#118 – Midorikawa Hikaru

Name: Midorikawa Hikaru (緑川 光)
DoB: 2 May 1968
Hometown: Otawara, Tochigi
Agency: Aoni Production

It’s interesting to see Midorikawa land the titular role in the anime adaptation of manga Sakamoto desu ga?. I must admit that I had expected the role to go to a younger, popular seiyuu (Kamiya Hiroshi, to be exact), so it’s nice to see that the show has enough production dollars behind it to hire an A++-grade cast.

Of course, back in the 90s Midorikawa was a huge idol with many fangirls and people were falling over themselves to cast him in things like Slam Dunk, Gundam Wing, Slayers and Fushigi Yugi. But he’s stood the test of time and 2016 is his 28th year in the business.

This is his Seiyuu Road.

Pt.1 – Admired seiyuu after watching Mobile Suit Gundam, enrolled in Aoni Juku

Seeing a special feature on training schools in a magazine, I felt “closer” to seiyuu

Mobile Suit Gundam was the show that made me aware of the seiyuu profession. I didn’t watch it in real-time though. To the child I was back then, the story seemed incredibly difficult and rather surreal at first, and I only started to think that it sounded ‘quite interesting’ after having discussions about Gundam in school with my friends. By then the anime had ended its run and I thought I’d never get to watch Gundam myself, but I chanced upon a special post-broadcast article on the show in an anime magazine I was reading at the bookstore. It included an interview with the seiyuu that allowed a youngster like me to understand that, “Ah, so this is the kind of work that a seiyuu does”. Still, it didn’t immediately occur to me that “I want to be a seiyuu!” or anything, but I did slowly begin to remember the names of people who appeared in Gundam productions, such as Furuya Tohru in the first anime, many of whom were affiliated to my own agency. Though at the time, I had no idea whether 青二 should be read as Aoni or Seiji (laughs).

I subsequently managed to watch Gundam via reruns but before I had the chance to do that, I wanted to know as much about the show as possible. So I spent most of my pocket money on drama records¹. I immersed myself in the works that way, and I soon began to vaguely dream about voicing the lead role in a robot anime that would similarly touch people the way that it touched me. That was what got me started out on this path.
I started buying anime magazines and naturally, began to learn more about seiyuu. I remember reading an article detailing the newly established Aoni Juku. Learning about the existence of such training schools turned my vague interest [in seiyuu] into something a little more substantial. However, even if I wanted to make it my career choice there was no guarantee that my parents would allow it. As I am the eldest son, I had been thinking about taking over the pharmacy that my parents ran in my hometown and though I did touch on the subject once, the reply that came was ‘there’s no way that a kid from this countryside could go to Tokyo to become a seiyuu’ – they dismissed it. Hence, when the time came for me to discuss it with them seriously, the result was an argument. I did knuckle down and study, but I knew in my heart that I wanted to be a seiyuu and not a pharmacist. My parents then said to me, “Just go to college first. And then decide what to do after”, but my view was that ‘no matter what college I go to, my heart wouldn’t be in it and I’d just end up fooling around, wouldn’t I?’. I thought it’d be a waste of time, so I answered them “Hell no”. They finally allowed me enrol in Aoni Juku as long as I accepted their conditions, which I think were things along the lines of ‘if you don’t succeed by 30, give it up’ or ‘you must remit some of your earnings home for X number of years’.

Having had these talks with my parents – I do think I would have been unable to convince them that ‘I want to become a seiyuu’ had I totally ignored my studies. You might think that schoolwork is an utterly pointless ordeal and in truth, a lot of what we learn in school actually turns out to be quite useless. It’s something that everyone knows yet continues to persist with, so if you’re the only one who abandons his studies you might find yourself ending up as the kind of person who keeps running away [from responsibilities] in society. If you’re the guy that places first on a level playing field, people will look at you and think that ‘this guy’s real strong’. You could say that the feeling of ‘not wanting to lose’ remains relevant even when you’ve actually become a seiyuu, and this is why, when I’m invited to speak as a guest lecturer at training schools, I will say, “Please do your best in your studies”.

