Livedoor interview with Shirai Yusuke and Umehara Yuichiro, two of the cast members from the upcoming winter 2020 anime Uchitama!? by MAPPA & Lapin Track, which is based upon Tama & Friends, a series of mascot toys from the 80s. The first part of the Uchitama interview series was with Saito Soma which I might (or might not) do….
The popular ‘80s character ‘Tama & Friends~ Do You Know Our Tama?~’ is getting an anthropomorphic anime that will be broadcast on TV from January 2020. Livedoor News previously interviewed Saito Soma, who voices the main character Okamoto Tama and this time, we speak to Shirai Yusuke, who voices the playful Kiso Tora and Umehara Yuichiro, who voices the hot-blooded Mikawa Kuro.
A few years separate their respective seiyuu in terms of debut years but these two made their breakthrough at the same time and have frequently co-starred; their relationship is fairly open and both speak of a ‘trust between them’. Known as cat lovers, the two of them discuss everything from cats to recording sessions to their first impressions of each other.
Photography: Kawano Yukika, Interview & Text: Sakuma Yūko, Production: Anfan
Hair: Sugimoto Yōko (Shirai), Yazaki Mai (Umehara)
They both kept goldfish caught from goldfish scooping games as pets
Q: The two of you co-star in the TV anime Uchitama?! which has a cat as its main character, and this photoshoot features Momiji-chan the cat. Let’s hear your thoughts on the cat.
Umehara: Calico cats are cute, aren’t they? It has good style.
Shirai: Just what you’d expect from a cat model.
Q: It posed perfectly for the camera.
Umehara: I’ve had a couple of photoshoots with cats but this has been most obedient, easiest cat to work with.
Shirai: I’ve got a monthly cat café show called Nekorobi Danshi and Momiji is one of the friendliest cats I’ve seen.
Q: Uchitama!? features dogs as well. Have either of you had pet cats or dogs?
Umehara: I personally haven’t.
Shirai: Me neither. I was one of 3 siblings so our household was pretty lively and we never thought about getting a pet dog or cat.
Q: Have you experience of keeping any other pets apart from dogs and cats?
Shirai: I’ve never kept any pets since I lived with my parents. When I was a kid I did go insect collecting and kept beetle larvae, that was the extent of it.
Oh, and goldfish. My brother came home from the festival stalls with a goldfish that he’d gotten from goldfish scooping and we named it Mint. It didn’t live very long but I was just a kid and it made me sad. I remember that we all helped to make a grave and buried it there. I still recall the shape of its fishbowl clearly.
Umehara: I did keep goldfish a few years ago too. I brought them home from a goldfish scooping game and they died the next day. I was so sad that I bought 2 more and tried to raise them properly. I got an aquarium and a starter kit but they both died within about 6 months… Yeah, I did get sad about it after all.
Q: So which do you prefer, dogs or cats?
Umehara: Cats by far.
Shirai: Have is always been that way?
Umehara: Yeah I’ve always preferred them from the start.
Q: Any reasons for your strong stance there?
Umehara: There was a cat in my grandmother’s house a long time ago and that’s shaped my views. I haven’t had many opportunities to get close to dogs so I guess it’s a natural decision.
Q: What do you like about cats?
Umehara: I like how they’re independent; you don’t have to take them for walks and you can just leave them alone. It’s cute that they’re so feisty. I actually like how humans are the ones who have to approach cats and get their attention.
Q: How about you, Shirai-san?
Shirai: I think I originally preferred dogs. But after I started working on the cat café show, I’ve switched to being a cat lover.
Dogs are more, ‘Look at me! Take me for a walk!’ – thought that’s quite cute too. You’ll never see that coming from a cat though. You can leave them to their own devices. That kind of distance makes them easy to deal with.
‘Cat boys’ dislike being controlled. Their fickle nature is a trait they share in common
Q: The main character in Uchitama!? is a boy named Tama; do you see any of those characteristics applying to you two ‘cat boys’? For example, cat boys are known to have traits such as ‘disliking being controlled’, ‘tsundere’, ‘fickle’ and ‘shy’.
Shirai: That describes me to a tee. Except for tsundere.
Umehara: Aren’t you tsundere?
Shirai: Deredere…that’d be weird too (laughs) I’m neither tsun nor dere. Just normal!
But I wouldn’t like being restricted. I wouldn’t like to be controlled or having to put up with what other people say. I’m shy as well, though I’m more moody than fickle, I’d say. I suppose I resemble a cat in that sense?
Umehara: I don’t like being controlled either. As for whether I’m a tsundere, I’m not sure…
Shirai: Oh yes you are. A tsundere.
