Card Captor Sakura has had a huge influence on me in many ways; if it wasn’t for the dazzling performances of people like Iwao Junko, Seki Tomokazu, Kumai Motoko, Hisakawa Aya, Motoi Emi, (Nogami) Yukana, Ogata Megumi, Shinohara Emi, Konishi Katsuyuki, Toma Yumi, Yuzuki Ryoka and of course, queen Tange Sakura herself, I would not have an iota of interest in voice actors today.
Tange-san retired from voice acting in 2000 following her departure from Aoni Production, purportedly to focus on music, but she made a comeback in 2009 through Love Plus.
This is her Seiyuu Road.
Pt.1 – I was conscious of my “voice” in kindergarten and elementary school
I was conscious of my “voice” in kindergarten and elementary school
Congratulations on your 20th anniversary, Seiyuu Grand Prix! I have been featured on the cover of your magazine 3 times in the past. I’m suddenly reminded of how, at a certain recording studio, a fellow seiyuu came up to me and said “I saw Sakura-san wearing a red-knit sweater on the cover of Seiyuu Grand Prix so I thought that I’d like to buy a red-knit sweater for myself too!”. I was surprised that I had unknowingly become a fashion leader (laughs). There was also a girl who read one of those issues who became a seiyuu and whom I met some time later in the studio – I think that was amazing.
I don’t often wear red myself but as my name ‘Sakura’ gives off an image of the colour pink, I’m often dressed in warmer hues. I had a shoot in Hokkaido once too. I’m getting really nostalgic now…
Around the time when I made my début, seiyuu, who used to give off an image of ‘working behind-the-scenes’, gradually began to appear in magazines and on TV, so I was able to comfortably tackle all kinds of jobs. The original reason I had wanted to become a seiyuu too, was because of a documentary about the behind-the-scenes stuff in anime that I watched on TV in my 3rd year of high school. When I saw these people, who are now considered the prominent veterans of the industry, take part in studio recordings on the TV, I became aware of voice acting as a profession. In kindergarten and elementary school, my friends and teachers would say things like ‘Sakura-chan, your voice can be heard even from the room next door’ or ‘no matter where you are, I can tell right away (because of your voice)’; that would make me a little embarrassed and being the child that I was, I ended up always being conscious of my voice. Still, it wasn’t like I was a member of the drama club or anything, and it was only when I was trying to decide on a career path in my 3rd year of high school that I seriously thought about attempting to become (a seiyuu).
So I thought about enrolling in voice training school but back then, one of the entry requirements was ‘high school graduate or above’. Nowadays you see a lot of junior high schoolers and kids wanting to become seiyuu so they don’t set any lower age limit. For me, the timing was just right; I graduated high school and made the move to Tokyo from my hometown in Aichi and attended training school alongside junior college.
Naturally my parents paid for my college tuition but I kept the fact that I was also attending training school a secret from them. One of the things that the older generation of seiyuu keep bringing up is true – when people ask “What do you work as?” and you answer “Seiyuu”, they would think that you’re ‘manning the cash registers at the supermarket¹’; that was the level of awareness that the public had about the profession back then.
Nowadays ‘seiyuu’ has risen to become one of people’s top occupations that they want to be but back in my time, nobody was aiming to be one and I didn’t want to cause more unnecessary worries for my parents so I was thinking that I would only let them know once I’d graduated from training school and started getting proper jobs. Since I wasn’t allowed to work part-time when I was in high school, it was only when I was in college in Tokyo that I started doing part-time jobs in the evening for 6 months to earn enough tuition money before entering training school. “So far so good, I can keep this secret” was what the 18-year old me thought, but the school had (this policy of) contacting the parents of those who were underage. Thus my secret was out and I got a call from my parents saying “What on earth is this?”
As for how I managed to worm myself out of the situation, it was because the school I was attending was called “Announce Academy”² which made it sound more like a place to train announcers rather than seiyuu. Even if my parents knew nothing about seiyuu, they’d surely have heard of announcers since they watch the morning news; so I said to them “Mum, I’m actually thinking of becoming an announcer and everyone here goes to college while attending training school to sharpen their skills on the side”. They then replied, “Is that so? Then please do your best”, and I received their readily given permission. I did not know at the time, but my mother had actually wanted to be an announcer when she was young. It was only after a long while that she confided in me “I thought it was quite unusual for Sakura to want to do this kind of job” and that I had unknowingly pursued her dream on her behalf (laughs). In any case, I just thought “Yes! Yes!” at the time and enrolled in the school and proceeded to graduate after 1 year, then passed the agency audition, became an affiliated member and hence began my voice acting activities.