Hell-bent, facing the challenge of the graduation performance; moving onto agency auditions

…I may be saying all this cool stuff but I’ll admit it – I messed about a lot in Aoni Juku (laughs). There were plenty of kids my age there and if I had to describe myself, I’d say I was the ‘noisy’ type of person in classes. Hisakawa Aya was my classmate and while she was definitely the top of the class, honour student of Tokyo’s 8th Year batch, I was the opposite; the #1 hopeless idiot who was always fooling around. I think I just found it impossible to hide my playful nature. I was barely aware of the fact that I spoke with a Tochigi accent, to be honest. Also, I used to sing in the choir when I was in elementary school so I was confident in my vocalization; my school teachers would often call my name and ask me to read passages from the textbook during lessons so I just assumed that I was really good at it. And that is why I ended up getting so frustrated much later on. The stuff that came after my Juku graduation was relatively easy and I had less trouble handling it.

For my graduation performance, I was chosen from the students of the Tokyo 8th Year class to play the lead role. That meant that I would have to be on stage throughout the entire play, from the moment I first appeared right through to the ending! Obviously I lacked technique and had to get a lot of help in fixing things like my accent; I recall that I was going all-out in desperation. Still, the occasion that troubled me most was the agency auditions to determine my future status, where I had to decide on what to do during the free-choice section. I knew I’d definitely be nervous doing those parts, so I wanted to choose something that was I was familiar with. My plan was to begin by greeting the agency staff but halfway through, pretend that I was being attacked by an unseen enemy, transform [into a superhero] and defeat the baddie, then continue with my greetings…I was a fan of Wingman at the time and remembered his transformation pose well so I wanted to go with that. A close classmate of mine around my age thought it was a cool idea, but another who was a bit older scolded me, saying ‘You idiot, you’re already in a good position after doing that lead role in the play, why are you trying to screw yourself up with something dumb like that?’…but when I carried out that skit as I planned it, I got a good reception. I even made the president laugh. At the time, Aoni senior Horikawa Ryo-san had a role in the Wingman anime so the executive director seated next to the president went, ‘Ah, our Horikawa is doing this show isn’t he’, and I got an ever better reception after that.

¹literally, dramas that came on record format. You can see some sample photos of records released back in the 70s/80s.

Pt.2 – Being conscious of ‘not wanting to lose’, not satisfied with ‘just getting by’

Bad at handling accents – at one point I was waiting to get fired

Even after I became affiliated with my agency as a junior, I still had to attend weekly study sessions. I had a huge problem with accents and always fared badly at impromptu assignments; my teacher remarked to me, “Midorikawa-kun, you could turn out to be something good…if only you had the time”. There were times when I was handed scripts for narration work I’d be doing and I was clueless about the accents; I’d have to mark up the bits I didn’t know and then look them up in an accent dictionary¹ – that took up an incredible amount of time.

At a certain studio I was given 10 sheets of script for a piece of narration work. As I was working on (the accents for) the first sheet, [a staff member] said to me, “Shall we get started soon…you okay with that?” and I went “Eh!?”. I did start to say “Sorry, just give me a bit more time…” but decided that I may as well jump in, going “Well, let’s just start then”. As expected, I fell apart. I was asked to leave the studio and they had someone else come in to replace me. I was thinking to myself, ‘After all that toil to ensure that I could stay at the agency, the mere thought that I might get fired for doing such feckless things…I should just take time out and go study accents instead’.

Just as I was planning to talk to my agency and ask them for some time off, I received a fan letter from a person who had listened to my work on a cassette paperback, and it said “I look forward to your work”. Reading those words, I realized that the thought that “I should take a rest since I can’t do it well” was just me trying to run away from reality. I started to work on my accents like how I’d study English, tirelessly writing down words I didn’t know and hiding the correct answer until I’d understood and memorized them. Once I started on the task, I somehow or rather, was able to fix my problem with accents and in turn, began to gain confidence. Everything I’d been doing up ‘til that point thoroughly exhausted me.

