[Anime NYC 2019] Kugimiya Rie Press Q and A: Highlights and Thoughts

Japanese voice actor Kugimiya Rie, known for roles such as Alphonse Elric (Full Metal Alchemist) and Aisaka Taiga (Toradora!), was a featured guest at Anime NYC 2019. I had the opportunity to submit questions to her, a couple of which were accepted and then made part of a group interview of sorts.

Because the format was different from a typical convention guest interview, this post is going to be less about transcribing the exact words and more about summarizing and exploring some of the more interesting answers.

The first question of mine approved was how do you think you’ve improved over the years as a voice actor?

Kugimiya responded that when she first started out, she only landed little kid parts due to her high voice. As she’s gotten older, however, she has started to play other character types such as boys, teens, older teens, and even some adult women. So in terms of improvement, the expansion of her range is the biggest one. Later, she expressed that she’d like to do more sexy female roles.

Later still, she answered the question of what role has had the greatest influence on you?. She talked about Alphonse making her known around the world over, and went into how she landed that role in the first place. Essentially, she had voiced her very first boy character for the anime Twelve Kingdoms, and FMA director Mizushima Seiji asked her to play Al based on that performance. It was a big turning point for her career, growing her repertoire.

I found this interesting because her FMA counterpart, Park Romi, expressed a similar sentiment at a press conference at Otakon 2015 concerning her lead role as Loran Cehack in Turn A Gundam. Someday, I’d like to see an interview with both together, perhaps just discussing the craft of voicing male characters.

The second question I was able to ask was how does playing animal roles differ from playing human roles?

In that regard, Kugimiya expressed two main points. First, she takes into account the size of the animal. Often, they have different head to body ratios as well as smaller hearts, as well as voices that are higher than human kids’. Second, these animals and mascots are usually partners, buddies, or companions with a closer bond to the main character than even other human characters.

I originally phrased this to include examples such as Chocotan (a talking dachshund from the manga of the same name), but it was sadly omitted during the Q&A. Still, if you actually listen to Chocotan, you can hear just how high Kugimiya plays to play a dog that small.

 

There were also a few questions about the industry. First, what are the most important skills in being a voice actor? Kugimiya answered that people skills are big, because even if you’re an amazing actor, if you’re a difficult person then no one will want to keep working with you. She didn’t name names or mention if this is based on any personal experience. Second, what advice would you give to aspiring voice actors? Kugimiya’s response: “purity of emotions.”

Elaborating on the second answer, she said that many people tend to put filters up, but voice actors should be able to bring in and keep the emotions they feel (both positive and negative) so that they can be expressed in a pure manner. I found this answer enlightening because it hints at one of the challenges of being an actor or voice actor—that you have to be willing to go places emotionally that may not be considered “okay” by society.

Third, how has the industry changed since you started? In past interviews, other voice actors (especially much older ones) have talked about the rise of voice acting schools and the transformation of voice acting from something one does with theatre experience to a specific craft. Kugimiya, perhaps due to starting in the 1990s, instead talks about how in her early days, she would be the only new voice actor among a cast of veterans but these days entire productions might only have inexperienced voice actors. When she was younger, her senpai would give her advice, but now there will be shows where that isn’t possible, so they have to figure out how to improve without more experienced hands around.

It makes me curious as to why this would be the case. My suspicion is that it either has to do with cost, or it has to do with trying to push a new set of voice actors-as-stars (or maybe even as idols) into the limelight. Maybe it’s also a way to give something to do to these voice actors coming out of schools. There’s also the simple fact that more anime are being produced than ever before, and perhaps these shows just sometimes need the numbers.

The last question, in my opinion generated the most intriguing answers: what challenges do you face when voicing characters in an anime or a video game?

For anime, she talked about the difficulties of voicing minor characters. When playing a main character, it’s expected that they’d have bigger or more prominent reactions because the troubles and events are happening with them at the center. However, for minor characters, they have to approach it differently, and they’re often saddled with long and complex lines—such as when a military officer has to come in and give some technical info.

