Note: I really like Hou-chan voicing boys and young guys, so I was glad when I saw that she’s been added to the cast for the Spring 2015 TV anime version of Houkago no Pleiades, a collaboration between Gainax and carmaker Subaru. Look forward to it!
The heart is on fire but the mind is calm – finding myself
Q: You started living alone in Tokyo – what was it like?
A: For the one year I attended Aoni Juku, I stayed at a student dormitory that also housed vocational school students. There were curfew hours but breakfast and dinner was provided. My parents had consulted some of my relatives about living conditions (in Tokyo) and after being told, or rather, threatened (lol) about how it wasn’t safe to allow a girl like me to live alone, they decided that it was better for me to stay at a dormitory.
Around the time I was to graduate from Aoni Juku I started searching for a place of my own – that was the first time I lived alone.
Q: How were lessons at Aoni Juku?
A: When I first got in, the school was divided into two classes, A and B, with a total of around 70 students. I had a lot of fun but it was really nerve-wracking at the same time. Even at Aoni Juku I was the type of student who didn’t stand out. Maybe I just wasn’t comfortable with groups (of people); I think my presence really was like thin air. The teachers were surprised too, when I stayed on as a junior at Aoni (lol). I performed poorly during Japanese dance lessons and didn’t actually excel at anything else.
Q: Did you spend a lot of time practising?
A: I didn’t spend extra time on any one aspect in particular, it was just normal practice. I don’t think I did any more than the next person to be honest…”I want to be better than so-and-so!”, or constantly comparing yourself to others – I don’t believe it’s a positive thing to get trapped in this type of mindset. You’d probably end up wandering off in the wrong direction (mentally).
Also, I think overconfidence isn’t always a good thing. It’s important to keep practising, and to think of what you want to do in the future. “It’ll be alright if I just do this much for that”…or “I don’t feel that’s what it’s supposed to be”, things like that. I’m sorry, I’m being abstract…
Q: Obviously you’ve already undergone auditions to determine your entry into (Aoni) Production – but back then, when were all of you made aware of them?
A: In Aoni Juku the students used to put on a final graduation performance in front of the managers. Every year, there’d be a stage play which told the story of the battle between Yoshitsune and Taira no Kiyomori – this series continued for about 10 years. (*it’s different now).
Regarding casting for the play – it was said that if you were chosen for the lead role you’d be sure to get in (to Aoni Production), and if you were handed a random minor role of “A” you were likely to be cut loose. This was just a rumour circulating amongst the students. Even if you said you weren’t concerned about such things, I’m sure that deep down, you’d still be anxious over it. With such ‘myths’ going around it was inevitable that you’d be overjoyed to get cast in a good role and perhaps, have heightened expectations (of progressing on to Aoni Production).
I was given the role of an angel that got killed in passing. I calmly observed how my classmates were crying and laughing – of course, I was in the same position as them and I did try my best as well, but standing there and watching them I just thought to myself, “Wow, this is youth.” (lol)
Q: So there were two sides to you when it came to the lessons – one that always calmly took a step back to look at the big picture, and one that was trying her utmost, desperate best?
A: Yes, that might have been the case. There might be people who end up failing their auditions despite trying their utmost best. It goes without saying that effort is a necessary component (of success), but you will come to the realization that sometimes, mere effort is not enough – I had the ability to be able to look at such situations calmly.
Q: We know you ended up passing the Aoni Production auditions, but why do you think you were selected?
A: I don’t think there are any clear-cut answers for that…I watched some jump into the fire when it was clear they were going to get burned anyway, but there were also people around me who rose through the ranks rapidly. In my case, I can only say I got lucky.
I have never thought of myself as the type who would make the step up (to production) easily, but others have often told me that they did see me in that way.
As for the audition, it was a one-time chance thing. You go to where the managers are lined up, do the task that is set out for you within a time frame of 3-5 minutes, and go through a short interview. I was asked about the year I spent in training and at the time, I had no idea what to say.
It wasn’t really a case of throwing out every single thing you’ve learnt within that one year. Even if you were a high school dropout, you could still get picked as long as you could bring out the best of yourself at that very moment. Maybe I too, lucked out that way. Or maybe they gave me extra points for my youthfulness since I’d just finished high school. Even if I wasn’t the finished article now, time was on my side and I could be polished further – that might’ve been what they thought.
