This is an interview back from 2009 and is part of Kobayashi’s ‘Yu’s Room’ column on the Famitsu online blog. She is featured alongside sound director Kameyama Toshiki – this was from the period when they were working on Maria Holic. Kameyama has consistently cast Kobayashi over the years, starting from Zetsubo-sensei & Prism Ark in 2007 all the way up to the recent 3gatsu no Lion (check out my spreadsheet for more). Other notable credits of his include the Nanoha series, Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge and Red Garden. Kameyama also frequently works in partnership with Shaft’s Shinbo Akiyuki. Apart from sound directing, Kameyama also heads the seiyuu talent agency Aptepro.
Kobayashi Yu’s appeal lies in her sincere commitment to her characters
Kobayashi: For today’s edition of Yu’s Room, we welcome sound director Kameyama Toshiki-san. Kameyama-san, thank you very much for visiting Yu’s Room!
Kameyama: No thanks needed – it’s my pleasure (laughs).
Q: First of all, for the benefit of people who don’t know – tell us about the responsibilities of a sound director.
Kameyama: OK. A sound director is a role that is unique to anime; he or she is the staff member that assists the director in handling anything related to sound. The three aspects of animation that contain the element of sound are – ‘the recording of lines’, ‘the usage of sound effects’, and ‘the placement of music ie. BGMs & so on’. There are sound directors for dubbed productions as well, but all they have to do there is prepare the dialogue and mix it in with the SE and music from the original work. In anime, you have to start from scratch & create the ‘source material’. As an example, when we talk about ‘arranging the music’, what we do is write a proposal to the relevant person from the music company regarding the type of music that we might need, like ‘I want a song that sounds like this’. The artist involved or the kind of content that is produced is usually…out of my hands, but when I get the final product I will judge whether or not it sounds good, and use it in the anime.
Q: Are you in charge of the seiyuu castings etc?
Kameyama: When it comes to castings, the director will have his own opinions and the producers will have their own preferences. It is the sound director’s role to preside over the [entire] process, including auditions and so on. Regarding the choice of actors, it is a must for sound directors to keep many options on hand. For example, if I suggest ‘let’s go with this person!’, the director might, in some cases, reply ‘Isn’t there anyone else suitable?’. At that point I’d need to be able to propose a different actor for the role.
Q: So you’d have to have a wide range of options available. Since we’re on the topic, how about the role of Shido Mariya for the anime Maria Holic that the two of you are working on now – what was it like?
Kameyama: For Mariya, we’d readily decided from the start that ‘we’ll go with Kobayashi-san!’. Sometimes, we get producers who’ll say ‘we want to go with so-and-so actor as the focal point’, and for this series Kobayashi-san was that very axis that they were looking for. Personally, I’m already working with Kobayashi-san quite frequently of late, so I was thinking, ‘Yes!!’ when I heard that.
Kobayashi: I’m glad. That’s the first time I’ve heard anything about that.
Q: What, frankly, is the appeal of Kobayashi Yu-san?
Kobayashi: Y-you’re asking that all of a sudden? I’m nervous~
Kameyama: Her sincere commitment to her characters, above all. No matter what happens, she will keep thinking and thinking about her role. I once had her voice a girl who communicates with aliens, but she got way too immersed in the communicating part that we couldn’t drag her away from the microphone (laughs). You just kept shouting into the mic all the way through recording, didn’t you.
Kameyama: I’m not being sarcastic or anything, Kobayashi-san just was that immersed in the role. It was pretty amazing. To the point where one of the veteran actors was getting concerned, saying ‘Is she really alright?’ (laughs)
Kobayashi: I’m sorry about always causing trouble….
Kameyama: Despite being so busy, she’ll always read her scripts. She’s so well prepared that I wonder how much prep time she puts in before recordings. I send out rehearsal videos to my actors prior to recording sessions and she’ll be studying them diligently. And she’ll make sure to ask questions like whether ‘it’s okay for the character to be having such a facial expression at this point’ and so on. In many cases, the rehearsal video actually turns out to be wrong.