In regards to games, Kugimiya detailed the difficulty in working for social/mobile games. Sometimes there are only one or two drawings and a couple of lines for reference. As a result, she sometimes uses things like what colors are in the image to try and get a better idea of the character. It reminds me of older topics on anime character trends, such as Ito Go’s distinction of character vs. kyara, i.e. the degree to which a given character can be excised from their story and still maintain their identity. It reminds me a lot of listening to the early clips of the Love Live! Sunshine!! characters when they just didn’t have much more than a basic backstory to go on, versus seeing them with some CD dramas and an anime to work off of instead. Most of the time, the whole kyara thing is thought of in regards to how consumers might approach a given work, but the fact that voice actors also have to grapple with it when trying to bring a role to life is something I hadn’t thought about previously. It’s also something that would make a great topic for a future essay.

That’s all for this press Q&A summary! If you like this pseudo-annotated format with comments from me, let me know, and I’ll think about doing more of this in the future.

Here’s to the Next Decade: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for December 2019

It’s the last month of 2019, and that has me feeling all sorts of things. As I look at how much has happened in my life since 2010 (mostly positive) and where the world has gone (a mixed bag, to say the least), it makes me want to keep contributing however I can to making the world a more fruitful place for discussion. This means encouraging dialogue and debate when it is in good faith, but also keeping an eye out for when goals or motivations are less than charitable.

While it’s a bit of a cliche to say that December is a season of giving, I hope that at least some of that holiday spirit is made real—not because it’s “supposed” to be that way, but because want to make it so.

Speaking of giving, I’m grateful for the generosity of my Patreon and ko-fi sponsors, not only those named below and those who remain anonymous, but anyone who has ever thought Ogiue Maniax was worth a few dollars here and there.

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Highlights from November:

[Anime NYC 2019] Tomino’s Movie Magic: Gundam Reconguista in G Part 1

My review of the first G-Reco compilation movie. Stay tuned for more Anime NYC 2019 coverage in the next week or two!

Splatoon Lore is Best Lore

Why I think the approach to the world-building of Splatoon is so great.

Twelve Blogdoms: Ogiue Maniax 12th Anniversary

It’s been twelve years of this sucker, and I hope to keep the engine roaring.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 22 makes me want to cheer on one of the new characters. I hope to see more of Mai!

Patreon-Sponsored

Spider-Asuka and Her Amazing Friends: Aikatsu on Parade! Halloween

It’s long past October, but it doesn’t mean we can’t keep talking about Halloween (as long as it’s anime-related)!

Closing

December is going to be full of reflective posts and ones trying to look into the future. I hope to see you all in the years to come.

 

Make Some Noise: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 22

It’s the conclusion of the Hashimoto two-group chorus competition in Hashikko Ensemble Chapter 22: Me o Sorasanai (Don’t Look Away).

Summary

The Chorus Appreciation Society is up in the mini-competition being held at their school. To counter Tsuyama and company’s Spitz song meant to win Mimi-sensei over, they sing one of their own: “Sora mo Toberu hazu.” Despite Akira having performed for the opposing team, he also joins in here, like an impromptu double-agent.

Despite their impressive performance, all the guys cheer in favor of the other team—because a rumor spread that if Tsuyama’s crew wins, they’d get to touch Mimi-sensei’s breasts, and the winner is determined by decibel level. Hashimoto’s girls try to start a counter-cheer despite being heavily outnumbered, seemingly in vain. However, thanks to Science, the girls (and thus the Chorus Appreciation Society) win out.

Look Into My Eyes

While hearing the performance, Takano-sensei mentions that while there are four singers on stage, it sounds like there are only two. In a flashback, it’s shown that Jin had Akira and Orihara sing while looking directly at each other, making sure they didn’t avert their gazes. This is supposed to help you learn about the other person as a singer, and for you to be “showered” by their voice. To me, it feels like something that would be deeply intimate and personal, almost like looking at someone naked

The Science of Noise

As explained by one of the teachers as well as Jin, humans have a limit to which frequencies they can hear. “A-weighting” is a measuring of low-level frequencies, which is commonly where environmental noise resides, and A-weighting is used in music to achieve a sense of loudness to the human ear. Humans have a hard time hearing low-frequency sounds, as well as high-frequency sounds. It’s something students working in construction have to account for. The most easily heard range is 2–4 khz, the sound of a baby crying or a woman yelling. So while the guys sounded louder to the human ear, the girls managed to be even louder without seeming so.

