Otakon 2019 Interview: Inoue Kikuko

This interview was conducted at Otakon 2019. I had the opportunity to sit down with voice actor Inoue Kikuko for an extended period, so this is a longer interview than usual. Inoue is known for many roles, such as Belldandy in Oh My Goddess! and Aina Sahalin in Gundam: 08th MS Team.

Ogiue Maniax: Hello, Inoue-san, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I have many questions, as you have an illustrious career, and I’m looking forward to this interview.

Inoue: I’m pleased to hear that! Thank you!

Ogiue Maniax: First, I’d like to ask you about one of your most recent roles, as Tachibana Mayumi, the mother character in Mix. What is it like working on the series and how familiar were you with Adachi Mitsuru’s manga prior to working on the show?

Inoue: With regards to the manga artist Adachi Mitsuru, you could almost make his work a genre—the Adachi Mitsuru genre of manga. They’re very close to my heart, and I don’t think it’s just me who thinks so. Most of the Japanese people I know who read manga might feel the same as me. I believe that in a way, you can say it’s almost nationwide, his manga. So when I got the role for Tachibana Mayumi in Mix, I was very happy that I was able to become the mother of the main characters.

This is because I believe that Adachi Mitsuru manga are very unique—very docile, very gentle. This is something we are seeing less and less of these days, with the very fast-paced and exciting styles of anime these days, but Adachi Mitsuru has a style that’s more slow-paced and gentle, but very deep in thought. So I believe these are distinct and very unique values too that are very important in this day and age, and I am very happy to take part in such a great work.

Ogiue Maniax: My next question is about the character Aina Sahalin in Gundam 08th MS Team. It was a series that ended up with two directors due to the unfortunate passing of Director Kanda. How would you compare working with Director Iida to working with Director Kanda on 08th MS Team?


Inoue: With regards to Aina, back when I got the role for her, I was a relatively new voice actor, and I believed that Gundam was far beyond what I was able to do back then. I was auditioning for many things but not all auditions would go great, and Gundam was a very big franchise even back then, so being able to get the role of Aina was a special moment for me.

The director Kanda-san wasn’t someone I was able to talk to often, as I was a very new voice actor at the time, and I couldn’t really muster up the courage to go and talk to him as much as I would have liked to. In that sense, I regret not being able to get the courage back then because when Kanda-san passed away, I had very sad thoughts because I wasn’t able to talk to him anymore.

When Iida-san took over the project, I believe that the 08th MS Team story had been passed on in terms of the theme still being there, and I do believe we—Kanda-san, Iida-san, and I—were all on the same page in terms of saying that in war, you have these things happen. There’s an anti-war message in there, and in that sense, I believe we were all on the same page, and Iida-san took on the torch after Kanda-san very nicely.

Ogiue Maniax: You’re generally known for playing very gentle and kind characters, but one character you’re also known for is I-No in the Guilty Gear series is famously extremely rude and aggressive. What do you focus on differently when playing a character like I-No, as opposed to your other more famous roles?

Inoue: In terms of characters I’ve played, I-No is a very unique character because she’s very foul-mouthed, one might say. So when I got the lines for I-No in the studio, I was actually going, “I can’t say this out loud! But I’m a voice actor, so I have to overcome this, right?” So I went in there and shouted horrible things, and I didn’t know how to feel. But now, when I look back, I really feel that I grew as a voice actor then, and now I love the character very much.

At first, I felt kind of bad for saying her lines, and I didn’t really comfortable saying them, but after a while it actually became pleasurable.

Ogiue Maniax: More recently, you’ve been playing characters who are not just motherly and kind but literally mothers. I noticed that, often-times, even though they’re small parts, they are quite memorable, and people remember your characters even though they appear for only one or two characters. Two examples I can think of are Ban Kenji’s mom in Heartcatch Precure and Nishikino Maki’s mom in Love Live! How do you enjoy these roles, and do you bring your own ever bring your own experiences as a mother to your performance?

Inoue: When I was still a new voice actor, the very first role I ever got as a regular role was as a mother character. That was when I was in my 20s, when I wasn’t a mother, but I still got a mother character. And after that, another mother character. And after that, another mother character. All of these characters I had were mothers, so I actually thought, “What is it like to be a mother?” I referred to my mother, as she’s the kindest person I know of, and I actually think she’s the kindest mother in this world, so I would channel her into myself and make myself act like her. But after becoming a mother, I noticed that I was taking these roles very naturally, and I didn’t have to refer back to my mother on all these literal mother roles. It might have become second nature

Ogiue Maniax: Your daughter, Inoue Honoka, is also in voice acting. Has there been any advice you gave her about working in the industry?

Inoue: At first, when Honoka said she wanted to become a voice actor, I actually felt a bit uneasy because in this day and age, when the market has very talented people at such young ages, and it’s a very difficult place to succeed in. But I found out that she’s very studious and really wanted to become a voice actor, so I looked at her scripts, and at home, we would practice together. I’m not sure if this would count as advice, but what I said to her was, “When you speak, you’re not speaking with your mouth—you’re speaking with your heart. All these lines that you say, they’re from your heart, and your mouth is only where they come out. It’s really from the heart, so don’t let the mouth get to you.”