Kobayashi: Thank you.
Kameyama: What I admire about Kobayashi-san is how she respects other people’s work. The anime that we see with our eyes is the product of an accumulated body of effort encompassing scenarios and storyboards and animation – she is well aware of tis. Thus, even if she sees the completed script and thinks, ‘there’s a slight misprint here…’, the great amount of respect for the people involved in the process allows her to try to make her own [informed] judgements. I think that kind of stance is superb. She may be young but I admire her for that.
Q: She’s very reliable.
Kameyama: Obviously she’s still young so if we’re talking about ability and so on, there is still plenty more to come from her. Nevertheless, she possesses something explosive. Rather than being the kind of person who picks up stones piece by piece, she does things in an explosive manner – that’s wonderful.
Q: Does she have something that other seiyuu don’t?
Kameyama: She has this ability to stand out; she’s got something in her that shines. I do think that she possesses a performer’s personality, but when we look at anime we see it as having a kind of ‘traditional art’ aspect to it, cultivated by decades of history. Japan’s animation culture has allowed both viewers and creators to get bogged downy by certain textbook clichés prevalent in entertainment, like ‘how a character would react in such a situation’ or ‘how this ad-lib should be inserted into this scene’. Most actors perform accordingly but there are certain actors who stand apart from the crowd, rising above the clichés. Kobayashi Yu is one of the latter.
Q: That’s amazing!
Kameyama: I’m not talking about good or bad skill levels, I’m referring instead to one’s ability to shine.
Q: Having said that, it does seem though, that Kobayashi Yu-san does not consciously think about wanting to stand out…
Kameyama: Obviously I don’t think that she does. Even if other people try to imitate her or do the same things she does, it won’t turn out the same at all. An actor is someone who acts from within. As a member of the production side, staff aren’t thinking things like ‘I want this kind of ad-lib for this particular animation cut’; instead, seiyuu are cast with hope that they’ll produce ‘something’ that exceeds expectations, isn’t it? When you have an original character that’s been so carefully moulded into shape, you’d hope for an acting performance that didn’t sound like some other existing character. Since we’ve made something original, we’d expect an original performance to go with it. And Kobayashi-san is someone who can respond spectacularly to those expectations.
Q: That’s the highest praise one can get.
Kameyama: On the other hand, Kobayashi-san puts in a considerable amount of effort…that just occurred to me.
Kobayashi: Yes. I am the kind of person who isn’t able to do things that other people can do in the same amount of time. That’s why I need a lot of work to be at the same level.
Q: A lot of work goes into creating your characters as well.
Kobayashi: If the character I’m voicing does some kind of sport, then I’ll start taking up that sport. When I voice a young boy I’ll go around playing with young children. For Maria Holic, I took to studying cross-dressing males. Basically I’ll just start by working on all the things I can think of.
Kameyama: That sounds like Robert de Niro’s method acting! I can’t say this generally as it’s also dependent on the compatibility between the actors, but if someone else was in charge of Mariya they may have been able to do the role without any reservations. What I can say now though, is that I’m glad that we went with Kobayashi-san.
Kobayashi: Thank you! I’m deeply moved.
The job of ‘gleaning’ the best of an actor’s performance
Q: For Maria Holic, how was the character of Mariya fashioned?
Kameyama: We just went straight into the tests. Pre-meetings to talk about the roles…nope, we didn’t do much of that.
Q: Does that mean you left the character creation up to the seiyuu?
Kameyama: I basically leave it up to the actors. That’s why I think it’s the worst if you feel a need to explain to actors stuff like ‘can you change the way you say the end of that sentence?’. Acting is something that follows the flow of an overall performance and there’s no way that actors can [be expected to] arbitrarily tack on some random inflection in their dialogue. Actors turn up at the studio to give a performance, not to recite just one silly word. That is why I would not say ‘you have to do it this way’ but rather, I’d give them advice such as ‘to do this, what do you think you should do?’. Obviously, if the series possesses any overarching message, then it is obligatory that that be conveyed. That’s because it is essential to see the general opinion, the overall view of the work involved. In that sense, Kobayashi-san is the type of person who understands what the intention [of the story is] straightaway. She has great intuition.
