Interview with Holy Peak’s rookie seiyuu Ishitobi Erika, a member of the idol unit Purely Monster that’s done songs for the Centaur no Nayami and Imo Imo anime. Here, she discusses her troubled teenage years, which she’s mentioned on radio etc in a more light-hearted manner, but this piece does stray into dangerous territory at times by touching on sensitive topics that Ishitobi is reluctant to get into much detail about.
She does seem a lot happier nowadays, but you never know what’s going on beneath the surface of an idol’s smiling face, as we shall find out.
Voice actress Ishitobi Erika, whose career experience includes a stint as a model for Popteen, is now active as a member of the idol unit Purely Monster. She may look elegant and pretty on the outside, but her true nature is that of a hardcore otaku.
“I love manga, anime and games. I used to go to Animate 5 times a week”
“I turned into a drop-out when I was in junior high and led the life of a shut-in”
“I used to run a dream novels* website and even wrote them myself”
etc etc. As she divulges revelations about her past, increasingly sensitive subjects are brought to the fore.
It’s true that fans might pull back in response to the darkness that she reveals…she had such worries. Perhaps rather unexpectedly, many people have accepted what she’s chosen to talk about.
“They tell me, ‘You gave me courage’, and that makes me so glad. I may sound cheerful nowadays, but I felt frustration throughout the days when I couldn’t go to school. The experience has turned into something positive for me today, so I’d love to be able to go back to those days and tell myself ‘It’ll all be okay’.”
Turn weaknesses into strength. There is no such thing as a ‘dark past’.
*夢小説 (yume shōsetsu), similar to fanfiction but with self-inserts (writing yourself into the storyline)
[Photography: Arai Tetsuya. Interview/Text: Noguchi Rikako]
A shut-in girl who turned into a Popteen amateur model
Q: I checked out Ishitobi-san’s radio show. I enjoyed listening to you speak, so I have high hopes for today! (laughs)
A: Thank you! So you actually listened to the radio show…so I guess this means I won’t have to pretend to be someone I’m not (laughs) Looking forward to today too.
Q: Your entry point into showbiz was through a Popteen audition. How did that come about?
A: There was a point in time, when I was in junior high, that I became unable to go to school and turned into a hikikomori – a shut-in. It was around the high-school entrance exams period and I was determined to undertake distance learning classes, with the thought that ‘I’m just not cut out for normal school’. However, my schoolteachers and parents opposed the idea.
I was wondering, ‘Is there a way for me to get to undergo distance learning?’ and I started thinking that ‘Maybe getting a job would do the trick’. I was fond of fashion and makeup, so I applied for Popteen.
Q: So that was the reason!
A: Yeah. Before I knew it, I’d won the prize and achieved my aim of taking distance learning courses! (laughs)
Q: Hahaha. You mention that you used to be a hikikomori – did you feel okay then, about becoming a public figure?
A: You’d think that to be difficult for hikikomoris, wouldn’t you? But I wanted people to look at me; I craved the limelight. Throughout the days when I stopped going to school, I was still studying fashion and makeup at home and taking photos of myself. I wasn’t even attending school but I thought of myself as a ‘misunderstood girl’ who was the ‘cutest in class’ (laughs)
What an idiot I was…back then, I seemed to possess a strange amount of confidence that prompted me to apply for Popteen – I can’t quite deny the truth of it (laughs)
Q: You started working as an amateur model – what was the experience like for you?
A: Most young models have this kind of…farsightedness, I would say. Junior high school girls tend to be a little…y’know, typical teenagers? …But these kids were nothing like that, they were more open-minded – it was easier being around people like them.
I’d wear a ton of different clothing; get my make-up done. I only have fond memories of my time there, living out the youth that I’d never had, with Popteen.
Q: I’m quite surprised to see the contrast between the gyaru look you had back then, compared to what you look like now (laughs)
A: Ahaha, you’re right. If you only learned of who I am after I became a seiyuu, you’d be surprised. Every so often, I still get sent messages on Twitter saying ‘this photo is Ishitobi-san…right?’ (laughs)
If you like seiyuu so much, why don’t you try becoming one?
Q: You say that modeling work is fun, but you graduated from Popteen when you finished high school. Did you not think about sticking at modeling for a little while longer?
A: Hmm. I’m quite short and my style isn’t particularly great nor am I exceptionally cute, so it was never realistic for me to pursue it long-term. In my mind I’d already come to the decision, that I would give up working with the magazine when I graduated from high school.
Q: What were your thoughts at the time on your post-graduation career path?
A: I was in a dilemma over whether to go to university or to get a job. At that point, my mother gave me the little push in the back that I needed – ‘Since you’re already in this industry and you love seiyuu so much, why not try becoming one?’
Q: You’ve always loved manga, anime and games, and you know a lot about seiyuu too.
A: I’ve always been an otaku. I continued going to Animate throughout my Popteen days (laughs). I’d often chat with my mother about anime and seiyuu that I loved, which is why I think she encouraged me to try out voice work.