Oh Shion

Shion is a certain kind of dumb that leans more towards naivete. In this chapter, she tries to come out in a bikini (similar to how Hasegawa is in her school swimsuit), only to get snatched away by a teacher and forced to change. It’s like she does and doesn’t realize what that would do to a school of mostly boys. There’s just a lot about her character that cracks me up every month, and Kio’s never really written a girl like her. She lacks a certain level of common sense, which I find highly relatable.

Shion plays piano for the Chorus Appreciation Society, and multiple characters point out how good she is. Takano-sensei thinks that Shion might be even better than her, while Kanon wonders why she’s even at a technical school in the first place. In a way, it’s fortunate that Shion had that personal crisis about what to do with her life, and that she ended up at Hashimoto. There’s something wonderful about someone trying to overcome their own weaknesses.

The Girl with the Deep Voice

Though not super prominent, Kurotaki Mai is emphasized a fair amount. She first appeared last chapter as the one who called over Hasegawa when Akira looked like he was going to get beat up by Tsuyama.

In multiple instances, Mai is the last face on a spread, or at least close to it, and there’s a kind of mini-arc over the course of the chapter. We already know that Mai, like Akira, is sensitive about her voice. Earlier, she’s shown being captivated by the performance. Later, when the girls are trying to out-shout the boys, she doesn’t immediately join in due to her complex. However, she seems to find that bit of courage, and begins to yell as well.

It feels like she’s going to become an important character—maybe a path for the girls to start forming their own singing group. There’s also the vague sense of some kind of love web with Akira, Shion, Himari, and Mai, but I can’t tell if the manga is headed that way.

Songs

Same as last time, the two mentioned are Spitz’s “Cherry” and “Sora mo Toberu hazu.” I should note that in previous chapters, I had translated it to “You’ve Gotta Be Able to Fly,” but the lyrics featured in this chapter clearly show it should be “We.” A literal translation would be “We Should Be Able to Fly in the Sky Too” but I’m trying to figure out a way to make it sound less unwieldy.

Final Thoughts

Takano-sensei seems to have encouraged Tsuyama and friends for this little competition as a way of getting them to accomplish something. It makes me remember that while they’re not the major part of this manga, Hashikko Ensemble is also a story about teachers and their students.

 

 

Spider-Asuka and Her Amazing Friends: Aikatsu on Parade! Halloween

Though a little out of season, I’m going to be fulfilling a Patreon request and continuing the All Hallow’s Eve-themed anime posts from September. Here’s a look at Aikatsu on Parade! episode 5, “Lucky Halloween.”

Kiseki Raki and friends are in the original Aikatsu! universe, where they enter an idol costume contest that naturally includes singing and dancing. Highlights are both the show and the characters giving Akari some props, and Mirai Asuka’s off-brand Spider-Man costume.

I’m not deeply connected with Aikatsu! fandom, but I somehow get the sense that Akari isn’t considered as memorable as other protagonists. In a sense, she’s like the Pretty Cure Splash Star of Aikatsu!, with the unenviable task of following the influential original. In this episode, all the characters express a kind of wonder and amazement at her, and there’s the feeling that she’s made a lot of progress relative to where she began—perhaps more than any other heroine.

As for Asuka, given her love of Halloween it makes perfect sense to make her a big part of the episode. Her impish attitude is a perfect fit, though she doesn’t seem as keen on trying to prank people here. Her choice of costume is undoubtedly memorable, and it makes clear that Spider-Man is now considered recognizable in Japan. Yes, there’s the old live-action Toei series with the giant robot and all that, but I suspect this is more because of the Marvel cinematic universe. The not-quite-the-same finger-point web-slinging is a nice touch.

I hadn’t thought about it before, but this is the first Aikatsu! Halloween with a costume contest. Pretty much every other one has been about tricks or games, so having another variation on how to celebrate the Holidays is interesting. As for Raki’s costume, which is basically a giant composite lucky charm, it’s very on-brand for her. I feel like a joke could be made where Raki turns into a luck-obsessed lunatic with a mindset similar to Gudako from Fate/Grand Order. Knowing Aikatsu!, it could actually happen.

There’s one glaring omission in this episode: it takes place in the original series but there’s no Yurika in sight. The vampire goth is pretty much synonymous with Halloween, so I wonder if they’re saving her for Halloween 2020. After all, it’s not unusual for an Aikatsu! anime to run for two years.

