Precure: The Crossroads of Voice Acting

Fifteen years is a long time for an anime to continue running strong, and Precure still stands at the apex of the magical girl genre in terms of prominence and notoriety. In that decade and a half, numerous voice actors have lent their performances to Precure, and it’s made this franchise into one in which seiyuu of all stripes, from anime veterans to relative newbies, intersect. To be involved with Precure can become a defining role, or an affirmation of an illustrious career.

In the original Futari wa Pretty Cure, Cure Black was played by Honna Youko, who at the time had more experience playing small roles in live-action series. While the few voice performances under her belt at the time were big deals—starring roles in Studio Ghibli films Omohide Poroporo and Whisper of the Heart—she wasn’t an anime industry juggernaut. Opposite Honna in the role of Cure White was Yukana, who was coming into her own as a fan-favorite due to roles such as Li Meiling in Cardcaptor Sakura and Teletha Testarossa in Full Metal Panic! Since then, Honna has earned some major roles in anime, notably Sumeragi Li Noriega in Gundam 00, but the bulk of her career is in voice-overs and narrations for television. Yukana, meanwhile, has become an anime industry veteran.

Mizusawa Fumie, voice of Cure Marine

Another voice actress who had a career-defining performance in Precure is Mizusawa Fumie, voice of Cure Marine. Prior to Precure, she was relatively unknown, playing roles mostly in small and relatively obscure anime. Now, she’s beloved by both children and adults for her energetic performance in Precure, and is considered a highlight of every crossover movie she appears in. In contrast, Mizusawa’s counterparts—Nana Mizuki (Cure Blossom), Kuwashima Houko (Cure Sunshine), and Hisakawa Aya (Cure Moonlight—were in 2009 already known for numerous characters in extremely popular series. These include Naruto (Nana as Hyuuga Hinata), Azumanga Daioh (Kuwashima as Kagura), and Sailor Moon (Hisakawa as Sailor Mercury).

The list of veterans goes on. Sawashiro Miyuki (Mine Fujiko in the more recent Lupin III works) became Cure Scarlet. Kugimiya Rie, the tsundere queen, came to Precure as Cure Ace. Tamura Yukari (the Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha to Nana Mizuki’s Fate Testarossa) is Cure Amour. Koshimizu Ami, who originally began her career as Nadja Applefield from the 2003 Toei anime Ashita no Nadja, became Cure Melody. In each case, there’s a sense that they’ve “arrived in Precure” at long last.

One unique case is Miyamoto Kanako, who began her Precure career as a theme song vocalist across multiple series. In time, she landed the role of Cure Sword before going back to performing more themes. Other Precure singers have made cameo appearances, but only Miyamoto has made it as a Cure.

Various levels of acting experience existing in a production is hardly unusual, anime or otherwise. However, what Precure has is sheer longevity and the constant reboots to bring in new blood. It’s been around for so long that girls who grew up with Precure are now old enough to audition for it. To that point, according to the original producer of the franchise, Washio Takashi, 2017’s Kira Kira Precure a la Mode was the first time that girls who grew up watching the series became the voices behind the Precures themselves. Precure is in a unique position to push younger talent while also celebrating the efforts of voice acting’s Titans, and it should continue to do so for as long as it’s around.

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Otakon 2017 Interview: Furukawa Toshio & Kakinuma Shino

At Otakon 2017, I sat down with a husband-wife duo who are also two veteran voice actors of the anime industry. Furukawa Toshio is probably best known for playing Piccolo in Dragon Ball Z, while Kakinuma Shino was Naru in Sailor Moon (Molly to dub fans!).

I did not have enough time to ask any Piccolo questions, but if you love giant robots it’ll be worth your while.

Mr. Furukawa, Ms. Kakinuma, thank you for this interview.

My first question is to Mr. Furukawa. You played the role of Kenta in Mirai Robo Daltanias, so you had experiencing working with Nagahama Tadao. What was it like working with him? 

Furukawa: I actually worked with Mr. Nagahama before Daltanias, on The Rose of Versailles. But the time of Daltanias was during the super robot era, with the iconic huge robots in Japanese culture. He brought me in saying, “You know, we have a role for a prince for you. He’s a really good-looking character. Why don’t you come in?” So that’s how I came on the boat.

He was a very gentle person, and as a director he never stopped smiling. He was a very kind figure.

I’d also like to ask you about a different, maybe very different, director: Tomino Yoshiyuki. What was it like working with him as Kai Shiden in Mobile Suit Gundam?

Furukawa: Mr. Tomino is on the opposite spectrum, I’d like to say. He is relatively the stricter type. He’d give long lectures when we were young and starting off with First Gundam. He was known as the scary kind of director.

