I mentioned a couple of posts ago my surprise at not having a Tomatsu Haruka tag on the blog despite her being my favourite seiyuu, so here’s +1 towards rectifying that. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed working on it.
Tomatsu-san is quite likely the only seiyuu I can ever proudly say I have followed from day one and will continue to, for the rest of her career. When I started getting into her through her debut series Polyphonica, it was the first time I had ever beeninterested in a seiyuu not only for their work, but for their personality as well – and provided me with my first (and last) foray into seiyuu idol fandom. So I can identify with the stuff Yoppi says about feeling deeply emotional seeing her make it to where she is now – it’s great to see that she’s still smashing it 11 years after she had me at OMAE (yes, I wrote that 11 years ago too – that was the first word she uttered in the Polyphonica anime!).
Seiyuu Bible is an annual publication by Nikkei BP and is on its 5th issue. Each issue features full-length interviews with popular seiyuu by Nippon Hōsō announcer Yoshida Hisanori (aka Yoppi), extracts of which would previously have been published in the Nikkei Entertainment magazine.
Formatting: Nagai Sayako, Hirashima Ayako (Editing Department)
Photography: Nakamura Yoshiaki
Stylist: Kunimoto Sachie
Hairstylist: Kimura Yūko (addmix BG)
Heaven hath bestowed upon you two gifts…
Tomatsu Haruka, a young and talented voice actress who possesses outstanding style and beauty has at the same time, been entrusted with numerous lead and main roles in nationally-renowned works such as Keita in Yōkai Watch and Precure Fortune in Happiness Charge Precure!.
Since her solo artist debut in 2008 and as a member of the seiyuu unit Sphere alongside her agency colleagues Kotobuki Minako, Takagaki Ayahi and Toyosaki Aki, she has gained much popularity both domestically and internationally.
One of her recent signature works would be the Sword Art Online series; originally airing on TV in 2012 and inspiring an original motion picture in February 2017, the latter a big hit that generated 3.3 billion yen at the box office. The gentle and strong heroine Asuna, a much-loved character that represents what THE ‘Heroine’ is all about.
To tell the truth, my first encounter with her was at the Tōhō Cinderella Audition finalist presentation. I was the MC, and the beauty who stood on stage was Tomatsu-san. Consequently, she would choose the path of a seiyuu and artist – and now I’d like to hear from her on the driving force behind her current success.
Yoshida: The first time I met Tomatsu-san was when you were 15 years old. You were a finalist at the Tōhō Cinderella audition.
Tomatsu: That’s right. Yoshida-san knew who I was before I had made my debut. I truly was just a normal junior high school girl at the time.
Elementary school days filled with funny faces
Yoshida: By the way, you do have siblings don’t you?
Tomatsu: I have a sister who’s 2 years older than me and we’ve always gotten along well since we were young. However, when I was a child I really disliked having to wear my sister’s hand-me-downs, or being forced to wear matching outfits. I wasn’t fond of being ‘in sync’ or the need to be ‘matching’ – from that period in time I’d always wanted to be the one and only me (laughs).
Yoshida: So it wasn’t about the fashion; it was about your ego.
Tomatsu: But starting from when I was in junior high, we’d be conspiring whenever mum bought us clothes and we got into the habit of lending and borrowing clothes from each other. It was like, ‘Okay I’ll get this and you get that. And we’ll share after that’ (laughs).
Yoshida: You weren’t going through a period of rebellious adolescence – in fact, [the two of] you seem to have grown closer. Did you do any sports?
Tomatsu: I was in the basketball club for just half a year but I couldn’t stand the hierarchical structure there so I moved to the handbell club.
Yoshida: It seems you’ve always been the self-assertive type, since you were a child.
Tomatsu: That’s right. I do think I’m aggressively self-assertive (laughs). But I was actually shy in my first few years of elementary school and couldn’t really talk to the boys. Though I did wonder whether I should try to stand out by doing something funny.
Yoshida: You had the desire, but did not know how to. Were you the type who wanted to be outdoors instead of staying at home?
Tomatsu: I wasn’t really into drawing or girly games at all; I honestly would rather have been playing tag or dodgeball, but my first few years of elementary school passed by in a dull manner. When I was in my 3rd elementary year, I got along well with the boy sitting next to me and from there I made friends with a lot of boys which meant I finally got to play things like dodgeball. I was quick on my feet so I was part of the relay team every year from elementary to high school. Also, I was good at strength-oriented activities such as pole climbing and so on.
