The third entry in Akiba Souken’s ‘The People Inside’ series is sound director Mima Masafumi. During his university days, Mima developed an interest in radio drama production when he worked part-time at Bunka Hoso (Nippon Cultural Broadcasting) and he subsequently joined Magic Capsule, a sound production company headed by his relative and mentor, veteran sound director Aketagawa Susumu (father of Aketagawa Jin). Mima worked as a sound assistant on various series before helming his first production the OVA Madonna Honoo no Teacher, in 1988. He has since taken charge of various popular licenses and franchises, including the Pokemon series, Card Captor Sakura, Initial D, several Gundam and Macross series, Fullmetal Alchemist, Shingeki no Kyojin, and so on.
Learning about anime sound from Aketagawa Susumu
Q: Can you tell us the story behind how you got your start in anime sound work?
A: I wanted to work on radio dramas when I was in college – I didn’t think about anime at all. I joined my relative Aketagawa Susumu-san’s company Magic Capsule as they did radio production work without being aware of the fact that the company focused mainly on animation. My first assignment involved working on the sound effects for a Disney opening ceremony, followed by a job as an assistant director on MTV. Subsequently, I started learning about making anime while working as an assistant to Aketagawa-san.
Q: Did you watch much anime back then?
A: With regards to anime*, I did watch Hanna-Barbera productions. At the time, Tokyo 12 Channel (now TV Tokyo) used to air a programming block titled ‘The Country of Manga’, via which I watched a dubbed version of Wacky Races. As for Japanese anime, I watched Space Battleship Yamato.
*Mima specifically uses the word アニメ (anime) as opposed to アニメション (animation) here. Perhaps a relevant thought, now that the interwebs seems to be embroiled in an ‘is Western anime really anime?’ argument after the Porter Robinson fiasco
My roots are in The Drifters
Q: What works influenced you?
A: In terms of actual influence, I’d say that my roots lie in The Drifters. I met Shimura Ken recently; I have so much respect for him but I ended up getting a little too nervous and couldn’t find the words to say to him. The Drifters is certainly the underlying influence of gag-heavy series I’ve worked on such as Pocket Monster and Yokai Watch.
Q: What about anime works?
A: I think Farewell Space Battleship Yamato (1978) was well made. However, I do not necessarily believe in making an anime based on the influence of another anime. It would diminish the core [of the production], and I don’t think that’s a good thing. It’s like this – rather than be asked to make something that expresses the joys of baseball to people who already play baseball, I would think it more compelling to make something that evokes the feeling, ‘Wow, I didn’t know baseball could be that fun’ from people who aren’t involved with the sport. Drawing on elements of past anime works will only result in imitations. [We] should instead, try to incorporate those flashes of inspiration based on our own observations in our daily lives; things that have never been seen in anime before.
Debuting as a sound director in Toei, a company that doesn’t utilize sound directors
Q: You made your sound directing debut as early as 1988, with the OVA Madonna Honoo no Teacher.
A: When I worked on the TV anime Galactic Patrol Lensman (1984-85) assisting Aketagawa-san, a producer from Aoni Planning said [about me], “We’ve got a young guy here who’s doing interesting things – I’d like to have him work [with us]”.
Q: You got ahead of the game quickly.
A: I wonder if that’s the case….at the time, there were only around 5 sound production companies. The few colleagues around my age are Wakabayashi Kazuhiro-kun (editor’s note: a sound director who worked on Oshii Mamoru productions as well as did recording work for Ghibli movies) and Watanabe Jun-chan (editor’s note: sound director whose works include Medaka Box & the Bakuman. series) and we’d go drinking together even though we worked for different companies.
Q: What do you believe were [your] characteristics that drew the attention of the above-mentioned producer?
A: Well, probably the fact that I’m industrious (laughs). Or perhaps it was a sort of ‘gamble’ that he took, betting on the likeliness that I ‘might produce something that is unlike that of Aketagawa-san’. Anyhow, I am the type of person who will ‘take full responsibility if things go wrong’, so I was allowed the freedom to work as I wished.
Q: In other words, it was the prospect of discovering new possibilities in youth.
A: Another thing that I’d like to mention – Madonna is a show produced by Toei, with sound production being handled by its in-house company TAVAC. However, in those days the system of hiring independent sound directors had yet to come into existence. It wasn’t a case of me coming in and kicking someone else to the kerb, but more a question of how to make a sound director fit in a world where sound directors didn’t originally exist. I think that was one of the challenges then.
Q: Having to make your debut as a sound director in a place ‘away’ from home – you must have faced many hardships.
A: I was treated like an outsider at first. It was only Ikegami Nobuteru, the mixer, who was more open and had said ‘He’s not an outsider. This might be a sign of things to come’. I’m very grateful to him.
Q: Your first TV anime as a sound director was Dragon Quest Legend of the Hero Abel (1988).