Q: When did you start liking anime?
A: My mother loves anime and manga herself, so it’s always been a part of me since my childhood. I’m not from that generation, but I did watch shows such as Sailor Moon and Fruits Basket.
I started watching late-night anime when I was in junior high. Since I was at home most of the time, I started getting stuck into them.
Q: You love and have an interest in anime and seiyuu, but did you ever think about entering the industry?
A: I never imagined that I would. Since I love anime so much, I didn’t think I should try to do it on a whim, plus it wasn’t ever going to be simple…but my mother’s words motivated me to think about taking on the challenge of voice work.
Not turning up for junior high classes. Manga, anime and games were what kept me alive
Q: Rewinding to before you were a hikikomori in junior high – what were you like in primary school?
A: I was always at the centre of attention in class. During breaks, the others would gather around my desk. And then…a lot of stuff happened (laughs)
Q: When you entered junior high, did you find yourself being unable to adjust to the new environment?
A: That period of time after you’ve moved from primary school to junior high – perhaps it’s something that only girls can understand. Those little conflicts between girls that start to materialise. The upshot was that I couldn’t go to school any more.
I went to classes on-and-off during my 1st year but apart from attending counselling sessions in school, I spent most of my 2nd and 3rd years of junior high at home.
Q: Did you talk to your mom about it?
A: No. I was honestly too embarrassed to tell my mother about why I didn’t want to go to school. She didn’t know the reasons, so she’d get angry and tell me off, ‘Go to school!’. Now, I can appreciate how my mother felt but back then, I was only arguing with her, thinking ‘What the heck do you know about me!?’
Q: Were anime, manga and games a source of strength for you during that period?
A: They truly were. I was thinking things like ‘Let me just stay alive until the release date of the next volume of this manga’.
Q: Was there any specific title that you were enamoured with?
A: I used to play otome games like Hakuōki and Amnesia. Manga-wise, I read a wide range of genres but the one I read and reread was Vampire Knight. I loved the art and its slightly unreal story.
Q: Have you met any of your primary school or junior high friends since you became a seiyuu?
A: Actually, there was a reunion the other day…
Q: Did you go!?
A: No, I wasn’t invited. Ahahaha (cries)
I was secretly checking out the Twitter account of a classmate, wondering what they were doing now and if they were living happily (laughs)
And then they tweeted something along the lines of ‘there was a junior high reunion’, so that’s how I found out.
A: Ah, but I did see them at our coming-of-age ceremony 2 years ago.
Q: Did you show them how you’re now shining in the showbiz world!? Maybe that would surprise them?
A: I couldn’t really say much to them…..ahahahahaha (cries)
Q: I’m sorry…..
A: No, I’m sorry….
Q: I do think that you’re truly amazing, Ishitobi-san, for being active as a seiyuu despite what you’ve gone through.
A: Thank you. I’m having lots and lots of fun right now. To me, this is a calling. I don’t believe I’ll be able to work at any other profession.
Q: Earlier, you mentioned that you’d considered finding work – what kind of job do you think you’d be working now if you hadn’t gotten into this industry?
A: Ah, it must’ve sounded cool when I said ‘I was thinking about getting a job…’ but I never really got around to considering anything specific. I’d probably end up a NEET. I’m really sorry….
Q: Hahaha. It’s a joy then, that your mom recommended you the seiyuu path.
A: I’m truly grateful to my mother. And if there are any kids out there who find themselves being unable to go to school like I did, I hope then, that I can support them through my works as well.
I want to become better than everyone else. I’ll take these regrets and turn them into opportunities
Q: You started voice acting work in 2016. Do you remember your very first role?
A: My first job was for a character’s voice in a game. I recall being very nervous. I got there a little early and watched my seniors recording their parts. I’d only viewed things from a gamer’s perspective prior to that so I was really surprised to see how recordings were handled, and impressed by my seniors’ wonderful performances.
I voiced the part of a female bystander who screams ‘Ahh!’ when they got attacked. Even so, I found that ‘Ahh!’ difficult and ended up sounding very wooden. It was as if I had ‘no idea how it felt to be attacked by a monster’. I feel much remorse at having to record the part over and over…
I was incredibly frustrated by my incompetence and vowed to ‘become better than everyone else’ as I continued attending lessons.
Q: When did you begin to feel that you were getting a good grasp of acting?
A: Hmm…to be honest, I’ve got a long way to go. I’m still filled with regrets after every recording. Obviously I do feel like I’ve given 100% every time but when I’m done, I start reflecting on ‘how I could have done certain things better’.
Q: Is there anyone who you can talk things through with?
A: I did say to my manager that ‘I want to take more lessons’. I may be active as a part of the idol unit Purely Monster but voice acting remains my focus.
Q: Your career covers an extensive range of activities, but you consider voice acting to be the focal point.