Kobayashi: That’s only because Kameyama-san leads me in the right direction. For my performances, I tend to overthink what may seem like trivial things, but someone like Kameyama-san allows me the freedom to express myself without restrictions. You could say that he envelops us within this ‘Kameyama World’ that he’s created.
Kameyama: I think that for actors; if you go ‘don’t do this’ or ‘you can’t do that’, they’ll end up withdrawing into themselves a bit. Instead, you need to be forward-looking with them, saying things like ‘it might work if you try doing that instead’ or ‘this way could be good as well’. I think that might be an important point.
Kobayashi: That’s exactly how I feel – it’s possible to try out different challenges precisely because Kameyama-san creates the platform for us to do so. Kameyama-san always manages to draw out something from me that makes me think, ‘that side of me existed?’. To produce a type of performance that I’d never thought I’d be able to is like experiencing a miracle for the first time in your life.
Kameyama: ‘Experiencing a miracle for the first time in your life?’ (laughs)
Kobayashi: I’m always learning a lot. I can’t put it into words adequately, but it’s like a piece of glittering treasure that money just can’t buy.
Kameyama: It’s true that any given anime’s recording session is a one-time, irreplaceable experience. You have to record a lot of lines enthusiastically, within a short time frame – that makes recording sessions seem like a ‘contest’. No matter how obsessed you feel about getting a particular line right, it doesn’t mean you should keep doing it over and over as it might result in an unnatural, or dead-sounding line – instead, it is better to get the gist of the dialogue and deliver it fresh, in as few takes as possible. That’s why it’s rare for me to get someone to suffer repeatedly until I give them the ‘okay’. In my case, it’s more likely that they’ll keep suffering and I’d still end up saying ‘that’s no good’. Honestly, I want to have the line wrapped up as quickly as possible, while it is still fresh (laughs). Even if you toil endlessly you’ll never be able to make the breakthrough so I’ll say to my cast, ‘Just go with the flow of the performance and act – I’ll quickly harvest whatever you put out!’. I’m not really fond of getting actors to re-record their lines after recording’s been completed. Obviously we’re all human so we do make mistakes so there are cases where we do keep actors back to correct minor mistakes and so on.
Kobayashi: He really does glean the best parts. Sometimes I get so immersed in my acting that I spiral out of control but somehow, Kameyama-san will extract the best of whatever I’ve done and correct its trajectory. And when I watch the show on air I just go ‘wow!’.
Kameyama: When I manage to capture a [good] line that’s spilled out of the actor’s mouth it makes me feel good! (laughs). Like ‘Hell yeah, I got it!” (laughs)
Kobayashi: But I do truly think that Kameyama-san is my saviour. There was an instance during Maria Holic recordings where I was unable to perform for Mariya the way I usually did. I tried desperately to lower my voice but it just wasn’t going well and I started panicking inside my head, thinking ‘What should I do!’. The more I thought I needed to calm down, the more I started panicking instead. At that point, Kameyama-san advised me, ‘don’t focus on whether your voice is high or low; instead, focus on bringing out your voice at a pitch you feel is comfortable’. That’s how I managed to regain my composure without trying to force my voice, and I could once again act with confidence.
Kameyama: As you can see, being a sound director doesn’t seem so difficult, doesn’t it?
Kobayashi: There’s not true at all! You have no idea just how much your words saved me. You’ve been my saviour with the things you’ve been saying to me, the way you’ve helped put me at ease. I’d never be able to say ‘I am panicking right now!’ so to have Kameyama-san come in and say what you said, helped to knock me back into shape. So I do know what you mean when you say things like ‘You should have acted it out in this way!’ Kameyama-san is a truly great help to me.
