#1. Hayashibara Megumi: What remains after the 90s seiyuu boom is over?
Hayashibara Megumi is an icon, symbolic of the female seiyuu boom that blew up in the 1990s. Her CV is impressive, with numerous appearances in popular anime including Neon Genesis Evangelion where she played Ayanami Rei. She’s scaled the heights of the Oricon Top 10 and as a host, has passed the 1000-episode mark on her flagship radio programme. What were her feelings, going through the seiyuu boom? What were her thoughts?
Maybe I’m just dense, but I didn’t even realize that there was a boom
Q: What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word ‘seiyuu boom’?
A: My impressions…? Seniors like Mizutani Yuko and Kawamura Maria come to mind.
Q: You don’t think that the boom started from the mid-90s era; with you and your contemporaries?
A: During that period I’d spend the days in between anime recordings in the music studio, and I’d think to myself, “Why am I even spending this much time singing?”.
Q: Did you not feel that the industry was getting a lot more exciting?
A: Maybe I’m just dense, but I didn’t even realize that a boom was happening. I might have felt like it was a boom if it was as natural as how you’d see certain products every time you stopped by the convenience store – not seeing watermelons only in the summer, but something that would always be on the shelves throughout the seasons. Discounting the anime shops, you’d rarely get to see anime songs on display in HMV or Tower Records. It felt like [anime was] being given the cold shoulder. Anime songs are too much of a niche genre which means that the CDs are in the same way, only sold in niche retailers. People who liked me were embarrassed about it, telling me that “I can’t openly admit that I like you” – with that kind of situation, I couldn’t really feel that there was a boom at all.
Q: Did your life not change at all?
A: I only got busier. But after Eva(ngelion) in ’95, I did get a lot of offers from salaryman-targeting magazines that I’d never previously been in contact with. Back then, the [seiyuu] industry didn’t know how to deal with such offers and my schedule ended up getting thrown into chaos thanks to those interviews. I had no idea what was going on. I guess they were a bit of a nuisance? (laughs). All I wanted to do was voice characters.
Q: Weren’t you happy to have been featured in magazines with 1 million copies in circulation?
A: I think I was more of the opinion of ‘why can’t you let me immerse myself in acting in peace’. Even if I accepted the interviews I’d be thinking, “Surely it isn’t my job to explain what the Human Instrumentality Project is”…that was part of why I treated them all like a ‘nuisance’. There were interviewers who’d ask irrelevant questions, some who were merely fans of the series and spent the whole time asking questions about the show or talking about their passion, and others who would ask me point-blank, how much I earned every year. That might be what you would refer to as a boom, but to me it was like being caught in a nasty vortex.
Q: On a personal level, I recall feeling that there was a boom after seeing a special article on seiyuu in a TV magazine. The top seiyuu being featured was you, Hayashibara-san, and your comments included “The notion that I am an idol is laughable”.
A: Hahaha (laughs). Well, the things I say never change. I guess that stubbornness remains.
Q: You continued accepting the interview offers despite thinking of them as a ‘nuisance’.
A: It was probably only after I turned 30 that I came around to thinking that ‘I should be allowed to make my own choices’. At that point it time it was seen as a crime to be picky. Even if you ended up being poisoned by the choices you made, you’d just chalk it up as experience. Anything that fell from the sky, you’d just receive them with open arms. Even if you ended up scraping your knees as a result. Thanks to that I improved my ‘footwork’, so to speak, and I no longer got freaked out by people from other industries. Though I’m not the sort of person who’s easily scared anyhow (laughs). I think I’ve built myself up to be totally undaunted by the prospect of meeting someone for the first time. For Usurahi Shinju which was released this past February, the staff members (producers etc) were all hand-picked by Shiina Ringo-chan. The make-up artists and stylists were all unfamiliar to me as well. Regardless, I was completely unfazed by it all and for that I have to thank the ‘me’ who would accept any offer with open arms for that attitude.
Did I ride the waves or against them? There definitely were no tailwinds.
Q: In 1996 your song Give a Reason which was the theme for Slayers NEXT, achieved a first for seiyuu: charting within the top 10 of the Oricon charts (at No.9). At the time, didn’t you feel like the wave was coming?
