First of all, an intro to newcomer Senbongi.
Name: Senbongi Sayaka (千本木 彩花)
DoB: 24 November 1995
Agency: I’m Enterprise
Pon-chan studied acting at Nichinare, and like many of the school’s best and brightest young things, she signed up with I’m Enterprise. Her official début was in 2013, voicing Kokonoe Claire in Kitakubu. This season you can hear her as Mumei in Kotetsujo no Kabaneri [Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress] and Yuuno in Mayoiga [The Lost Village].
She’s been doing a couple of interviews for Kabaneri alongside her I’m Ent senior Uchida Maaya, who voices Ayame. Here are two translations, some parts of which overlap with similar answers.
First up is Walker+, which I wanted to work on because of the part where they talk about each other.
Q: Before we get to Kotetsujo no Kabaneri, let me ask the two of you about your relationship. You’re senior-junior from the same agency…
Senbongi: Uchida-san is very much more senior than me, and I was looking forward to finding out what she is like in person. Kabaneri was our first proper meeting.
Uchida: Since this is our first time working together, I too wondered ‘what kind of girl might she be?’.
Senbongi: Uchida-san is just as her image suggests – cute and bright! To tell the truth, I did not know who else would be working on the series until the day before the recordings for episode 1. When I saw ‘Uchida Maaya’ on the cast list I went ‘Yay! There’s someone from my agency there!’. It was really reassuring (laughs).
Uchida: When I saw Sayaka at the studio I thought to myself ‘Oh, we’ve got an amazing girl here!’. ‘She’s got such a good hold of the character already with just 1 episode…amazing!’. She’s self-assured and I felt that I could leave myself in her good hands. We would work hard together, like sisters in arms. We were quick to exchange our LINE details with each other (laughs).
Q: How would you describe each of your characters?
Senbongi: I voice Mumei, who you can feel is a little different from all the other characters; she’s sort of a jarring presence. She’s a girl full of mysteries but is obviously strong and a professional when it comes to battles.
Uchida: I voice Ayame, who is in a position where she’s endeared by all. She may have experienced a lot accompanying her prominent father, but she is not yet able to be independent. Those around her think of her as a princess, though she herself does not want to be treated like one. I believe the keyword for Ayame is ‘growth’.
Senbongi: When I found out that I had been chosen for the role I auditioned for, I thought “Hooray!’ but at the same time, the pressure was really…. There was the fact that the show would be airing in the noitaminA slot, but I was also voicing the main role for the first time. I was just a bundle of nerves right up until recording started.
Uchida: I was anxious at first too. I never thought I would be asked to voice the role of a princess. The staff in the studio started calling me ‘Princess’ as well; I was scratching my head over that (laughs).
Q: Before the series goes on air, there will be a ‘Kotetsujo no Kabaneri Prologue’ pre-screening event on 18 March. Which parts do you think will be the highlights of getting to see Kabaneri on the big screen?
Senbongi: ‘Train’ is a major keyword for this show. I’d like you to pay attention to how perfect the completed train battle scene is.
Uchida: A lot of burning passion has gone into the making of this series, so much so that each episode is good enough to be screened in theatres. Especially the girls, you can see in the close-up shots just how amazing the effort that’s been put in, right?
Senbongi: They’re shining so brightly! (laughs). The girls are putting up a great fight too. As Uchida-san says, it’s movie quality visuals so to be honest, I feel like they should have the whole series screened in theatres instead (laughs). Also, do pay attention to the Kabane.
Uchida: That’s right! The Kabane themselves look intense, and the people voicing them are working just as hard. It seems that it has had quite the impact on their recordings the next day (laughs).
Senbongi: I wanted to voice the Kabane too, but they stopped me from doing it. Their voices sound creepy, like “Aahhhhhhh…”. Whether they’re being beaten up or slashed or sent flying by the humans, all they say is “Aahhhhhhh…” (laughs).
Uchida: Because of that, there is less use of background music, plus there are some scenes where only voices are present which means watching it in a theatre is going to make the characters’ voices resonate even more clearly. That of course, applies to the Kabane as well…(laughs).
Senbongi: Both the music and the visuals will be able to display their full impact on the big screen, so I highly recommend watching it.
Next up, Animate.
Acting with a sense of awareness of self-growth, and the differences between people
Q: Tell us more about the character you voice.
Senbongi: Mumei is a mysterious girl. Personality-wise she is very innocent, but when it comes to battles she’s a professional. She has a slightly different presence compared to the rest of the people on board the Kotetsujo.
Uchida: Ayame’s father is a person of great power (governing family of Aragane station) so that makes her the kind of sheltered girl who’s endeared by everybody. In the beginning she’s still not independent, staying by her father’s side all the time, but she doesn’t wanted to be treated like a princess – it’s only due to her lack of experience that she’s at a loss as to what she should do.
Q: Was there anything in particular that you were conscious of when voicing such a character?
Senbongi: I was conscious about making her as ‘far removed from the general population’ as possible. While other people are facing tense situations she remains optimistic. I try to voice the role with the awareness that I mustn’t be affected by my surroundings. I also take care when switching between the ordinary Mumei and battle mode Mumei. Especially the exact moment when that switch is flipped.
Uchida: The keyword for Ayame is ‘growth’; she undergoes significant changes in her mindset as the story progresses. Hence, during every recording I recall what went on the last time out, consider the situation that Ayame is currently in and try to imagine what she’ll be like when she slowly learns to stand on her own two feet.
Q: How did you feel when you found out about your casting?
Senbongi: The auditions were carried out in dialogue format, in groups of 5 of guys and girls. Director Araki said to us, ‘Everyone who’s been called to come here is definitely good enough (to take on the role)’. Hearing that made me think, ‘Then it’s got to be me!’ and I was able to go all-out.