A: This was also made possible by the aforementioned producer from Aoni Planning. I was given a chance to work on it by Director Rintaro. It was because of the support of these two people that I was afforded the opportunity to work on such a big title.
Q: After joining [Magic Capsule], were you able to get involved with radio drama work?
A: After around 10 years had passed, I received an offer regarding a cassette novel version of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure from Shueisha – finally, my dream came true.
An awe-inducing meeting with Shiba-san
Q: During your freelancing period, you visited the studio of fellow sound director Shiba Shigeharu.
A: Shiba-san happens to be one of the leading figures of the industry; I’m not saying that I was homing in on [specific] targets or anything, but at the time I felt like I was a frog in a well and needed to see more of how other people apart from Aketagawa-san worked. I contacted a couple of sound production companies. I called them one after the other and got turned down one after the other. All in all only 3 people said ‘yes’, including Shiba-san. I went to visit Shiba-san’s studio around 3 times in total and observed [his] working methods and I thought, “Wow!”. I was honestly impressed by what I saw. It was completely different to how Aketagawa-san works.
*Shiba’s sound directing credits include Ghibli titles Nausicaa, Laputa and Totoro as well as Urusei Yatsura, Patlabor and Maison Ikkoku
Q: What was different?
A: Shiba-san places the biggest emphasis on performance. At that point I had already spent 15 years in the industry, but meeting Shiba-san left me in awe. I admired his stubbornness, or should I say his power, as a master of his craft.
Q: What anime was being recorded at Shiba-san’s studio?
A: I don’t recall at all (laughs). Because I was concentrating on observing ‘the production that is Shiba-san’. But I do remember that Shiba-san treated me to incredibly delicious ramen after recordings so the studio’s name Avaco sticks firmly in my mind (laughs).
Using the ‘language of experience’ as motivation during afureko
Q: Allow me to enquire about your dialogue recording methodology.
A: If you use the same kind of language to speak to different actors who come from different backgrounds, they won’t necessarily comprehend what you’re saying. People possess what I call a ‘language of experience’, if you don’t engage them through the usage [of such words], you’ll find that they won’t be able to understand you. This is something I came to realize once I hit my 40s.
Q: Besides the director, there’s also a possibility that the original author and episode directors will be present in the studio for recordings. What kind of adjustments do you make for such cases?
A: I wouldn’t make any. A sound director is someone who’s tasked with ‘articulating the abstract thoughts within the director’s head’, so the main point is to concentrate on whatever the director is thinking of. Thus, I feel happy whenever the original author speaks to me or gives me their comments. I was touched when I received a shikishi of thanks from Fujimaki Tadatoshi-sensei, the author of Kuroko’s Basketball (2012-15). Fujimaki-sensei is someone who is very passionate and he was present not only for the dialogue recordings, but also for the [sound] dubbing sessions.
Q: Let’s talk about casting.
A: This really depends on how you define casting, but if you are referring to ‘the selection of actors’, then I do not participate in casting. That is what the director does. No matter how good one’s acting is, you will not get called to auditions unless you fit the image of what the director has in mind. As for auditions, I don’t see them as an avenue to judge and find fault [with actors]; instead, I see them as a consultation. For example, I’ll say something like, “For that scene where you were laughing, try to do it again while crying this time”, and then the director and I will see whether [the actor] understood what we required of them. They may put on a performance that was neither laughing nor crying, but I would not reject them. Even if the actor does not possess a lot of experience or has very little in their repertoire, I will still go with the intentions of the director.
Q: You do not select the actors but you act as support for the director instead.
A: It has been said to me before: ‘Why do you keep using Kaji [Yuki]-kun?’. The reason for that is because the director likes his acting. I believe there are few people with as high a level of professionalism as him around. He takes responsibility as someone involved [with the series] and you can see through his attitude, a desire to create a work.
Q: What are your thoughts on the use of mainstream actors and entertainers as seiyuu?
A: It’s interesting to see the chemical reactions amongst the seiyuu when you throw people whose jobs involve ‘appearing in public’* into the mix. As seiyuu are on good terms with each other, the atmosphere tends to be like a group of BFFs. So if you toss in someone like say, Oguri Shun-san or Nakagawa Shoko-san, the seiyuu’s reactions do change. That’s why I’d like to use more and more stage actors or people who appear in public in the future.
*顔出し (kaodashi) – literally ‘showing your face’. Refers to actors, who show their faces when plying their trade, as opposed to seiyuu with only their voices being heard
The difficult thing with original properties is that you can’t see what happens next
Q: What would you consider the difficulties of working on original anime where there is no media property as a base?