Kobayashi: Indeed, it is due to Kameyama-san’s courteousness that the Maria Holic recording studio is such a warm place to work. My co-stars too, were seniors I had previously worked with, so we were able to share relaxed conversations during break times. Maria Holic is a story set in a girls’ school and the atmosphere in the recording studio itself felt like a girls’ school as well. We had a lot of fun chatting while eating snacks (laughs).
Yu-san, who has grasped the sadistic charms of Mariya
Q: Yu-san, to you, what kind of character was Mariya?
Kobayashi: I thought he was a very nice person when I first saw him. His attractive looks makes him the target of admiration for many (and though it is embarrassing to put it in words), he has a sadistic personality. Not just sadistic, but super sadistic. The way he behaves towards Kanako is especially bitter; I find the way that his personality swings between two extremes to be charming and strikes a chord in my heart.
Kameyama: He may be deeply sadistic, but he looks at things objectively and has a broad perspective.
Kobayashi: He’s wonderful! That’s why I was a little apprehensive about playing the role, worried over whether I could ‘push myself that far’. With the support of Kameyama-san as well as my co-stars, I was able to pull through. I’m confident that I am the one who loves Mariya-san the mos…ah! But Mariya-san surely has a lot of fans, so I will strive to love Mariya-san as much as the fans do.
Kameyama: (laughs) Kobayashi-san is a lady, but I think the way she plays Mariya, a ‘male’, is awesome.
Kobayashi: Not at all, no way.
Kameyama: Endo Minari, the manga author, even commented that ‘(after Kobayashi-san voiced Mariya) as a boy, he has become even more popular’. Mariya’s lines feature a mixture of masculine, feminine and neutral terms and it’s tough to play the character. Kobayashi-san however, handled the role in a sharp manner, without hesitation. That was truly remarkable. Did you by any chance, colour-code your scripts?
Kobayashi: Yes I did! You know me very well. I marked the ‘feminine lines’ in pink, the ‘masculine’ ones in yellow and so on. I’m honoured that Kameyama-san noticed something like that.
Kameyama: You sure put in a lot of effort.
Kobayashi: Not at all. In fact, I think I’m rather clumsy so there are times when I lose myself in the middle of a performance. I wanted to 100% concentrate on my acting, making sure I enjoyed it as well as giving my best, so I colour-coded the script in order to improve my focus.
Kameyama: Gradations as well?
Kobayashi: I did! Sometimes there were crazy colour mixes of green and pink (laughs). Other people would comment, ‘Yu-chan, your script is amazing!’. Sometimes the gradations were mixed up to the point where I didn’t even understand them myself (laughs). Still, I wouldn’t be able to put myself at ease unless I did that.
Kobayashi: I also read my scripts even when I was in the bath so they’ve ended up rough & wrinkled. When I turn the pages during recording I make a lot of ridiculous rustling noises and that’s really troubling for everyone else….
Kameyama: That shows how enthusiastically you practise.
Kobayashi: Regardless, I am clumsy, so I can’t get too relaxed. Mariya has sadistic lines like ‘Oi, scum!’ or ‘You little bug!’ and I’ll stick them up on a board and try reciting them when I’m at home…as I want to make it sound as natural as possible. I do murmur my lines in the train sometimes and I’ve been caught doing that by friends sometimes! They’ll say to me, ‘I saw you in the train the other day, mumbling and grinning to yourself’.
Kameyama: If you take just one wrong step you’d be seen as a dangerous person (laughs). You expend so much energy practicing; do you actually have time to sleep? I’ve always wanted to ask you that….
Kobayashi: I sleep maybe 3-4 hours? Though there are days when I don’t even get that many…but when I think about recording my lines, I realize how much I love doing this [job] and without noticing, time has slipped away. I only spend a little amount of time voicing Mariya during recordings, so I just really wanted to do as much as I possibly could. That’s why I was really sad when Maria Holic recordings ended. There was so much more I wanted to experience together with my co-stars so in a way, I was filled with regret.