A: When the numbers came out I thought to myself, “I’ve finally acquired the right to speak”. Up to that point, it didn’t matter if I went to great pains towards or put a lot of effort into something, people would say, “It’s just blah blah”. “It’s just anime”, or “You’re just a seiyuu”. Even if they didn’t put it in words, you could tell that that’s what they were thinking. So when [the top 10] happened, I thought to myself that it was payback time.
Q: You then started to ride the wave.
A: Did I ride the wave, or did I fight against it? There was definitely no tailwind. I just drifted along, in the midst of the lapping waves. All I could do was move forward, and I definitely wasn’t always welcome wherever I went.
Q: Starting with Seiyuu Grandprix in 1994, we saw gravure-oriented seiyuu magazines being launched one after the other.
A: That’s true. I went to Guam for a photoshoot once, and that was where I first met the make-up artist whom I’ve been working with for a long time now.
Q: You hold the view that seiyuu = people who work in the background.
A: That is why I hated gravure, I couldn’t stand it (laughs). My feelings haven’t changed. Despite loathing it, I decided that ‘I’ll put on make-up!’ and face the challenge head-on – and because of that, I learned the technique of how to turn myself into someone else by using make-up. Reading scripts and being able to transform into Ayanami Rei or Ranma is my main calling; with the added knowledge of the art of make-up for jacket photoshoots etc, it made me feel like I had earned a ticket to open up a different door. Although gravure isn’t an area that I willingly dipped my toes into, it’s still ended up as something meaningful to me.
Q: It’s true that your jacket photos have become increasingly sophisticated over time.
A: The staff I’ve been involved with, from the cameramen to the designers, also worked with mainstream artists so there were no barriers involved. My 20s had been filled with fun times ever since the day I made my début – I got into the top 10 of the charts, I got pulled into worlds that I never wanted to go to, yet I would give my best effort towards whatever I did. The result was that a different set of doors opened up for me. I believe that there is a reason for everything that comes to me. I even appeared make-up free on the cover of the album Plain (2007) that was released when I turned 40 (laughs). If I had approached it thinking, ‘Why do I, of all people, have to do something like this?’, I’m sure the person you see here today would not exist. The 48-year old me who cut a single might not have existed, nor would the person who appeared bare-backed on the cover of Sanhara~Sei naru Chikara~ (2015) (laughs). A different door will always open up. Networking opportunities, inspiration for acting – it’s not a door that can be explained in one word, but I can say that someone out there will definitely see your work and think, “I wanted this tone of voice” and hire you for narration work. I used to think that everything was lumped together and connected in some way, but [now I know that] what is rigid can always be undone.
Q: You discovered a new you.
A: You know those towels where you pour water on them and they expand quickly? That’s what I was like – I thought I was small but once you poured some water on me I’d swell up quite a bit. Though there were both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ kinds of water being poured on me.
Q: You dealt with seiyuu gravure magazines in your own way, but what did you actually think about the existence of such magazines?
A: I thought it was crazy at first (laughs). If seiyuu started to dip into gravure, what were we going to do about that gap between our looks and our characters? But people like Heki-chan [Shiina Hekiru] were already cute from the moment they first appeared on the scene and I would think “Of course people would want to see her photos”. As it quickly turned into an era for her generation of seiyuu, I immediately withdrew my “it’s crazy” opinion. Considering whether I myself belonged in such a group, I started to feel that the boundaries between ‘seiyuu’ and ‘characters’ were disappearing. I’d thought that this was just an ordinary, long-lasting job; though you could feel the presence of a ‘carpe diem’ kind of momentum at times, [with the advent of gravure, seiyuu work as a whole] started to incorporate more and more ‘age-limited’ elements.
Q: It’s fine as long when you’re young?
A: Maybe…hmm? Nowadays it seems like the most natural thing for seiyuu to release photobooks but in my day we’d be thinking dumb things like “what the heck is a seiyuu photobook anyway?” or “they’re not referring to a sonogram, are they?”.
Q: Since your job was originally supposed to be about using your voice.