Umehara: Am I a tsundere? (laughs)
Shirai: You are a tsundere.
Umehara: I see. Okay, I’m a tsundere (laughs) And yeah I’m shy and fickle too. I suppose I’m a ‘cat boy’ if we look at those criteria. On the other hand, what’s a dog boy?
Shirai: Someone friendly? Who’ll wag their tail at anyone?
Umehara: Ah, I see. Then that’s definitely not me. I’m a cat.
Q: The two of you share unexpectedly similar personalities.
Umehara: That’s right. We never chat idly when we’re together. Both of us are basically quiet types.
Shirai: It’s the same when we’re in the dressing room. But then Ume-chan will start deliberately shooting rubber bands across the room (laughs)
Umehara: Yes, I shoot rubber bands (laughs)
Shirai: And he puts rubbish into other people’s bags (laughs)
Umehara: Oh that happened too (laughs)
Q: Does that desire to pull pranks come impulsively?
Umehara: I do actually have my own reasons, Shirai-san’s dressing room…
Shirai: Er, my dressing room?
Umehara: His stuff was strewn all over his dressing room table. That’s why I ended up doing that.
Shirai: You tidied it up!? I see. So you did have your reasons (laughs)
Umehara: Yes. I was tidying things up.
Shirai: But you put some rubbish in there too? (laughs)
Umehara: Yes I’d mix the rubbish in (laughs)
Q: Do you see any ‘dog boys’ among the Uchitama!? cast?
Umehara: That describes Uchida Yuma-kun (voice of Kawara Beh) perfectly, doesn’t it?
Shirai: That’s true, despite him voicing a cat.
Umehara: (Ono) Kensho-san (voice of Yamada Pochi) is similar too. He’s friendly…or sociable, rather.
Shirai: Maeno (Tomoaki)-san (Kuramochi Bull) doesn’t really resemble a dog.
Umehara: Yeah he’s not much of a dog. But he doesn’t feel like a cat either.
Shirai: Hatano-san (Wataru, voice of Noda Gon) is more like a dog, if I had to pick.
Umehara: True, he’s more dog-like.
Shirai: He’s always cheerful no matter who he’s dealing with. How about Kaji-san (Yuki, voice of Nora)?
Umehara: Kaji-san’s probably not a cat.
Shirai: But he’s not a dog either. (Saito) Soma-kun is kinda like a cat pretending to be a dog? He’s definitely friendly, but he does have cat-like sides to him. A dog-like cat!
Umehara: What the heck is that (laughs)
Shirai: I have no idea (laughs)
Battles in the recording studio: ‘Being cute!’ and ‘Trying to be cute!’
Q: What were your thoughts when you found out about your casting in Uchitama!?
Shirai: It’s a series that I’ve been familiar with since I was a kid so it felt strange at first. There was a sense of joy in knowing that ‘I’ll be appearing in a show that I watched when I was young’. I knew most of the cast members as well, so I was sure that it would be a fun show to work on.
Umehara: Initially, I was curious about what kind of story it would be and how the anthropomorphised animal characters would speak. Would it have a different flavour from the original series or would it follow in its footsteps and have a light-hearted, retro style?
Q: Recording has already started – how has it been?
Umehara: The animation switches between ‘anthropomorphic figures’ and actual models of ‘cats and dogs’. That was what surprised me the most when I first watched the rehearsal video. You’d jump into scenes with cats and the next cut would have humans instead. I’m curious to see how this will transmit to viewers when they watch it on TV for the first time – I personally found it interesting.
Q: Do your performances have to change alongside the switch between anthropomorphised characters and animals?
Shirai: When in animal form, we don’t speak the human language.
Umehara: We express ourselves using animal sounds.
Q: Are there any differences compared to voicing normal humans?
Shirai: They may resemble humans but they’re originally animals so I voice the character as I would a cat.
Umehara: Yeah. They’re conversations between dogs and cats so there’s no sneakiness and words exchanged are straight to the point. So I hope that viewers will accept what they see as it is. It’s only Kaji-san’s character Nora that has a different fur colour too (laughs)
Shirai: You’re right (laughs)
Q: He seems to have quite the history.
Umehara: I’m definitely curious about that part. The other characters’ conversations are straightforward. This is the kind of series that you can sit back and enjoy even when you’re tired.
Shirai: That’s right. There are many scenes with a comedic touch and you can relax and enjoy the story of their daily lives. The staff members mentioned that they wanted to make a series that would provide relief to those who come home tired from work.
