#3. Kouda Mariko – The moment you fall in love with seiyuu and radio
Today, there are countless numbers of radio programmes helmed by seiyuu personalities. It is now a commonly held view that “seiyuu = radio”. The swift expansion of ani-radio culture began in the 90s. Without a doubt, Kouda Mariko was one of the icons that drove this development. Not only was she in charge of widely popular programmes such as Twin Bee PARADISE and Kouda Mariko’s GM, she also hosted a late-night live broadcast radio show [competing with shows by Ijuin Hikaru & Fukuyama Masaharu] as well as worked with tarento from other genres of entertainment. Going back to the days when seiyuu and radio were starting to gain a strong affinity with each other, what was going through her mind as she faced the microphone?
Interviewer: Saito Takashi, Photography: Taiko Kuniyoshi, Hairstyling: Minamida Hideaki (addmix BG), Additional photos provided by: Kouda Mariko
Back then, I was very reluctant to do business that was financially-motivated
Q: Your fanclub Happy! Happy! Happy! has celebrated its 20th anniversary.
A: Yes! Thank you. I didn’t even realize it myself so when club members sent in their words of congratulations, I was in shock, going “Huh!? Oh noes!” (laughs).
Q: There are people in your fanclub who have been members for 20 years too.
A: I’m so grateful for that. But ah, there are people who have been in and out of the club over the 20 years too. A lot of things happened and we had to change the methods of handling the fanclub and some people would send us letters saying “If that is the way that things will be run then I will quit the fanclub” and I’d think “Stop telling us!” ‘cos it’s sad to hear these kinds of things (laughs). In the end, they would still return to the fanclub.
Q: It’s amazing that they would quit and yet, eventually return. When the fanclub was first set up 20 years ago, Kouda Mariko was already hugely popular and I was thinking, “When will she set one up?”
A: That’s too kind of you. At that point I was hosting numerous radio shows and the majority of my listeners were students. A group of these listeners once expressed this opinion to me: “Would you discriminate between [your] paying and non-paying fans?” – that question resonated deeply within me and as a result, I strongly resisted the idea of setting up a fanclub. However, a staff member from the company that produced my tours said to the troubled me: “It’s important to have the existence of a fanclub where people know they can definitely get hold of tickets. Let’s not talk about the money etc – why not just set up [a fanclub] for the sake of the people who want to attend your tour?”. I was still a little opposed to the word ‘fanclub’ itself, so we decided to give it a nickname: “Happy! Happy! Happy!”. Nowadays staff members would probably say things like “All you fanclub members!” but in my staff members and my own case, we’d affectionately call them the “Happy3 Family”.
Q: Part of your resistance was due to the fact that you were being considerate of the feelings of your ‘fans’ who were not [able to be] members of the ‘club’.
A: It wasn’t about the money etc, it was always about wanting to ‘share the same feelings’.
Q: In any case, being able to establish your own fanclub must’ve been a happy event for you?
A: I was very happy. If anything, I was filled with lots of desire to cheer on each and every one [of my fans] (laughs). My staff would keep telling me, “No, that’s not it. This is supposed to be a gathering of the fans who are cheering on Mari-chan!”. And I would reply, “Okay, so it’s my job to make all of those people happy”. I do wonder though… After graduating high school I loafed around before joining voice training school and subsequently, a production company –without ever having been a ‘proper employee’. I’ve probably worked every type of part-time job under the sun but they’re just not ‘real jobs’ so I feel that perhaps, there are things that I’m lacking when it comes to areas concerning social mechanisms etc. That is why I was initially very reluctant to get involved with any business that was motivated by money. I wasn’t even aware of how much I was being paid for each piece of work, and I never asked. As I loved the arena of radio work, I was allowed to express myself in that way. It was like playing catchball on the airwaves. I love anime and with my voice, I would breathe life into characters. I love music and I love singing with everyone, whether it be in live concerts or in recordings or even on the grassy meadows – I’d sing with my whole body and soul. I have always acted based on my ‘feelings’ and I’m probably seen as a deviant by society, which thinks of work purely as business. I wonder if I’ll survive? (laughs)
Q: Harbouring such feelings, you ran a campaign to commemorate your 20th anniversary where you’d call [people] up and ask “What’s the password?”, where the answer would be “Bee!”.
