Otakon 2012 Interview with Nonaka Ai

Introduction: This is my interview with Japanese voice actor Nonaka Ai, who was a guest at Otakon 2012. Nonaka is known for roles such as Kafuka in Sayonora Zetsubou Sensei and Fuuko in Clannad.

Nonaka: [in English] Pleased to meet you. My name is Ai Nonaka.

OM: You played a character in Saki: Episode of Side A. What did you think of the role, and have you played any mahjong yourself?

Nonaka: [in English] I never played mahjong.

OM: Personally speaking, I know you best as Fuura Kafuka from Sayonora Zetsubou Sensei, but you also play Ichijou in Pani Poni Dash, and those are both interesting, quirky, and even bizarre characters. How is it playing those roles, and how is it working with SHAFT in general?

Nonaka: So, I may act very strange roles, and though they are all quirky and weird, they all have a policy in the way that they act so I want to respect the policy that the character has and do the character to the best of my extent.

OM: Another quirky character is Ibuki Fuuko from Clannad, who you first played in a game and returned to a few years later. Returning to that role, what lessons had you learned in those years between playing the same role again?

Nonaka: I didn’t feel that much of a time lag when the game came out and when I started recording for the anime, so there wasn’t really that time in between.

So the first season of the anime had the same story as the game, but then the second season of the anime was illustrating a world where Fuuko was already gone and the child was already born. So, it was a very strange sort of experience for me, especially in the anime.

OM: I think that when it comes to voice acting, it seems that there are two traits that are sought after. One is having a unique, distinguishable voice, a voice that people can recognize, and the other is having versatility, the ability to play many different roles and change your voice. Which one do you think you’re stronger at, and how important do you think each individual one is in terms of being a voice actor?

Nonaka: I personally think I’m one with a unique voice, and the real strength of having a unique is having people remember you by that really unique voice, so I think I’m really benefitting from that unique voice. Although I have a unique voice, because I can’t change my voice too much I can’t do things like two roles in one anime.

OM: Do you have any favorite actors to work with, or actors you’d like to work with?

Nonaka: Although she’s not a voice actor, Kuze Seika. She used to be part of the Takaraza Kagekidan [Revue].

[in English] Do you know?

OM: I know.

Nonaka: Aahh!!

OM: Putting aside voice questions, what are your hobbies and what do you do when you’re not working?

Nonaka: [in English] I like… run!

So, I’m going to run at the Kobe Marathon after i get back.

OM: How long is it?

Nonaka: Since it’s a full marathon, it will be the full 42.195 kilometers.

OM: Is this your first marathon?

Nonaka: It’s my first full marathon. I’ve done other marathons in the past.

OM: Are you doing any sort of training or diet preparation for the marathon?

Nonaka: [in English] I run three a week.

OM: Three times a week?

Nonaka: [in English] Three TIMES! a week.

OM: Do you change your food? Because I know for instance that a lot of marathon runners will eat a lot of pasta or grains.

Nonaka: Keeping slim is my diet. Lighter is better.

OM: Do you have any favorite foods?

Nonaka: [in English] My favorite food is osushi!

OM: What’s your favorite sushi?

Nonaka: Egg, fatty tuna, and nattou-maki.

OM: Wow!

Nonaka: Have you eaten nattou before?

OM: I actually like nattou a lot.

Nonaka: [in Japanese] REALLY?!

OM: I lived in Japan briefly. Nattou-maki is something I can’t get anywhere else so I miss it a lot.

Nonaka: Ehh?! Wasn’t it a bit odorous?

OM: I realized that I like fermented foods, like nattou and stinky tofu.

Nonaka: [laughs]

OM: One last question. Going back to the role of Kafuka in Zetsubou Sensei, is there anything you really keep in mind while playing the role?

Nonaka: I try to make it positive. A bit off, and maybe crazy-sounding, but positive to that extent.

OM: Thank you very much!

Nonaka: [in English] You’re welcome!

Budget Heroes

As fans of anime and perhaps animation in general, it’s pretty easy to spot when something is well-animated or poorly animated. While a little trickier, it’s also certainly possible to notice good visual direction in a show. What’s more difficult is being able to notice when a show’s funding has been used intelligently, or when the creators have had to make due with limited resources. The men and women responsible for such arcane trickery are Budget Heroes, and I think they’re deserving of at least some praise.

I have to say, I’m not that good at spotting the handiwork of a Budget Hero. However, I can think of a few instances.

Evangelion is sometimes ridiculed for having poor budget usage, resulting in clip show and recap episodes. Evangelion also frequently uses still images over extended periods of time. Some might call it lazy, but I would say that the way Gainax pulled it off gave these scenes a sense that the stillness was more than appropriate. There are elevator scenes, where characters will be standing on opposite ends, not moving, not saying a word to another, as the hum of the elevator resonates. It’s one frame and some noise, but it goes a long way in showing just how awkward that silence is. Then there’s the 60+ scene of EVA-01 holding Kaworu in his hand. Again, a still image, and yes they could have shown Shinji in the cockpit panicking and hyperventilating but they didn’t. I wouldn’t call it a purely artistic choice, but it’s at the very least intelligent use of limited resources.

A more recent example is SHAFT’s Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. The show frequently experiments with unusual forms of animation, such as paper cut-outs, puppets, and clay, and sometimes it’s clearly to cut corners in animation. The show even pokes fun at itself for doing this, choosing not to hide behind the idea that it was artistic intention. Still, it’s really well done and I think it reinforces the overall off-kilter look and feel of the show.