As a representative of Aoni Production, Always maintaining an aggressive stance of ‘never losing out to others’

My début anime, in terms of a recurring role, came in Future GPX Cyber Formula as Shinjo Naoki. Prior to that I had regularly appeared in a bunch of shows in roles like Student A or B; I was around 23 years old at the time. Cyber Formula is a work by Sunrise with character concept designs by Inomata Mutsumi-san and I was quite surprised to see that it got a delightful reception from otaku. I loved Inomata-san’s illustrations for the novel Utsunomiko so much so that I joined the Utsunomiko fanclub just for her drawings (laughs). That’s why I was so glad to have been part of (Cyber Formula).

Since my début I had acquired a strong image of being someone who specialized in voicing cool characters but my follow-up role to Shinjo in Cyber Formula was as Shintaro in Papuwa, who was the complete opposite type. I had my own worries about that. I was told, “Shintaro’s one of the most popular characters”, but he’s also the butt of all the jokes, isn’t he. It’s not like I was particularly averse to gags, but Shintaro’s also a typically handsome kind of guy so I had trouble visualizing just how out of control he was supposed to get when he broke out of his normal mode. However, one of my seniors said to me, “It’s okay, you don’t have to worry so much about that”, so I was able to go all-out with the role.

The role of Joe Rival in The Brave Express Might Gaine was what sparked the run of cool characters. Without him, I might have gone off on a different path. The sound director Chiba Koichi-san taught me a lot. It was a role that was decided via tape audition so when I started to voice the character based on what I had done then, he said to me, ‘Sorry man, can you forget whatever you did on the tape & do his voice this way – mumbling & emotionless’. I’d never tried something like that before so I was fumbling in the dark and thought I’d crashed & burned while on the other hand, lead actor Hiyama Nobuyuki-san was ripping it up with his screaming. When I got to listen to the playback I thought to myself, “Ah, so that’s what I sound like!” and Chiba-san grinned at me and said, “It doesn’t sound too bad doesn’t it? You can do it this way too, y’know”. Having received his approval, I went on to learn from the director just how to mumble while speaking. What I learned there in relation to (expanding my) worldview and the way I used my voice, I applied in roles like Slam Dunk’s Rukawa Kaede and Gundam Wing’s Yuy Heero. I would probably have been berated if I did that kind of acting of my own accord, so it was great that I got approval for that particular style beforehand.

It may have been a period of time where I still lacked confidence but at the same time, I also started to think that ‘I mustn’t ever complain’. At my agency, employment is divided into three stages – ‘junior affiliate’, ‘associate affiliate’ and ‘full-time affiliate’. There were times when I’d go up the ranks and watch as other seniors got left behind. I may have been younger by comparison but though being at a higher rank put a lot of pressure on me, I was able to realize that it would be rude to my seniors if I just gave up easily on things I couldn’t do and blamed it on my age and lack of experience.

Also, in the studio for shows like Cyber Formula etc, there’d be lots of other young actors my age from other agencies there – I believe it was then that I started to feel that I, as the “Aoni representative”, must not lose to the other actors. I wanted to produce work that was worthy of representing my agency. That was the point in time where I started to adopt an aggressive attitude, where I wouldn’t be satisfied with just ‘getting by’ but that I would ‘never ever lose’ to other people.

Of course I wouldn’t say that I’ve completely left that aggressiveness behind now, but I’m definitely a lot more relaxed these days (laughs). Time wasn’t the main factor in that shift in stance though; rather, I’ve just been able to approach my work in a natural way.