A: I do think that I only got into this field because I believed it was a job that would be about ‘hidden aesthetics’. Then again, I say all these things but I still ended up appearing in public so often.
I couldn’t see the point of a photobook featuring only photos of me
Q: At the time, did you feel like the entire industry was changing?
A: Yeah. There were an increasing number of requests to be ‘more visibly flashy’, and things like the usual studio sequence of test -> last test -> showtime disappeared. I felt many things were starting to go off on different tangents. The lead actors would be busy with events and have to record separately from the rest of the cast. In the past, this was a job that was said to keep you so busy that you wouldn’t even have time to visit your parents on their deathbed. I actually knew a few seniors who were like that. I wonder if such ‘conveniences’ were worth it. There were always such old ways of thinking. Attempting to make something of good quality would gradually bring more painful circumstances.
Q: You yourself started receiving offers from various areas that you hadn’t before.
A: That’s right. I even got an offer for a TV variety show. Though I turned it down.
Q: Like those hinadan* kind of participants?
Aren’t they like that though? I had offers from shows featuring popular tarento but it just didn’t appeal to me. I’d be fine with just going to watch. But if I appeared on it myself I’d have nothing to say. It’s not like I wanted to be on television; even if I did I’d want to talk about ‘how wonderful seiyuu work is’. I didn’t want to have the funny things I said or the silly faces I pulled be highlighted, I wanted to appear on a show like Tetsuko’s Room that would be virtually unedited and feature serious discussions.
*hinadan (geinin) is a phrase coined by comedy team Shinagawa Shoji and Teruyuki Tsuchida that refers to comedians or participants who guest on variety shows and banter with the hosts. Hinadan (ひな壇) literally refers to stands on which Hina dolls are displayed
Q: Did you get offers for a photobook as well?
A: I think so. Instead of releasing standalone photobooks, I would include photo booklets with my CDs. In those square-sized CD sleeves. I think I might have been the first person to have done that? Not taking only seiyuu into account. Idols would put out photobooks normally, so they wouldn’t think that they needed to do that with CDs. So in place of photobooks, I’d do those just for the eyes of fans who bought the CDs. You wouldn’t find them in bookstores so it was pretty much something I did as a last resort.
Q: It’s definitely different from releasing an actual photobook.
A: I did a lot of gravure work and I enjoyed coming into contact with, and seeing the cameramen and coordinators hard at work. But the idea of assembling all these people to focus on making a photobook of me – I just couldn’t get my head around it.
Q: You weren’t merely shy about doing it?
A: I felt that the field should be left to the people who could make a lifelong career out of doing gravure. I’ll just stick to my specialized field of voice acting instead…
Q: As for cross-industry collaborations, you did a long-running radio show with fighter Satake Masaaki.
A: At the time Satake-san was dabbling in things like K-1; he was really interesting but as I was more accustomed to radio work, I was brought in to make sure that the conversations kept on flowing.
Q: Did you have any interest in martial arts?
A: None at all. I did go to watch K-1 to support him. Obviously I was familiar with his name, and I thought it would be nice to hang out with a guy like him who loved games, manga, tokusatsu and having chats. I did wonder what was going through his mind when he was in action…but I would leave such thoughts to our radio show. I think that the Satake-san who I partnered on the show was one who had shed his ‘fighting’ image and was letting his true colours show.
Q: DUO, the duet album planned and released to celebrate your 25th anniversary since your début, featured a song called CROSS ROAD performed by yourself and Satake.
A: It’s hilarious (laughs). For each song on the album, I’d have to obtain permission from my respective duet partners’ management companies as well as acknowledgement from the singer himself. Satake-san is running his own dojo in Kyoto right now and King Records had trouble figuring out who to contact so I ended up calling him up myself. He answered my call with a “Long time no hear. How nostalgic.” and we chatted for a while. We both thought “It’s amazing” knowing that neither of us had changed our phone numbers (laughs). We hadn’t seen each other for about 10 years but he seemed to be in good health.
Q: What memories do you have of the Haojuku radio show?
