A roundtable interview featuring the main seiyuu pairing from the upcoming Asagao to Kase-san theatrical OVA – Takahashi Minami (Yamada Yui) and Sakura Ayane (Kase Tomoka), alongside tarento Mogami Moga (formerly of idol group Dempagumi.inc).
I personally enjoyed working on this piece as the inclusion of Mogami, who publicly came out as bisexual last year, allows the interview to address the LGBT subject matter head-on instead of gently skirting around the issue in yuri-related interviews I’ve been unfortunate enough to read in recent times. Obviously it doesn’t go too deep but it’s at least a start in getting people like Ayaneru and Takamina to consider the topic in a serious manner rather than eliciting the usual ‘woooh yuriiii is hawt and cutee’ kind of reactions.
While the Kase-san series isn’t my favourite yuri title, I agree with the trio when they talk about this being the kind of show that anybody can enjoy regardless of their yuri mileage – God knows most people probably have a rather twisted view of the genre thanks to Citrus or NTR!
Note: Mogami uses ‘boku’ (a masculine pronoun) throughout the interview when referring to herself instead of the usual feminine ‘watashi’.
I was silently grinning (Mogami)
Q: The Asago to Kase-san OVA will begin its limited time theatrical screening from the 9th of June. Now, the three of you have just watched the show in its entirety – what are your thoughts?
Takahashi: Somehow, it felt a little embarrassing to watch it together with Mogami-san…it’s like she’s watching my personal love story play out (laughs)
Sakura: That’s true. We’re watching the final cut for the first time today as well, so I was a little more nervous than usual.
Mogami: Now that you’ve put it that way, I guess I should mention that I felt a little embarrassed sitting next to this innocent young couple… (laughs)
Takahashi/Sakura: Ahaha (laughs)
Mogami: I was grinning silently to myself. Ah, I wonder what this feeling’s called (laughs)
Takahashi: Now that I’ve had a chance to take a closer look at the picture, I do feel a bit flustered.
Mogami: So if you’re seeing the OVA for the first time today, that means the two of you recorded your lines before the visuals were completed, right? I’d always thought that recording for anime involved matching your lines to visuals in motion. So what about the opposite – do they animate [the characters] to match the voices?
Sakura: Yeah, it’s true that most of the time we’re putting our voices to black-and-white, mid-production image reels. There have been cases where we do voice our lines to completed visuals, but [the images are] all over the place as different cuts are handled by different production companies…
Takahashi: We’re suddenly delving deeper into anime industry talk (laughs)
Mogami: Interesting! Would it be the ideal situation then, to record your lines to completed animation?
Sakura: That too, has its own difficulties.
Takahashi: From the start, the Asagao to Kase-san production team had a very clear vision of what they wanted to do so it was easy for me to work with their detailed instructions – ‘this is what I want to do here’ or ‘this is how I’d like you to do that part’.
The mood of the manga is maintained in the anime adaptation (Sakura)
Q: So first of all, tell me your honest opinions after watching the show.
Mogami: The music and visuals were so pretty right from the start; it made me feel warm and soothed me.
Takahashi: I get what you mean! The art is so pretty, isn’t it? Light, soft and gentle, like a watercolour painting. And it goes together with the music.
Mogami: But somehow it brought a tear to my eye, like ‘Ah, so this is what youth feels like….!’. Though my youth was nothing like that (laughs)
Takahashi: (laughs) The best parts of the manga were captured so well by the visuals here. Seeing the anime in its completed form reminds me once again how glad I am to have the chance to participate on this production.
Sakura: I’ve been a reader of the manga all along, so I did consider how this series would be animated. Many recent anime works based on original manga have taken the path of producing content that is independent of its source, but I think Asagao to Kase-san chose to take the mood of the manga as is, and turn it into an anime. The staff members have great affection for the source material and you can feel that sentiment filter through to the visuals. To have those thoughts reflected in the [quality of the] series is a truly joyful thing.
‘It’s a good romance manga….!’ is what I thought (Takahashi)
Q: What impressions of the manga do you have?
Mogami: I read the manga before it was turned into an anime and it’s a very pleasant type of yuri manga to me. Leaving aside the fact that it’s [a relationship] between girls, I do think that the portrayal of how these girls are finding love normally is great. This world still has its prejudices against homosexual love and it remains a cause for bullying, but the world [of the Kase-san series] doesn’t depict those elements. You can purely enjoy the romance between Yamada and Kase-san plus the two girls seem to be enjoying themselves as well.
Sakura: That’s certainly true. The students aren’t spreading rumours or making a fuss over having a same-sex female couple in their classroom.