Q: It hasn’t been long since recording began – how’s the mood in the studio so far?
Shirai: It’s really fun.
Umehara: Many of us have worked together before.
Shirai: Yeah. Our seniors are all kind and fun people so we’re able to relax. Everybody’s already laughing by the time we’re doing tests.
Q: Is that because of the performances?
Shirai: Yeah. The bull character voiced by Maeno-san is amusing, right? (laughs)
Umehara: He’s the gag character after all (laughs)
Shirai: Bulldogs are really active, aren’t they? Maeno-san’s having the time of his life playing this role and it shows.
Umehara: It’s almost like…a character who suffers from chunibyo disease.
Shirai: Yeah, he seems a little drunk.
Umehara: He looks scary so he tends to be shunned by others, but he’s actually cute on the inside. But hmm…maybe cute isn’t the right word… (laughs)
Shirai: A bit of a show-off but really, he just wants to get along with everyone else.
Umehara: Yeah, yeah. But he doesn’t want to be treated like a fool so he puts on arrogant airs. He’s a character with a cute contrast between his two sides.
Shirai: When he first laid eyes upon the cat (Hanasaki) Momo-chan (CV: Hanazawa Kana), that one-liner from Maeno-san was… (laughs). What a ‘cute’ line from Maeno-san, or rather, from Bull.
Umehara: That one line was pretty much Maeno-san personified anyway (laughs)
Q: What about Saito Soma’s Tama or Ono Kensho’s Pochi?
Umehara: Both Soma-kun and Kensho-san are using their higher registers in their performances. It’s quite tough for adult men to produce high voices but Soma-kun did comment ‘my throat is in really great condition today’ at the end of episode 1’s recording.
Shirai: Oh!? I didn’t know that.
Umehara: We were chatting about how it might get a lot tougher in future if we were going to use episode 1 as a barometer.
Shirai: Yeah I remember that he was being effortlessly cute. Kensho-san though, was repeating ‘like this!’ to himself…
Umehara: He was going, ‘I’m cute!!’, trying to fire himself up (laughs)
Shirai: ‘I’m gonna make him cute!’ as well.
Umehara: Ah yes, he did say ‘I’m gonna make him cute!’ (laughs)
Shirai: And the results were really cute, I think!
Shirai-san, who never forgets the heart of a child & Umehara-san, who’s clumsy at times
Q: We hear that you bring cola and beef jerky to the recording studio, Shirai-san. Do you still maintain that habit?
Shirai: Yes I do. I drank cola during recordings for episode 1 too. Whenever I’m feeling that ‘I need to be on my game today’, I’ll always drink cola.
Umehara: …how ‘bout today?
Shirai: Hmm? Today’s not about being ‘fired up’; I’m here to have a soothing photoshoot with a cat (laughs)
Umehara: Ah, I see (laughs)
Q: So cola fires you up?
Shirai: Somehow…it’s like a switch for me? And I’ll always have beef jerky in my bag.
Q: All the time!?
Shirai: All the time. But recently, I’ve stopped myself from eating it every day for the sake of my health. The salt content is pretty high after all. But I still drink cola every single day. Though I’m thinking of limiting myself to 1 per day.
Q: What’s your record…?
Shirai: When I’ve got events going on all-day long, I can go up to about 3 x 500ml bottles. It does help fire me up.
Q: Umehara-san, is there any food etc that you always bring to recordings?
Umehara: Something that I always have….probably lozenges?
Shirai: Wow, how responsible!
Umehara: Well, it’s only cos I tend to get a lot of phlegm… but I’ve got nothing like cola, nothing that’s a must-eat
Shirai: Maybe you have to work out before going out?
Umehara: Whether I work out or not depends on the type of character I’m voicing the following day (laughs)
Shirai: Eh, really!?
Umehara: ‘cos my voice will change.
Shirai: Are you for real!?
Umehera: Yeah, though it’s just my own perception. I feel like my voice gets deeper the day after I work out so I think I’ll skip the gym on days before Uchitama!? recording sessions.
Q: Because it’s important to be ‘cute’.
Umehara: Yeah. I do have to think about that; the fact that I would sound out of character if my voice gets too deep.
Q: Do either of you see yourself resembling your characters Tora and Kuro?
Shirai: Tora is an innocent, playful boy and I was probably similar to that when I was a kid. I do like fooling around now, but I think Tora is a character whose young image is a good fit for me.
Tora tries to play it cool sometimes and usually ends up running around in circles. I’m voicing the part thinking of how cute he is there. He’s a character who does whatever he thinks is fun without thinking too far ahead.