A: I discovered that Satake-san would saunter into the studio rather lazily but whenever he had a match coming up, his body language and the look in his eyes would change. He’d greet me “Good morning” and I’d be thinking “Has he transformed into someone else?” – his aura had totally changed. And I realized that he’d just flipped his switch on. It seemed a tough task for him to constantly keep up appearances. He probably wasn’t even aware of the differences in his behaviour. However, those ‘differences’ could bring a lot of different things, when it came to the content of conversations or his mood. For example, he’d say “I have to be careful not to say anything offensive” such as mentioning the words ‘fail’ or ‘flunk’ in front of students who were sitting for exams. He didn’t undergo many physical changes, but I recall being startled by the different expressions that he conveyed through his eyes.
I was brought up in an era when the word ‘treatment’ was non-existent. As a result, I can do anything
Q: Returning to the original topic; can you name the good things that resulted from the (seiyuu) boom?
A: Clearly, the fact that whole new worlds opened up. The world that I see, the world that I feel. The people that I met as well. There were parts that left me exhausted but once I got past them, everything worked towards building up my experience points. There were some weird people out there for sure. They’d make me wonder, “Did they watch too many dramas?”. Or “Are you deliberately angling for a casting?”, or “Do you feel like singing?”. They just gave off a strange air, and weren’t genuinely interested in working [with you]. These strange people appear to have entered this industry in the mistaken belief that it was lucrative. Seeing all this madness going on, I decided to ‘flee’ to King (Records).
Q: Did you, in many ways, end up getting better ‘treatment’?
A: Well, it did change. Though not immediately. The manager to seiyuu ratio isn’t 1:1; in the past I’d have to go out to school festivals, finish up the job and return by myself – I even went to autograph sessions on my own. The world may have expanded but the industry couldn’t keep up with the growth. It might have started with Heki-chan? When we’d get managers on a one-to-one basis. I was brought up in an era when the word ‘treatment’ was non-existent. The end result is that I can do pretty much anything. I didn’t have a stylist either so I coordinated my own outfits; I even called for my own taxis. I didn’t have anyone accompanying me, nor did anyone ever say that “I’ll come and pick you up”. I’m not that fond of being referred to as a ‘pioneer’ [who cleared the path], all I did was to slice off some of the thorns as to make the road easier to traverse for those who followed. The youngsters these days think that it’s natural to want to check out your photos before okaying them [during photoshoots] but back in my time I’d be told off for doing that – “Who do you think you are?” or “You cheeky little thing”.
Q: Were those people in a position to say those kinds of things?
A: Nope, not at all. I mean, hearing things like “You should be grateful that we’re even doing an article on you…” is just wrong. It’s as wrong as putting in print words that never came from my mouth….
Q: Did things change after Eva?
A: The so-called boom only happened quite some time after recordings for the series had been completed. By that time the staff involved had already progressed [career-wise] and begun taking charge of other series. It was good to have been part of that. However, during the boom we saw the emergence of people who lacked etiquette. As I said earlier, they thought that ‘anime is money’ and you could see the Yen sign written all over their faces (laughs). I’ve heard stories about people having painful experiences with certain weird producers. Luckily I’ve always had a good nose for that kind of thing so I managed to avoid getting involved with such people. There have been interviews where I get asked “So what’s the reason for this boom?” and I’d answer “Ah, I have no idea”.
Q: And here I am, thinking of asking you about the factors that brought about this boom (laughs)
A: Ahaha (laughs). But I don’t know! Eva was interesting, wasn’t it?
Q: Or actually, I wanted to know about what was going on in the background during the boom.
A: Ah, about that. Going back a little bit to a period before Heki-chan, there was the (male seiyuu idol) group NG5 led by Sasaki Nozomu-kun that was featured in news programmes and so on – didn’t they lead to a sudden influx of young talent into the industry? Back then, I was a graduate from the first batch of training school students in my seiyuu production company, and the industry as a whole was desperate for an injection of new blood. That is the reason why I started getting called in for try-outs right away despite only recently graduating training school and joining my agency. There was a chance that I might not get a 2nd call if the first test didn’t go well but I ended up landing 4 offers off the bat.
Q: That wasn’t only down to the youth factor.
