it should be, and what it was clear to be even before nationals, if we're honest. I'm a little surprised the same ladies team is also going to 4CC, and I would have loved to see Kanako Murakami there, but I guess it makes sense for all of them to go. Shoma could have afforded to take a rest though; after GPF he really doesn't need to fight for reputation or ranking points, and it could have given Daisuke Murakami a chance to not have his season end so early. But he obviously deserves to go, if that's what he wants.
Justine: No surprises for the Worlds team. Biggest shock is that Japan only has two men's spots. Mura can only blame himself for not making the team this year. I'm a little surprised Shoma and Satoko are going to 4CC, though an international win there might be a good confidence boost heading to Boston. Though I would have liked to see Kanako and Daisuke get another event. Poor Daisuke Murakami. He makes it to the GPF, but can't make it out of Nationals.
Which skater/couple is going to have the most success at Worlds/4CCs?
Alejandro: I think that it's pretty obvious that Hanyu is going to win Worlds, so apart from him, I think that Shoma has a good chance to win 4CC and medal at Worlds.
D L: I have every confidence that Satoko will continue to deliver strong performances at 4CC and Worlds. Whether she wins/medals depends on how other skaters do (...and the judges...), but she is absolutely on fire this season and won't make it easy for anyone. I'm also betting on Yuzuru Hanyu to win his second World title in Boston, but who knows? It's his to lose.
Joanna: Potentially all the singles skaters, really. Even if Yuzuru "came back to earth" here, he's still the favorite for worlds. All he needs is some more rest, and he's sure fired up mentally again after being so dissatisfied with his performances here. Shoma could solidify his spot in the worlds top 5 or even be a podium spoiler again; he has all the potential and is one of the most consistent skaters. It's a little harder for the ladies, since there is fierce Russian competition and the American ladies seem to be getting a little score boost for home town worlds. But Satoko seems to see her scores rise due to consistency, and Mao is always going to score huge if she's back to good form.
Justine: Obviously Yuzu's going to repeat his GPF performances in Boston, break a couple more world records and win his second world title.
Which skater/couple is going to have the least success at Worlds/4CCs?
Alejandro: I think that Mura is not going to have a good performance at 4CC; he usually only delivers at nationals.
D L: It's not even fair to pick the pairs or dance teams for this, right? Mao is having a pretty rough comeback season and I don't have high expectations for her at 4CC or Worlds. Seems like she's had a hard time getting her head back in the game and I would not be surprised if she continues to struggle at the rest of her competitions or finishes lowest out of the Japanese ladies. But hopefully she will be able to gradually improve.
Joanna: Least success? Me at whatever I'll be doing at that time, because I'm more emotionally invested in Team Japan than some mothers in their kids on creepy TV contest shows, and I'll be sitting there watching skating in the middle of the night with a stuffed animal to squeeze into bits and a dozen cups of coffee which I actually find pretty revolting. On a serious note, obviously the Pairs and Dance teams aren't up to the international standard, but they're not going in with the highest expectations. I'm blissfully naively expecting all the ladies and men to be fine.
Justine: I don't really want to wish bad luck on anyone....but I just don't see Mao's comeback season having a successful finish.
Will the country gain/lose a spot in any disciplines at the World Championships?
Alejandro: We need that 3rd spot in men!!! Pleaseee!! I think Shoma and Yuzuru won't have any problem to get that 3rd spot and make next nationals more bearable.
D L: I think the men will gain back their 3 World spots, and the ladies will keep their 3 spots.
Joanna: Yuzuru and Shoma will very, very likely get that 3rd men's spot back. It's hard to imagine Yuzuru off the podium and Shoma out of the top 10. Despite having 2 spots instead of 3, like the American men, Yuzuru + Shoma are easily the strongest men's team any nation has this season. The strongest, and the most adorable one. Which is kinda fun and strange. Look at these fierce and athletically strong young men, being absolute frontrunners in this sport...and how they also happen to look like Christopher Robin and Bambi.
Justine: I would be shocked if Japan left Worlds with only 2 Men's spots again. I'm all for a repeat of the GPF podium! Yuzu! Javi! Shoma!
And, just for fun...
Alejandro: I like Shoma's SP. It suits the program and is quite appropriate.
D L: Mao Asada's FS costume, Kanako Murakami's FS costume (disregarding the too-dark illusion mesh, the dress itself is great).
Alejandro: Actually, there isn't any costume that I don't like, but if I have to chose the one I like the less is Yuzuru's FS. The little parts in purple are very distracting for me.