A: Yes. I enjoy everything I do, but I do feel the biggest sense of accomplishment when I’ve completed recording something. And of course, it’s thanks to voice acting work that I have opportunities to produce photobooks and appear on radio shows.
From a fan’s perspective! Behind-the-scenes stories of my first photobook
Q: Let’s talk a bit about your 1st photobook ‘Cheer’, which will be released on 18th September. What were your thoughts when you first heard about the photobook?
A: It’s really amazing to be able to publish a book, isn’t it? I’d never be so presumptuous as to believe it possible that I could ever put out a book.
That’s why the first thing that came out of my mouth when my manager mentioned it was ‘Will it sell!?’. Not ‘I’m happy! Thank you!’ but ‘Really!? Will it even sell!?’ (laughs)
Q: Hahaha. It’s not a photoshoot collection this time, but a proper photobook.
A: My impression of photobooks was that they covered a model’s fashion style and hair and make-up. However, when I looked at myself objectively I didn’t believe that there would be any demand for such features. I thought that it’d be better to have as many photos as possible, so I relayed my views on that.
I hope that looking through the photobook will compel readers to wish to support me, as well as give them strength – I see this mutually supportive relationship as an ideal, which is why I named the book Cheer.
Q: How was the photoshoot? You wore loose-knit clothing and white one-pieces, which is slightly different from your usual look.
A: I wear a lot of black normally so it was a chance for me to change things up!
I looked through a few idols’ photo collections and photobooks and did my own research. People mostly wear loose-knit clothing and pyjamas at home so it’s not something you normally see, which is what makes it exquisite. I conveyed my thoughts about wanting to try it out.
Q: This means you value your fans’ views. Each and every photo has a wonderfully ‘natural’ feel to it.
A: I had a lot of fun chatting with the photographer as we were going about the shoot, so it’s as ‘natural’ as you can get (laughs)
Perhaps it’s because I originally worked as a model that I have trouble with natural expressions, since I’m very much used to posing for the camera. This time, I managed to produce a lot of natural-looking shots and I remember remarking ‘Wow! I’ve never seen my face look like that before!’.
Q: You’d love for your fans to see this as soon as possible.
A: Yes! I’m just super duper excited for this…!
The ‘strength’ to reveal the darkness of my past and turn it into a weapon
Q: If the pre-showbiz, hikikomori Ishitobi-san of the past were to see the person you’ve turned out to be today, she’d be shocked.
A: Yeah she definitely wouldn’t believe it.
Q: If you could say something to the ‘you’ of the past, what would it be?
A: I can now cheerfully talk about my past of not going to school and how I couldn’t adapt to my surroundings, but I definitely had an inferiority complex and closed myself off from other people at the time. However, I see it all in a positive light now. I want to say to myself that ‘you shouldn’t think so much about it; that it’ll be alright’.
Q: Have you always been this good at speaking?
A: No, not at all. I just talk very fast. When I listen back to my radio shows, I reflect on how ‘I could’ve said things in a slightly better way’. I often listen to other seiyuus’ radio shows and I’m always thinking how they’re all so good and so amazing.
I mean, I used to be a hikikomori so I never had many clear chances to talk to other people and when I look back on it now, I suppose I might’ve been a kid who talked to themself a lot (laughs)
I say whatever is on my mind right away. “I’m gonna play this game!” or when I’m playing it, “Here it comes, here it comes! This is how it all unfolds!?”, and so on. I do my own running commentary when I’m playing games, to the point where my mom will ask ‘Is there someone else in the room?’ (laughs)
Q: I think your speaking ability is your strength – is there anything else that you believe you’re better at than anyone else?
A: I can talk about my dark past more than anyone out there (laughs)
When I mention my dropout days on the radio; this ‘gloomy past’ or.. should I say, ‘shadiness’? (laughs) So yeah, I was honestly worried that I wouldn’t attract any fans if I exposed my dark past. However, I was so glad to have so many people come up to me to say ‘I used to be like that too’, or ‘You give me courage’, or ‘I want to support you now’.
I’ll work hard from now on so that everyone will continue supporting me in the future!!
Ishitobi’s never put a specific name to the reason she ended up dropping out of mainstream schooling, but you can make the obvious inferences from previous comments about ‘spending her lunch breaks in fear’, mostly in the toilet or the nurse’s office, and about how she never took part in school events and had her junior high graduation ceremony alone in the principal’s office.
The fact that she’s actually getting things out in the open is great – mental health is a topic that remains fairly taboo not just in the seiyuu biz, but in Japan in general. We’ve heard it mentioned briefly through Hayashi Saori’s case, Gouri Daisuke’s suicide, Ogata Megumi talking about how she went through a brief period of depression and of course, Tamura Yukari’s well-publicised struggles. It’s an important conversation to have especially with the ridiculously demanding, every-man-for-himself nature of the seiyuu industry of today.
Meanwhile, check out Ishitobi’s website which links to all her other social media profiles.