A: Yes. In the past, I’d always somehow managed to create opportunities to meet my fans at least once a month. Be it at the Odaiba Satellite [note: Kouda Mariko’s Rainbow Beam, a streamed live show] or through public broadcasts at Tokyo Tower. But I’m no longer doing that. My body is broken, so I had to give up singing for a while and can’t really take part in events. Thus, with the intention of showing my appreciation for the 20th anniversary of Happy!3, my staff and I discussed and decided upon organizing a Twitcast 3some event. I don’t have a personal Twitter account so we did it through the staff account. If we kept doing the same thing it’d turn stale so we came up with the idea of doing live calls and shouting “The password is Bee!”.
Q: Didn’t it feel emotional to use the same keyword from your old radio show Twin Bee PARADISE (Bunka Housou)?
A: The Beemates haven’t died out; they continue to be active so I don’t see it as something particularly special. Nowadays, I still receive word about how they hold gatherings on the designated Beemates day – Sunday the 13th .
We wanted to create a catalyst for my radio shows’ listeners to meet each other – that is why we came up with a password
Q: Where did the original idea to spread this password for your radio show come from?
A: It just happened one day, out of the blue (laughs). I don’t know where it came from myself, but I remember laughing about it with my radio director [Otakkii] Sasaki-san when we were in the studio. “Why is the password ‘Bee’?”. “Hmm. I have no idea.” But we thought that if one could find friendship through discussing things like ‘I like pastel, or light colours’….then we wanted to ‘create a catalyst for my radio shows’ listeners to meet each other’ – and that was why we came up with a password.
Q: It became legendary, how the phrase “The password is Bee!” would be posted up on bulletin boards at train stations.
A: That’s right. The station message boards would be overflowing with the password back then, and I got scolded for it. I’m so sorry to have caused much inconvenience at the time.
Q: Train station bulletin boards are now a thing of the past, but did you get to see [those messages] for yourself?
A: To tell the truth, I still see them around these days. It makes me so happy I almost want to write some messages down myself (laughs). I’m the type of person who likes to participate in things. When I see places called Café Bee or Bee Co Ltd nowadays, I feel like stopping my car right next to them so that I can roll down my window and shout “What’s the password?” (laughs).
Q: With Twitter, it’s easy to circulate things like that nowadays but back then, you could only say it once a week on your radio, yet it is amazing how widespread it became.
A: I personally love doing radio and believe in its ‘power’ so I didn’t see it as being that strange of a phenomenon. Of course, I still believe in the ‘power’ of radio now. Though the format has changed over time. From analog to digital and from letters to emails, plus you can now interact [with the programme staff] via social networks through tweeting. For letters you’d have to think carefully about what to write and elaborate on many things, but for mails and on Twitter you’d just type it up and send it off with a click. Due to all of those changes, the content of radio programmes has had to adjust accordingly. I like how convenient email and Twitter is but I do still want to utilize radio, where I can be ‘right by your side when you need me’, for the sake of posterity. I think it’d be a shame if this part of culture ever was to disappear.
Q: You even talked about how you liked ‘noise’.
A: Yes. Noise is good! I even made a song about it [Hoshikuzu Sunaarashi~Seishun no Zatsuon Listener].
Q: Just how much post[cards] did you get back then?
A: A ridiculous amount, which I’m grateful for. At its peak, the Twin Bee! series would get postcards piled up high across 8 or so long tables. I’d come in 4 hours before live broadcasts or recording sessions just to read them. Not too sure about the exact number of postcards we’d get though.
Q: You took 4 hours to read through the post?
A: Obviously there was a lot of mail to get through, but I also wanted to read them carefully before I sat down in front of the mic. I’d be poring through them so much that sometimes, by the time I read the actual postcard on air I’d be like, “Eh…hmm, haven’t I read this one already?” (laughs).
Q: Were you actually able to look through all the postcards in the first place?
A: Yes I did. Each and every one of them conveyed [its writer’s] feelings, and I wanted to return the thoughts. If I didn’t so, I’d be unable to reply [the fans] if I met them at events and things like that – and I’d really hate that. I’d often get fans coming up to me and saying, “I sent you a letter the other day, did you read it?”. At that point, I’d reply, “Ah, you’re X who lives in X”. Since I read all the letters I receive, I’d mostly be able to recall specific details while chatting [with my fans].
Q: You wished to commit each and every letter to memory!?
