Like many of I’m Enterprise’s talents, Ozawa attended the Nichinare academy. Unlike most who spend a year or two there before getting snapped up by a production company, Ari-chan spent a total of 6 years in Nichinare starting from her 2nd year of high school when she was 17. Perseverance paid off in her case; most others would’ve given up long before.
She’s the latest feature in Animate Times’ Nichinare interview series – read about how she got to where she is today.
Q: Please introduce yourself.
A: Nice to meet you, I am I’m Enterprise’s Ozawa Ari. People usually refer to me as Ari-chan or Ari. People around my age will sometimes call me ‘Aririn’, but I think ‘Ari-chan’ rolls off the tongue easier so I personally wouldn’t recommend that you use the former (laughs).
Personality-wise, I’d say I’m impatient and negative. No matter how much I try I just can’t be optimistic in my words; I’m really not a ‘bright’ type of person. When I’m complimented by other people, half of me thinks they’re being sincere while the other half tends to be rather suspicious (laughs).
My bad points are that I have no self-confidence and that I’m inclined towards intense self-denial. As for my good points – I don’t spend too much time thinking about whatever and consequently, things always seem to go well for me. It also appears that my brain is wired a little differently compared to others’; I get told ‘You’ve got a good imagination’ quite often.
Q: It’s rare to have people start off with their weaknesses when talking about themselves (laughs). Do you have any hobbies or special skills?
A: I like watching anime. I also like exercising and working up a sweat. Things like yoga or mountain climbing. But I basically prefer being at home so I don’t stay out for too long (laughs).
Q: We’ve seen your illustrations on your blog etc – they’re quite good. You’ve got that down as a special skill on your profile too.
A: I personally think they’re really ordinary but yeah, I can draw, sort of. That’s why I’ve put that down in the box.
Q: They are wonderful. Your illustrations are fairly elaborate – how long do they take to draw?
A: About 1 hour or so. Probably because I colour it in as well. Also, if I haven’t drawn anything for a while it takes me some time to get into the groove.
Q: Is there anything that you’ve been into lately?
A: During wintertime I have an obsession with things like bath salts and candles; stuff that gives off a good smell and aids with healing. Once the weather gets warmer….my brain just stops working. I’ve got to find something good to fix this, haven’t I (laughs).
Q: Let’s talk about the anime you’ve appeared in. This July, Konobi! went on air. Tell us your impressions of the series.
A: It’s not a show where people invoke special powers or fight in battles – it’s just peaceful (laughs). It’s a series about daily school life; love, friendship and youth against the backdrop of a club. Seeing how everyone gets along so well and shares great times together will make you want to join the art club. It’s also cute to see Mizuki’s one-sided love – it does make my heart skip a beat.
Q: What kind of character is Usami Mizuki?
A: She’s a nosey person with a sense of justice, an ordinary type of girl you could find anywhere. As the series’ title suggests, the members of the art club apart from Mizuki are all ‘troublesome’ types – she’s the only one who has any common sense. You’ve got all these individualistic characters like Subaru, the President and so on; [Mizuki] is often the one who has to make all the ripostes.
Q: Describe Subaru, who Mizuki’s in unrequited love with.
A: He has talent for art but has no interest in drawing anything apart from 2D characters. He even tells Mizuki to her face that ‘I have zero interest in 3D’. But you know, when you’re in junior high you tend to get obsessed with whatever you’re into at that point; I myself was absorbed in 2D when I was the same age so I do understand [Subaru]. I may play Mizuki but my way of thinking is similar to Subaru’s (laughs). We’re alike in how we’re not particular good at fine art but just love to draw illustrations. I’ve recently come to realize that you don’t really have any interest in love when you’re going through elementary school and junior high.
Q: What are the highlights, the charms of this series?
A: I like both slice-of-life and romance stories so I’m having fun acting in this. It’s also interesting to see how the mood of the conversations in the art club room changes depending on the combination of characters involved. If it’s Mizuki and Subaru then it will be about love; if you add Collette into the mix it will then turn into a slapstick comedy.