A: That was also the period when Original Video Animations (OVAs) that didn’t air on TV and went directly to video instead, started being produced. The objective (with OVAs) is to shift as many copies as possible so there had to be some kind of incentive attached to achieve those sales. That was when it somehow became essential to have the seiyuu who were blessed in the visual department produce flashy songs and performances for inclusion [as extras]…you can infer that the boom happened based on such an ‘economic theory’ (laughs).
If you choose to do that, the Goddess of the Arts will let go of your hand
Q: You insist that you have no recollection of having being seen as a pioneer in this industry.
A: I may not recall much, but I can tell you how my chance to sing initially came up – Shiina Megumi, the singer of the Gundam 0080 theme song, never had the chance to perform at events and once mentioned in passing, “Does the heroine of the story sing?”, and that was how it was brought up to me. I was given a song that served as Chris’ image theme and I got to perform it during events. Even though I had zero singing experience. In that sense, I guess I kind of changed the connotations of ‘singing’, when compared to people like Mizuki Ichiro-san or Horie Mitsuko-san with their Mazinger Z and Candy Candy themes.
Q: Going back to your statement about “the industry requiring new blood” – do you think that the situation where young people found the industry too tough to break into came about as a result of the fact that seiyuu, who were seen as artisans or craftsmen, had to spend too much time paying their dues [before they could climb the career ladder]?
A: I wonder. I’m not trying to be self-deprecating here, but perhaps I may have sold myself as only possessing a ‘certain level’ of singing ability with a ‘certain level’ of visuals. It isn’t quite that simple though; if you don’t polish the skills that are essential they will soon wither away, so the kids who come into this industry with the attitude that they’ll only “do the minimum” will find in time that their services will no longer be required. You could in a sense, say that I used myself as ‘fishing bait’.
Q: Were you unwilling to be viewed the same way as people looked at idol seiyuu?
A: I didn’t intend for it to come off that way. “Being a seiyuu is fun. Anyone can become one. So come on over here. Yay!” – I don’t remember ever saying stuff like that. Back then, I lacked skills and I was just desperately trying to keep up with the senior seiyuu who were right next to me. But when I looked at the other side, I’d see more and more kids whose diction was so bad that it made me think “Did they just get scouted?’ or “So as long as they’re cute, that makes it okay?”. The situation was definitely changing.
Q: Were those negative effects that resulted from the boom?
A: Maybe so. They would come in to the studio and say “Ah, I had a handshake event yesterday and my hands are so painful now I can’t even hold my script~”. Okay, I get that it hurts, but did you really need to say it out loud? Is it necessary to happily say stuff like “I strained my voice in yesterday’s concert”? “How about you just keep quiet then?” is what’s going through my mind; I just think that it’s weird to see how the kids who came after us are trying to compete with each other in the popularity stakes. Some of my seniors would lose their voices after taking part in stage performances but they tried their best not to be a burden to their colleagues, and would speak in whispers in order to preserve their voices for the recordings. So when I see people chatting about their ‘events’ or ‘photoshoots’ and then claim that they have to hold back for the tests because they’ve lost their voice, it makes me think “You’re way out of your league!”. Still, if you persist in doing all these things then someday, the Goddess of the Arts will surely let go of your hand.
Q: Were people around you forgiving of such behaviour?
A: The person I mentioned earlier was relatively popular and would see good sales for videos or anything else that was released, which resulted in their agency continuing to pamper them. They’d waltz into the studio with their manager and just as quickly disappear afterwards, shouting “I’ve got to move on to my next job, sorry”. They could’ve slipped away quietly though. It just felt weird.
Q: Wouldn’t such people be ‘culled’ nowadays [if they did things like that]?
A: I don’t know. I don’t do much work in modern shows after all. But I do often hear stories about how some of the kids today fiddle about with their smartphones during recordings. They’re not interested in immersing themselves in the worlds they’re helping to create, are they? I wonder what it is that they truly want to do.
Q: Did you ever feel like you would get washed away by the boom?