A: Let me speak not from the perspective of a sound director but from the viewpoint of a business; it bothers me when you get series where, as the plot advances, more and more people have to be hired and the budget blows up as a result. For example, we’ll receive the scripts for the first 5 episodes where only 5 characters appear. At this point you can still make estimates for the entire series as a whole. But when you lift the lid, you discover things like some heavyweights [characters/actors] starting to appear only after episode 5, and that by the time the finale rolls around you’ve got 50 characters… that makes me go “Oi oi, nobody told me this would be happening!” (laughs). The same thing applies to the music – when the outcome is not perceivable, it becomes an impossible task to create the music menus for all the episodes.
Q: For the Macross series, you have served as sound director starting from Macross Plus (1994). Are there any changes that you have observed through successive titles?
A: When it comes to music selection, Chief Director Kawamori Shoji now gives me a lot more leeway than he used to do in the past. Also, the proposals have broadened [in scope] since the migration to stem recording.
Q: Could you name anything (from the series) that left a deep impression on you?
A: When we recorded a scene in Macross Plus where Isamu Dyson is fighting against the G [force], a certain actor remarked, “I do not understand what it feels like to sustain G”, so Chief Director Kawamori and I went to Korakuen* with him and we practised the dialogue on the roller coasters (laughs).
*now known as Tokyo Dome City
Q: I heard around 8,000 people applied for the Diva Audition for Macross Delta (2016).
A: As we were looking for a ‘Diva’ (utahime), we had Chief Director Kawamori, music producers and other members of the production team passing judgment at the application stage. By the time it got to the sound team they had already narrowed it down to around 20 people, so that wasn’t too different from what it’s like normally [during seiyuu auditions].
Q: You also served as sound director for Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress (2016).
A: Director Araki Tetsuro initially said to me that he wanted to make the series without a sound director. So I only came in on the basis of being an observer. I went about doing my thing, while taking a step back from actual proceedings. I do think that it’s interesting to have more diverse ways of handling sound work. However, as stem recording results in a broad scope of proposals with regards to the music, the Director left that up to me.
Q: So we do see these kinds of cases.
A: It’s only because there are different methods that we can see light shining in different ways. I once received a work proposal from a certain director but I declined it, saying “I want to see how this work turns out without me working on it”. I think I wanted to see the show and have it make me go “Damn!’; kind of a way of lighting a fire under myself (laughs)
Q: What is like working on sound effects for original series?
A: For anime based on games, [the parts of] the work flow requires approval not just from the director, but from the game company as well. For original titles, it’s okay to just dig into the director’s brain for what’s needed – that reduces the amount of hassle involved.
Pikachu’s ‘words have meaning’
Q: Speaking of titles based on games, we have Pocket Monster. The first anime series started in 1997 and you have continued to be sound director on it for a lengthy period of time.
A: Ishihara Tsunekazu-san (current President of The Pokemon Company) is a very passionate person; when we first began production, he would attend dialogue recordings every week for about a year. Nowadays he’s busy and we don’t even have time to go out for drinks (laughs).
Q: Apart from the anime, you’ve also been involved with Pocket Monster-related games and radio work. Did this result from the acclaim you received for working on the anime?
A: That’s right. I was also once appointed to serve as an interpreter for Ohtani Ikue-san, who provides the voice for Pikachu. Pikachu is not just saying ‘Pikachu’, [its] ‘words actually have meaning’. For example, if you’d like to have something said in a cheerful Pikachu voice, what you have to ask for is not for Pikachu to ‘make noise cheerfully but to say, ‘Say ‘Hello!’ cheerfully to the people watching the show on the other side of the screen.
Regarding Director Mizushima Seiji’s works
Q: You have worked with Director Mizushima Seiji on many shows, including the likes of Generator Gawl (1998), Dai-Guard (1999-2000), Shaman King (2001-02), Fullmetal Alchemist (2003-04), Mobile Suit Gundam 00 (2007), UN-GO (2011), Concrete Revolutio (2015-16) and so on. This must be an indicator of the level of trust the Director has in you?
A: I think that Director Mizushima probably chooses which of his productions should land in our hands before giving us the call. If the Director thinks he can handle the work himself, then it’s not likely to come to us. I feel somehow, that it’s the difficult ones that get sent our way (laughs). Perhaps it’s because I’m 5 years older [than Mizushima], that he requires the value of that 5 years’ extra experience.
Q: For Fullmetal Alchemist, you worked as sound director under Director Mizushima on the 2003-04 adaptation and under Director Irie Yasuhiro on the 2009-10 adaptation. Was there a big difference in the way they both worked?
A: Sound-wise, I did not intend for there to be big changes, but there were differences due to the individual personalities of the directors. For Mizushima-san, I’d say he’s someone who is ‘human, people-oriented’, while Irie-san is ‘art-oriented’. For example, Mizushima-san would say something like ‘I want to turn up the heat here, get people’s hearts throbbing’ while Irie-san would be more like ‘Please try to get it to match up to the character’s art a bit more’.