Yoshida: So you can’t do things that require having to come up with a strategy – like in basketball, where you make a pass as you’re spinning away.
Tomatsu: Yes. My brain and my body won’t work in sync. In basketball, I’d dash and run with the ball in my hands… I’d be endlessly traveling.
Yoshida: That’d be rugby, wouldn’t it (laughs). So you spent your elementary school days flying with such momentum…
Tomatsu: Yeah. I think it was around that period when I started doing imitations. My trademark gags would be memorable lines from whatever drama was hot at the time… When I was young I would only show them off to relatives but from around Year 6, I was bent on making funny faces to make my classmates laugh. That’s why my elementary school day photos were mostly of me making weird faces – I’ve sealed them all away now.
Yoshida: During live performances and so on, people will often bring out their childhood photos but they’re offlimits for you.
Tomatsu: That’s right. I did attempt to show some of my old photos during my live shows and it was just those elementary school photos that jumped out immediately (laughs)
Yoshida: People might mistakenly think you’d gone through rough times, or they’d deem the photos useless because of your weird faces.
Tomatsu: You’re right. My parents said to me back then, ‘You’ll regret this later on in life’ and it turns out they were right.
A massive troublemaker during my elementary school days
Tomatsu: I was that kind of elementary school kid, so my parents must’ve thought that things were gonna turn out badly if I kept on going that way. I was enrolled in an esteemed all-girls’ school but I’d grown up to become somebody who was completely incompatible with the environment there…
Yoshida: That seems like the kind of school that’d be filled with graceful girls who don’t make weird faces.
Tomatsu: You would expect so but I can say that an all-girls’ school is crazier than you’d expect. Since there aren’t any guys’ eyes [on us], students would gradually became slovenly. There was this girl who didn’t even bother bringing her gym clothes home for about 3 months…so in a way, such a school unexpectedly suited me.
Yoshida: The school may have suited your personality but when it comes to [building] your acting foundations, it was only to the extent of imitating [other people] for you.
Tomatsu: I’d always been imitating my teachers ever since I entered junior high. Rather than putting a bit of thought into them, my imitations were inspired by whoever happened to be in my line of sight – I’d input [them] into my brain and spit them out. Also, when I was in second year of junior high, I was addicted to playing tag.
Yoshida: In your 2nd year of junior high?
Tomatsu: We’d be playing tag in the auditorium during lunch break and I’d hide in the spaces above the ceilings…
Yoshida: …Tag seems like a dangerous game to play once you’ve acquired a certain amount of adult knowledge, (laughs)
Tomatsu: That’s right. Basically I’d end up in places people wouldn’t normally go to. I really do love breaking new ground.
Yoshida: Playing tag? It seems that you’re more like an explorer!
Tomatsu: I was sure that nobody would ever have climbed up to the ceilings, so I was trying to be a trailblazer by traipsing around up there and before I knew it, the ground beneath my feet had collapsed and the lower half of my body was hanging out [of the ceiling].
Yoshida: ! [The ceiling] gave way under your weight, didn’t it? I’m glad you were alright.
Tomatsu: The auditorium ceiling was pretty high, about 10 metres up. There were these pipes across the open ceiling, and [my foot] slipped through this spot that happened to be thinly veneered.
Yoshida: You should’ve called it off at the 1st step.
Tomatsu: I was doing well until about halfway through though (laughs). It was only at the midpoint that I suddenly slipped. I was on my way back when I pierced through [the spot] (laughs)
Yoshida: That seems like a level where you should’ve been calling to be rescued already. How did you get yourself out of that situation?
Tomatsu: I don’t even know how I managed to get myself back up. Probably used the strength in my arms to lift myself above the pipes then tiptoed my way back out…guess it’s what they call an adrenaline rush; a fight-or-flight situation. When I was back on the ground, I took a look up and there was this massive hole in the ceiling which left me wondering ‘What am I gonna do!!’…
Yoshida: Surely something like that would become a big issue in school.
Tomatsu: It did. ‘More than a 100 years have passed since this school was established and it is unheard of to have a hole in such a place’ – the teachers were really mad at me.
Yoshida: That’s natural. Seems like something that they would inform your family about.
Tomatsu: I hid it from my parents. I was told, ‘We will send a letter at a later date so please inform them [of this incident] yourself today’, but I couldn’t tell them…From the following day, I got up early every morning and ambushed the postman – the letter from my school arrived on the 3rd day and I tore it up and threw it away. So I went on as if nothing had ever happened for about 1 month, but you know – no matter how hard you try to hide something it’ll come out in the end. You’ll get your just deserts when you’ve done something bad.
