Asahi published an excerpt of an event featuring actors Fujiwara Keiji and Nazuka Kaori and sound director Wakabayashi Kazuhiro. Wakabayashi mainly works for Bones and both Fujiwara and Nazuka are actors he regularly casts – all three worked on Eureka Seven, for example.
Interviewer: Ohara Atsushi
Nazuka Kaori remarks: “I heard a rumour that for [certain] games, they won’t hire seiyuu who have less than 100,000 Twitter followers”. Wakabayashi Kazuhiro agrees – “It’s the truth!”. Fujiwara Keiji in turn relates, “When I was working on a certain game I asked, ‘What’s the reasoning behind the castings?’. The reply came: ‘We cast in order, beginning from the top of the popularity rankings’, and that made me go…Ah.”
Wow, so we see such things going on in the game industry too. As for where this sort of frank conversation about the industry took place, it was in fact during a special summer vacation course organized by the Kyoto Seika University’s animation department aimed at high school students titled ‘Seiyuu, Thinking About Animation Production and Sound Direction” , held on the 23rd of July. To chase your dreams, you need to possess knowledge of the actual circumstances you face – that was the gist of it.
Before we get into those fun stories aimed at a teenage audience with their sparkling eyes, let this 50-ish old interviewer guy introduce our trio. Wakabayashi, who teaches acoustics and directing in the [Seika] department, is a sound director whose credits include Ghibli and Oshii Mamoru productions and is most recently working on the summer anime Mob Psycho 100. A sound director’s job is to hire and guide voice actors, to write the music order* and to determine the placement of the background music and sound effects.
Fujiwara is a seiyuu/actor who boasts a strong list of acting credits, beginning from Crayon Shin-chan’s father Hiroshi to Holland in the Wakabayashi-directed TV series Eureka Seven as well as a recent personal favourite of mine – the music teacher in Kokoro ga Sakebitagatterunda. He also serves as the representative of the seiyuu production company Air Agency. Nazuka started acting in musicals when she was in elementary school third grade and made her seiyuu debut in her first year of junior high, playing the titular heroine of Eureka Seven and Nunally in Code Geass, amongst other roles. In other words, this is a gathering of the Eureka sound director, Holland, the leader of the outlaw group Gekkostate as well as one of its members, Eureka.
Now, let us hear the frank exchange between the trio.
*a ‘menu’ list of style/type of musical pieces required for the anime, that is sent to the composer
Fuijwara: Holland is a character I really love, to the point that I’d name him if the question ‘Who’s your favourite character?’ were put to me.
Wakabayashi: You were getting all fired up at the auditions, saying ‘I’m gonna snag (the role)!’, weren’t you?
Fujiwara: Wakabayashi-san explained [the character] in great detail to me during the auditions; hearing all that made me really want to take it on. When I got the role I did a little dance in my room.
Nazuka: Apart from that, Wakabayashi-san gives advice and guidance tailored to the individual actor, even if they’re trying out for the same role.
Wakabayashi: Because each actor is different.
Fujiwara: So is there anything that you feel you’d like to say to me specifically?
Wakabayashi: Haha. Fujiwara-san, you have this tendency to get overly fired up and step on the accelerator too hard, don’t you?
Fujiwara: But isn’t it kinda cool though? It’s like I’m full of youthful energy. A bit like Mob Psycho. Isn’t Mob Psycho interesting? One of our kids (Ito Setsuo) is voicing the main role so please look out for it.
Wakabayashi: There was this slightly weird character appearing in episode 1 and I had Fujiwara-san voice him. He does nonsensical stuff in a serious manner so I wanted to get as interesting an actor as I possibly could for the role.
Fujiwara: Hey, I know we’ve already started talking but isn’t it bad if we don’t mention stuff that’s gonna benefit these young people with sparkling eyes in front of us?
Wakabayashi: Why don’t we just talk about the reality of our industry; not just from my own point of view but from a seiyuu’s perspective?
Fujiwara: About that – Nazuka-san has plenty of great stories to tell.
Nazuka: No no no I don’t!
Wakabayashi: You guys were like the Gekkostate right there (laughs). This is obvious, but different productions have different objectives – you may work on teams where the aim is to fulfil the director’s wishes as best possible, while there are other teams that are driven by money where you’re told that X amount has been put into making the show so you’ll have to get Y amount in return. If it’s a show where the goal is to satisfy the toy-selling businesses, we’ll get samples of the new toys that make certain kinds of sounds and give it to the sound effects guys telling them, “I’m sorry but we’ve got to use this [sound]”.