The tasks set out in the audition were an etude, CM narration and an interview. When I look back on it now, I think that perhaps the production auditions were only to gauge one’s potential. It’s just speculation on my part but I do think that the quality of one’s performance, though important, wasn’t all the judges were looking for – I think they might’ve been looking for someone who “shines” or has that X factor. Having said all that, I still can’t tell you what was the decisive factor in my having passed the auditions.
Continuing to work at my own pace
Q: You became an Aoni Production Junior – when did you start to realize “This is it. I’m a pro now.”?
A: When I actually showed up at the agency office for the first time, or maybe when I got my first job. I remember being really nervous when I went to the office as the managers and my agency seniors would be there. I got my first job within a month of becoming a junior. I was very happy to have been given a chance to work.
Q: As a pro, was there anything special you did to prepare for your work?
A: The manager(s) who accompanied me to auditions would…not exactly reprimand, but give me specific advice, so that I could work on (those parts) when I got home.
Also, after I made a request, the agency allowed me to go into studios to observe my seniors at work where I was also given a copy of the script to help in my practices…it sounds boring, but this is how I started to gradually improve my skills. I think most other pros did this too, to a certain extent. I don’t think I did anything particularly out of the ordinary.
Q: So when it comes to receiving job offers, most of it still entails auditions?
A: For juniors it might be a case of just taking our voice samples, there are other times when the managers will narrow it down to a few choices. In any case, I’d be happy to receive word of being called for an audition. It actually makes it all that much sweeter when you win a role that many others have auditioned for too.
Q: As a rookie pro your job earnings might not have been particularly stable – did you take on any part-time jobs to supplement your income?
A: I worked part-time at the Renoir near the agency office. It’s closed down now, but I remember that back then, the café would get really crowded on days of events such as the Jingu (Gaien) fireworks festival. That’s why I scheduled my shifts as quickly as possible so that I could avoid working on such days (lol). It was hard to juggle seiyuu work and my part-time job as auditions calls and work schedules tended to come at short notice; sometimes I just couldn’t get any time off. The café tried to accomodate my situation but it was clear that it wasn’t something that could go on long-term.
Note: Renoir is a Japanese ‘kissaten’ coffee shop chain
It’s fun to play a variety of roles
Q: You have been involved with a lot of shows. In your opinion, in what way do you think the industry “needs “you?
A: That’s a difficult question…Now, I am here and working contentedly, but the nature of the industry is such that this opportunity may disappear at any time..for animation work in particular, (we) do face the challenge of having to compete with ‘fresh’ (seiyuu) and there are times when new, young voices are always in demand.
I have been a seiyuu for around 10 years now and I have at times, thought about whether I should challenge myself in other areas. Having said that, I do feel that I would always say “yes” to anyone who’d say “We would like Kuwashima Houko to appear in this anime”.
I wouldn’t be bothered by having to voice a lot of different roles – in fact, I’d really enjoy it. It seems I’m the type who finds it easy to switch smoothly between characters from different shows. Obviously I was surprised by such situations at the beginning, when I first started to get busy (with a variety of work). For example, there was a time when I had 2 recording sessions in 1 day – one would involve voicing a young boy’s role, the other an older, adult sister. Voicing the leading role means lots of lines – when I had 1 lead role in 1 week I’d be on top form, but for that particular time both roles were the lead. That led to the emergence of a different kind of pressure for me but I learned to pace myself as time went on and gradually, I adapted to moving from studio to studio.
Q: So that’s something you learned on the job. Are there any other things you learned?
A: I feel it’s an amazing thing when seiyuu of all ages gather in a single studio to work together on a show. Because of that I’m always asking my seiyuu seniors to show off their “tricks” in the studio. I say “tricks”, but these are real skills – they’re a career, not just a party trick!! You can tell how wonderful it is, and have your breath taken away to be able to see firsthand the kind of techniques and craft that have been honed (over time). Of course, it’s not possible for me to reach that kind of level overnight but I hope that little by little, I too can become somebody like that.
(end part 2)