A: Hmm, I guess I managed to stand my ground? I say this every time, but I would never do anything to my throat that might result in my duties being jeopardized, which meant that I chose not to hold concerts. However, since I’d already put out so many CDs it seemed like such an awful thing to do [to the fans], so I did perform live during a public radio recording to celebrate the 100th episode of my programme. “I’m really singing live!”. I was never going to neglect the support of my fans. In the future I will continue to only do things that are integral to my career. No matter where I go, I’ll always be holding the kite string in my hands. That way, I can loosen or tighten my grip as I see fit. I believe that I’ve loosened and lengthened the string a lot more nowadays, when compared to the start of my career.
Q: Did you ever discuss the boom with your contemporaries back then?
A: It seems that going for drinks together with the generation of seiyuu that followed my era is a now a thing of the past. They behave as if they really are idols, bringing their managers along on their journey home. I often went drinking with my seniors, sometimes until 5 am (laughs). I’d listen to their stories about the old days, they’d teach me a lot of things…even if I barely understood what they were talking about at first (laughs), by the time they were roaring drunk I would get to hear some pretty outrageous tales….I would’ve liked to have passed them on to my juniors, but they all go home, saying “there’s always a next time”.
Q: It seems that the seat to your right during drinking sessions would be a ‘dangerous’ place to sit (laughs).
A: That’s so true. When I was younger I would always get drunk (laughs). Seems I was always pissed off. After all, I was made to do a lot of stuff that I didn’t want to. It definitely wouldn’t happen nowadays though, I’ve calmed down a lot.
Q: So you didn’t spend much time talking about the boom?
A: Me and Yamadera (Koichi)-san would repeatedly hear from our seniors that “You guys, you’re going to become a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none”, as we were rookies who had suddenly risen up from nowhere. Yamadera-san is much more senior than I am, but we got into the industry around the same time.
Q: During the boom, the number of seiyuu radio programmes also increased.
A: Yes they did. Didn’t you feel sorry [for them] though? You would have people who didn’t like talking, but were assigned radio shows in order to ‘sell’. That’s why I say a boom is just irresponsible. It brings nothing good.
Q: ‘Nothing’ at all?
A: It may have brought positivity in terms of the effect on the economy, but for every boom there will be a bust. However, nobody expects the bust to happen. Before it does go bust though, another boom will come along. Booms are only good when you observe them from afar. You’ll only be hurt if you get caught in its midst.
Q: Are you saying that based on experience?
A: I didn’t get hurt myself but those 10 or 15 years younger than me; the giggly ones who were brought up wrapped in cotton wool, did – I met one of them in the studio for the first time in a long while. “I feel like I was put in a portable shrine and lifted up by a bunch of adults, [sitting there], it took way too long for me to realize that the shrine bearers had already disappeared. I felt used…”, she sulked. Seems that she used to do a lot of gravure back in the day. That’s why one should start from the beginning, before the portable shrine is made. First, you should consult with the lumberjacks to choose the wood for the shrine, then you’ve got to consider where and how you will be carried and for how long; only then should you get on to ride it. When you do all this, the shrine bearers will definitely let you come down before they leave. What I want you to understand is this – if you’re doing voice work; you’ll find that the industry is not a welcoming place to return to once your idol career is over. As an idol, you can work at full-strength for 3 years and build a lot of memories, but the greatest shame would be if all that was left at the end is ‘an idol who is now 3 years older’.
There were kids coming into this industry thinking “I could get make a living just by doing this?”
Q: There must have been a lot of people who looked at Hayashibara-san during the boom and thought about wanting to become seiyuu.
A: Yes there were. More and more of them, all of a sudden. Lots of them probably came in thinking, “Wow, I could make a living just by doing this”.
Q: Just by looking at things superficially.
A: I think I might’ve mentioned this somewhere before, but there was this kid who came up to me and said in a happy tone, slightly stumbling over their words: “I’m like you, Hayashibara-san – I don’t read my scripts either” and all I could do was just go “Umm…..”. Of course, I’ll admit that I said “I don’t read my scripts that much” in a past interview. That’s because I’m the kind of person who spends too much time thinking about context and the reasoning behind the dialogue, cramming my head to the point where any attempt at correcting any issues that came up would be fruitless. To me, the words in the script itself play a secondary role. For example, if Ayanami Rei is drinking miso soup and utters the words “it’s delicious”, I would think it pointless to sit at home and repeat “it’s delicious” 10 times over. What did she feel when she tasted the miso soup? It might have been Shinji-kun’s kindness, or it might have been words that came to her naturally upon her first mouthful.