And who knows? Maybe we’ll see an off-brand Thanos next year.

This post is sponsored by Johnny Trovato through Patreon. If you’d like to request a topic, consider becoming a patron!

[Anime NYC 2019] Tomino’s Movie Magic: Gundam Reconguista in G Part 1

At Anime NYC 2019, I attended the screening of Gundam Reconguista in G Part I: Go! Core Fighter, the first of five planned compilation films based on 2014’s Gundam: Reconguista in G TV series. It was one of the events I was looking forward to most at the convention, and not only because legendary Gundam director Tomino Yoshiyuki was there.

I am a staunch defender of G-Reco because I believe that in spite of its flaws, it has a strong anti-war message which surpasses even the original Gundam‘s in certain respects. Its setting, in an era after the original Gundam timeline, shows what war is like when the cataclysmic devastation of the past is all but forgotten, for better or worse. But I acknowledge that G-Reco did not exactly take the world by storm, as it could be a confusing series, and Tomino’s  “throw you in the deep end” style of no-context dialogue did it no favors.

Thus, I came into the screening with the hope—albeit a tentative one—that these new movies could clean up the rough edges of the series enough to get its ideas and themes across effectively to a wider audience. After all, for every Mobile Suit Gundam trilogy, which is in many ways superior to its source material, there’s a Mobile Suit Z Gundam: A New Translation, which feels sloppily put together. However, I immediately noticed that the film is much clearer and easier to follow, allaying my fears.

There are two simple but major choices that make this first G-Reco film less convoluted. First is the decision to condense the series into films in the first place. Second is the heavier use of internal monologue to make character motivations more obvious.

Many of the scenes and plot points relevant to one another in the TV series could be episodes apart, and by the time something came up again, it was easy to forget what information had been communicated already. But in the movie version, everything is more tightly packed together such that ideas and threads are fresher in the memory. It’s easier to see how various aspects of the world-building fit together, and what potential they hold as the story unfolds.

In regards to characters’ inner minds, the TV series suffered from what seemed like constantly inconsistent actions from characters. They’d switch sides, kill those close to them seemingly without much regret, and just be generally difficult to follow or comprehend. The hero, Bellri Zenam, was especially obtuse. Now, however, there are multiple new scenes of characters expressing either through thought (and sometimes even voice) just how they’re feeling and how it’s affecting their decisions. While the film is still characteristically Tomino and can be full of puzzling dialogue, having it be undergirded by these inner monologues helps to prevent the characters from coming off as sociopaths.

The biggest surprise to me is how much better I understood the character of Noredo Nug, Bellri’s friend and possible love interest. Noredo believes in Bellri’s goodness even more than the man himself does, and she’s willing to defend him in this regard even when he won’t do it himself.

Before the screening began, Tomino said that everyone who came for a Gundam movie will be disappointed because this isn’t Gundam. It seems like a tongue in cheek comment, but I think he really meant it in a way. The message he’s trying to convey through G-Reco is trying to target a new audience that isn’t entrenched in the existing Gundam cultural juggernaut—most likely, that’s what stuff like Gundam UC is for.

Because I’ve seen the TV series, it was impossible for me to go in with fresh eyes Still, I strongly feel that this first G-Reco film is a much more refined work, and while it can still be a challenge to follow at times, it is a major step up. I also just recently rewatched Gundam F-91, and that movie just falls apart a third of the way through, whereas Go! Core Fighter was enjoyable and thought-provoking throughout. Provided nothing goes horribly awry with the sequels, I believe that the Mobile Suit Gundam Reconguista in G films will be the definitive version.

 

Twelve Blogdoms: Ogiue Maniax 12th Anniversary

It’s with joy and a healthy dose of disbelief that I celebrate today as the 12th anniversary of Ogiue Maniax. Nothing says it to me more than the fact that a part of me wonders, “Should I still be writing these yearly commemorative posts? I’ve done so many already!” But in the end, I am nevertheless compelled to keep these going, if only because they’re worthwhile markers on where the blog has come and gone over the past year and more.