Nazuka: So we’re talking about the sale of products right now but even the seiyuu business has its own elements of selling based on popularity—
Fujiwara: Very much so!
Nazuka: I heard a rumour that for [certain] games, they won’t make offers to seiyuu who have less than 100,000 Twitter followers.
Wakabayashi: It’s the truth!
Nazuka: So I’m wondering if it’s become an era where you’ve got no choice but to use these tools in order to sell yourself. Rather than taking into account the voice and the performance, I feel like the seiyuu industry has become one that treats [an actor’s] presence as a ‘brand’.
Fujiwara: Compared to when I started working in this field 20 years ago, for a seiyuu, the [brand] value of his or her name by itself has increased – I see both pluses and minuses in that. You notice now that there are castings that prioritize popularity over talent. There’s this view that you might not necessarily have to get carried away by that line of thinking, but you’ll still have to go along with it regardless. When I was working on a certain game I asked, ‘What’s the reasoning behind these castings?’. The reply came: ‘We cast in order, beginning from the top of the popularity rankings’, and that made me go…Ah. Well it wasn’t entirely wrong…(I think). The game ended up selling pretty well, I’m told.
Wakabayashi: If we do that, we’ll sell well…that’s the reasoning.
Fujiwara: However, I think it’s fascinating and delightful to see, market-wise, how people expect things to all go well if everyone believes [in selling popularity], but it doesn’t always happen.
Wakabayashi: People seem to think that by following a template, they can definitely create a hit production but it doesn’t happen all the time. Obviously, some do sell but you can’t read into the data too much. The only difference these days is that the tactics they’re utilising are a lot more blatant and that leads to fairly visible results when you look at the data indices. You see the rankings and surveys and think, ‘This is what sells’ and the companies end up making the same kinds of things at the same time. This applies to character designs and actors and marketing as well. Consumers don’t have the means to spend on similar shows so only or 1-2 titles sell well and the others are left wondering, ‘we just followed the template so why aren’t we selling?!’. It all comes down to trivial differences. Even for auditions, you may be thinking about gathering a certain group of actors together with something specific in mind for them but the clients might request something else and you’ll end up having to try out other things. I can say that [the clients] weren’t 100% happy with the decision to cast a rookie in Mob Psycho.
Fujiwara: Of course they wouldn’t be.
Wakabayashi: But the director was on my side so we managed to persuade them. We also had [Ito’s] President Fujiwara-san appear in person to provide additional support.
Fujiwara: Thank you! For us actors, we only normally get to connect with the director and sound director when we’re working on anime, with few chances to meet people like the animation directors or the art director. I have worked as a sound director on productions myself, but I think it’s something I absolutely do not want to be. I have no idea about where or how I should place music within a scene – that is what I dislike most [about the job]. From directing the acting performances to determining the music placement, devising the music order – you’ve got to think of how to get all that together in your head. You’re basically working on several different genres.
Wakabayashi: You can’t be considered a ‘sound director’ unless you can work on all the aspects related to ‘sound’.
Fujiwara: Ah! I also want to say that there are plenty of unqualified people working as sound directors though!
Wakabayashi: The placement of the music may depend on whether you wish to evoke empathy for the protagonist or perhaps, to reflect the setting of the anime. You might want it to indicate whether a certain character is ‘good’ or ‘evil’. To get a feel for what the director intends to express, you’ll have to look at what the storyboards are inferring. My mentor taught me that if a director had unlimited time, he would have no need for someone to fill an occupation such as ‘sound director’. That is why, if one is to earn a living as a sound director, you should at least be able to leave intervening proof. But he also once said to me that humans who have ‘no time’ are useless humans.
Fujiwara: Humans who have no time are useless humans…..
Wakabayashi: What he meant was that being tardy is unforgivable.
Fujiwara: Being tardy is not forgivable…
Wakabayashi: Well, I might give you the benefit of the doubt if it’s just once or twice but if it exceeds 3 times I’ll say ‘I’m gonna kill ya, ya bastard!’
Nazuka: I’ve actually seen that happen with my own eyes!
Fujiwara: He looks gentle but when he’s mad, he’s scary isn’t he.
Wakabayashi: By the way, we’re the same age (points at Fujiwara).