A: Their ‘feelings’ are something that will always have a place in [my] heart. And! For some reason, my memory only works well when it comes to this! I wonder why wasn’t it this good when I was still a student? (laughs). I believe that it was the power of handwritten postcards. For emails it takes quite a few times before I can remember, but handwritten postcards easily convey the writer’s personality.
Q: The individual’s personality does shine through on handwritten letters.
A: You can almost imagine the face of the person who wrote it – it’s so strange. It was a time when ‘handwritten mails’ were the norm which why such a ‘technique’ exploded back then.
Q: You would appeal for information on flying squirrels on your radio show back then.
A: Ahhh~ I really really really love flying squirrels (musasabi), they’re so cute! I still have loads of Musa-chan merchandise at home. I even invited an expert on flying squirrels as a guest on ‘(Come on FUNKY) Lips!’ [Bunka Housou] and had the chance to ask him questions. But I did get the feeling that the listeners were only enjoying seeing how much I loved flying squirrels, rather than actually liking flying squirrels themselves (laughs).
Q: You even played agony aunt for your listeners’ romance problems. There was the story of a high-schooler who didn’t get to confess to the person they liked and after listening to Twin Bee Paradise, decided to call them up despite many years having passed since they graduated – and they ended up hearing back from the other person.
A: I’d do anything to make others “Happy”. Quite a few of my listeners have even gotten married to each other and it’s sweet to be able to meet their children. It seems they’d been playing my voice and my songs to baby before they were born; when they come as a family to my events their child would even sing and dance for me – it’s so irresistibly cute!
Today it’s this radio show…tomorrow it’s that radio show…I just kept talking on radio everyday
Q: When you first received an offer to become a radio personality, how did you react to it?
A: I was still a rookie at that point so I’d do my best at whatever work came my way. But I especially loved radio, so I was happy to have received the offer.
Q: Your mom used to put the radio on all day long.
A: She’d always have it on. When she fell asleep at night, I’d listen to it in my room instead. When I’m in the car I’ll turn the radio on like I usually do. There aren’t any particular [shows/stations] that I listen to, but I’ll tune into a station that features a pleasant voice or plays music that tugs at my emotions. I listen to the radio a lot.
Q: Are you fond of the strange kind of atmosphere that comes across naturally on the radio?
A: What are you referring to? (laughs) Twin Bee? Or maybe Kouda Mariko no GM (Radio Osaka)? Or is it Lips? I tend to be misunderstood – on Twin Bee I’m in crazy mode and talk really fast, but that’s only because we had strict time constraints!
Q: Because half of it consisted of radio dramas?
A: Yeah. We’d get so excited with the radio dramas to the point where we couldn’t even get the opening and ending in (laughs). I want to read the listener mails! But I’m looking forward to the radio drama! What should I do…and somehow, I’ll start talking faster. People start to suspect that ‘Kouda Mariko doesn’t breathe, does she?’ but that’s because the director Sasaki-san uses magic hands (ie. editing) to make it sound like I’m not taking any breaths. Everyone, please be assured. I do breathe (laughs).
Q: You were working on a couple of radio shows simultaneously as well.
A: I was talking every day. Today it’s this programme and tomorrow it’s that show. People often said to me ‘You sure have a lot to talk about’ – I’d never run out of things to say.
Q: Oretachi Yattema~su (MBS Radio) was a show on which you worked alongside the manzai comedy duo Gokuraku Tonbo.
A: Yes it was. I was stupid… I should never interrupt when comedians start talking. That’s because their conversation has already been scripted. I didn’t know that.
Q: One plays the fool, the other makes the comebacks.
A: Yeah yeah. But I didn’t know that back then and often took things seriously and got mad (laughs). After the show was over the producer Kamitsu-san would always reprimand me, saying: ‘You can’t do that, Kunippu. You shouldn’t get mad there’ during our evaluation meetings. What I did was to tape and record a bunch of shows featuring comedians on the TV and radio and learned about how they talked, how they behaved during interviews, and how the guests on their shows conducted themselves. I had been causing a lot of trouble for Gokuraku Tonbo up until that point. The long-standing leader of the programme (TOKIO’s Joshima Shigeru) wouldn’t say anything but just kept laughing while looking on. I only realize now that Itao (Itsuji)-san who came in as a guest, had been relentlessly teasing me. And I would get mad at that too. When I see Itao-san on TV nowadays I’ll think ‘I’m sorry’ (laughs). I am filled with nothing but gratitude to everyone for warmly nurturing me [on that programme].
