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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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Sound! Euphonium, Tesagure! Bukatsumono, and Intimate Conversations

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Ever since the end of Sound! Euphonium Season 1, I’ve found the conversations between protagonist euphonium player Kumiko and trumpeter Reina remarkable in their intimacy. While the acting is overall solid as each member of the Kitauji High School music club brings personality and history, there’s something noticeably different when it comes to those two.

Often when voice actors in anime are playing their roles, there is a sense of performance. This is not a bad thing, at least not inherently. They are, for all intents and purposes, actors on a stage bringing their characters to life. When Taki-sensei speaks with this slightly hoarse yet alluring voice, for example, one gets the sense of a teacher who’s dedicated, clever, and expects the best of his students, but seems to carry an internal emotional pain at all times. When Kumiko and Reina are talking to other characters, one senses the way in which Kumiko is constantly trying to find herself while Reina’s dedication and drive are ever-present. Together, howver, it’s as if their outer-facing selves begin to crumble, and we’re witness to the hush tones of a more naturalistic conversation between close friends (or something more).

I do not know how Sound! Euphonium accomplishes this. Perhaps they do something different in terms of the recording environment or the voice direction. What I can say is that this style of dialogue reminds me of a certain type of Japanese animation: the off-the-cuff humor shows that began with gdgd Fairies and include series such as Straight Title Robot Anime and Tesagure! Bukatsumono.

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Made “on the cheap” using the 3D modeling and animation program “Miku Miku Dance,” these shows tend to feature offbeat comedy culminating in a special “improv” section. For example, in Tesagure! Bukatsumono (currently the best show of its kind in my opinion), the show is about a club where characters try to imagine what other school clubs would be like. In the middle of every episode, there is always a scene where the girls are supposed to come up with never-before-seen version of familiar clubs (like a baseball club where everyone has to dress fashionably), an in these moments the audio noticeably changes. To start, here’s a lot more mumbling. And where anime normally has characters speak and even interrupt each other so perfectly that you can’t call it anything but “staged” (because of course it is), these improv scenes have characters talking over each other like it’s a radio show. The fact that the actors often end up breaking character because of the success (or failure) of their own jokes makes it feel that much more like a private conversation that we the viewer are happening to eavesdrop on.

That’s more or less the feeling I get when I listen to Kumiko and Reina talk to each other. Whenever they’re together, it’s as if the rest of their world vanishes, and we’re privy to a space where only they reside. In it, even their outer selves fall away, and what we’re left is with is openness and comfort.

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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.

Otakon 2012 Kakihara Tetsuya Interview

Introduction: Kakihara Tetsuya is a voice actor known for roles such as Simon in Gurren-Lagann, Natsu in Fairy Tail, Angelo Sauper in Mobile Suit Gundam UC (Unicorn) and Jin in BlazBlue. I had the opportunity to sit down for a group interview, which proved to be very informative, particularly in regards to his German background, as Kakihara was born and raised in Germany until 18.

Note that the Japanese names are last name first to maintain consistency with the blog. Also, if any of the other interviewers wish to be known, please tell me.

Interviewer A: What’s it like growing up in one country and going back to Japan? What were the hardships and adjustments you faced?

[Kakihara gives a long, serious response]

Translator: Where were the pauses so I could translate?

Kakihara: It was such a serious topic that it was hard to not…

In Germany there’s a school system you’re into until your teens, but by the time you’re in 4th grade you have to decide your career path. 5th grade is when you go into technical schools or pursue further education, and that’s the point you gotta make it. And once you make that decision… I chose to go to university, I chose the educational path. But once you start this new school you’re there for 9 years until Grade 13 with the same amount of people. But during those years I would go to Japan every summer vacation, see anime on TV, see all of the things in the culture and subculture I fell in love with.

But every year you’re in the same school with the same classmates year after year and mostly people don’t change. But there are a number of dropouts who fall out each year, and even though 150 people started the same grade as me, by the time I graduated there were 40 people left. So it was a very strict school. But, seeing that I had such an interest in Japan I decided to move there and pursue a career in the cultures I was interested in, which includes voice work and acting. So that’s how I came to Japan to pursue an acting career.

Interviewer A: Most people who want to go into something can’t always succeed. What made it possible for you?

I ran way when I was 18. I haven’t seen my parents in over 10 years. When I went to Japan after I graduated, I had no other choice but to succeed. I couldn’t drop out of this. It was a driving goal, and it had to happen, and I made it happen. And now that I look back on it, I think that I’m very happy with what I’ve done.

Translator: Pretty gutsy!

Interviewer B: Well you mentioned being part of the subculture at least over vacations before you became a producer in the subculture, a creator, an actor in the subculture. Since becoming involved in the creation of works, have you had any fanboy moments, working with someone where you felt “Oh my God, I don’t believe this is happening?”

Translator: [discussing with Kakihara whether or not he needs to translate] He understands English, he just pretends not to.