This is not to knock the hard work of talented animators who have the benefit of funding to really pull off some incredible scenes. Talent is talent after all. And in the end, without doing any serious research into animators and studios, it’s difficult to discern who truly is a budget hero. For all we know, Musashi Gundoh had a budget of 100 yen and a pack of coupons and the animators were miracle workers. But I just wanted to remind myself and others that often times things simply do not go as planned and that animation isn’t cheap to produce, even at the comparatively lower amounts that Japan is used to.

The Fujoshi Files 6: Fujiyoshi Harumi

Name: Fujiyoshi, Harumi (藤吉晴美)
Relationship Status:
Origin: Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei

Fujiyoshi Harumi is a second-year (11th grade) high school student and the only fujoshi in her class at a school whose company-sponsored name changes every week. Although she is comfortable enough with her fujocity that the other students are aware of her hobby, Fujiyoshi is still somewhat afraid of showing others her yaoi doujinshi manuscripts. Fujiyoshi is a talented artist and regular participant at Comic Market, and her doujinshi range from Gundam SEED to Pretty Cure.

Fujiyoshi often has problems distinguishing conventional thinking from her own personal opinions, even among fujoshi. Fujiyoshi will also often draw very unconventional pairings, though she is also a fan of more popular pairings and even a few male-female ones. Unlike many fujoshi, Fujiyoshi is surprisingly athletic.

Fujiyoshi’s name is a pun on the word “fujoshi” itself. Harumi is the name of a former location of Comic Market.

Fujoshi Level:
While Fujiyoshi’s talent at sports may seemingly contradict her status as a fujoshi, it is actually the best indication of that status. Fujiyoshi’s athleticism is the result of pushing herself past her own limits while enduring Comic Market and other doujin events for long hours. This makeshift exercise, powered by her desire for yaoi doujinshi, improves her physical stamina, strength, and speed, making her able to do even more at future events. Her devotion to doujinshi has resulted in Harumi being fujoshi in both mind and body.

Zetsubou Sensei Makes Ogiue Reference

In Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, the titular Zetsubou Sensei is in despair over various “strays” being chased out.

Let’s take a closer look.

And based on the fact that Zetsubou Sensei has made references to Genshiken in the past, I can only say that this is definitely the case.

Pastel Explosion: 70s Shoujo Anime Backgrounds

Having watched just the first episode of the classic anime Ace o Nerae!, my love affair with 70s-era classic shoujo has been rekindled. Not that it really died down in the first place.

However, this isn’t really about the content of the story but rather just the visuals, and not even in regards to the characters. Shoujo anime of that era, including Ace o Nerae!, have incredibly gorgeous backgrounds and just artwork in general, though they suffer quite a bit in the animation department. I think it’s a fair trade-off though, as the action and fluidity of animation or lack thereof are minor losses when we get shots this incredible.

Repeating the flower pattern seen in her night gown into the plaid background unifies the entire image.

This image almost borders on abstraction, but not in the confusing way. I love this style.

Particularly strong use of color here, as the building and trees blend together.

And I can’t say enough about this background. It looks like it was created with water colors, and it works far better than any approach I’ve seen for indicating melodramatic shock.

Shows like Zetsubou-sensei kind of have a similar effect as far as modern shows go, and Nana and Honey and Clover for example also have excellent cinematography, but they simply lack the rough yet gentle edge of classic shoujo.

Zetsubou Sensei Uses Cute Girls as a Buffer for Experimentation

Purely experimental shows would not fly with the anime-viewing audience, so where Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei succeeds is that it has a strong cast of characters to enchant and charm the audience into compliance.

One might say that Kafuka and friends comprise a Trojan Horse.



True Understanding of the Unity of Everything that Exists: Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei

In a previous post about Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, I explained that I considered the characters to be basically concentrated versions of existing character types, not unlike boiling a stew until all that’s left is a thick muck.  It’s a crazy wonderful show.

After two episodes, I have to say that Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is basically boiling down the entire first series until it becomes a thick gravy of pure entertainment.  Plot, characters, humor, and metahumor all exist as a singularity from which none can gain a true separate identity from the others.

It’s like injecting anime right into your eyes.

Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei: Zetsubou of Socks are Really Itchy

So with season 2 having just begun airing in Japan, it’s about as good a time as any to review Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei.

Simply put, this is a good series.

Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is the story of a harshly pessimistic and cynical teacher, the titular “Mr. Despair,” Itoshiki Nozomu, and his student, Fuura Kafuka, who can put a genuine positive spin on anything. Their interactions with each other, the other students in the school, and their environment at large are approached in multiple layers of dangerously effective meta-humor, like getting a heart attack from Azuma Kazuma’s ultimate croissant.

Akiyuki Shinbo, the director of SZS, has a very distinct directing style which is evident in pretty much everything he does. You will find in Zetsubou Sensei a keen awareness of the anime as an anime, as an image projected from a television screen (or some other type of monitor). This applies not only to the strong use of flat colors as well as the placement of objects within each scene, but also to the characters and personalities. The characters could easily be thought of as gimmicks: Optimist, pessimist, anal-retentive, cell phone, fujoshi, hikikomori, on and on and on. I, however, believe it is better to think of them as character traits in their purest forms. Watching a character in Zetsubou Sensei is like chewing the coffee beans right in your mouth.

For me, the example that stands out most is the anal-retentive Kitsu Chiri’s perfectly symmetrical hair. It is a representative of her desire for symmetry in everything, and when shown on screen close-up, Kitsu’s hair becomes negative space and the split turns into a vivid shape on a flat plane. The split hair is quite literally symbolic.

Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is a show I feel I can appreciate on a very artistic level, but it also satisfies my simple desire to watch an entertaining show. I look forward to Season 2.

By the way, if I had to choose: Kafuka, Kitsu, and Fujiyoshi in that order.

Mutual Cameos