My next question is directed to Ms. Kakinuma. When it comes to anime based on manga, oftentimes anime-original stories are considered to be not as important or significant. But the romance between Naru and Nephrite is considered a fan favorite. What was it like voicing Naru for that story?

Kakinuma: When we were voicing for Sailor Moon, unlike some of the works now where there’s a manga established, we were doing it at the same time that the manga was going on. Some of the people who worked on the anime didn’t even know that romance doesn’t happen in the manga. So when we voiced it, we were doing it as if it were canon.

You’ve both been in the voice acting industry in Japan for a long time. How do you feel it’s changed over the course of your careers?

Furukawa: When I began, “voice actors” not really a thing. We were a subgenre of the bigger category of actors, where there were actors, stage actors, etc., and voice actors were part of the mix. During that time, we were not well recognized. If you look now, though, you have voice actors appearing on TV. I’ve even appeared on TV myself. I’d like to say that we’ve gained a kind of citizenship. We’re now more recognized.

Kakinuma: Recording has changed from when I began until now. For example, when I first started, we were voicing things that were on film, projected. When a part was over, we would have to reel in the film to record again if we needed to. Now, you don’t have that “reeling in the film” time; you can just click and go back to your previous scene. It saves a lot of time.

It’s normal now to see a kind of timeline on the bottom of the screen showing where you are in that span. By going to that, you don’t need a sense of timing anymore. But back then, since there were no timelines whatsoever, we needed a kind of specialized skillset.

Furukawa: TV equipment also changed. For example, nowadays we have multidirectional digital surround sound, which gives you the ability to hear all around you from all sorts of different channels. But back then, we didn’t have any of that, so we expected everyone to hear from the two speakers. Everyone speaking at the same time would be the same as mixing everything together. Now, if you did that, you might not get the same experience, so you need to split the channels in recording. So technology has advanced, but this has gotten us to take additional time in the recording process.

My last question is about Muteki Robo Daiohja, another giant robot series. What was it like working on it compared to Daltanias?

The biggest difference is that, while they’re both in the era of prolific super robots and space and everything, Daiohja is kind of a parody. Although they’re both similar—I got to play a prince in both anime—the biggest difference is that Prince Mito’s name derives from Mito Koumon, the very famous Japanese period drama about a prince taking out all the evils in his era. Daiohja had a lot of these elements. The characters Skad and Karcus came from Suke-san and Kaku-san from Mito Koumon. Everything about it was pretty much a parody of Mito Komon, so that’s the biggest difference I felt.

Thank you again for the interview. I look forward to your continued successes in your careers.

Does the Japanese “Vegeta” Voice Not Translate to English?

Amidst the announcement of Dragon Ball FighterZ, a Guilty Gear-esque 3-on-3 fighting game based on the popular Dragon Ball franchise, one of the old debates between fans has cropped up: do you play with the Japanese voices or the English ones? Frequently, choices have to do with familiarity (what did you grow up on?), as well as the divisiveness of Nozawa Masako’s performance, which some fans see as not fitting for Son Goku’s masculine appearance.

Because of this, I began diving into old sub vs. dub threads, and to my surprise I found that quite a few people were also not big fans of Horikawa Ryo as Vegeta. On the occasions that commenters preferred Christopher Sabat’s Vegeta, it frequently had to do with Sabat making Vegeta sound more gruff and “badass.”

English and Japanese Vegeta have a lot in common. They’re both extremely arrogant and prideful, and even their caring sides will be expressed through anger. However, I find that each of them brings a different feel as well. If both of their performances could be likened to boulders (big and powerful), then Sabat’s Vegeta would be rough and jagged, while Horikawa’s would be smoothed and polished.

I’m beginning to wonder if the Horikawa-style Vegeta is somehow “lost in translation,” as if the effect doesn’t come across properly. The reason I’m considering this at all is that I also see other cases of similar characters coming across differently in English performances.

One example is Meta Knight in Smash Bros., who sounds more like a noble knight in Japanese but has a deep baritone in English. (In the dub of Kirby: Right Back at Ya!, they went for an odd Spanish accent, but that’s more a directing choice than anything else.) Would the effect Horikawa has as Vegeta work better if a voice akin to English Smash Meta Knight’s was used?

Another example is Kaiba Seto in Yu-Gi-Oh! In Japanese, Kaiba’s performance is more curt than anything else, like he has no time to waste on being nice or courteous. In English, Kaiba sounds more actively mocking and malicious. Would the former have not been as memorable? All of these different performances (as well as different scripts) can change people’s impressions to the point that they can almost be viewed as different characters.