Mogami: There’s no ‘love that almost was’, no third party affairs or arguments, no convoluted problems, not even a love rival (laughs). My heart feels so warm watching what’s going on. I really like how Yamada honestly accepts her own feelings as being in love.
Takahashi: Indeed, there is no discrimination. No such ‘it’s no good for girls to be together!’ type of developments either. I first read the series as I was preparing for the audition – I’d never actually read any ‘yuri’ works prior to this so I was consciously aware, going ‘Oh, this is yuri’ at the beginning, but by the time I was done I was thinking ‘now that is a great romance manga…!’ (laughs)
Takahashi: Their romance was depicted so normally that I forgot that it is a relationship between girls. I’m a big lover of shōjo manga myself, and I realized that the romance elements found in yuri are exactly the same.
Sakura: I know what you mean. These girls, they’re just in love, aren’t they? Regardless of whether their partner is a girl or not. The series doesn’t treat it like an anomaly – it doesn’t make a fuss about things nor is there a big reveal of sorts; you can just let your guard down and read the manga with assurance. Having said that, it’s not just a slice-of-life series, there is a proper story in there that shows how they overcome their problems and grow together. It could theoretically have moved in a more scandalous direction, but the fact that it doesn’t just goes to show how overwhelming Takashima (Hiromi)-sensei’s power of positivity is.
Mogami: You do see Yamada pondering ‘Is it weird to like girls?’ at first, but that lasted but a fleeting moment. Once she acknowledged her feelings for what they were, she wasn’t bothered at all (laughs)
Sakura: Her issues were resolved so quickly (laughs)
Mogami: It’s like, ‘You’ll go out with me!? Yays!’
Takahashi: Not anxiously worrying or feeling conflicted about things – that’s what’s good about Yamada (laughs)
I mean, they’re linking their hands behind their backs! (Sakura)
Q: Do you have any favourite scenes from the theatrical OVA?
Mogami: For me, I love the scene at the beginning where Yamada and Kase-san are talking on the phone. They’ve decided to go out with each other and when Yamada asks ‘What do you do when you’re dating?’, Kase-san turns red and drops her mobile phone – it’s cute to see.
Sakura: I love that scene too. Yamada kicking her legs in the air is cute too.
Mogami: I really love Yamada’s line there – ‘It’s like a dream, to be dating [you]’.
Sakura: Mine is a bit specific…it’s when they’re on the plane during their school trip, and Kase-san and Yamada are joining their hands together behind their backs.
Takahashi: That’s precise! (laughs)
Sakura: I mean, they’re linking hands across their backs! That’s not something you normally do, is it? (demonstrates on the spot)
Sakura: It makes me feel a bit more excited than if they were to hold hands normally. It feels a bit indecent…it really strikes at my heart when they do something that appears irrational like that.
Takahashi: Hmm, you’re showing your true colours to everyone, aren’t you (laughs). I do think that the way Yamada and Kase-san’s feelings are portrayed throughout the story is wonderful. Even the intensity of the lighting depends on their emotions. It may be the same school, but the way it appears changes depending on how Yamada is feeling. I’m fascinated by how her state of mind has an impact not just upon other people, but also on aspects like the scenery, the buildings and the lighting.
Yamada would never blame other people (Mogami)
Q: What do you think is attractive about Yamada and Kase-san as individuals?
Sakura: Yamada doesn’t have a single bad bone in her body.
Takashi: She doesn’t!
Sakura: She absolutely does not ever spread negative feelings to other people.
Takahashi: She really is such a nice girl.
Mogami: What I thought was the most amazing thing about Yamada was how she made Kase-san a bento box around the time they started dating and went ‘Ahhhh!’ when she found out that Kase-san was absent. Instead of getting angry and demanding ‘why didn’t you tell me!?,’ she was just disappointed, thinking, ‘she’s not here today…’.
Sakura: She never takes things out on other people.
Mogami: That’s right. She doesn’t blame others – she’s such a good person. Girls would normally show their dissatisfaction when their partner doesn’t do what they’re expected to, and they’d send them an email or LINE message right away.
Takahashi: Ahh, Yamada doesn’t seem like the kind of girl who would be actively using LINE (laughs)
Mogami: Yeah yeah. But Kase-san is a child of the times so she’d probably get worried over such things.
Sakura: It’s surprising, but Kase-san seems to be the type who’s dependent on others.
Mogami: That’s another good thing about her. She’s super popular and is the object of admiration of many a girl but then you see how she falters when Yamada doesn’t reply her messages, thinking to herself ‘why aren’t I getting anything?’ (laughs). Yamada on the other hand, is more easy-going – it’s interesting to watch these 2 polar opposites together.