My 2-years’ older sister attended a different all-girls’ high school – there was a girl from my class who had an older sister who was in the same school as my sister, and it seems she said to her, ‘It must’ve been hard for your younger sister; breaking the ceiling’. And when my parents heard about it, they were like ‘What do you mean, you crashed the ceiling?’… My sister innocently asked, ‘Did you crash [the ceiling] with your indoor slippers?’ and I had to go ‘it’s way beyond that level’…
Yoshida: So you got reprimanded in the end.
Tomatsu: Yeah. I was lectured for everything, from the incident itself to the fact that I tried to hide it. That’s the kind of junior high school student I was. Though it seems funny now, in hindsight (laughs)
The Road to Tōhō Cinderella
Yoshida: It seems like you had a lot of fun, but the path towards becoming a seiyuu remained unclear at that point; not even the slightest glimpse of [your future in] Tōhō Cinderella. Why did you apply?
Tomatsu: My mother handed me an audition leaflet when I was in my 3rd year of junior high. It wasn’t for Tōhō Cinderella but rather, it was for a big-name entertainment agency – if I remember correctly, one of the criteria for applications was that it was limited to those who were 15 years and under. She said, ‘Your sister doesn’t qualify, so why don’t you take it instead for remembrance’s sake. You definitely won’t pass so you might as well go there and learn some social norms’. My sense of curiosity was strong – I applied not because I wanted to get involved in entertainment activities, but because I wanted to find out what the auditions were like.
Yoshida: So you were thinking ‘Let’s go take the audition’ in the same spirit of ‘Let’s go and see what the ceiling space is like’.
Tomatsu: Yeah. And unexpectedly, I advanced to the 2nd phase, then the 3rd phase. I didn’t make the final cut in the audition, but on the way home one of the agency staff stopped my mother and said, ‘The result this time is unfortunate, but please tell your daughter not to give up and continue to aim for this industry’, and that was something that surprised her. We set a deadline – if I couldn’t make it within my 3rd year of junior high that would mean that it was just wasn’t meant to be and I would give up. It was during that period that I applied for the Tōhō competition as well as the Super Seiyū Audition that was being held around the same time.
Yoshida: During the Tōhō Cinderella audition, the final question involved getting the contestants to ‘perform something’; most of the other were doing jazz dance or similar and then we had Tomatsu-san declaring ‘I’m gonna do Spirited Away’. I was wondering what she meant, when she suddenly started acting out an entire scene by herself.
Tomatsu: Spirited Away was the reason I started gaining an interest in this industry. I think I was in the 6th grade or so when it came out, and I thought ‘I want to go to that world’, rather than thinking that I wanted to become a seiyuu.
Yoshida: So were you thinking ‘I want to go to The Bathhouse’ as well?
Tomatsu: (laughs) I loved the movie so much and kept watching it over and over, wondering just how I could enter that world and before I knew it, I realized I’d memorized pretty much all the dialogue (laughs). No matter which agency you audition for, they’ll have a section for you to do self-promotion – I couldn’t dance or sing, and I had gotten frustrated with attempts to learn anything from piano playing to English lessons to swimming, which meant I had nothing to appeal to audition judges with. The only thing I had was a one-man performance of Spirited Away. So I was thinking, ‘Why not just do that?’.
Yoshida: It’s like the M-1 Grand Prix. You’d have this trick up your sleeve right then to perform live…something along those lines.
Tomatsu: I was like, ‘Well, this is pretty well known anyway’ and went ahead and did it, and I remember buzzing noises coming from the judges; they were going ‘Huh?’ (laughs)
Yoshida: We remember it well, that you’re ‘the girl who did that’. But in the end, you did not win the competition.
Tomatsu: Yeah. A week after Tōhō Cinderella was the Music Ray’n final audition. By that point I’d already burned myself out so I was wondering how I should face this [audition], but I knew that I didn’t want to have come so far and still not make it. So 1 week later, I performed the Spirited Away routine again during the self-promotion section.
Yoshida: Oh, so you did do it again.
Tomatsu: I knew that there was nothing else I could do. But Music Ray’n was a seiyuu audition so it wasn’t just buzzing sounds this time, but also laughs and appreciation that I could hear.
Yoshida: And you safely passed.
