Q: Please tell us why you wanted to become a seiyuu.
A: I love watching anime; watching one anime after another from evening to night time used to be my daily routine. When I was in fourth grade, I happened to see a TV programme featuring an actual seiyuu promoting the theatrical version of a certain anime. That was how I learned about the seiyuu profession – people who produce voices to match a character, and I thought to myself “I want to be one!”. But now that I think about it, when I was in kindergarten I wrote “San from Princess Mononoke” when I was asked on my birthday, to name my future dream. During those days I had always wanted to be this or that character so once I learned about the existence of seiyuu, I wanted to become one right away.
Q: At what age did you actually start taking action to become a seiyuu?
A: I’d wanted to become a seiyuu since I was in fourth grade but at the time, I was a member of the wind ensemble club. I was doing that until I graduated from junior high so it was a tough situation to be in. When I entered high school I didn’t apply to join any clubs so I decided to try taking lessons in seiyuu training school. I called up the school and obtained the entry forms myself, then attended an interview for admission to Nichinare.
Q: You mentioned that you applied right after you enrolled in high school – that means the cut-off date for most training schools would already be over.
A: That’s right! That’s one of the reasons I chose Nichinare – because it was one of the schools that had a July admission period, and that was when I started attending classes. “That’s why I made the cut!” is what I tell people. Still, the main reason I chose Nichinare was because a lot of prominent senior seiyuu graduated from the school. When I looked at the list of graduates, I recognized the names of a lot of people who had appeared in anime I had watched. With such an impressive track record, I felt that this was a school where I could confidently devote myself to my lessons.
Q: Which Nichinare course did you choose?
A: As I was still a full-time student, I chose to take the course with weekly lessons. Those classes started with the basics such as learning the fundamentals of stretches and vocalizations, so I wasn’t really scared of, nor did I feel the gap in ability between beginners and those with experience. What did surprise me was the high level of motivation that everyone around me had. I consider myself the shy type normally, so seeing the kind of fighting spirit and energy that my classmates had during the very first lesson made me think to myself “I can’t let myself get buried this way – I’m not going to lose to them!”. I found myself being pulled in by everyone’s power and it in turn, drove me on; I am grateful to have met such wonderful classmates.
Q: What were the lessons like?
A: Different classes were taught by different lecturers, so the content of the lessons would vary. I did the basics – thorough Nichinare-style stretching to increase the flexibility of my voice, practise my articulation after warming-up, tongue twisters, nasal consonants etc, and to sum that all up we’d do a stage play at the end of the year. I didn’t even get anywhere near a microphone during that period, and I think the only time I saw a script was for the play.
Q: Did you ever feel that weekly lessons were insufficient?
A: With weekly lessons, I would have to take what I learned every week and go home and drill myself in preparation for the following week. Since I was only learning the basics, things like stretching and tongue twisters could be done alone at home. I’d diligently practise by myself for a week, then show the results to my lecturers and ask for their advice – that kind of approach to lessons suited me.
Q: To not sweep the lessons to one side, to be able to practise voluntarily and absorb what you have learned – for a 10th grader, you already showed so much awareness.
A: Is that so? It’s not like I was ever a member of the drama club, so perhaps it was just because I found the process a lot of fun. It was the first step towards becoming a seiyuu; thinking about how each of these steps would connect to another step that leads me to the path of being a seiyuu, I would use any spare time I had to practise what I had learnt.
Q: So you spent a year on the basics, then after passing the review you advanced to the preparatory course – was that the path you took?
A: Yes. After a year of doing the prep course you would usually advance to the training programme, but for me I did 2 years of prep. I cried when I failed to move up to the training programme after my first year of prep (laughs). When that happened I shifted classes, which meant my lecturers and the lesson content completely changed as well. I looked at it positively and did not let myself think that my efforts were completely wasted; instead I took the chance to work thoroughly on my weaknesses. In practice, when you start working in recording studios you’ll find that there are few opportunities to relearn the basics – having received acting direction from various parties, I feel that it was good that I spent those 2 years in prep class solidifying my foundations.