Sakura: It’s true – these two are perfectly balanced when they’re together. Kase-san is a positive girl by nature; when you read past episodes concerning her track club days you’d see that she’s the kind of person who would never speak badly of others. These 2 are such positive characters that you feel safe watching over them.
Takahashi: When I’m voicing Yamada I treat her as a totally ordinary girl. She’s a normal high school girl that you could find anywhere. That’s why, I think, she harbours a longing for a perfect person, somebody who can do anything, like Kase-san.
I do have the tendency to check people out like Kase-san does (Sakura)
Q: Do you identify with any of the characters within the series?
Takahashi: Identify huh…well, I can’t do sports and I’m not the sort of person whom attention would be centred upon… I wanted to be someone like Kase-san (laughs)
Sakura: Which means, you lean towards Yamada….?
Takahashi: I think rather than Yamada, I’d be more like her friend Mikawa? On the side, listening to other peoples’ love stories and commenting ‘do your best’ or ‘isn’t that just great?’ (laughs)
Sakura: (laughs) But you’re right, Takahashi-san – you’re a bit similar to Mikawa. When we were in the recording studio, I often observed how the staff members would say, ‘Takahashi-san, please keep quiet’ (laughs)
Mogami: (laughs) How about you, Sakura-san?
Sakura: For myself….if I had to pick one, then it’d be Kase-san minus all her cool parts.
Takahashi: But Sakura-san, don’t you actually resemble her looks-wise?
Sakura: Ehh? (laughs)
Mogami: Actually, that’s what I’ve always been thinking. That the 2 of you share a similar aura.
Sakura: No no….(laughs) But I’m similar to Kase-san in the way we like to check out other people’s faces and behaviour.
Takahashi: Kase-san was stalking Yamada from the rooftops after all (laughs)
Sakura: I’m not at the stalker level (laughs) but I have reached the extent where I can think, ‘Oh I saw this person at xx Station the other day’. I remember the faces of people I don’t know at all.
Mogami: That’s amazing! You must really be staring at them.
Sakura: Also, her dependent nature – as it suggests, I have the tendency to rely on other people.
Takahashi: So you get worried when people don’t reply to your LINE messages?
Sakura: I’m the type of person who’ll rely on friends, but still has to maintain a bit of distance in my interactions with them. It’d be nice if there was someone like Yamada who could fully accept me as I am, but reality is not that kind (laughs)
Mogami: I can’t say that I completely identify with any one character but maybe certain parts…for example, I quite like weeding.
Sakura: Ehh! That’s a little unexpected (laughs)
Mogami: I’ve always loved flowers, and weeding helps me to relax. I think there’s this one scene in the OVA where Yamada’s continuously weeding and it made me think ‘I get that! It’s fun, isn’t it?’. Also, my room looks a lot like a guy’s bedroom too, just like Kase-san’s does. I only leave the barest minimum of necessities in my room so it’s very simple. There’s a treadmill and dumbbells lying around, as well as a yoga mat.
Takahashi: That’s amazing – a live-action version of Kase-san’s bedroom (laughs)
I meet my ideal type of woman around once every 3 years (Mogami)
Q: What do you think about girls having feelings of admiration towards other girls?
Sakura: Hmm. Don’t you think that for girls around their age, the line between love and friendship tends to be blurred? As in, you don’t give much consideration to things like space between friends.
Takahashi: It’s true that girls tend to be clingy with their friends, even if they’re both girls.
Mogami: I was in the arts stream during high school, which meant there were only about 10 boys in my class. The atmosphere felt pretty much like that of a girls’ school and there was one girl x girl couple as well. The kids were all aware of that particular couple but there wasn’t any bullying going on.
Sakura: I too had a female friend who dated another girl. I’d go out for meals with this couple, hang around at their homes – seeing them made me think how wonderful it was. That they were experiencing such a lovely romance. I didn’t feel uneasy about it at all. Well, discomfort shouldn’t be something that other people feel.
Takahashi: It’s similar for me – there was a same-sex female couple amongst my group of friends – I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all. They told us ‘actually, we’re going out with each other’ and I just went ‘Congrats!’. I do believe that when you fall in love with someone, you just love them for who they are and that it has nothing to do with their sex. And you just want [them] to be happy.
Mogami: Come to think of it, I was confessed to by a girl in my high school class. She said to me, ‘please go out with me’ and when I asked why, she replied ‘cos you kinda seem like you’d go out with me’ (laughs)
Sakura: That’s just your usual kind of terrible. It had nothing to do with whether you were a guy or a girl (laughs).