Kakihara: Of course. Famous people, when I go to work, they’re to my left and to my right.

Was there anyone in particular who was a hero?

Kakihara: No one specific comes to mind…

I find the people who’ve been doing voice work since I was a child still working… I’m going to be 30 this year and to see them still working is pretty amazing. Our seniors are amazing. There are no other words than that.

But if I need to name someone in particular, Takayama Minami, the voice of [Detective] Conan. So, seeing someone who’s had so many starring roles for decades is someone who I’d respect, but I’ve never really been the kind of person who looks at another and goes, “Boy I’d like to be that person one day!” That’s not the kind of person I am.

Having been working myself for a decade now, when I work with these people, I still feel, boy I still have a lot further to go. Like, working on a show like Saint Seiya Omega where Mr. Midorikawa [Hikaru] is in there, or from the previous versions of the show Furuya Tohru from Gundam, boy, they still got the same voices they did decades ago. There are so many of these greats around me, so even though these are people who should be admired, I am on the same stage as them. If anything, I’m in competition with them to be just as good, so I respect them but I don’t exactly admire them. I’m going to defeat them.

Interviewer B: This is entirely off-topic and somewhat irreverent but I’ve gotten good responses from all of the other guests. Do you have a favorite swear word, and what language do you swear in?

Kakihara: It used to be German in the past. Can I say this word?

Interviewer B: Go ahead.

Kakihara: Arschloch! Arschloch.

Interviewer B: [laughs] The blacksmith in the Dealer’s Room also said that it’s his favorite food.

Translator: What’s the word?

Kakihara: [in English] Asshole.

Interviewer B: That’s the third time I’ve gotten it this weekend! In German!

Kakihara: Leck mich am Arsch [Kiss my ass]. I recall saying this a lot in German.

I’ve begun to think in Japanese these days. I can’t say I really use a lot of swear words in Japanese. To myself or to someone else? It depends on what you’re saying it about and who you’re saying it to. “I hope you burn.”

Translator: Do you say it to them or do you think it?

Kakihara: I say it to them, if they do something idiotic.

Interviewer C: You do a lot of work outside of anime, so what do you think of Otome Games in America, since there a lot of gamers out there? You’ve done voice work in Amnesia, Ren’ai Banchou, Grim the Bounty Hunter…

Kakihara: The relationship simulation games? Love sims? One of the things that attracted me to voice acting was Tokimeki Memorial. That’s a love simulation game for boys. It’s definitely the founder, the one that really started the boom of the love sim games. It was one of the first that was voiced by voice actors. I felt amazement in the Japanese culture, to create a game that allows you to pursue a simulated romance. Of course, it started out being directed towards boys, but these days it seems to be concentrated a lot towards girls playing these games.

I think it’s a very interesting part of what I do in my career. I have to spout lines I would NEVER say in real life, or go to a date location that I would never choose myself, but being able to experience it through these voice roles is very entertaining.

[Asking the interviewer] Are dating sims really popular here?

Interviewer C: I play a lot. All of my friends play a lot also.

Kakihara: [in English] Thank you very much.

Just learning that people are fans of your work even in the United States is always a pleasing thing to learn.

Ogiue Maniax: Given your native fluency in German, I’m wondering if it’s had any influence in the roles you’ve taken as a voice actor. For example, I know that in Nanoha you voice various weapons which speak in German.

Kakihara: So like you said, in Lyrical Nanoha I do speak German, but when a Japanese person imagines a German, they imagine someone who’s burly, wearing a military uniform with a very low voice. My voice tends to be very young-sounding, so I’ve been to recording sessions so that I can direct others on their German because the actors have the voices the producers wanted. But as an actor I would have liked to perform those lines myself.

I have to say, my German has not been a help in my career in most cases. But in cases like this where I come to some place in the United States, having spoken German in my life I can actually listen to English and comprehend a lot of it, so it’s been a great help in this trip.

Ogiue Maniax: I think one of your most famous roles is Simon in Gurren-Lagann, so I was just wondering what giant robot anime you watched growing up, and if any of these shows influenced you portraying the role.

Kakihara: I didn’t really watch a whole lot of robot anime, but there are a lot of shows when I was growing up with hot-blooded main heroes, so seeing leads in these action shows or sport shows did give me some influence in portraying Simon. It’s not just anime you learn from. From manga and everything else you can just get inspiration to portray a character.

Interviewer B: If you could work on a character in any IP, anywhere, do you have a dream voice you want to do?

Kakihara: [in Japanese] What kind of program?

Translator: [in Japanese] Anime or manga, or…

Kakihara: [In Japanese] An anime currently running?

Translator: [in Japanese] That, or even an anime that hasn’t been made yet.

Interviewer B: If they decide to make an anime version of Batman, that’s fine too.

Kakihara: There’s a comic called Bachi Bachi, I really like this title. Do you like sumo in the United States?