Q: What sort of lessons did you take in the prep course?
A: In my 1st year of prep we’d take a theatrical approach towards acting, using Shakespeare plays and so on. For my 2nd year my lecturer was someone who placed great importance on vocalization so even though we went through similar drama-based material, the approach was unlike the freestyle acting of my 1st year; instead, there was a great emphasis on making sure the vocalizations were spot on during the plays. I learned to be more conscious of things like bringing out volume in my voice and making sure my voice travels across the room.
Q: So, when you get into the training programme you’ll finally have lessons that are on the practical side?
A: Yes. You finally get to work with a microphone. The first thing that I was told, however was “Why can’t you judge the appropriate distance at which to stand from the mic?”. For example, there was a scene where 2 girls are having a conversation on a train – apparently, I spoke in too loud a voice (laughs). Still, I was glad to have taken gradual steps – first learning how to act with my body from my time in the basic and prep course, followed by learning how to judge mic distance during the training programme.
Q: Is there anything you learned from your lessons that left a deep impression and prove useful even today?
A: There were things taught during the basic course like vocal exercises that I used to practise every day to the point where I memorized them. Nowadays, I still use them to warm up my vocal cords before I go to work. Also, I was taught by my lecturer in my final year to “find my freedom”. During lessons I would observe other people and often immediately think to myself, “Is his/her acting the correct way?”. However, I got to know this lecturer who would urge us to believe that “each person has their own way of acting, and that is fine”, and he/she was instrumental in widening my perspectives. Having been taught by so many different lecturers, I will extract all the positive points and apply them in order to become a good actress; I will continue to take all that that I have learnt and put them into practice.
Q: The seiyuu of today not only have to learn to act in front of a mic but they have to sing, dance, talk on radio shows and at events – basically they’re required to be all-around entertainers. That’s tough.
A: Since vocalization and acting with my body form the base of my work, I am somehow able to get by (laughs). I’d never sung nor danced before this, so when I was suddenly informed that a certain job would require singing and dancing I just went “Eh!?”. But it was a lot of fun to learn them from scratch! I only took weekly classes but there was a class where you could learn dancing and singing 3 times a week, I was jealous (laughs).
Q: Having been through the system, what do you feel are the charms of Nichinare?
A: It’s not only because you can see how so many amazing seniors have passed through its doors, but there’s also the fact that you can choose the once-a-week or thrice-a-week course to suit your needs if you’re a student or a working adult.
Learning together with people of varying ages and circumstances as well as differing perspectives about acting proved a great motivator; it was also a valuable experience to see so many different acting styles and qualities. Going through the flow of enforcing the basics such as vocalization, then learning to act and express with one’s body and finally, performing in front of the microphone; I believe it was amazing that I was able to take those steps which in turn, have made it possible for me to act naturally.
Q: Do you have any future goals or dreams?
A: It has been four years since I got my first job and there have been many ups and downs, with days where I can think “I did well!” and others where I go “That was terrible”. Whatever I do, I just look at things in a positive manner and take in whatever is thrown at me, so that I can continue to grow. I don’t want to stop taking time out to reflect either. While it’s true that overthinking could have a negative effect on my performance, I do believe that worries are a necessity – without them, you would never bother to think about how you could improve yourself. So I mean this in a positive way: I’d like to be a seiyuu who continues to worry, and reflect.
Q: Please leave some advice and a message for those who are aiming to become seiyuu.
A: I would ask those of you who are aiming to become seiyuu to work hard, and never lose sight of how fun it can be. There will be times when you feel fearful but try to think of being able to enjoy acting in the end-product, and you will be able to give rise to a lively performance. Also, during lessons, don’t let your acting be influenced by other people whose approach differs from yours. Maintain your own style and methods; it is more important to reflect the character in question and of course, while you absorb the good points you should also pursue your own style. On a personal level, I am going to work hard to deliver new sides to Onishi Saori in the future, so I’d be grateful if you could continue to watch over me.