Kameyama: Regarding Maria Holic, it has come to an end for now but I do think that ‘surely, we will do this again sometime’.
Kobayashi: I don’t think it’s ended yet either. Perhaps it’s just my own selfish delusion, but if there is a next series I would love to be a part of it!
Trust in your own ways and do your best!
Q: Kameyama-san, what do you expect from Kobayashi-san going forward?
Kameyama: Hmm, that’s hard for me to comment on. It’s likely that Kobayashi-san will really go out and do whatever I suggest, so I’ve got to be careful with what I say here (laughs)
Kobayashi: That’s okay! Please go ahead!!
Kameyama: Let me see…I want you to continue moving forward with the zeal that you have now, I suppose. And it might be interesting for you to eventually voice the role of a princess.
Kobayashi: Ah! I’m happy to hear you say that! I do very much want to play a princess, but I haven’t had the opportunity to do so thus far. But I’ll continue to believe and ‘never give up even if everybody else does!’. I’m really glad to hear Kameyama-san say that though, so much so that I could cry.
Kameyama: There are people out there who are keeping a close eye on you, and you’ll never know where a chance might come from. I just want you to trust in your own ways and do your best.
Kobayashi: I’ve never really mentioned this to anyone but with the hopes of playing the role of an elegant lady someday, I continue to secretly practise alone. To have Kameyama-san encouraging me this way strengthens my feelings of wanting to do my absolute best! I will work hard to play not just male characters, but girls as well!
Q: You’re really greedy when it comes to acting!
Kobayashi: Yes! I must be really greedy to even think of taking on the role of a princess (laughs). But when it comes to ‘acting’, I will never give up.
Kameyama: On the other hand, what kind of short-term goals do you have?
Kobayashi: There any many things that I’m not able to do as yet, so I’d like to tick them off my list one by one. Obviously, playing a princess tops the list so if I can go through the rest of it one by one that will bring me closer to my dream. I’m in the midst of tackling all that right now, but there is much I still have to overcome and that troubles me (laughs). I am still lacking in a lot of areas. Sometimes, I’ll be walking around, thinking about the issues I have to face and mumbling to myself, ‘This is what I lack’.
Kameyama: I look forward to Kobayashi-san’s continued success.
Kobayashi: Thank you! I’m grateful to you for stopping by Yu’s Room today.
I’ve always been fascinated by Kobayashi Yu, in many ways. She’s a great performer, both on stage and in the studio, but I never genuinely thought she would endure so long in the industry – 15 years so far, in fact.
Kobayashi started getting popular in the mid-2000s when she was in shows like Negima, School Rumble and Higurashi no Naku koro ni – she used to be a fashion model before that. She had the looks and the height, but her weirdness always made me doubt that she could actually make it far in the business – like, how the hell does this crazy woman get along with her colleagues and staff members? Nobody ever seems to have gotten a handle on her real personality, who she is and what makes her tick – it’s still truly amusing to see how her co-workers react to her. As Goto Yuko once said, ‘(working with her) is like having a punch flying at you in the dark – you never know where it’s coming from’. She also compared her to a pitcher who can throw every single pitch under the sun.
Kobayashi’s work in recent years has been particularly stellar – in series such as Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, Shingeki no Kyojin and Kekkai Sensen. Having tracked her career from an early stage, I’m inclined to think that Kobayashi gets hired so often by a wide spectrum of directors and sound directors based on her talent and work ethic – and those strengths can make up for her erratic behaviour and her terrible drawing skills. Directors like that kind of dependability in their actors – someone who puts in the leg work (reads, understands & rehearses their scripts), has the correct attitude (turns up on time for recordings) and is flexible (knows how to respond to director requests for changes etc). Doesn’t matter [too much] if you’re crazy!