Q: Did you make good use of what you learnt from working with comedians on your own programmes?
A: I definitely did. How to use intervals, how to ‘ride’ and ‘pull back’ the tide, breathing techniques. I’d even throw in comebacks like ‘do you think you’re a comedian?’ during some of my talks (laughs). Or say things like ‘That would be disastrous for a comedian’ or ‘that wouldn’t be what a comedian would do’. I became fearless, or should I say, I was awe-inspired. I really learned a lot.
My staff said to me – let’s have you sing as Kouda Mariko
Q: Your first single consisted of double A-side songs – Bokura no Suteki/Harmony (1994), which served as Twinpara’s opening theme and image song respectively. Your artist debut resulted from your radio work, correct?
A: My first recorded song was probably a character song for the drama CD Sill no Sasayaki. It was a song for a graceful girl and I was repeatedly told to make it ‘gentle. Yes, gentle’, so I performed the song as gently as I could. I’d always said that I loved music and I was forever singing. During recordings I’d always say ‘please let me sing more’. I think the staff members’ standards of what they deemed as acceptable differed from mine. Amidst all that, there were staff who were receptive to my aspirations and said to me, ‘Well, let’s have you sing as Kouda Mariko. Not as a character’. That was how it started.
Q: You probably hadn’t accumulated as much training for music as you had for acting then – did you feel it at all daunting to embark on a career as a professional singer?
A: I didn’t find it intimidating at all. What I felt was happiness. ‘I’m gonna sing. I’m gonna sing!’. I’d been playing piano and doing music since I was a child, plus my parents both loved music and were always singing and dancing – I was already in a musical environment before I was even born. My father used to sing and dance down the school corridors (laughs).
Q: Your dad, who used to be a headmaster did that? (laughs)
A: Yeap. He’d sing when he was outdoors, or even at the train station platform. Thanks to him, his daughter turned out to be the same (laughs). When I absent-mindedly start singing at the train platform in my hometown, the other people there will just watch over me warmly. It’s a bit embarrassing (laughs).
Q: Were there teething problems involved with the making of Bokura no Suteki?
A: (The lyricist) Tozawa Masami-san is quite similar to my older sister in demeanour. I cheer up whenever Masami-san is around. My schedules would always be packed to the point where I had no time to sleep and ended up half-dead by the time I arrived at the studio to sing. Masamin was so busy herself but she’d say to me ‘I’ll come [to the studio] every time if it’s okay with you’, and she really did come to the studio every time. She’d scold and comfort me over a lot of things while we were making the Pure album (1994) and especially during Vivid (1995). Once, she remarked ‘That kind of singing style – I hate it’ which had me going ‘Eh?!?!’ – it was a big shock to me (laughs). I was totally unaware of it myself but apparently I had this habit of inserting ‘shakuri’* (shifting pitch) in my vocals. After that I managed to sing it in a straightforward manner. Being careful with my singing helped to build up many experiences for me.
*shakuri literally means ‘to jerk’; in vocal terms it refers to a technique that bends notes higher in pitch. Refer to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8xItIknXLY for an example. Often used in enka.
Note: Tozawa Masami passed away from cancer in 2012.
Q: You began writing your own lyrics quite early on as well.
A: The lyrics I wrote would be revised by Masamin, and she’d always to say to me ‘I’m supervising this so if it’s not up to my standards then I’ll bin it!’. It made me go ‘Whaaaat, that’s so unreasonable!’, but I’d write and rewrite the lyrics, creating a world of song.
Q: Tozawa-san also wrote famous songs for the likes of SMAP and Minamino Yoko.
A: What I learnt from her was to ‘never let inspiration slip away’. Whenever I was sent songs, whether it be in the studio or anywhere else, I would listen to them on repeat and when as soon as the thought that ‘this worldview would be perfect [for the song]’ popped into my mind, I’d start writing the lyrics down. At that point we didn’t walk around with things like laptops or iPhones, so I’d have to carefully write them by hand. Back then songs were lengthier so the lyrics would take up something like 3 sheets of paper. I wanted Tozawa-san to see them as soon as possible so I’d fax them over to her. And she called me back on my phone and scolded me. ‘If it doesn’t fit on a single lyric sheet then it’s pointless! I can’t even see what’s written!’. She’d tackle me head-on without shirking. I was truly happy, and I truly enjoyed it. I once asked her, ‘What should I do when I just can’t come up with any ideas?’ and she replied passionately, ‘Write, write and write more!’.