Fujiwara: Well he treats people of different age groups differently. Working as a seiyuu, I’m aware of how amazing Japanese animated works are but at the same time we know so little about the circumstances behind the people who work on the animation. When I hear of how harsh the working conditions and treatment of animators are, I have to think to myself ‘what can we do about that?’
Wakabayashi: It has its good and bad points so it’s kind of hard to say. When people first work as animators they may begin to feel ‘fulfilled’ within the first 6-12 months, and get stuck in that [zone]. They don’t find any extra motivators, be it wanting to earn more money or work on more interesting projects. Regardless of the quantity or content of the work involved, I believe that we should pay proper dues to those who’ve pushed their limits to produce results, those who’ve equipped themselves well. However, I think it’s fair to treat cheaply the people who don’t deal with their own load within the stipulated time and process their work at a minimum level, instead allowing it to flow onwards, reasoning that ‘Oh the animation director will take care of it’.
Fujiwara: Are there people around to specifically assess and evaluate such things though?
Wakabayashi: It’s normally the producer’s job but a lot of them who don’t ‘see’ what’s going on. They’re only concerned about the financials. And that’s a problem.
Nazuka: I feel that it’s the people viewing the work rather than the people actually working on the show itself, who are the ones giving proper evaluations. When the work is completed and sent out, when it’s pressed on a DVD, when events are held – this is when we get to see the assessments [of the work]. As actors we don’t normally commend colleagues on their work so for the individual actor there can be anxiety over the measure of his or her abilities; hearing the voices of motivation from [the fans] around has become something that’s very important to me.
Wakabayashi: I feel it’s better for people who are working together to be frank when speaking, be it good or bad. That’s why for example, I always try to set up an opportunity for staff members to watch the first episode of a TV series together. It’s a chance to view things objectively, to understand people’s reactions.
Audience Q&A time. A questioned is posed to Nazuka regarding how she’s freelanced her entire life and has never been under a production company
Nazuka: My mother originally handled the management side [of my career] so I’ve never been in a theatre group or agency myself. When I was in high school I started to learn how to manage everything including schedule adjustment and so on, on my own. I like handling my own affairs myself, even things like managing my long-term schedules, so I can quickly settle issues. When I see gaps in my calendar I think to myself, ‘I can travel then’, things like that.
Fujiwara: When I started managing my own schedules (after setting up my agency), I could see a huge difference in the number of job offers I received. Bwahahahaha!
Wakabayashi: Why the heck are you laughing so weirdly, like Echigoya?
Nazuka: Could he be thinking, ‘maybe it’s not too late for me to get into some other agency…’
Wakabayashi: Nah, he’s heading an agency of his own y’know.
To the question: ‘Did you think of pursuing your current path when you were in high school’?
Nazuka: Well, someone here is the ‘boss’… (laughs).
Fujiwara: But I just thought normally, about going to university and becoming a doctor or a lawyer if possible.
Wakabayashi/Nazuka: Oh really?
Fujiwara: I have no proof to offer, but I’m sure I’d make a great surgeon if I had qualified as a doctor! So yeah, surgery.
Wakabayashi: You mean you just want to cut people up.
Fujiwara: No, I’d stitch them up properly after that. If I only cut, they’ll die.
Wakabayashi: I’m so glad you’re an actor!
To a question posed to Fujiwara: ‘The Romeo or the joke character – which is more enjoyable?’
Fujiwara: I enjoy both. But odious roles, heinous characters; they make the hero shine all the more brighter, so I find those fun too.
Wakabayashi: I like Holland.
Nazuka: Me too!
Fujiwari: I like him too. But there’s Hiroshi too so isn’t it a little unfair to keep saying Holland, Holland?
Wakabayashi: It’s bad for Hiroshi.
There has been some serious discussion regarding career choices but it’s almost time to bring proceedings to an end.
Wakabayashi: Fujiwara-san – some closing words please.
Fujiwara: I’ve been greatly overwhelmed by emotion today [fake cries]; ah, my breasts feel tight**
Wakabayashi: Oi, there are high school kids here!
**Fujiwara says 胸がおっぱい (mune ga oppai, chests are breasts), a pun on胸がいっぱい (mune ga ippai, to be overwhelmed by emotion)
Note: Get well soon, Keiji-san! He is currently taking a break from voicing Hiroshi on Shin-chan due to illness.