Q: Surprisingly, Mobile Suit Gundam 00 was your first Gundam production.
A: Director Mizushima said to me, ‘I want to make a whole new Gundam’ and ‘I want, in a sense, to make this a standard for Gundam’. Those words resonated deeply within me and I was totally on board with what he was saying. That did in fact, make the sound effects very much different [from normal].
Ushio to Tora’s casting started from a blank slate
Q: You worked on both the 1992 OVA version as well as the 2015-16 TV anime version of Ushio to Tora. Is there any story behind how that happened?
A: I have absolutely no idea…I think it was just fate. I got the call from MAPPA’s Maruyama Masao-san; maybe he appointed me to the role because I had worked on the OVA version, I don’t know.
Q: For the TV anime, the surprising utilization of big-name seiyuu became something that was widely talked about.
A: For Hakumen no Mono, Director Nishimura Satoshi said to me, ‘[this character is] one who never wavers, who calmly accepts and gives back – there can be no one else for this except Hayashibara Megumi’. At first, Fujita Kazuhiro-sensei was a little worried, commenting ‘Isn’t she a little too cute [for the role]?’. So we called Hayashibara-san in for an audition and asked her to do 2 types of voices: ‘spiritual words (inner voice)’ and ‘verbalization (vocal cords)’; we mixed them together and had [Fujita] Sensei listen to them. He was surprised, saying ‘Eh!? Is this Hayashibara-san?’, followed by ‘I’m OK with this!’, and that is how we cast Hayashibara-san as Hakumen.
Q: People were also taken aback by Koyama Rikiya-san’s Tora.
A: Koyama-san is a good and dependable person, but Tora is the opposite – a ‘whatever’, big-attitude kind of guy. In order for [Koyama] to be able to ignore his surroundings and to get him as relaxed as possible for his performance, we made him a ‘Tora room’. We’d tell Koyama-san, ‘Nobody’s gonna see you here so you can do it lying down if you wish’.
Q: Wakamoto Norio-san voiced Hyo in the OVA and Guren in the TV anime – were there any reasons behind these castings?
A: The Director decided everything starting from a blank slate. There weren’t any reasons like wanting to get someone who’d already taken on Hyo before or because so-and-so had already appeared in the OVA or anything. For Guren, the strongest of the strong , there was nobody else to handle a guy who beats Koyama-san’s Tora other than Wakamoto-san. I thought it would be interesting to create an atmosphere where ‘if Wakamoto-san’s Guren comes along, we might actually see Tora losing’.
I want to start a sound effects school before I turn 70
Q: What sort of challenges would you like to take on in the future? You’ve previously mentioned that you wished to create 3 groups of sound effects units in your company.
A: I haven’t even made a single unit yet (laughs). But I do want to start a sound effects school before I’m around 70; I want to increase the number of people working in sound effects. The number of sound directors in Japan is on the rise but the number of sound effects personnel isn’t. Unless we get to a point where we have 20+ groups of sound effects units working on a single production like Lucas Films’ Skywalker Sound (Editor’s note: the arm of an American visual production company, set up by George Lucas) does, Japan’s sound effects will never progress. Japan’s animation may be the best in the world, but our sound work has not kept up.
Q: Is there anything you would like to do anything outside of anime?
A: I’m also interested in stage sound. After we’re done here today, I am going to see a stage performance (laughs).
Q: Please leave a message for all the anime fans!
A: My purpose in life is to make everyone happy through the anime that I create together with the directors. From now on I will continue to be involved with various works, working my hardest with my life on the line – please look forward to them!
Comments: I find it…interesting that Mima brings up the topic of Kaji Yuki again (and unprompted). This stems back to 2012, when Mima got all defensive on Twitter in response to tweets from fans about how he always hires the same cast members, ie Kaji-kun was lead in 3 consecutive shows (I assume it’s No.6, Guilty Crown & Aquarion EVOL). His assertion that ‘it’s not me, it’s the director that likes Kaji-kun’s acting’ does feel odd when those 3 shows had different directors (Araki, Nagasaki Kenji, Yamamoto Yusuke). Mima shows have continued to feature Kaji regardless of who’s directing – Pokemon, Yokai Watch, Danball Senki, Kyojin, Inazuma Eleven, Valvrave etc etc. Not sure why the whole issue seems to really get his goat; he’s already explained why he likes Kaji so I thought he’d just leave it at that, but he’s appears to still be hung up on it half a decade later, hmm. Regardless, Mima’s one of the most sought-after sound directors around and ranks near the top in terms of number of anime projects handled at any one time. No.1 far and away is the Aketagawa Jin, the son of his mentor, followed by Iwanami Yoshikazu and then Mima, Iida Satoki, Tsuruoka Yota, Motoyama Satoshi and lately, Nagasaki Yukio.