Ogiue Maniax: There’s a character you play in Fate/Grand Order named Scheherazade who has a growing friendship with a character named Nitocris. What do you think of that relationship, especially through the summer event?

Inoue: At first, I thought Scheherazade was very docile and didn’t have her emotions show on the surface, so I was very happy when these lines hinting at their friendship came up. Scheherazade felt lonely at first, so having a friend who comes up in her lines makes me feel happy for her now.

Ogiue Maniax: Another role that I think a lot of people remember you for is Kazami Mizuho in Please Teacher! How did you feel playing the role, and somewhat related, what was it like in your brief appearance in the anime Waiting in the Summer?

Inoue: As I referred to earlier, at the time of Please Teacher!, many of my roles were mother or big sister-type roles, and I still kept getting those roles. But Mizuho was a character who was a proper heroine in the sense of being a main female character. At the time, I was much older than when I first started out, so I thought I might not get the role, that it might be impossible for me. But when I auditioned, I got the role, so as a voice actor, getting the role of Mizuho was very significant. I actually thought that, after I had played Mizuho, I felt I had lived a good life, and that I didn’t have any regrets from then on.

In regards to my appearance in Waiting in the Summer, let’s just say that I can’t comment too much about the voice due to difficult reasons, so let’s just keep that a secret.

Ogiue Maniax: I’ve actually read that you voiced the character Princess Vespa in the Japanese dub of the American movie Spaceballs. It’s kind of a cult favorite in the US—did you know what it was before you played the part, and do you know how the movie was received in Japan?

Inoue: I actually had no idea that it had such a cult following in the US! It was such a long time ago, so I can’t remember what it felt back then, but I’m sure that one of the things I was thinking was, “Wow, what a movie! Are you even allowed to do this?” That’s one thing I’m certain I felt.

Ogiue Maniax: Going back to the fighting game genre, you played a character named Lily McGuire in the Fatal Fury OVAs and movie. What was it like working on that series, and what was it like acting opposite Terry Bogard’s voice actor, Nishikiori Kazukiyo, especially because he appears to have more experience in live-action than voice acting?

Inoue: Fatal Fury was a very memorable franchise because the director was Obari [Masami]-san, who was relatively young back then. When I think about directors, I always imagine someone relatively older than me, but he was very young, and it was a very fun project too. So I kind of thought that it was interesting how someone this young could have such an interesting project going.

As for Kazukiyo-san, is he from Johnny’s?

Ogiue Maniax: Yes.

Inoue: Oh, right! I couldn’t really talk to Kazukiyo-san much, so I can’t comment too much on him. Sorry about that!

Ogiue Maniax: This is my last question, to follow up on the previous one. Do you have any interesting stories about working with Obari-san on Fatal Fury?

Inoue: As I said earlier, for the question about 08th MS Team, back then, voice actors didn’t really talk too much with the directors directly. There was a big wall of people between the director and voice actors. We couldn’t talk too much to many of the directors, but Obari-san was actually a bit different. He was very friendly, and we were able to talk to him very openly. In that sense, he was a very kind character.

These days, I don’t work as often as I did back then, but being in the industry, being around a similar age when we were doing Fatal Fury, and having matured in the same time in the same industry, I feel proud every time I see his name in the credits of an anime. I am very pleased to have worked with him back then.

Ogiue Maniax: Thank you!

 

 

Gattai Girls 5: Juusou Kikou Dancouga Nova and Hidaka Aoi

Introduction: “Gattai Girls” is a series of posts dedicated to looking at giant robot anime featuring prominent female characters due to their relative rarity within that genre.

Here, “prominent” is primarily defined by two traits. First, the female character has to be either a main character (as opposed to a sidekick or support character), or she has to be in a role which distinguishes her. Second, the female character has to actually pilot a giant robot, preferrably the main giant robot of the series she’s in.

For example, Aim for the Top! would qualify because of Noriko (main character, pilots the most important mecha of her show), while Vision of Escaflowne would not, because Hitomi does not engage in any combat despite being a main character, nor would Full Metal Panic! because the most prominent robot pilot, Melissa Mao, is not prominent enough.


Juusou Kikou Dancouga Nova, the 2007 sequel to the 1980s anime series Choujuu Jishin Dancouga, can be considered in some ways the epitome of an “average” anime. A more accurate description, however, would be that it’s a show that is overall somehow fun and satisfying despite not living up to a lot of the ideas it presents, which is evident in not only its narrative but also its sense of characterization.