Q: The words will come when you know what you’re feeling.
A: For Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, I spent a lot of time imagining what went on during that era; the way of life of the people living in those times, the atmosphere, the smells, the sounds. That is why I stated that I spent little time reading the scripts and instead, prioritized getting to understand the feelings [behind the story]. Perhaps I was being misunderstood, leading people to think that I was saying ‘it’s cool to go without studying your scripts’. I tried to point this out to the person I mentioned earlier, but I wonder if they took on board what I said. “Is that so!? Thank you” was what they more or less said, and again I just went “Umm….”.
Q: The young seiyuu of today face a different set of problems. Singing and speaking are becoming essential abilities.
A: I don’t really have much chance to encounter the younger seiyuu these days. There are a few young ones who come in as guests on the series I’m working on as a regular once in a while, and they’ll do their best to say their lines, but in a very textbook manner. If I have the time I might pull them aside and ask “What sort of feelings do you think [the character] was going through at this particular time?”. It’s not like I specifically set aside time to go through the part together with them. Some do open up to me and lament, saying “Up until now, I’ve only ever acted in a way that would get an OK from the director. I never gave any thought to the characters”, but there would be others who couldn’t get what I was saying at all and ask “How should I say those lines?”. Instead of asking “how can I feel that kind of emotion?” they would go into unnerving territory by trying to consider the way the line should be delivered. No matter how hard they tried to read their lines, their hearts would remain distant. They would only appear diligent, and that is all. Though it does kind of make me wonder ‘what makes a line delivery OK?’ in the first place.
Q: In other words, stereotypical acting.
A: For example, if the director says ‘try to take it a bit more seriously’ what some people would do is to speak in a louder volume. That’s not what he means, right? When you call out to an injured person “Are you alright?”, depending on the extent of the injury you might increase your level of anxiousness and say “A-are you okay….?” in hushed tones. The performance should evolve based on the situation, but it seems everyone is too fixated on the anime faces and the size of the characters’ mouths when delivering their lines. I try to produce a voice that will bring 2D as close to 3D as possible, but it appears that nowadays, people are fine with 2D characters sounding 2D. That’s why I’ve already been told that I’m getting old and so forth; but to me, everyone now sounds the same.
Q: That’s something that anime fans do point out as well.
A: I don’t mean that people should change the tone of their voice, making it higher or lower; I’m not referring to individualistic voices… we live in hectic times and people throw themselves into their work even though their minds can’t keep up. They’re thrown on stage and a huge fuss is made over them, they’re made to feel as if they’re indispensable, yet there is a chance that they’ll be thrown aside within 3 years. I hope we don’t arrive at that stage. The seiyuu industry has a (guarantee)* ranking system; the moment you go up in rank, you’ll see the job offers disappear. I don’t want the industry to become one that just uses cheap, cute girls in a ‘low-margin, high-volume’ kind of tactic. However, the makers see no reason to nurture the seiyuu. All they’re looking to do is to hit the numbers. During the boom, that specific group of people I was most keen to avoid imposed their will upon [the industry] and up ‘til today, they remain part of the hegemony. I’m not saying whether it’s a good or bad thing, I’m just stating that it’s one of the outcomes of the boom. Since it did come to attention and first gained a foothold during the boom period. Having said that, I don’t mean that absolutely everything I’ve seen is bad. I did have a couple of heart-to-heart exchanges, and there are smart people out there who can think for themselves. However, you can already tell that the foundations are starting to become expendable. It might not be necessary for me to use such frank words, but the trend now is that “it’s fine as long as the status quo is maintained”. It’s a 180 degree turn from what the industry felt like when I first arrived. That’s why I want people to take precaution; for anyone who is planning to enter this business, you need to brace yourself or you’ll get hurt.