Interviewer B: There’s not much chance to see it but when it’s on.

Kakihara: I think it would be a hit anime show if it would ever be made. I’d love to play the lead in that show.

Translator: I don’t think a sumo anime would succeed in the United States. No cute girls in sumo.

Ogiue Maniax: The image of sumo is very foreign, also.

Translator: E. Honda is what people think of.

Interviewer B: Wasn’t there an American champion a few years ago?

Translator: A Hawaiian.

Ogiue Maniax: Akebono.

Translator: But there’s no popularity here. [In Japanese] The only image of sumo here is E. Honda.

Kakihara: Edmond Honda.

Translator: Only Honda.

Kakihara: I think it could be a foothold to make sumo popular here.

Mitsuya Yuuji Throughout Combattler V: A “Lesson” in Voice Acting

At Otakon 2010, voice acting veteran Mitsuya Yuuji (or Yuji Mitsuya) was a goldmine of valuable information about the industry and the art of voice acting, using his own experience as a complete seiyuu rookie on Choudenji Robo Combattler V as an example During the panel, he mentioned that an interesting exercise is to compare a voice actor’s performance in the first episode to their performance in the final episode.

Taking that suggestion to heart and expanding on it a little further, I’ve compiled a clip of Mitsuya’s voice acting progression from the beginning to end of Combattler V‘s 54 episodes. Not every episode is shown here, but it still gives a good indication of how much effort he put into improving.

Early on, you can hear that he’s clearly an amateur and not entirely sure what to do with the role. He also sounds much deeper, having not yet hit upon the right voice for the main hero Hyouma. You can also hear him experimenting with all sorts of ways to say Combattler V’s name, stretching this syllable, shortening that one and so on. Towards the middle around when the story starts to really ramp up, he puts a lot more intensity into his performance. Then, in the second half you’ll notice that he’s starting to find a “standard” of sorts on how to shout, “Combattler….V!” until it pretty much solidifies, for better or worse.

Remember that this was Mitsuya’s debut role, and here you can really see his growth as a voice actor. It’s no wonder he’d go on to form his own voice acting school.

At his panel, Mitsuya placed great emphasis on the fact that a lot of male voice actors these days try too hard to maintain the “coolness” of their characters and don’t put their all into their performances, citing that this probably has to do with the fact that not nearly as many voice actors these days come from a theatre background (if any at all). It’s interesting then to think about how Mitsuya’s own theatrical experience still had to be molded to fit voice acting.

As a bonus, take a look at his performance in 2000’s Super Robot Wars Alpha, where he has to perform the same line as in the above video roughly 25 years later. Skip to 0:46 to hear it (or watch the whole video, it’s cool). Amazingly, his voice appears to have gone up with age.

Peter Fernandez’s Accolades are Well-deserved: Voice Acting of Old

Recently, I’ve been watching episodes of the original Speed Racer. Not Mach Go Go Go, and even if presented with the option, I would try to watch episodes of both. Speed Racer is one of those shows that attracted a lot of fans for a multitude of reasons, primarily the car, and having never really watched entire episodes of Speed Racer, I wanted to see what was, as the kids say, “up.”

In addition to the show aging surprisingly well, I noticed something somewhat peculiar about Speed Racer: its voice-acting is actually very good. These days, when the subject of older voice acting comes to mind, it’s usually the ridiculous dubs of 80s and 90s, or the transition away from Saban for the dub of Dragon Ball Z. Older dubs are associated with being poorly acted and often stilted, while newer dubs have a frequent problem of being too wooden or “sounding like anime dubs.” This isn’t the case with Speed Racer at all, and after seeing Peter Fernandez get congratulated so many times for his voice work as Speed,  I can finally see that he gets the credit he deserves, not to mention the rest of the cast including minor characters. It has the right amount of radio-show-style acting without going overboard like the old Symphony of the Night dub. Batman: The Animated Series’ voice actors were told to act out their roles as if they were in a radio show. Maybe there’s something to that after all, something that more dubs could learn to use.

I’ve seen a significantly older show receive a curiously impressive dub before in the form of Gigantor. Not a surprise to see that Fernandez had a role in the Gigantor dub as well. Is it just that he’s got talent and it bled through to everything else in recording? Perhaps, but there’s one factor which I think contributes to the quality of these old dubs, and it’s actually the result of a limitation.

In these old shows, especially with Gigantor which had a low budget even for its time. When Jimmy Sparks says a few lines, his mouth moves maybe 5 or 10 times. The voice actors did not try to match the lip flaps because that would have been impossible, and I think it’s this non-adherence to mouth movements which freed up the dubs to have more natural and vibrant-sounding characters, even if the dialogue itself was still kind of awkward in that stereotypical way everyone makes fun of Speed Racer for.

You can hear Peter Fernandez as a grown-up Spritle in that new Speed Racer cartoon, but I wouldn’t recommend watching it.

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