Q: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I recall that you’d write your lyrics on sheets of graph paper?
A: That’s right. I tried to make them fit within a single sheet. There was one instance in my early days where I was invited to guest on Yoshida Terumi-san and Omata Masako-san’s live broadcast programme; as I was awaiting my turn in the waiting room, I started scribbling lyrics freely on a brand-new sheet of fax paper…and I got scolded by Masamin.
Q: Did your writing style change when word processing became the norm?
A: It became strangely easier to write. Things that were hard to fathom when handwritten now turned out to be easily understood. Song structures became simpler to grasp and I could instantly register the amount of lines to be sung just by looking [at the worksheet]. Having said that I still write down my vision for the song by hand first, summarizing it as best possible before typing it up and making any corrections. Nowadays we’ve progressed on to using PCs, but I still write the initial draft on paper. For some reason I find that sitting in front of a keyboard makes the worldview that I’m depicting through my lyrics a bit shallow, as if I’m rejecting my own [work] within myself.
Q: When you were working on Pure and Vivid, it got to the point where you were living in the studio.
A: I did do that (laughs). I’d often sleep on the sofas in the studio. Some of the studios even had bathroom shower facilities. At times, I would hit a wall with my singing and I’d say, ‘Yeah, something feels off…can I go take a shower?’. When I think about it, I probably racked up higher studio rental fees thanks to my shower-taking and I do feel sorry now, but I knew nothing about it at the time. I’d be in there right from the recording of the backing track and in most cases, I had to record my own demo vocal as well so it really seemed like I was living in the studio.
Q: The longest stretch would be for about 1 week?
A: For Pure I’d go straight to work from the [music] studio, then back again after work was done (laughs). During Vivid, I enjoyed hanging around to watch the musicians record the backing track and from I’d then go on happily to record the guide vocal. I simply didn’t have a chance to go home.
Q: You didn’t think about wanting to go home?
A: Well, I love being at home so there were times when I wished I could go back but at the same time, I really like my fellow musicians and enjoy creating [music] with them, plus it’s my own album that we’re working on.
I’m allowed to do what I love to do. Given something so wonderful, it’d be boring if I didn’t lay it all on the line
Q: I suppose you would only have gotten busier – did you ever experience not having enough time to sleep?
A: I wonder if I should talk about it. On a certain day, I had to take part in a late-night live radio show, with a concert the following day followed by yet another late-night live programme and then, I’d have to travel to Hokkaido the day after that for another concert. When that was all done I appeared as an invited guest on a local programme and a certain staff member invited me to go for drinks afterwards. Obviously my tank was already empty by that point so I had no choice but to decline, saying ‘I’m sorry but please just let me sleep tonight’.
Q: You’re on the slender side, and your body doesn’t seem to be the robust type..
A: I’m sorry for always making you worry. During genuine emergencies I’d be admitted to ER and after receiving treatment from the doctors, return to work. There was one point in time where I could barely even speak and had trouble breathing but since I couldn’t afford to take time off work, I had to pay a visit to my family’s ENT doctor. And he got angry with my manager, screaming ‘Stop being unreasonable and let her rest – if not, she’ll die!’ (laughs)
Q: Things like ‘having trouble breathing’ seem like particularly weighty topics when you put them in words but you speak of them in such an easy-going manner and you always maintain a kind of cheerfulness in the studio, even back then. It may have seemed to be something natural to you. Looking back, would you give yourself a pat on the back thinking ‘I did well’?
A: I’m filled with gratitude. We were united, all working in the same direction towards turning our dreams into reality. I had been given a chance to do what I love to do – blessed with such a wonderful opportunity, wouldn’t it be boring if I did not lay my life on the line [for my goals]? I still feel the same way. It doesn’t matter if it’s a big or a minor job – they’re all important. Part of me feels that that is what I’m living for. Rather than getting worried over whether my body will hold up, I fear a decline in the quality of my work more; more than I fear death itself. I am always aiming higher; not merely to maintain my position, but with the goal of constantly advancing. Keeping that in mind, I thought to myself ‘I need to work to become stronger!’ which meant improving my physical condition and working on my strength and stamina, and I feel considerably tougher now.
Q: Over the course of your artiste activities, you also had a deep working connection with Kameda Seiji-san, one of the most illustrious names in the industry today.