I’d like to believe that it’s possible to successfully translate the feel and intent of a character at least for the most part when dubbing a series, but I have to consider whether or not cultural context actually changes how a given voice “sounds” to a person. It’s not uncommon to see dub anime fans complain about all the “high-pitched voices” in Japanese, but fans of Japanese voices might lobby the opposite criticism towards dub actors making high schoolers sound like 40-year-olds. It’s almost impossible to get an “objective” opinion on how a character sounds across different languages, especially because the actors themselves will slowly evolve their performances over time.

If dub Dragon Ball Z was ever able to perfectly adapt Horikawa’s Vegeta to English, would it actually have garnered him a somewhat different fanbase than he possesses now among English-speaking fans? Does the core character of Vegeta transcend voice, or is it a major factor in defining how the character lives?

Ishida Akira’s Amazing Voice Work in Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

yakumo-old

One of the best anime of 2016, Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, has returned for the Winter 2017, and with it some of the finest voice acting in recent anime history. Given that rakugo performers are themselves supposed to be able to take on many roles while telling a story, it requires the seiyuu playing these characters to have a great deal of convincing range. Nowhere is this more evident than in the voice of Ishida Akira, who plays Yuurakutei Yakumo the Eighth.

Ishida Akira has been a major player in anime since the 1990s, with roles such as Xelloss from Slayers and Athrun Zala from Gundam SEED to his name. However, what made me realize the sheer skill Ishida possesses is an audio clip of him performing seven different people, male and female, of all ages. From a young girl to an elderly grandpa, he can do it all. So, when he first appeared in Rakugo Shinjuu as Yakumo, I expected great things—an expectation that was fulfilled in spades. There’s a clear distinction in season 1 between Yakumo’s younger self in the past, and his elderly demeanor in the present.

To my surprise, season 2 turns out to show off Ishida’s chops even better. In this sequel, Yakumo is even older, and Ishida actually goes as far as to modify his performance to further show the passing of time. Often, I find that voice actors will have an “elderly voice,” but will not necessarily make the distinction between someone in his 60s versus someone in his 70s, for example. Ishida, however, does just that. His voice in season 1 had the weight of many years in it, but by season 2 it’s slower, deeper, and just a bit less coherent, as if that weight has finally started dragging his body down.

What’s even more impressive is when he performs privately for Yotarou (a.k.a. the new Sukeroku). Here, despite the strain it puts on him, Yakumo gives an extremely lively rakugo show. Pay attention to Ishida’s acting here, as he’s not just changing his voice to play younger characters as you would expect from any other professional voice actor. Instead, Ishida purposely plays a man in the twilight of his life imitating younger people as he performs. His enunciation is much clearer when he’s “on-stage,” but nevertheless has that characteristic elderly drawl. When he finishes and appears completely exhausted, and his voice reverts to “normal.”

Ishida’s performance is just one aspect of why Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is amazing, but it gives the series as a whole such a powerful presence. It’s great to see the guy in a role where he can really show the full extent of his talent.

New Mewtwo Voice Actor for Super Smash Bros.

Upon hearing Mewtwo in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS & Wii U for the first time, I was convinced that they had brought back the original actor, Ichimura Masachika, from the film Mewtwo Strikes Back. However, it actually turns out to be someone doing an excellent imitation (with the help of a voice filter), and whose acting chops are impressive in their own right. While the new actor Fujiwara Keiji might not have the cred of being an established theater actor like Ichimura is (he’s most famous for playing the titular character in the original Japanese Phantom of the Opera), you might know him for some of the following roles:

Ladd Russo in Baccano!

Nohara Hiroshi in Crayon Shin-chan

Kuzuhara Kinnosuke (Biker Cop) in Durarara!!

Holland Novak in Eureka Seven

Maes Hughes in Full Metal Alchemist (both original and Brotherhood)

Ali-al Saachez in Mobile Suit Gundam 00

Hannes in Attack on Titan

Jake Martinez in Tiger & Bunny

I actually had my suspicions because Mewtwo makes certain sounds in the new Smash Bros. that I don’t recall from Super Smash Bros. Melee, but I chalked it up to my own faulty memory. It’s also a lot more difficult to hear because only the Japanese version has voiced victory quotes. It was the same in Melee, except you could change the language settings there to Japanese, which is how I and a lot of other people learned that Mewtwo had victory quotes in the first place.

Here are videos of the old and new voices for you to compare:

Old (ignore the skins; they’re from a mod)

New

And for fun, here’s a video of Ichimura Masachika as the Phantom of the Opera:

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Otakon 2013 Seki Tomokazu Interview

Though I doubt he needs introduction, Seki Tomokazu is a well-known and highly celebrated Japanese voice actor, who has performed roles such as Domon Kasshu in G Gundam, Tanaka Souichirou in Genshiken, and Takahashi Keisuke in Initial D, among many, many others.