‘Any one of us would be good enough…how I wish I’d be the one’..I’d be thinking things like that and one day, I got the call letting me know the good news and I let out one word that summed up my feelings: “Hooray!” (laughs). Though I was truly happy in that one moment as it would not only be a noitaminA work but also my first lead role, I felt really nervous right up until recording began.
Uchida: At the beginning I felt plenty of nerves too, over the fact that I was going to voice the role of a princess. People started to call me ‘Princess’ or ‘Ayame-sama’ in the studio as well so I did wonder how on earth I should tackle the role. When it got down to the actual performance, they told me at first, “Uchida, your Ayame is like ‘the Princess that everyone imagines her to be’, isn’t it?”, and I realized that it was true. I felt that I had to put myself in Ayame’s shoes throughout this series, and little by little, I was able to see things from her point of view.
Q: How did you overcome your nerves?
Senbongi: Basically, I fight desperate battles with the scripts for every episode. Everybody else is just so good that it’s all I can do to keep up, but sound director Mima (Masafumi) gives very good pointers, so I tackle the scripts when I’m at home, trying to fill in the blanks regarding Mumei’s private life and childhood in order to create her character.
Uchida: With each passing episode I feel an increasing sense of accomplishment and that has helped to reduce the nerves. Each 30-minute story is packed full of content, making it feel longer than it actually is. Maybe the recordings are overflowing with adrenaline as well since Ikoma’s seiyuu Hatanaka (Tasuku)-san is always drenched in sweat (laughs). I’ve never known such an exciting recording studio, with so much burning passion. I like to pit my own performance against the other actors’ performances so I will do my best with each episode to keep up.
Cinematic quality! Pay close attention to the close-ups of the girls and the train battle scenes!
Q: Tell us your thoughts about episode 1, now that you’ve seen it.
Uchida: I thought to myself, ‘Am I the right person for this?’ (laughs). Episode 1 was nerve-wracking after all.
Senbongi: So that happens to someone like Uchida-san too. I’m always thinking the same thing about myself. The paranoia feels so real sometimes; I wonder if things will turn out to be dreadful (laughs).
Uchida: Yeah, that happens (laughs). It’s because this is an original work that I’d be glad if I could create a character that convinces the audience.
Q: What do you think about the visuals and music during the action scenes?
Senbongi: They’re truly amazing!
Uchida: The quality level is like in the movies. Also, when they do close-up shots of the girls the effort put it in is amazing (laughs). The scenes leave such a strong impression that you’ll notice them without having to be told about it beforehand.
Senbongi: The flawlessness of the battle on the train is amazing too. ‘Train’ is one of the keywords of this series so that’s one of the major highlights. Also, do please pay attention to the Kabane (laughs).
Uchida: The people voicing them work so hard, it seems like they still feel the effects the next day (laughs).
Senbongi: The Kabane produce sounds while inhaling, kind of like in a ‘strained voice’, so it does take its toll. We wanted to be part of that too but we got banned from doing it (laughs).
Uchida: I did want to try it out!
Q: What image do you have of the noitaminA works? Do tell us if there is any particular series that left an impression on you.
Senbongi: They’re series that people who don’t normally watch much anime would know about – it’s a special kind of image that they have.
Uchida: A lot of the works have resonated deeply in people’s hearts and I think Kotetsujo no Kabaneri is similarly immersive.
Senbongi: I was really moved by the piano-and-drums part during the cultural festival scene in Sakamichi no Apollon [Kids on the Slope]. At the time, I’d often discuss the show with my club* members – “did you watch this week’s Apollon?”
Uchida: I had a small role in Apollon; the recording studio was a really elegant place to work in (laughs). This time around, the studio has a different kind of tension as well as possessing a different kind of colour, but it shares the same depth with all the other noitaminA productions.
*note: Senbongi played the clarinet in high school
Q: What was your impression of Director Araki [Tetsuro]?
Senbongi: [His work on] Shingeki no Kyojin [Attack on Titan] left a huge impression, but when I met him for the first time I found that he was a very good-natured and gentle person.
Uchida: It’s the same for me, Shingeki no Kyojin had such a strong impact and I remember being left in a daze at home after I had watched the movie. But it does feel strange to associate the Director and how we see him, with the guy who who’s got all this brusqueness inside his head.
Senbongi: Isn’t it truly so? He speaks quietly and calmly, but his works are hot-blooded.
Uchida: The script for episode 1 had a message from the Director written in it. This rarely ever happens for other shows.
Senbongi: The Director also passionately talks about the concepts for each individual episode, which makes it easier for us to understand what sort of approach we should take.
Uchida: In the Director’s head, everything has been worked out down to the finest details so no matter what you ask, he’ll always have a firm answer ready.
Q: Kabane are ‘immortal creatures’ – have you ever thought about obtaining ‘immortality’?
Senbongi: I’ve never thought about wanting to be so. Isn’t it painful to be the only one continuing to live when all your acquaintances have died? (laughs)
Uchida: I’d say the same. But I have thought about the prospect of my mother, who I have a wonderful relationship with, leaving the world before me…and at that point, I wanted her to be immortal. I think about other people who are important to me, rather than myself.
Q: On the other hand, what would you need in order to ‘survive’?
Senbongi: If we’re being realistic then it’s definitely money (laughs), but I’d say manga otherwise. It’s important to build up energy reserves and expand your imagination through reading manga.
Uchida: For me, it’s honey. During recordings I’ll always bring honey in a bottle and drink from it directly (laughs). When I take a sip, I feel like I can go to battle once again.
Q: Let manga and honey be your powers from now on as you work on the recordings. Thank you for your time!