Pt.2: Let not disadvantages remain disadvantages, turn the negatives into positives
Let not disadvantages remain disadvantages, turn the negatives into positives
Now that I look back on it, I realize that I was taught by the strictest teacher in training school. Thanks to that experience I was able to handle studio recordings with relative ease; I am grateful to have gone through training school, which helped me to prepare in advance. I think it was more a case of being nervous in front of my seniors rather than finding the recording studio a daunting place. As the youngest in age and the rawest in terms of experience, I found that just standing in front of the mic would make my legs and hands shake – my heart would be pounding too…My TV series début was as the role of rookie idol Sakuma Suzu in the Marmalade Boy anime and my first ever line was a greeting – “I’m Sakuma Suzu! Pleased to meet you!”; I think I managed to translate my nerves into the “innocence” (required for the role). I was really fortunate that a lot of Suzu-chan’s parts were about her growth – it fit my situation at the time perfectly, and I was able to grow along with her.
This is something that was true during my training school days and remains the same even after my début – my intonation is bad. Even now, when I receive my scripts I’ll double-check the accents using the dictionary in my electronic notebook, write the words out and read them. It seems that it’s hard for me to get rid of my Aichi intonation. Apparently it’s easier to switch to and from the Kansai dialect but not so with Aichi. Furthermore, I have this…physical condition, where I have a lisp. I know that my lisp and poor intonation are disadvantages…oh deary me! Honestly though, there have been some jobs I’ve done that have taken advantage of those shortcomings. Characters that speak with accents, little kids, characters that look like kids on the outside but are actually 400 years old on the inside; I’ve gotten those kinds of roles quite often so in a way, it’s a blessing that I’ve been able to capitalize on my weaknesses.
‘If I could only think of my shortcomings in a negative way, then they would merely remain as that – shortcomings. However, if I could somehow turn them into something positive…’, that was my line of thinking. Everybody has their own weaknesses so do not be discouraged; instead, find a way to cope with it. Especially in the case of anime, where characters possess quite a big influence; even if you find yourself having trouble speaking in normal circumstances, there are instances when your lisp and strange intonation might bring more charm to your character. For example, Card Captor Sakura’s Sakura-chan is only 10 years old. I’m blessed to have encountered such a good role.
Sakura-chan has been referred to as ‘National Little Sister’, while (my character) in Love Plus, the game in which I made my return to seiyuu work, was referred to as ‘National Girlfriend’ – that means I hold the titles for everyone’s favourite little sister and girlfriend (laughs). What else is there? ‘National Older Sister’ maybe? Age-wise I’d fit the criteria but…. Even now, when I act with my voice in its most natural state, I still end up sounding like a junior high school student. But yeah, I’m not looking at that as a weakness; I’ve got to turn it into a plus point instead. Recently, the director for my radio show came up with an interesting phrase. There’s this word ‘Yoen’ (妖艶, bewitching). Removing the ‘yo’ (妖, mystic) and replacing it with the ‘yo’ (幼, young) from ‘yochien’ (幼稚園, kindergarten) to form幼艶 (yoen, young & charming)…it’s somewhat rude isn’t it (laughs). Originally, there was a corner on the show that was supposed to show off my ‘adult appeal’ but even when I had a smirk on my face, I would only get unfortunate reactions in response: “You should just stay an imouto for life!” – I get darts like that thrown at me, but (he’d) say “Sakura-san has this weapon called 幼艶 (yoen)!” and though it’s frustrating, I have to accept it. From now on I shall try to incorporate this weapon called 幼艶 (yoen) into my arsenal (laughs).
I expended every ounce of cuteness within me to voice Card Captor Sakura’s Sakura
The TV anime Card Captor Sakura was broadcast from 1998 to 2000. So much time has passed since, but when I was in Taiwan recently for an event, I asked the crowd “Who’s watched Card Captor Sakura?” and pretty much everyone raised their hand. When I asked the interpreter why, (s)he said that this was because it aired on satellite TV around the same time it was being broadcast in Japan, and that everyone loved the show. It was the same in Australia; it seems that the show truly has a global reach. Plenty of merchandise was released in 2014 as well. There was even a collaboration with Koeda-chan; I owned one (when I was a kid) so it hit the spot generation-wise (laughs). It was a collaboration transcending history and held a deep meaning for me. Card Captor Sakura already had a very strong presence when it was airing but I never did think that it would have come this far, 15 years on.
After all, it was my first time playing a major role in such a large-scale production, in a work by CLAMP who I am a huge fan of, and even sharing the same given name as the character – all this strengthened my affection for the series. The production staff have mentioned in interviews that “we didn’t just cast her just because she has the same name” but I can’t help feeling that it is fate at work as it was a show that I had always wished to appear in. Sakura-chan is in a sense, an honour student who’s also a top idol. As an idol there are certain barriers she can’t allow to drop and I had to muster up every ounce of cuteness within my being to portray that cuteness, so I guess I did face slight difficulty there. Of course I don’t compromise on any of my other characters, but it was just that bit harder for Sakura-chan. When I’m acting, I start off with warm-up exercises. “I’m Kinomoto Sakura. From Tomoeda Elementary~” is what she says in her self-intro in episode 1, and I’d voice her thinking ‘It’s okay, I have become Sakura-chan for real!’ (laughs).