D L: Impossible to pick just one; the list of costumes I didn't like is far too long.
Joanna: I'm probably alone with this, but I really miss half-plucked smurf chicken Mura in the LP. It's not as if the costume was good now, you know? You could as well have stayed with "so bad, it's funny." Now it's just between bad and boring.
Justine: Since Mura got a better FS costume I have to go with Yuzu's Lettuce look. I love Requiem as an Exhibition program but the costume is just so bad in so many ways. Next might be Kanako's SP. I love her but I'm just not loving the all black look.
Alejandro: Once again Hanyu, this time with the SP. IMHO this is the better program Hanyu has skated, I just loved that every movement is related to the music.
Joanna: Yuzuru Hanyu with his Seimei LP. I was so in love with this from the first moment I heard the music, and I love it even more now. It's difficult music to skate to and completely new in the figure skating world, but it's just perfect for Yuzuru. Sadly, I think the music doesn't come across as well on TV as it does live, where you can hear so many details and nuances, and the rhythmic drums and flute are creating a very magical atmosphere. It's very intense. And so is Yuzuru, who owns this music and has turned it into a perfect signature piece for him. Even on days when not everything goes his way.
Justine: Well I have Seimei stuck in my head on a daily basis, so it must be that. I'm sure this has nothing to do with how many times I've watched that program in the past few months. Though seriously, I don't think Yuzu will ever find better music than he did for this season. Stellar music selections. Runners up are Satoko's SP, Mao's SP, Shoma's SP, Mura's FS and Yuzu's SP.
Who had the worst music selection at this event?
Alejandro: I'm going to chose Mao's SP, simply because it doesn't suit her and she can do better. I think she should go back to last year's SP which was awesome and was her style.
D L: Shoma's techno harmonicas SP...is what I should say, but somehow he makes it work in the program. Kanako's "Tango de Roxanne" music cut is also a hot mess, but I don't dislike the song.
Joanna: For a very different reason than the music itself being bad: Takahito in the LP. That is just SO Akiko's music, I have a hard time focusing on him. And it doesn't look like the best fit for him either.
Justine: Shoma's FS to Nessum Dorma just hasn't grown on me yet. It's too heavy and the vocals just make it worse. Shoma, skate to something that makes me want to love you more!
Which pair/dance team had the best chemistry? The worst chemistry?
D L: We're talking about Japanese pairs/ice dance here...joking, actually I enjoyed Mori/Suzuki's "Grease" free dance, it was fun and they were interacting with each other. Muramoto/Reed are also coming along nicely. As for worst chemistry...all of the pairs, with Suto/Boudreau-Audet being the least disconnected. But these teams are all very new, and with more time together they may improve.
To close it up...
Alejandro: Hanyu adds the quad loop into his repertoire and breaks the world record one more time.
D L: Yuzuru Hanyu will land the quad loop in his free skate at Worlds.
Joanna: Yuzuru will actually go for his 4Lo at worlds and land that thing in his first try (and I will get my first gray hairs out of worry before waking the neighborhood with my screams of joy). He'll get his world crown back with strong skates and still have something he's dissatisfied with to say "I need to practice more!" (the last part is the opposite of bold, haha). Shoma will skate very well too and win hearts everywhere, only be continuously teased by Yuzuru on any occasion and surprised by any camera and people in general.
Justine: We'll see the first 4L in competition. Fearlessly Determined Yuzuru will land 4 quads in his FS in Boston, break some world records and win his second world title! (I hope he doesn't add another quad, but at this point I wouldn't be surprised.) Consistent Little Miss Satoko will repeat as World Silver Medalist (I don't think anyone's topping Evgenia this season). The Japanese Ladies and Men will win a medal a medal at each 4CC, Jr Worlds and Worlds - and two in half of them.
Anything else to add about this event?
DL: I'm happy to see more entries in ice dance and pairs; with Japan's wealth of singles skaters, it would be great if they could further develop their other disciplines.
Joanna: Do something about your Pairs and Dance situation, JSF. Also, Mao, Yuzu, Shoma and pretty much everybody else: get some rest. There is something called sleep and relaxing; you could really try it sometime. And the best part were the giant trophies the winners got...it was probably bigger than Satoko!
Justine: I love Japan! I think I'm going to be following Japanese skating a little closer now.
I think these top skaters really need a rest. The Men especially had some struggles here. After 3 events in 5 weeks Yuzu needs a break. Shoma, Satoko and Mao aren't far behind.
I can't wait to wave my Japanese flag in Boston!