¹dictionaries that show how to enunciate words ie which syllables should be emphasized. See http://www.gavo.t.u-tokyo.ac.jp/ojad/eng/pages/home for more

Pt.3 – A shortcut to becoming a seiyuu? Detach yourself from a ‘princely attitude’

Seiyuu shouldn’t arbitrarily draw lines for themselves when it comes to characters

More recently I voiced a hot-blooded type of hero, Koga, in Saint Seiya Omega. When I auditioned, I didn’t actually think that I’d get to play a character that’s always in the thick of the middle of things like him, so it was a pleasant surprise when I got the role.
I do think that seiyuu shouldn’t arbitrarily draw lines for themselves. The last time I had to scream for a role was in Scryed [2001] and even then, I wasn’t that young any more, so getting the call for Seiya made me think, ‘Wow, I never thought I’d get to shout like this again!’. A couple of years have passed since then and I’ve actually been shouting a lot more than I thought I would. Obviously I’ve been taking good care of my throat over the years and utilizing techniques that allow me to act without damaging my throat, and when the time comes to scream, I’ll scream.

What made it better was having Kamiya Hiroshi-kun say to me “I watched your show! You’re amazing!”. Having a 45-year old like me doing such a role gives confidence to the next generation of seiyuu. Certainly, I too was glad and gained confidence after working with Furuya Tohru-san and Mizushima Yu-san on Seiya. It’d be a bit lonely if none of my seniors who were doing such roles as well. But they are. That is why I’d do my best as well, for the sake of the people who come after me.

It is impossible to produce a natural performance if all you can do is ‘imitate’

It’d be reassuring if people could understand exactly what type of seiyuu the voice acting industry of today demands. Unfortunately, I doubt anyone will ever know. The industry is changing drastically so what is in demand today may not necessarily be what is required a few years down the line. The first thing that I think the youth of today need is…‘power’. I spend time teaching in a couple of places and what I see a lack of, is ‘life’. When I enter the classroom, I can see that everyone’s eyes are dead. I’m thinking, ‘You’ve already taken the trouble to come to class, it won’t take much more to show a bit more enthusiasm in the classroom’. Only those who actively ask questions and those can show their charms will eventually survive, so it’s better if you demonstrate the right mental attitude during classes.

To the people who are hoping to become seiyuu in the future, what I want to let you know the most is that ‘you should hold back on doing imitations of voices’. This world is all about being able to produce a recorded performance that can be easily put out to the public – it’s okay to keep imitating voices as a hobby on the side, but if you want to make a career out of voice acting, you’ll have to keep it natural.

Seiyuu who voice cool characters can also play ugly characters, be asked to play ordinary roles, do narration and CM work – they’ll need to be able to handle a lot of different jobs skilfully. When I was in (Aoni) Juku, I had this bad habit of putting on airs that made the Principal say to me ‘are you planning be a Prince for life?’. I might actually voice the role of a prince in the future but if I were to specialize in that, it would take ages before I would get anywhere, career-wise.

So for now, you should work on doing vocal exercises, practise tongue twisters, and do the things that you can only do when you’re young like building up relationships with your friends at school. It may seem unrelated to voice acting at first glance but it could actually prove to be a shortcut. For example, when they’re getting people to provide voices for the background scenes and you can go and put in a good performance straight away, people will automatically pay attention to you. They’ll think, ‘This kid is proactive and quick-witted; I’ll remember to use him/her next time around’.

It’s not a definite thing that you’ll survive in the industry just because ‘you can do cool roles’ so if you’re aiming to become a seiyuu, just forget about trying to become a ‘prince’ – it’ll help you along faster.

On an (un)related note, Midorikawa has been married for a while – despite promising years ago to publicly reveal the identity of his wife when ‘the time is right’…the day has yet to arrive and probably never will, what with all that brouhaha from a couple of years ago.

Anyhow, his wife is allegedly fellow seiyuu Itou Maki (stage name Maki Midori), who also goes by the name Itou Touko when voicing adult games. She’s the older sister of Jac-in-Production’s Itou Mai, the pair of them used to be cosplayers and Maki herself was a fangirl of Midorikawa’s back in the day. Midorikawa himself has done eroge work over the years using various pseudonyms as well as co-starring with his wife in a few of those.

Common knowledge, yes? /////


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