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.