A: Yes I did. We go back quite a long way. Our initial connection was through (engineer) Inoue Uni-san and [Kameda] ended up arranging a lot of my songs and playing bass on them. When [I] couldn’t make it to the studio we’d work together in Kameda-san’s own home studio – it was great fun. Kameda-san was always the mischievous mood-maker kind of guy. When we run into each other at things like the Ap Bank Fes these days, we’ll get all hyper, going ‘Ah, long time no see!’.
*Kameda extensively works as a writer/producer (see wiki for his credits list) most prominently with long-time collaborator Shiina Ringo, where he played bass for the now-defunct Tokyo Jihen. The AP Bank Fes is an annual event organized by AP Bank, a Japanese non-profit organization dedicated to renewable energy and environmental projects. The project was founded by music producer Kobayashi Takeshi, Mr.Children frontman Sakurai Kazutoshi and composer Sakamoto Ryuichi.
Q: During a period where you were active on various fronts, the seiyuu boom happened – were you aware of what was going on?
A: Well, I wasn’t aware of it at all. There might have been one, there might not have been – I had no idea.
Q: Maybe that’s what it seemed like to the parties who were actually involved.
A: I wonder…when my work was done, whether or not I saw shining smiles on the faces of the staff members was the appraisal of the day’s work for me. If I messed up I wouldn’t get to see the staff’s sparkling faces. And for people who listen to my radio shows or for those who come to my concerts, I’d absolutely have to bring them cheer and excitement or move their hearts. That was the minimum line that I had to cross, and only from there would I think about how to express myself or convey my thoughts – that was all that ever was on my mind.
Q: In other words, you strived to connect only with the people you should, while remaining unaffected by the happenings of the outside world.
A: I think that kind of environment was exceptionally good. Since it eliminates the need for us to think about unnecessary things.
Q: Regardless of whether you were aware of the boom or not, you did grace the cover of the launch issue (and subsequent issues) of Seiyuu Grandprix, one of the symbols of the seiyuu boom – that made you an icon.
A: One fine day, a certain chief editor walked into Aoni [note: Kouda’s agency] with his eyes all sparkling, saying to me animatedly – ‘I want to make a seiyuu magazine. Kouda-san, let’s make one together!’. And we brought the idea to my agency’s senior MD at the time. Rather than thinking about it as a job offer that I accepted, I went into it with the perception that I was working together with a friend to help give shape to [a] dream.
Q: You did not hesitate over the idea of doing gravure work?
A: Not at all. I was excited. I’d be informed, ‘You have a photoshoot tomorrow’ and I’d reply ‘Understood!’. The only other thought I might have had was ‘My eyes are red, I wonder if that’s okay?’. Though to tell the truth, I hate having my photo taken (laughs).
Q: With the emergence of such a magazine, was there the feeling that the industry was getting more exciting?
A: I started getting letters from overseas. From people of various countries. There were people who tried their best to write in English and there were others who wrote in their native language, which I didn’t understand a word of (laughs). Even when I took part in stage performances by Aoni Juku graduates, there were [fans] who came all the way from Korea to watch. I was touched.
Q: I wonder how people from abroad knew of you back then? Nowadays we have internet and stuff.
A: I went to Spain to shoot my photobook once, and when I turned on the TV – Japanese anime was being broadcast. Also, it seems that analog radio waves were transmitted throughout the peninsula.
Q: Still, the anime’s voices would have been dubbed in Spanish, wouldn’t they?
A: The songs stayed in Japanese. The voices would be dubbed by local voice actors and it felt somewhat surreal (laughs).
Q: Shooting your photobook in Spain was a big opportunity for you as well.
A: I was really happy about it. I was also a little worried about the amount of sun though. My skin allergies would break out and cause a bit of fever, making it hard for me to breathe. It caused inconvenience for the cameraman Takuma [Hiroyuki]-san and I’m very sorry for that. Still, I enjoyed myself. When I was out taking a walk, someone called out to me, “Would you like to buy a castle?” (laughs). It seems it’s normal for castles to be put up for sale on the streets. What’s more, they were cheap. When I asked, “Can a Japanese person like me buy one?”, the seller replied “Of course”. I told him “I’ll think about it first and drop by later,” and I went home. It was a lovely castle. I want to buy one (laughs).
All the staff would glower and bite on their lips. It was that kind of era
Q: Weren’t there any other good things that happened as a result of the boom?