The basic premise of the anime is that four unrelated people in Japanese society are summoned to pilot the mighty super robot Dancouga Nova, which intervenes in battlefields around the world in order to aid the losing side. However, rather than simply aiding the weak, this mission of Dancouga Nova’s is quite literal, as it will defend a military force one day and attack it the next, depending on that force’s relative strength in any given scenario. It’s an interesting idea to be sure, and Dancouga Nova even takes some steps to explore its consequences (a journalist character actively questions whether or not Dancouga Nova’s actions are merely creating stalemates that perpetuate war, for instance), but given the obvious question of what this will all possibly lead to, the series responds by more or less dropping the issue like a hot potato and shouting, “aliens!!!” Then they fight the aliens and it’s fairly exciting, but it leaves one wondering where the rest of the story went. As an aside, for some reason I find this less disappointing than how Gundam 00 transitioned between similar plot points despite being a stronger work overall.

Given these issues, it would be reasonable to expect the show’s treatment of its characters to be equally inconsistent. This is indeed the case to a fair extent, as the members of the Dancouga Nova team are all defined by sets of traits that seem destined to lead jokes about their personalities that fall pretty flat, (though they don’t come across as unbearable). Dancouga Nova gunner Tachibana Kurara for instance does the Golgo-13-esque “Never approach me from behind” thing, but the fact that she says it every time the situation calls for it turns it from an interesting character trait to a catch phrase that wears out its welcome (like most of the quips in the series). Main character and team leader Hidaka Aoi has the fewest of these qualities, which makes her lead position more enjoyable than if anyone else had as much of a spotlight.

However, whatever weakness in plot and characterization that exists in the show, it’s worth nothing that its portrayal of the female pilots is for the most part neither putting them on a pedestal above men nor subordinating them to supportive roles. A number of series that focus on groups of female characters both inside and outside of the mecha genre have a tendency to be about how beautiful and wonderful the girls are, a setup which has its place, but here the team of four is divided between two men and two women, all of whom contribute in battle evenly.

(It’s also interesting that all of the pilots are adults, rather than teenagers).

An additional female character is added later, but is shown to be just as effective as the others (and for a while is even their rival). Aoi herself is more or less a solid if underdeveloped character in terms of her portrayal, and while one possible criticism might be that she lacks agency in that she’s thrown right into the thick of things with little say in the matter, that’s more a problem for all of the characters in the show regardless of gender. In fact, the only point of “inequality” might be that the female characters (Kurara is a narcotics officer, Aoi is a professional racer and model) are more glamorous than the guys’ (salaryman and hobo). However, beyond this, neither male or female characters are rendered useless, and even the sole situation that might be considered a “damsel-in-distress” situation is more a matter of a female character staying to fight knowing that she’s at a clear disadvantage due to a number of factors wholly unrelated to her gender.

This is not to say that this series is aiming for a strong sense of feminism. On some level, all of the girls in Dancouga Nova are clearly supposed to be attractive feminine ideals, albeit in different ways. Fanservice, or more broadly the overt sexualization of its female characters, is certainly present in the series in quite a noticeable way. However, while creatively positioned camera angles and bouncing breasts appear throughout the anime, at the same time they are also not so prominent that fanservice becomes raison d’être for Dancouga Nova unlike a number of other similar series. For the most part, the anime keeps the “cheesecake” separate from the fighting, so battles do not consistent of prominent T&A shots while the female characters are being tossed around in their cockpits. Some revealing shots do occur in the action scenes, but they’re usually brief and fairly mild, and instead the summoning of weapons and the destruction of enemy mecha comes across as powerful and mostly gender-neutral.

When it comes to Aoi in particular, I do find it notable that while she is a fairly hot-blooded type as befits a super robot protagonist, she still comes across as relatively subdued as far as passionate yelling pilots are concerned, especially when compared to the hero of the original Dancouga, Fujiwara Shinbou. In contrast, there is a similar character in Dancouga Nova, Kamon Sakuya (the homeless one), but his attempts at playing the role of the 70s super robot hero are, like Kouji from Godannar, mostly a source of comic relief. A part of me wonders if this is making some kind of statement, that the old school nekketsu inevitably makes way for a newer type to fit modern times. I must admit that my impression of Dancouga comes mainly from its appearance in Super Robot Wars and just a little bit of the actual show, but even from this partial view Dancouga is famous for its passionate yelling and a dynamic visual style that makes even standing still an exciting assault of flashing lights and colors and crazy exaggerated proportions courtesy of Obari Masami (animator on Dancouga, director of Dancouga Nova).  Perhaps in light of this, the look of Dancouga Nova is not as exaggerated either. I would have chalked this up to “digital animation,” except Choujuushin Gravion, also directed by Obari, proves otherwise.

Dancouga Nova is a simple show that presents a female mecha lead who, while not exactly at the forefront of feminism, is strong, confident, narratively significant, and passionate enough that it’s easy to wonder why more characters aren’t like Aoi. It’s not so much that she’s a shining example of a great protagonist, but rather that she (or a character like her) should be the base line of what is minimally required for a heroine in this type of show. Aoi can be a bit simplistic, but in that way that defines a generation of male heroes in giant robot anime. Of course, as Dancouga Nova shows, being able to portray a female character well doesn’t necessarily mean a show itself is going to be amazing or that it won’t have its fair share of problems, but all the same Dancouga Nova is made better for having a lead like Aoi.