Tomatsu: My lessons started immediately after I signed up with the agency, but I kept my entertainment activities a secret from my schoolmates. Until I graduated high school, I was a self-styled: mute (laughs)
Yoshida: I don’t get that ‘self-styled: mute’ bit.
Tomatsu: The kids who watched anime found out. I won my first auditioned role when I was in my 2nd year of high school. It was a series called Shinkyoku Sōkai Polyphonica. I was carrying out activities under my real name and thanks to Polyphonica, I started working on other things and bit by bit, my schoolmates started to realize that I was working as a seiyuu. But I never talked about it myself. That’s what I mean by ‘self-styled [mute]’.
My Rookie Days: When Everything Felt Fresh
Yoshida: You did Spirited Away at Tōhō Cinderella so naturally, you must have liked anime?
Tomatsu: I did. But if you asked me whether I loved watching anime before I was a seiyuu, then I can only say that I only watched the kind of shows the average person did, or those that I liked. It was only after I became a seiyuu that I first came across late-night anime. I learned for the first time, that ‘there’s so much anime airing late at night!’ – it was a world that had been unknown to me up until then, and the anime industry-specific lingo, which was kind of similar to internet slang, was refreshing.
Yoshida: Oh yeah we did say that kind of thing. There were words where you’d think, ‘You definitely can’t say that behind-the-scenes’.
Tomatsu: (laughs) There was a point in time when I really wanted to use web slang. You know, something like ‘w’*.
Tomatsu: I wanted to use ‘w’ on my blog but one of my agency staff told me ‘Please don’t use that word’. It was all new to me. ‘Oh, so that’s what that kind of thing is called on the internet…I wanna find a way to use that word!’ – that kind of thing.
[*w = warau, 笑, laugh, the equivalent of lol]
It was around the Polyphonica period that I started getting all sorts of regular work and I was the type of person who would learn on the job. Phrases like ‘mic work’, ‘take’ and ‘separate recording’ are all industry-specific words I heard and learned in the [recording] booth. When I think of it now, I must have behaved really rudely or unintentionally done [offensive] things in the past.
Yoshida: I think that lack of intention would have been clear.
Tomatsu: Even now, seniors who knew me from my debut days will say to me, ‘When it comes to Tomacchan, the one lasting impression I have of you is how you did a ‘one-man Tuesday Suspense Theatre’.
Yoshida: Eh? What’s that ‘one-man Tuesday Suspense Theatre’? Must be something like your one-man Spirited Away.
Tomatsu: Yeah. I only recalled it when other people told me about it – I once re-enacted the opening scene of an episode of Tuesday Suspense Theatre by myself, in a recording studio somewhere. I did everything, from playing all the roles including the person who discovered the body to the corpse to doing the sound effects and the background music – I was really busy. The climax would be where the corpse is discovered, which meant I’d have to lie down…so I’d do various poses and lie down on the studio floor and it’s the end. And oh, I’d also pretend to be the one who discovers the body, screaming ‘Kyaaaa!’ and that, would be the finale. Something like that.
Yoshida: By the way, who reminded you about this incident?
Tomatsu: Okamoto Nobuhiko-kun, Kawasumi Ayako-san, and Hirohashi Ryō-san too. Basically, loads of different people would tell me ‘My impression of you is One-man Tuesday Suspense’. Though the one who actually did it doesn’t seem to recall much of it beyond ‘Oh, I did do that before’. Recently, I have been thinking that ‘it was a crazy thing to do, rolling around the studio floor’ (laughs). But it’s fine as long as everyone around me found it enjoyable.
Yoshida: I think the people around you must’ve had quite a bit of fun.
Coming up Against the Brick Wall as a Seiyuu
Yoshida: During the days when ‘One-man Tuesday Suspense’ was your party trick, Sphere had yet to come into existence. You were still performing under the group’s preceding ‘Music Ray’n girls’ moniker, right?
Tomatsu: Yeah. We were still doing individual activities when I was in high school, so the other Sphere members were just regular agency colleagues to me. Apparently, our management had already been thinking about grouping us together as a unit from the time we joined the agency. But there were uncertainties over how each of us would develop and progress so they decided to keep an eye on things first, and at the right timing, the plan would go ahead. That was 3 years on…when I was 19 years old.
Coincidentally, my first public appearance was actually on a radio show named Yurakuchō Anime Town, hosted by Yoshida-san. It’s commonly written that I made my debut in 2007 but officially, my debut was in 2006 on said radio drama.