Q: Umehara-san – do you think Shirai-san and Tora are similar in any way?
Umehara: Hmmm…I wouldn’t say he’s mischievous, but Shirai-san’s quite the entertainer and understands the heart of a child – they’re similar in those ways.
Q: What about Kuro and yourself?
Umehara: I don’t think Kuro’s personality and ideals are at all similar to mine. I’m not the type whose emotions are written all over my face and I’m not like an older sibling who’s good at taking care of others… Ah, though we might share that trait of running around in circles when we’re trying to do something.
Q: Do you often find yourself running around in circles?
Umehara: How should I put it…I find that if I tell myself ‘I’m gonna do this’, I end up not being able to do it. Most of the time, I function better if I don’t put too much thought into things. Whether I’m just chasing rainbows or overthinking, I realise that everything seems to go wrong when I try too hard (laughs)
Q: Shirai-san, do you think Umehara-san is similar to Kuro in any way?
Shirai: Well it seems like Kuro’s a very hot-blooded character, isn’t he? And [Umehara] is the exact opposite (laughs). When you look at Ume-chan’s credits list, you don’t see too many of these hot-blooded types. It does feel fresh.
However, Kuro is also rather clumsy. Ume-chan’s a bit clumsy at times too.
Shirai: There was one time where we were trying to ascend an elevator and we found out that only Ume-chan had gotten on the one going down. Very occasionally, he slips up and does something like that. It made me feel like I’d stumbled upon something really rare (laughs)
The gap between us was bridged after a location shoot
Q: What were your impressions of each other when you first met?
Umehara: My first impression of Shirai-san was ‘I don’t get this guy’ (laughs) Both of us are men of few words.
Shirai: Hahaha (laughs). Hmm, what about Ume-chan…. Maybe ‘This guy doesn’t seem interested in other human beings?’
Shirai: He’s very quiet so I started to wonder if he could even talk. Or if we would actually get along.
Q: What brought you closer?
Shirai: We spent a lot of time together during events and livestreams for Boeibu LOVE!, the first series in which we co-starred, so it kinda happened somewhere along the line…there wasn’t any specific factor; we’d already become friends by the time we’d realised it.
Umehara: What I recall is that when we went for a location shoot, it occured to me that ‘Shirai-san’s a lot more interesting when you push his buttons’.
Shirai: Oh? (laughs)
Umehara: I think we started getting a lot closer from that point. Up ‘til then I’d been thinking that he’s my senior and older than me so it’s not a very good idea to tease him too much…
Shirai: Really!? You don’t think that at all right now, do you?
Umehara: Nope, I don’t (laughs)
Q: So you had your reservations at first, but they flew away over the course of filming.
Umehara: That’s right. I came to think that he shines more when he’s provoked so I started teasing him (laughs) Shirai-san has a big heart and is forgiving; for that I am grateful.
Shirai: That’s totally true. I love being teased.
Umehara: Is that so?
Shirai: Yeah, that’s why I was happy (laughs) I think I’m a pretty forgiving guy which is probably why it’s fine to play the fool with me. Feel free to tease me more and more.
Q: Have your impressions of each other changed?
Umehara: Nah, I still don’t really get him (laughs)
Shirai: What, really!? (laughs)
Umehara: He’s basically kinda weird so I still haven’t quite gotten てぇ measure of him but at least, that initial feeling of stepping into the unknown has gone. I think Shirai-san is a mature, kind person.
Shirai: Ume-chan’s someone who likes to fool around. It took me by surprise when I first noticed that side of him. And as you can see, he plays tricks on me. I hadn’t pictured him to be that kind of guy so it did make me realise that he does indeed possess human characteristics.
Umehara: Just what did you think I was? (laughs)
Q: Is there any aspect of each other that you think, ‘I wish he’d fix this’?
Shirai: I run into Ume-chan sometimes near studios or out on the streets, but he deliberately pretends not to see me (laughs)
Shirai: Even if I’ve spotted Ume-chan and try to wave at him he’ll take one glance and just disappear. I feel like I should just ram into his shoulder and run away (laughs) Please stop that.
Q: Did he begin doing that after you’d gotten closer?
Shirai: It’s because we get along well that he thinks such pranks will be forgiven. Nowadays I’ve switched to staring at him silently before walking off. But well, it’s fine now…but it did actually make me feel a bit sad at one point (laughs)
I suppose that equates to teasing on Ume-chan’s part. He looks cool, and he seems to enjoy it. And of course he’ll start horsing around backstage and put stuff into my bag.
Q: Did you only notice it when you got home?