The girls are also really cute. Mizuki, Collette-san, Maria and even Tachibana-sensei, the art club advisor – all the characters who appear in the show are cute. Not just from a guy’s point of view, but from a girl’s too! I think the boys will see Mizuki’s unrequited love as endearing, while the girls will be able to relate to her; this makes it a show that you can enjoy no matter whether you’re male or female.
Q: Next, let’s talk about Active Raid: Mobile Assault Division Unit 8. The 2nd season started airing in July. You voice the role of Kazari Asami – what were your impressions of the first season?
A: The series is an easy watch from episode 1 all the way to the end; it’s got a lot of energy and is always fun. The fights with the criminals seemed quite realistic to me, given the rules and limitations when working within law enforcement. The setting is in the near future so you can see that the causes and reasons why the criminals run riot are drawn from the themes of society today. It’s easy to imagine, and it’ll make you think. Asami also changes and grows significantly over the course of the 12 episodes and the whole season will be over in the blink of an eye as you’re watching and enjoying it.
Q: What kind of character is Asami?
A: She’s got a lot of pride and is highly confident, with the tendency to think of herself as the numero uno. She’s full of enthusiasm despite being assigned to Daihachi, the so-called ‘division of eccentrics’, thinking that “I can change [them]!, only to discover that the members are actually competent and help make up for Asami’s deficiencies…as well as highlighting what a wreck she actually is. She works so terribly hard yet the results are always shocking (laughs).
Asami has a bit of smugness to her but she too, starts to rely on her team-mates and learns the value of teamwork. Moving into the second half of the [1st] season she starts to be more honest with herself, which is cute, and does turn into a decent person.
Q: As we move into Season 2, how does the story and Asami herself change?
A: It all becomesoutrageous (laughs). After getting a promotion, she becomes top dog for whatever reason and immediately she gets a little carried away and breaks down even further. It’s like, ‘where on earth has the cute Asami gone off to?’. I do enjoy portraying the role with all that enthusiasm but my co-stars would say ‘Today, Asami-san was crazy’. I’m curious about how the others view Asami.
Q: It’s a hard sci-fi story set in the near future, but the tempo of the jokes and the gap between Asami’s sense of humour and the rest of the members’ makes this a fun series.
A: It’s very busy on the acting side but as a viewer the show flows very nicely – I look forward to watching it every time it goes on air.
Q: You also served as the chief at Musashino Police Station for a day.
A: For the first time ever in my life. I was allowed to wear a real uniform and take part in a crime-prevention event. I hope I was of some use. It was an honour; something that would not have been possible if not for my involvement with this series, and I am grateful for all the voices of encouragement I received. I also hope that people will show interest in Active Raid. It would give much energy to [us] as we go through recordings.
Q: These 2 series are perfect for the summer.
A: I agree. Konobi! is a healing series that is fun and full of the freshness of youth, while Active Raid retains the energy from the 1st season, all powered-up to continue its sprint. Cheer yourself up while watching these 2 shows – please survive the hot summer!
Q: Please tell us why you wanted to become a seiyuu.
A: I love anime that had a lot of female characters; I watched a lot of them. When I saw how these girls enjoyed their happy school lives I would think to myself, ‘I wish I could be like this, having fun every day with a smile on my face’, and I started to admire these anime characters. If I liked a certain character I’d develop an interest in their seiyuu as well and end up listening to female seiyuu’s radio shows and watching their DVDs. When I was reading seiyuu magazines, I’d see how these people who seem to enjoy playing cute characters, would be really serious when talking about their roles in interviews. That made me think ‘they’re so cool’, and it inspired me to want to become an actress. However, I hated appearing in front of a crowd and disliked talking so I never acted on my desires.
Q: When did you actually start taking steps towards becoming a seiyuu?
A: When I had to decide on a career course during my 3rd year of junior high, I thought, ‘what would I want to do for a living?’. ‘How can I lead a life that I’m satisfied with?’. At the time there was this ‘prophet’ boom and I actually believed that the world would end within 3 years (laughs). I thought to myself ‘Well, I may as well do something that I want to’ and I decided to take on the challenge of voice acting, enrolling into voice training school just as I entered high school.
