#134 – Monster Strike: Sakamoto Maaya

Translation of an interview with Sakamoto Maaya on her role in the Monster Strike movie, which opened at #1 in Japan this week in terms of tickets sold thanks to all the game tie-ins that pulled in the young school crowd.

The anime is based on one of Japan’s most popular mobage, with the series airing 51 episodes on Youtube this year. Maaya was one of the big names hired for the movie version alongside Mizuki Nana and Yamadera Koichi. She voices the child version of protagonist Homura Ren, whose teenage incarnation is voiced by Kobayashi Yusuke. The web anime was quite well made (as far as kids’ shows go) and Crunchyroll has just picked it up, so why not check it out?

Q: You voice the 10-year old Ren – did you use Kobayashi Yusuke’s performance as 14-year old Ren as a reference point?

A: Yes I did. I believed I had to get to know the character of Ren that Kobayashi-kun had spent this past year developing. When I actually watched it on Youtube however, I found that the mood and tone [of the series] are quite different from that of the movie version. So it might have seemed useful but I’m not that sure any more (laughs). I worked with Kobayashi-kun on another show* and was always in awe of his natural acting ability so I felt glad and strangely secure in having an opportunity to voice the childhood version of one of Kobayashi-kun’s roles. The Ren I voice is a Ren who has lost his memories. Kobayashi-kun said to me, ‘I am learning of these stories for the first time as Ren himself does not recall them happening. Even if you end up deviating slightly [from my version], let it be as it is. Have the freedom to act out the role as you see fit’.

*note: that would be Arslan Senki, where Kobayashi voices King Arslan and Sakamoto voices Falangies

Q: What is your overall impression of the Monster Strike anime?

A: Before seeing it, I thought it would be a battle series. There are action scenes, obviously, but the movie shows how the hearts of our heroes grow. It’s a coming-of-age story that depicts how these boys grow into adults, not unlike the film Stand by Me. You will see over the course of a mere few hours, how these children come closer to adulthood – that is just how much the movie focuses on the human drama aspects. It goes without saying that the action scenes are one of the main highlights. What leaves an even deeper impression in my opinion, is the dialogue, as well as the conflict.

Q: Being in elementary school, Ren is just a child yet he has so much weighing upon his shoulders.

A: That’s right. In Ren’s case there is the fact that his dad had gone missing when he was very young; as he’s the only boy in the family with only his mother and sister left, he thinks he has to grow up as quickly as possible. I do think that it’d be fine for him to stay a child for a little while longer though.

Q: Was there anything that you were particularly careful about, or any specific instructions that you received from the director with regards to voicing Ren in the Monster Strike movie?

A: I’m only coming in to the series at the halfway point so I was a bit nervous about it, but I didn’t receive as many detailed instructions as I thought I would. After the first test I was told ‘that’ll do [for Ren]’ and was given the go ahead. I did receive a couple of specific pointers mid-scenes, things like ‘this line here should be acted out like this’.

Q: Are there are scenes or lines that you find particularly memorable?

A: There is one specific scene where Ren is speaking to Oragon in a kind of monologue. It’s a part where he mentions his missing dad. When I read the words I thought they had a melancholy echo to them, but the Director said, ‘They read forlorn but let it sound bright. Don’t allow it to seem like he’s gloomy and in despair, do it with a bit of a laugh and with cheer’ – and I understood. It is typical of Ren to always want to show that he’s strong, so by laughing it off in such a manner, those who are beside him can start to comprehend the true sorrow that he feels. That was a part that I did not understand through reading the scripts, but the Director’s explanation made it clear.

Q: Ren is a positive and cheerful person, but he does have his dark sides. He’s not a hero who is easy to understand but instead, he’s a character who is still growing.

A: That’s right. It may surprise people who have been watching the Youtube anime, but (the movie version of) Ren is quite a selfish person. He tends to spit out whatever is on his mind to those around him. On the other hand, people might identify with that aspect, thinking ‘Ah, so he was like this in the past’. It’s because of all these things that we see Ren as he is today. I think that knowing the backbone of his story makes it easier for people who empathize with Ren-kun to remember [the story].

Q: It is rare for you to voice this type of character – what are your feelings regarding voicing a young boy?

A: I don’t actually play male characters that often to be honest, but when I have, they tend to be slightly older. Although we say [Ren is] young, he’s just 10 years old and I felt a slight sense of unfamiliarity within myself when it came to children of this age. It was a bit of a challenge for me personally, to take on the task of voicing a type of role that I had never previously done before. Still, [Ren is] a boy and he hasn’t gone through adolescence yet so his voice is not that of a man’s. Rather than focusing on bringing out the sound of a boy’s voice, I tried to give a voice to the blazing thoughts in his mind. Ren is like a child, constantly on the move. Running, throwing the ball while talking, he never stands still. I made it my goal to focus on bringing out aspects that are not necessarily related to one’s vocal colour; for example, ways of speaking that are unique to a child who’s in motion.

Q: How do you feel you responded to the challenges?

A: I think it’s a fairly experimental kind of role for me (laughs). I learned a lot from it and I’m really grateful to have received such a role. I’ve done a lot of different kinds of characters over a fairly long period of time and each and every character has been important in its own way, with much to be learnt every time. I felt very nervous stepping into the recording studio, but it was a valuable opportunity for me to take on the challenge of this role holding on to such feelings. I do not know who chose me for this role but I would love to know why they did. I’m really thankful though (laughs). Personally, I would like to know if anyone will notice the (point) where [I] transition into the 14-year old Ren that Kobayashi-kun voices.

Q: Lastly, do let everyone who is looking forward to the movie know what to look out for, as well as any other messages you may have.

A: My work on the Monster Strike anime served as my entry point to the Monster Strike world so I am truly just a beginner. You may think that you would surely have to have played the Monstrike game to watch Monster Strike THE MOVIE To the Beginning, but that is not true. It is a movie that you can enjoy as an entry point. After you first watch this movie you’ll want to know more about Ren-kun so do please go and watch the anime on Youtube and then, you can move on to the game. It doesn’t matter if you are a newcomer or if you have been supporting the game and watching the Youtube anime – I hope you enjoy the movie together with me.
PS Watch the Ren trailer to hear what Maaya sounds like in the movie!


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