Shirai: Nope, I found out before I got home (laughs) His pranks are easy to figure out. Shooting the rubber bands he gets from bento boxes after he’s finished eating; childish tricks like that…
Q: Sounds like a primary school boy (laughs)
Shirai: Yeah he does resemble a primary school boy sometimes (laughs) That’s why I’m never bored when I’m with Ume-chan.
But of course he’s an upstanding member of society! Ume-chan may look like this but he’s aware of his surroundings. Ah don’t misinterpret the ‘he looks like this’ part! (laughs)
Umehara: So true! (laughs)
Shirai: Ume-chan has a very objective view of things and often, remarks he makes offhand end up being helpful and help to liven things up. He’s also good at backing others up and that makes him a reliable work colleague.
Umehara: Obviously I would say the same of Shirai-san; he’s the type who gets things going during events and keeps the discussions flowing – definitely a guy who’s always hitting it out of the ballpark. I’m not good at being aggressive with jokes but Shirai-san is someone who can do that. He’s someone who’s always good at lightening the mood.
Q: On the other hand, is there anything you’d like to ‘fix’ about Shirai-san?
Umehara: Hmm…I wouldn’t say I want him to ‘fix’ it, but I tend to see him as someone who’s always playing mobile games. He seems to spend endless hours looking at his phone. Maybe he should cut it down a bit? He’s always in his own world even when we’re backstage so perhaps…moderate it a little… (laughs)
Q: In what way do you think you’ve both grown compared to when you first met?
Umehara: He hasn’t changed at all and I mean it in a positive way: Shirai-san is a person who really gives his all at everything without a single word of complaint.
When the mood in the studio is a little low, he has the capacity to reproach someone in a mature way but will also be positive and says ‘let’s do our best’. He doesn’t simply say ‘let’s do our best’; he finds the right words to say at the right time that gives you reassurance and makes you feel respect for him. He’s the kind of person who can gauge other people’s emotional states and knows when and how to act.
Shirai: Ume-chan’s a man who sticks to his own principles. He equips himself well or rather; he never allows himself to be shaken by trivial matters. He’s self-assured and isn’t affected no matter what people say to him. I’ve been working with Ume-chan since his debut and his trustworthiness is something that has not changed.
Answer at the same time! Shirai x Umehara’s In-sync Quiz
Q1: If Shirai-san was an animal what would he be?
A: Shirai – mouse, Umehara – mosquito
Shirai: OII! (laughs) A mosquito’s a bug!
Umehara: I’m writing this ‘cos you imitated a mosquito before.
Shirai: I did~ I thought I’d be some small animal. My face is kinda like a mouse’s.
Shirai: Yeah yeah.
Q2: If Umehara-san was an animal what would he be?
A: Shirai – shoebill, Umehara – sloth
Shirai: Maybe it’s your eyes?
Shirai: Also, shoebills are known for staying stationary. It feels like they’re always poising themselves for something.
Umehara: Sloths are pretty much the same. They don’t want to move.
Q3: What’s Shirai-san’s favourite phrase?
A: Shirai – ‘nah, no way’, Umehara – Oi! (or something)
Shirai: Eh, do I seem like a tsukkomi character?
Umehara: …it was when I was shooting rubber bands.
Shirai: …well, anyone would go into tsukkomi mode if they had rubber bands flying at them! (laughs) Maybe I only do that to Ume-chan since he’s always playing tricks. My ‘no, no way’ is the humble type. In a shy way.
Umehara: I’ve never heard you say that though? (laughs)
Q4: What’s Umehara-san’s favourite phrase?
A: Shirai – ‘Huh? (or something), Umehara – ‘Huh?’ (to Shirai-san)
Shirai: A match at last!
Umehara: I didn’t expect it to happen here.
Shirai: But you say that to everyone, not just me.
Umehara: Yeah. To Eguchi (Takuya)-san and so on (laughs)
Shirai: It’s definitely a habit he has.
Q5: How many times have we argued?
A: Shirai: 0, Umehara: 0
Umehara: Well, yeah.
Shirai: Yeap. We don’t.
Umehara: We’re not the type.
Shirai: We don’t get close enough to other people to want to fight with them.
Umehara: We don’t get along well with anyone else to even have people to fight with.
Q6: A place of memories for us is…?
A: Shirai – Toilet, Umehara – Yomiuri Land
Umehara: Eh, why the toilet?
Shirai: Uh…I wonder why? (thinks hard) Ah~! Yomiuri Land~!
Umehara: Yeah. I went there with Shirai-san recently for an event.
Shirai: So that’s why the answer came to you so easily~.