When I talked my decision over with my parents, they told me ‘dreams are something you grab hold of on your own so don’t seek others’ help; rely on yourself instead’. Thus, after I entered high school I got a part-time job to cover my training school fees and in my sophomore year, I started attending Nichinare.
Q: Why did you choose Nichinare?
A: All my favourite seiyuu went to Nichinare so I was curious about what they learned there – I wanted to learn the same things; that was the reason. Another big factor was that I could attend lessons while I was still in high school. That’s why I went for the basic ‘once-a-week’ classes.
Q: What were your impressions of Nichinare?
A: It really, really changed me as a person. For the first 6 months I was there, I’d always go home alone but once we started doing lessons that involved acting as a group I started opening up more and realized that I had to speak more as I’d entered [Nichinare] for the sake of my dreams.
Q: It’s important to let your emotions out as well.
A: It’s not something I’m good at so I wasn’t able to handle it well. But I tried to do it wholeheartedly, filled with the desire to be able to do so as well as the frustration of not being able to.
Q: What kind of lessons did you attend in the basic course?
A: For my class, we had many in-class recitals where we’d team up with someone else and perform together about 3-4 times. We were required to come up with material ourselves. At the end, we’d also have to write scripts as well as learn about roles and the creative process.
Q: You didn’t have prior acting experience so it was truly the case of starting from scratch for you.
A: It was hard. I barely talked to other people so I wasn’t good at enunciating words plus I had a habit of murmuring, had weak abdominal muscles, rarely ever smiled – basically I lacked a lot of things (laughs). But I did practise at home every day so I think I really put in a lot of effort there (laughs).
My desire to become a seiyuu was just too strong; I would become anxious after lessons, thinking ‘I have got to do this’ and my thoughts kept wandering to Nichinare even when I was in school. That’s why I have few memories of my high school days (laughs). I think that in return, I enjoyed my days of youth in Nichinare instead.
Q: What sort of lessons did you attend in your 2nd year of the regular course?
A: Stage plays, all the time. Stage performances are fun but tough. I didn’t have a clue how I was supposed to move. I was at Nichinare for 6 years and that was what troubled me most.
If the subject matter was related to everyday life then I could draw upon my own experiences to bring up a suitable image but when it came to fantasy, I’d get stuck up the creek without a paddle… I’d go watch actual stage plays and put in my own efforts. Inserting myself into a role, using body language to act – I enjoyed it. For the training programme I did do a bit of stage work as well and though it was difficult again, I had fun.
Q: For recitals, you can still practise on your own but when it comes to stage plays, you need a partner.
A: You need to respond to your partner’s acting and be responded to – that’s what makes it a stage performance. I also had trouble acting out older roles. I was just a high school student so I didn’t understand adult stuff. When I think about it now, I always seemed to run into brick walls back then; I was always in despair.
Q: Did you not rethink your career path when you graduated from high school – was it acting all the way for you?
A: I’d always wanted to become a seiyuu but by the time I graduated from high school I still hadn’t managed to get signed up by any agency. I wasn’t willing to give up but at the same time, I knew I had to make a living. I was aware that gaining a qualification would open up doors to [future] employment, so I enrolled in vocational school. Following that, I got a job at a nursery school but around the same time, I was accepted into I’m Enterprise. Initially, I didn’t think I’d get many audition chances in my 1st year and planned to work first, taking the view that ‘work experiences would help to nurture one as an actor’. However, I knew that I’d already put in so much effort to become a seiyuu and that I should grab any chance that comes my way, which is why I finally decided to concentrate solely on voice acting.
Q: After joining I’m Enterprise you continued studying on the training programme. Was it motivating to see people who you’d studied alongside making their debuts and becoming prominent [in the industry]?
A: I was aware of what was going on around me but I personally thought that I had a long way to go yet, that there was still so much for me to learn – all I did was to just give my best tackling whatever was ahead of me.
Q: By the way, who else joined the agency the same time you did?
A: Naganawa Maria-chan, Uchida Yuma-san and Amasaki Kohei-san. I’m really glad when I have the chance to work together with my contemporaries. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I don’t see them as rivals, but it does inspire me to work harder. More than anything, I’m happy when we get to work on the same show.