There may have difficulties but looking at Sakura-chan heals one’s heart for sure. So kind and loved by everyone, she really is a cute girl. I often play younger girls and when I do, I can spend the whole day with many warm feelings (in my heart). At times I wonder if this is what Sakura-chan means by “the magic of happiness” – even I, who is voicing her, feels that way so maybe those of you watching will feel even more ‘Hanyaan~’.
Pt.3 – Tips for budding seiyuu to ‘throw away their sense of shame’
Tips for budding seiyuu to ‘throw away their sense of shame’
Following that was a 10-year blank before I restarted my activities with Love Plus. I had no inkling during recording that it would turn out to be such a massive boom. That wasn’t the aim at all, and I know that I’m really lucky to have been associated with the game. What left an impression on me from the Love Plus recordings was the huge number of words involved. Recording 5 hours x 5 days for a game would result in quite a huge volume of words; by comparison, Love Plus was more like a regular anime where I’d record for 5 hours a day, but I’d have to go to Konami to record on a weekly basis. My first work after a long hiatus, with the magnitude of the lines to be recorded so large and that I had never experienced before… If I were to compare it to mountain climbing, it’d be as if I had not gone climbing for a long period of time, and instead of choosing a place like Mt. Takao in the Tokyo suburbs, I’d decided to take on the challenge of Mount Everest instead. Because of the sudden, drastic increase in lines, the muscles in my jaw ached (laughs). When you think about it, you wouldn’t normally do things like talk non-stop for 5 hours or keep changing moods when you’re speaking, from hyper to depressed, nor would you scream at the top of your lungs. I was reminded of the unthinkable amount of exercise a seiyuu’s jaw gets, and how I used to do this kind of thing when I was younger without any trouble – I was a little surprised, to be honest. Perhaps I was able to realize this due to the ‘blank’ period in my career.
After my return to the industry I was offered the chance to appear in Soreike! Anpanman. My first episode was a Christmas special. I get really nervous when I receive the call to work on the special episodes for Anpanman, be it Christmas or Hina Matsuri episodes, or the films. It’s such a prominent, influential title. In the same way that Love Plus was akin to climbing Mount Everest, I feel that since then, I have continued to take on a variety of (tough) challenges.
In the past, I was always the youngest and most junior seiyuu present; at the time, my cast-mates were mostly 30+ years old so the recording studio had an image of being an ‘adult workplace’. Nowadays I tend to be the oldest, and the average age in the recording studio has been getting lower. It feels like that is the biggest difference between now and my younger days. Obviously I’ve gone through a ‘restart’ after my hiatus and to me it feels a bit like it’s a ‘début (ver 2)’, but I doubt people around me would think that way. It’s a challenge for me to fill up those ‘blank’ years. For example, instead of filling my head with a myriad of thoughts, I try to take things as they come when it pertains to my acting, but at the time I had just made my comeback, it felt like there was a bit of time lag in my brain. It’s like when you’re learning English and trying to express yourself; in your head you’re thinking, “Watashi no namae wa Tange Sakura desu’ (私の名前は丹下桜です) and in a split second your brain will convert that to “My name is…”; similarly, when I’m reading scripts I tend to read it as Tange Sakura and then convert it to the character I’m supposed to be playing. Thus, I started to mark my scripts with emoji or kanji so that I can determine certain things with just one glance. For example, when a line requires a ‘wry smile with a subtle nuance’, I’ll mark it with苦笑 (wry smile) or draw a smiley face with sweat marks. ‘A time lag in performance – that’s what 10 years without acting does!’ is one of the things I’ve now learned.
It’s precisely because of this blank period that my experiences could be used as reference material for those who read this article, which means that all those jaw-aches didn’t go to waste (laughs). I’m the kind of person who’ll try anything if it seems like I can benefit from it; I write a lot of stuff on my scripts and if anyone tries to take a peek I’ll scream ‘Don’t look!’ in embarrassment (laughs). Still, in order to face recordings in the best shape, I think it’s alright to experience that little bit of embarrassment. It might just be the trick for budding seiyuu to ‘throw away the sense of shame’ when doing certain things.
Isn’t it true that everyone feels a bit embarrassed when doing something for the first time? Like the first time you have to read your lines in front of everybody, and when said performance is being judged by others. I myself am quite shy by nature, but I’m totally fearless when I’m on stage or reading out my scripts. Thus, rather surprisingly, I find that I might be the type of person who suffers from social anxiety in daily life but is the total opposite when on stage. In my case, no matter how much I’m trembling with nervousness, I’ll tell myself ‘This trembling is happening ‘cos I’m excited’. I once put into practice what I read in a book neuroscience called ‘The effectiveness of imprinting effects on the brain’ and found that it worked for me, so that’s why I recommend it.
Belief is fairly important in this line of work. There are days when I too, think ‘Ah, today is a bad day’, but I’m able to turn it around and think, ‘When I wake up tomorrow morning, it’ll be a new day’. Whether you cry or laugh, life will go on. The end will come if you start to think that you ‘can’t do it’. I believe that even if you’re not able to do it now, you should be positive and determined to open up a path to the future; be open, and always think ‘let’s give this a shot’.