Hello, welcome to Otakon! Actually, a few years ago when you were a guest at Otakon I actually asked you a question about Hiyama Nobuyuki, but now I’d like to ask you about your recent work.

So the first question I’d like to ask is your role in Gyrozetter as “Mic Man Seki,” because I’m wondering, as you share the same name, if you were the inspiration for the character, or is it merely coincidence?

So originally the character was called a different name, and his profile was different, but the staff said, “It’s Seki doing it, so we should probably change this around.” So they decided to change the name, change the profile, and now the character is me.

I’d like to ask you about another recent role you had, your voice work in Gokaiger. How is voice acting for a live-action show different from anime, and how do you feel about your voice coming out of children’s toys?

So when I was small, I was also playing with tokusatsu toys, and to think that children nowadays play with those toys and that my voice comes out of it, I feel very honored and very happy that children are playing with those toys.

Regarding acting, I don’t really differentiate anime acting from live-action. It would be the same, but then the only thing I would really care about is to say it very heroically and courageously, as the word “goukai” in Gokaiger implies.

My next question is actually about Genshiken, of which I’m a fan, because you play Tanaka, a character very different from your other roles. What was it like playing Tanaka, and because of the recent cast change, although I know this may be a difficult question, if you know the reasons for the change?

So regarding the character Tanaka, he really likes figures and plamos and such, and I personally really like models, and although this character is very different from the ones I’ve been doing, his inside, as a person who likes models, is something I could relate to very much. I feel that the casting and such were matched up for that purpose.

As for the cast change in Genshiken, it does sort of happen at times when the sequel of a series goes on with a different company or production, and I thought I would love to do it again, but since I took on other roles after other people in similar ways, I would just need to term it as an “adult world.” I don’t have much to say.

I would also like to ask you about working with Mizuhashi Kaori, especially in Genshiken.

Mizuhashi Kaori is small but very energetic. She’s a very nice girl, but I don’t get to see her much these days. She’s about this big. *Seki puts his hands about a forearm’s length apart, to which I do the same*

*Laughs* You don’t believe me.

You’re known for voicing a lot of powerful characters, but your strangest role may be Mepple in Pretty Cure. How did you get that role, and how was it playing the character? Was it a challenge?

About Mepple, this offer came in to me, and they told me to do it as I like it, so I thought I should just do it in my regular voice. That day, on my very first recording on Mepple, I was feeling really good, and I decided to do it with a sort of high voice. They told me, if you can do that for an entire year, please do it. So, the only really good day I had was just that one day, and afterwards I was having a really hard time doing that one voice. Now that I think about it, it was a year of really hard work.

My final question has to do with voice acting. A few years ago, Mitsuya Yuji was a guest at Otakon, and he talked about how in the old days voice acting was a side job for theatre and drama actors. Nozawa Masako has also mentioned outside experience is also valuable, as opposed to acting exclusively in anime or voice acting. What do you think of this advice, and do you think it’s possible to be a strong voice actor without that outside background?

I think both opinions are correct. Whether you have influence or not, it’s all about how hard you work yourself. But, I am in the generation where Ms. Masako was my teacher, my sensei, and I learned from her that to be a good voice actor you have to be very powerful without just the voice actor part, that you need to be very good at using your body to act and such. From how she raised me, I think that’s very true, and outside experience helps very much, but the recent generation don’t really follow that example, so it really is up to the person.

Genshiken Nidaime First Trailer

The new Genshiken has its first trailer, a 30-second clip. It’s just a voiceover with Yoshitake, Yajima, and Hato, as well as a small bit of Ogiue, but there are some things I observed in the trailer.

The main thing I noticed is that the new Ogiue voice, Yamamoto Nozomi, sounds similar to the previous actor Mizuhashi Kaori, though not Mizuhashi’s performance of Ogiue. Mizuhashi is quite varied (Ogiue doesn’t resemble Miyako in Hidamari Sketch), and Yamamoto’s performance sounds a bit closer to some of Mizuhashi’s other roles, such as Rosetta in Kaleidostar or Mami in Madoka Magica. So it’s sort of a match, but sort of not.

The other notable thing, I think, is that they didn’t give Yajima a “fat” voice. A lot of times, heavyset characters in anime have a deeper, rounder voice to emphasize their weight, but Yajima’s voice sounds more normal. It doesn’t quite have the coarseness I was expecting, but it’s still good to see it not fall into that old stereotype.

Genshiken Nidaime starts July 6th. I still haven’t decided if I’ll episode-blog it or not, especially because that eats up a whole bunch of my post slots (even if it would make for easy content). The other issue of course is that I’ve already done chapter reviews of the source material, and I worry that it’d be quite redundant. That said, maybe I can use it as a way to revisit those previous chapters.

What do you think? Are the chapter reviews already more than enough?