*guarantee as in gyara, payment, salary
I don’t want to say that I feel sorry for cicadas that have a life-span of 7 days
Q: Voice acting now ranks highly amongst the professions that children today would like to take up.
A: I can’t say I have much opinion of that. It’s just a passing trend of the times. As always, it’s a tough task to stay afloat in this industry by doing anime work exclusively. Even comedians start off earning only 500yen per stage appearance, don’t they? Even if seiyuu do earn more than a basic 500yen, the industry definitely does place emphasis on cheapness and cuteness.
Q: Despite that, it feels like we’re seeing some excellent young talent coming through and they’ve perhaps made seiyuu into something that is more established, rather than remaining just a boom.
A: My juniors have been working hard so it seems to be a given thing…but I don’t want to say that I feel sorry for cicadas that have a life-span of 7 days. I want to think that the soil is full of good things. Rather than thinking that it’s great that they finally get to see the world outside after spending 7 years in the soil, they declare that “I’d rather stay in the soil”. I thought that that was what the seiyuu world was like. Coming into existence as a cicada, spending their lives making buzzing and clicking sounds, remaining beautiful even as they perish…that is the sort of world it has turned into. Instead of trying to live for as long as possible, they focus on “wanting to send out this ball of positive energy right now!”. They could be right though, in some ways. Look at someone like me; I’ve become an old lady and now I want to do old ladies’ voices. So ‘yeah, please leave me alone’. I’m still trying to get to grips with how I should become an old lady though. I mean, I’m still doing all this singing and even getting my bare back out (laughs). It would freak people out if I suddenly turned into a grandmotherly figure so I’m still trying to work all those things out. There’s no template for me to copy.
Q: So as an ‘elderly seiyuu’ you are once again going to clear the path for those who follow.
A: I’ve never had such intentions but because people keep saying that ‘I’ve cleared the path’, I’ve begun to become brainwashed and started thinking of myself as such a person (laughs). If I were to clear the path, how much of and for how long should I shoulder that burden [of paving the way]? There are true idols who would casually comment ‘She’ll be finished when [she] grows old’ or ‘that idol’s time is up’. The people who say those kinds of things would never initiate anything by themselves. Once they start something, it would be over right away. This might be stating the obvious, but what I think is that ‘you shouldn’t be saying something so nonchalantly’. When I see how former idols like Koizumi Kyoko-san are still involved with showbiz in some form, I do wonder if this industry can be the same. Well okay, maybe I haven’t thought about it in such detail and the reality is that I’m just taking things as they come (laughs). Just a little bit. Different people will continue to express themselves in different ways. As for myself, I will continue to love the world of voice, explore the possibilities and see how far I can go. Yeah, until I get bored of it (laughs).
Q: Your attitude has remained unshakable; you’re the same now as you were in the 90s.
A: I feel that in the 90s, the industry was filled with the hunger to improve. “Let’s do things like this” or “let’s try that out”. Nowadays it feels like we’re still clinging onto the back of the 90s, making series that are ‘like’ Evangelion, or like Miyazaki Hayao-san’s Princess Mononoke. Or even [music] that is ‘like’ Hayashibara Megumi. But things that are ‘like’ something else will never surpass the originals. People should just forget about making things that are ‘like’ another work. In the 90s we rarely made anything that was ‘like’ anything else. I too, never thought about wanting to be ‘like’ somebody else. I might have thought “This person’s acting is wonderful” or “I love this person’s voices” and be moved to tears by them, but I would never want to be ‘like’ them. There are many people who are like that now, aren’t there? In my time, there were no answers to be found anywhere. I had no model to refer to and all I could do was to rely on myself. Don’t you find that there are many characters out there that are like Ayanami Rei these days?
Q: That’s true.
A: Even if the colour of their hair isn’t blue… Anyway, it isn’t possible to be ‘like’ something else. It’s said that Anno (Hideaki)-san’s Eva uses Ultraman as a motif, but ‘like’ and ‘motif’, though similar, are not quite the same. In the days to come, I too, want to be involved in making things that are not ‘like’ something else, even if such chances are few and far between.
[Seiyuu Premium, pg 04-21]