Mogami: She told me, ‘if it’s Moga you wouldn’t be discriminating or anything, and you’d probably date me’. It seems like anybody would’ve been okay for her (laughs)
Takahashi: I’d be shocked.
Mogami: I turned her down as you’d expect (laughs). Actually, I encounter my ideal type of woman on average once every 3 years. But it never progresses to the dating stage.
Sakura: Once every 3 years…I have no idea if that’s too big or too small of a gap in time (laughs)
Mogami: The first person I fell in love with was my ballet class senior – there was a huge age gap to be honest, and all I thought was how beautiful she was. She was so kind when she taught me. But I was just in primary school then so I wasn’t even aware of what romantic feelings were; all I knew was admiration and I felt that ‘I really like this person’. Then there was this one time where I was hospitalized and I fell for this older married woman whom I was sharing a room with; I remember being so nervous when I asked for her address before I got discharged (laughs)
Sakura: Amazing, you actually took action.
Mogami: But it didn’t go any further than that. Well, her husband and son came to visit her in the hospital after all. I did go out for a meal with her whole family later on though (laughs)
Sakura: You didn’t harbour hopes of going out with her.
Mogami: It’s a bit different I guess.
Takahashi: But it wasn’t just friendship either, was it…?
Mogami: Hmm, I don’t think I found the answer within myself either, to be honest. You could say I didn’t know what the boundaries were.
The aura that materializes because there only girls around (Takahashi)
Q: What do you think is the appeal unique to girl x girl relationships?
Mogami: The softness!
Mogami: Speaking frankly, girls are really so soft.
Sakura: Do you mean…physically?
Mogami: Physically, yes, but I’d say overall. Girls are more particular with things like skincare, which is why a female’s touch brings a whole different sensation.
Sakura: That’s a very realistic statement (laughs)
Takahashi: But I certainly do think a female couple would smell better.
Mogami: Yes yes. Even when you look at manga or anime depictions, girls would definitely have a tender touch. I think Yamada would definitely have a delicate touch, while Kase-san would be endlessly smooth.
Takahashi: That’s the kind of aura that’s made possible solely because there are only girls around.
Mogami: I’ve come to the realization recently, that men and women are different creatures. Their brains are different, or should I say, their trains of thought are wired totally differently. In a way, I think it’s fundamentally impossible for us to understand the other sex. On the other hand, female couples would be in a better position to comprehend each other in many ways.
Sakura: There are experiences that are unique to women, aren’t there? It’d be great to be able to share such aspects from the start [of a relationship].
Takahashi: And you wouldn’t be able to make the excuse that ‘it’s ‘cos you’re a man/woman, that you can’t be so-and-so etc’.
Sakura: It’s not about the gender differences but it’s a more fundamental issue regarding an individual’s way of thinking as well as a divergence in values. I think it’s possible to go into such depth regarding this subject matter precisely because it’s a yuri series, or perhaps I should say, that it’s unique to works featuring same-sex relationships.
Don’t mind the yuri, just be soothed by this cute couple’s love (Mogami)
Q: Lastly, please briefly describe the highlights of the theatrical OVA.
Takahashi: This is a theatrical OVA production and I’m sure there are some of you who’d already know all about the original manga. For those who are encountering this series for the first time, you’ll get to see in detail the youthful days that Yamada and Kase-san are experiencing, so I do hope that you enjoy it. Also, the OVA’s story begins from the point where they start dating but you can also enjoy the heart-pounding moments from before they started going out through the manga and the drama CDs so I hope that you will deepen your experience with the world of Asagao to Kase-san.
Sakura: The Asagao to Kase-san series has great momentum right now. A yuri-loving friend of mind sent me texts saying that they’re making an Asagao to Kase-san anime and that ‘if they were going to animate any one yuri work, this has got to be it’. This was before the cast list was announced so I had to refrain from replying even though I was inwardly thinking ‘Yeah I know, and I’m doing it’…. (laughs). But that was the high level of expectation that fans of the original work have, and I think that we’ll be able to live up to those hopes by delivering a production that preserves the good atmosphere of the manga. Obviously, the OVA can be enjoyed by those who are using this show as an entry point to the series so I do want both those who know the manga and those who don’t, to enter the world [of Asagao to Kase-san].
Mogami: This is the kind of series that will definitely cheer you up when you reach home after getting off work, or whenever you’re feeling tired. Life isn’t only about the good things; there are plenty of hardships and accumulated stress as well – Asagao to Kase-san is a series that will help you forget all that for a moment in time. I think you’ll surely come out of it feeling positive so don’t mind the yuri – just be soothed by the love between this cute couple.
[Interview/text : Masuda Momoko, Photography: Satō Rui]