A: Yes there were. In the past, when I was asked “What do you work as?” and I answered “I am a seiyuu”, like that long-running joke that is actually a true story, people would think “Ah so you man the cash register at the Seiyu supermarket” (laughs). But [because of the boom], people started to gain awareness and would say, “Ah. So you do voice work”. I think that is a situation that my seiyuu colleagues of that generation will all have experienced.
Q: I remember that you once remarked on radio that “I do voice work, but I am also an actor”.
A: That was one of the fundamental principles of Aoni Juku, the acting academy that I graduated from. We had this drilled into us – ‘First, study to be an actor and only after that should you learn how to express yourself using only your voice’. I think all of us would introduce ourselves by saying ‘I am an actor’.
Q: In that sense, the expansion of the breadth of your activities to cover film and drama seemed like a natural move.
A: It was supposed to be that way but I have to say I was a bit shocked to see the movie posters with ‘a seiyuu takes on the challenge of movies’ written on them. To be honest, when people would tell me ‘so you’re a seiyuu?’ in those days, I didn’t really feel like it came with positive connotations. When I working in the music studios [the musicians] would say to me, ‘You may be a seiyuu but here, we’ll be treating you as an artiste where we make music together’ – they basically saw me as a ‘vocalist’. Obviously I was there as a ‘vocalist’, working with musicians to create music, to make [an album]. Still, as soon as I took one step out of the studio I’d have comments like ‘Recently, seiyuu have been messing about singing and even holding concerts, isn’t that great?’ directed at me on live radio shows.
Q: The host said that?
A: Yeah. What’s more, they didn’t say it in a way that seemed like it was meant to be offensive. It was just an offhand remark that came out in the middle of a normal conversation. Something similar happened when I was being interviewed by a newspaper company or something, promoting my new record together with a staff member from my label and my manager. It was clear that the interviewer had not listened to the record. What came from his mouth was obnoxious words – ‘Why do you present yourself as an artist? Is it because the seiyuu [profession] is too lowly?’. Of course, there were lots of people who welcomed me warmly and I’m greatly appreciative of that. Unfortunately, there were just too many times when all my staff had to bite their lips, holding back [their feelings]. That was the kind of era it was so I can safely say I did not feel any of the so-called fuss over the boom at all. Just recalling [those days] brings back the frustrations and the tears…
Still, perhaps it was just a normal way for the other party to behave. Maybe I’d been too picky about something which caused that tense situation – I’m now reflecting on my actions. If they believed it was so, I should have clarified ‘This is what I want to be, [an artiste]’. I should have gotten him to listen to my music and if he still thought that ‘seiyuu are only treating singing as a side-job’, then I would have used that frustration as a springboard to succeed in the future. But back then, we didn’t have the leeway to do such things. It was merely ‘What? Why are they saying stuff like that again?’. Those were days where all we could do was cry tears of regret.
Q: Did you feel determined to fight against that prejudice?
A: I wasn’t ever really thinking about social betterment or anything. What I hated above all was seeing the sad looks on the faces of my staff members. To have the songs carefully crafted with my fellow musicians seen through these [anti] ‘seiyuu’-tinted glasses, to be scorned – it was disappointing. When all of this was going on, Kameda-san said something to me. “Mari-chan, for as long as you want to sing, I will do it with you. I would sacrifice my life to make music – never forget that”. There is no meaning in persevering with making music if it is in a world where the musicians whom I put my full trust in are subjected to painful experiences. However, it is precisely because we have so painstakingly worked together to create [something], that today, there are songs that I still want to sing, [anime] productions that I want people to know more about, radio shows that I hope to work on again – it makes me feel certain that I have left my mark [on this world]. Ah, that sounded like self-praise (laughs).
It’s a life’s work for me so a life without radio would be unthinkable
Q: Nope, I think it’s exactly as you say. Going back a little bit here – the scope of your work had expanded, but you still found radio to be the pillar of your career?
A: It’s a life’s work for me, so a life without radio would be unthinkable. Though ‘ani-radio’ has emerged as a sub-genre, to me, radio is radio. Sato-D [Sato Takuya, director of Kouda Mariko no GM] would proudly say ‘I don’t think of you as a seiyuu. I’m nurturing you as a [radio] host’. He’s the type of person who would hurl ashtrays around so I was raised very well. Things like ‘what one should never do on radio’, things I should always be careful about, even the basic concepts of ‘Teniwoha’; he taught me all of this, made sure I handled them appropriately. I feel truly grateful to him.