Q: What did you learn during your lessons that you still find useful even now?
A: All my lessons were helpful. Maybe I couldn’t understand what they meant when I was actually being taught, but I did find out later on. I think acting is something you get better at the more you do it so it’s important to just go ahead and try your hand it it. You’ll also learn from watching other people’s performances.
Standing in front of a mic during training programme classes made me realize how hard it was, but I’m grateful for the lessons that taught me what my good points were, as well as how my lecturers and everyone around me would always point out things that I was good at.
Additionally, when I was in my 1st year of the training programme, my then-lecturer would explain to us how it was better to put on a performance that was clumsy-yet-memorable, rather than one that was competent-but-forgettable. Even now, I’m always striving to infuse my own personality into the characters I create rather than producing something that’s merely‘passable’.
Q: Please tell us about your debut work.
A: It was for the web anime version of Oreimo., where I provided the voice for an in-game character. As for my first regular anime role, it was in the following year, as Sakura Chiyo-chan in the TV anime Gekkan Shojo Nozaki-kun. I think that I’m very privileged to have voiced Chiyo-chan. People said, ‘It’s great that you’re working hard’ but I do wonder if it was my innocence and lack of experience that had been the deciding factor – perhaps, if I’d tried out for [the role] 2-3 years later, I might not even be chosen. I am grateful to my manager who sent me to try out for the auditions, Director Yamazaki who nurtured me, as well as all of the fans who cheered warmly during events and so on.
Q: The anime was quite well received.
A: So it seems. When I watched the show on air, I’d go “Aahh!” or put my head in my hands (laughs). I had my doubts about whether I was ‘the right one’, worried about whether I was able to show what I was capable of – it’s something that I still think about, even now. Lots of people watched and loved the show. Personally, I feel like I was able to ‘become one’ with Chiyo-chan and that makes me happy. It’s a series that has greatly influenced my views on acting, and it’s also the first one where I feel like I’m being acknowledged. It’s a work that I truly treasure.
Q: Based what you learnt and felt at Nichinare, what do you think are the school’s good points?
A: I think it was nice to have a wide range of ages there. Young kids have their good points and the older students have theirs too. It was good to be able to interact with people from other age groups that I normally wouldn’t have had the chance to during the course of my school life.
Besides, the things I was expected to become aware of; to discover within myself, changed depending on the lecturer. There were lessons to be learned from these contrasting approaches and I felt that it was rewarding to challenge something new every time.
I gained new knowledge every year throughout the 6 years I attended [Nichinare]; the environment would change as well depending on the people involved. When my classmates changed and there would be another girl there who’s cheerful like me, I would think to myself ‘what other advantage do I have?’. Having different types of people from different age groups was a stimulating experience; interacting with them allowed me to learn many new things about myself as well. Many times, I was also spurred on to want to ‘create’ something new.
Q: Please tell us about your future goals and what kind of seiyuu you want to be.
A: For now, I want to play many different types of roles. I’ll need lots of tricks and techniques in order to pull them off. I’ve already had the chance to act as various types of characters up ‘til now so I hope that in the future, I’ll be able to voice other characters that display expressions that I’ve not had to before. There are certain kinds of roles that I consider easy to voice but if I could expand on the type of roles I can do then I’d also broaden my goals in the process. I do think that it’s one of the pleasures of life to be able to devote yourself fully to something, so I hope that I will find that ‘one thing’ that I can dedicate myself to.
Q: Please give some advice and messages to people who are aiming to become seiyuu.
A: I have travelled the same path that you are now on. I too, felt inspired to work harder after reading an interview with someone who also joined the [same] agency, so I definitely do understand the feelings of those of you reading this article who are also hoping to become seiyuu. The method and how you go about achieving your dreams is up to the individual so I think it’s important for each of you to re-examine things on your own. As you’re considering the things that you need [to improve yourself], I think it is worth putting in the effort to find out what it is that makes you unique. Your luck and chances will consequently increase. Even if you do not see any results within 1-2 years, I hope that you will not give up and continue to work hard.