This being 2019 and all, probably the thing that sticks out most to me is how there’s another decade of anime to reminisce about. I wrote a couple of posts all the way back in 2009, titled 2000-2009 Part 1: Looking Back and 2000-2009 Part 2: Looking Forward, where I gave my thoughts on the trends I saw coming and going into the next 10 years of anime and manga. There is a clear record of many (but of course not all) of my thoughts and feelings about what has transpired since, yet I still feel rather intimidated by doing a proper follow-up.

There’s the fact that the amount of anime coming out per year has continued to skyrocket, and that I do a terrible job of keeping my review archives updated. I’m also older, and the years start to blur together. Those aren’t the only factors, however. I want to again take all that I know and try to give the 2010s their due at the same time I try to predict the future of the 2020s, yet in a way I feel like I know less than ever. Certainly, there was the bravado of being a young and impetuous otaku in 2009 eager to get his thoughts out into the world, but I’m having to also contend with a realization that I’m increasingly falling out of the core demographics of generally popular anime and manga. That doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy them, and I think it’s silly for someone to believe themselves “too old or mature” for kids’ shows, but my age shows more than ever.

I remain somewhat optimistic that I’ll be able to see this through and produce something worth writing about in approximately a month’s time. Also, in a way, I’ve forced myself to be on notice by writing my 12th anniversary post to be about this topic. Will I be a Nostradame? Let’s see.

Next year, Ogiue Maniax is going to hit its teens, and what a time that will be.

Splatoon Lore is Best Lore

Thanks to the recent Haikalive Kyoto Mix concert for Splatoon, I’ve had kids and squids on the mind lately. As I listen to music from Squid Sisters and Off the Hook while reading fan wiki entries about the Splatoon world, I find myself appreciating its lore more and more. It’s just robust enough to foster imagination but the games and their story are not beholden to it in any major way.

One of my favorite examples of Splatoon lore details is Marina, the DJ from Off the Hook, and what we learn about her music in the Octo Expansion. First, why is she a DJ? The likely answer is because she’s an Octarian. As a member of the ostensibly antagonistic species of Splatoon, her upbringing is both implied and outright stated to be different from the squids. Not only is the Octarian leader a DJ whose music plays throughout their territory, but Marina herself was an engineering prodigy from a young age.

In the backstory to Splatoon, it’s shown that octopuses are more technologically advanced than the squids. The reason why they lost the war is simply due to happenstance—someone accidentally unplugged their greatest weapons. Marina comes from the environment, where she helped develop weapons. Pearl even mentions that Marina is responsible for the Shifty Station stages during Splatfests, all of which utilize Octarian technology. So not only is the most prominent musician of Marina’s culture a DJ, but the technical know-how of turntables, synthesizers, and the like would come easily to her.

Furthermore, when you talk to Marie from the Squid Sisters in singleplayer mode, she mentions that she doesn’t understand how Marina makes music just by spinning some plastic plates—one of many indicators that squids are generally not tech-savvy. There’s even a moment during Haikalive Kyoto Mix where Marie looks at Marina scratching vinyl with confusion and amazement. The very idea of being a DJ seems foreign to squids by default, to the extent that the only other known DJ besides Octavio and Marina is a fellow octopus in Dedf1sh.

What ultimately made Marina defect from the Octarians is hearing the Squid Sisters’ “Calimari Inkantation.” Whether the song actually has magical properties or if it’s a Macross-style culture shock, Marina expresses the feeling that this new music changed her life and her direction.

In one of the chatroom logs in the Octo Expansion, Pearl and Marina share their song demos from before they made it big. Marina’s is an early rendition of “Ebb and Flow,” the song that plays during Shifty Station matches. It’s recognizable even in early form, but there are aspects of this version that hint at Marina’s Octarian origins—especially the jingle that plays when you beat a stage in singleplayer. In other words, “Ebb and Flow” likely began as an attempt by Marina to make something similar to the Squid Sisters while also working from her own cultural background, a fusion of squid and octopus styles.

Marina occupies a space where two cultures, squid and octopus, intermingle. Her role as this immigrant of sorts who expresses her history and her desired future comes across in little moments and details. It’s in the dialogue, it’s in the music, and it’s in the little gaps where imagination dwells. It’s that approach which makes Splatoon lore so fascinating, but just light enough a touch that it doesn’t obscure the other great aspects about the game.