Q: FUNKY Lips!, the late-night radio show you did on Bunka Housou, was targeted at the general public rather than anime fans.
A: That is the basis of all my radio shows. I want listeners who may not even know who I am, to enjoy the programme.
Q: Even today, you’re still hosting a show with Minami Kaori called Bun Bun no GM (distributed by Radio Osaka’s official Nico Nico channel).
A: Rather than being a proper radio show, Bun Bun no GM’s concept is more about Kaori and I enjoying ourselves at a leisurely pace. What we’re doing isn’t particularly incisive or clever; it’s more like we’re having fun at a reunion together with our listeners.
*Minami Kaori is an Osaka-based MC and tarento.
Q: The ‘Sound Conscious’ corner where you read listener poems is something imported from your GM [radio show] days.
A: In the past, most of them would be about club activities or education, friendship and relationship problems. Nowadays they’re mostly about love for their children and family, about their work. All of them are so dear, so cute (laughs). And aren’t Niconamas so interesting? I enjoy seeing the comments fly by.
Q: It’s like a barrage [of comments], isn’t it?
A: They’ve recently implemented that survey function as well. I wonder what would happen if we could do that for radio shows. Seems like fun.
Q: On the other hand, what do you think were the good points of radio shows of the past?
A: This is just a personal feeling, but I think that the radio shows of those times were less about business and more about ‘heart’. Or at least, the radio guys I’m familiar with were the type of people who had ‘infinitely passionate hearts’. Obviously there are still people like that now but sometimes, it seems there is a [underlying] claustrophobic feeling. I know, because I still love and listen to radio shows nowadays.
Q: Perhaps this is because they harbour a different type of passion?
A: I’m not sure if I can adequately express it in words, but back in those days, we all felt like we had a ‘sense of purpose’. I’m not saying that the hosts and radio staff of today don’t, but I feel like those from my era truly thought of it as ‘I’ve found my calling’. We had a deeper bond with our listeners and the local populace back then.
Q: Nowadays, the [life] cycle for shows is pretty short.
A: It’s sad when shows end after just 1 cour, or disappear without warning.
Q: When you mentioned a ‘sense of purpose’ earlier, are you referring to things like the responsibility to bring cheer to your listeners?
A: To me, it’s to ‘live our lives, together’. Not just the listeners but also the staff and all who are involved. Though you can’t really do that on radio nowadays. When I watch the news and see stories about young lives that have been snuffed out by their own hand, I think to myself, ‘Why did my radio not have the chance to come across this soul? Why did they not get a chance to listen to us? Why did we not have an opportunity to go out and embrace them? When we are always here?’. It’s a bit impertinent of me to think so, but I truly believe this – that radio does indeed hold such power.
Q: You’ve seen success on many fronts. Is there anything else you’re looking to achieve in the future?
A: There’s so much I want to do! I want to expand the areas of narration that I’m working on, and above all, I want to continue to deliver ‘radio that is above all, radio’. I’m taking a break from singing at the moment but I definitely want to revive that. With all of [my companions]. I’d also like to work on a kids’ anime. The type of show that allows kids to harbour dreams. A moe-oriented one would be fine. Serious stories are good as well. But I’d like to do something that has a worldview similar to those shows I used to watch when I was a child. Shows like Astro Boy, Mrs Pepper Pot, The White Whale of Mu, Galaxy Express 999, Space Battleship Yamato… when I start giving examples, I’ll just go on and on. I’d like to work on something that would be enjoyed not only by adults, but by children too. I want to reach out to them. When I voiced Miyuki’s mother and Queen Mirage on Precure, I was deeply impressed by the staff. “For this show, we’re trying to send out this particular type of message to children, so please do it this way instead” was one of the comments I received after I made an NG. They weren’t concerned with viewer ratings or anything like that – they merely wanted to deliver a specific message to the children watching. I was touched!
Q: The message wasn’t something that was straightforward?
A: It wasn’t. For example, there was a Mother’s Day episode that, in modern times where family bonds are starting to wane, [we] wanted to ‘deliver a message to the children’. That was truly wonderful. Ah, I forgot about the question about what I want to achieve! I’m Kouda Mariko, and I want to achieve Happy Space Domination!!
[Seiyuu Premium, pg 42-59]