Yoshida: Yes it was…It’s truly emotional to see that Tomatsu-san has come this far. You had club activities and other lessons going on, plus there was plenty to learn as a seiyuu – what a typically vertical society [we live in].
Tomatsu: You’re right. But when I entered this industry, there were really so many things that my seniors taught me and I’m always filled with gratitude. When you join an agency, your senior colleagues would normally be the ones to pass on their knowledge but we didn’t have seniors in Music Ray’n so everything I learned in the studio was new. My managers would tell me about unspoken rules in the studio, detailed advice like ‘rookies should sit in the front, and the person near the door will have to open and close the door as needed but since Tomatsu-san isn’t familiar with how to do that yet, you should just sit near the door and properly study the way people move about’. Everything seemed fun after that. ‘Ooh, wow, I wonder if I can do that too, opening and closing the door…’
Yoshida: Following that, did you ever feel like you were running into any walls as a seiyuu?
Tomatsu: When I was in my teens I was made to stay behind a lot. The retakes would pile up and the remorse I felt at having to make my seniors wait, caused my performance to worsen. I was then told, ‘Let’s re-record this after we’re done [with recording]’. There were times when the rest [of the cast] would stay on with me until I got the OK [from the staff].
Yoshida: Which show was that?
Tomatsu: It was Basquash!. There was this one word I just couldn’t get out of my mouth properly, and I had to stay back. But the time had come for me to make a move to my next schedule. [The staff said] ‘Let’s record this next week’ and postponed it, but I felt very apologetic to everyone else and also incredibly disappointed in myself, and I cried on the way home. I swore to myself that I would definitely deal with the problem myself within that 1 week, and I managed to get it down pat the following week. I was 18 years old when I worked on Mōryō no Hako and it was a really tough role – normally it would take 5 hours to record, but I had to stay behind and it took me 9 hours to complete [my lines].
Yoshida: That’s what happens when your acting gets probed thoroughly.
Tomatsu: That’s right. I’m not the one who calls the shots – it’s only an OK if the director says it’s OK, so it was really frustrating whenever I couldn’t produce what was required of me.
What I hate most is to give up. There’s nothing sadder than being told ‘well that will do’ when you know it’s totally not OK. I was really grateful to be told by the staff that ‘we’ll stay with you right ‘til the end so let’s do this until you get the OK’. But I’m in a position in my career where I can’t say I’m a newcomer anymore so it’s a no-go for me to have to stay behind [now] (laughs).
Back then, I used to think that it was unacceptable to be told to stay back and I’d get depressed, but my seniors told me ‘It’s a great thing to have staff members who would stay back with you for recording and it’s something that you can only do while you’re young. You’re still young now so you should stay back, do dozens or hundreds of retakes until you’re battered and your heart is broken – that’s an experience you should go through’. And I thought to myself, ‘Ah, so there are many things I should try to experience’, and I was able to face it positively.
Yoshida: Your mood sure turns around quickly (laughs)
Tomatsu: I want to [do things] positively, thoroughly, meticulously.
Yoshida: It’s because you’ve amassed that kind of experience that there’s so much versatility to your acting. For example, we don’t see many too female seiyuu taking on male roles any more, but we have Tomatsu-san here who has that as her forte.
Whoosh Bang Pow! Boom!!
Tomatsu: Thank you. But it’s really only recently that I’ve been able to do male roles. I’d always thought I wasn’t suited towards male characters. When I started working on the Inazuma Eleven series, I was doing a female character* but I randomly got a chance to do one of the boy characters at one point and they told me ‘You can do it after all!’. In the next series, I was given a regular role as a male character** for the first time ever.
[*note: Inazuma Eleven: Kudō Fuyuka
**Inazuma Eleven GO: Nishizono Shinsuke]
Yoshida: On top of doing late-night anime, you were appearing as young male characters in kids’ anime like Inazuma Eleven and Yōkai Watch. There are many other roles where you’d think ‘There can’t be anyone else for this but Tomatsu-san’, but you’re not the type to adopt a calculated way of thinking [about your performances], are you?
Tomatsu: I try not to take it in a direction that would seem weirdly premeditated. There’s no way that you wouldn’t think about things at all, but I’m a human who goes by feeling, not by thinking with logic. Rather than coming up with something based on a concrete plan, my acting is mostly a Whoosh Bang Pow!! Woah I’m inspired! And Boom!! kind of thing.
Yoshida: Whoosh Bang Pow! Boom!!
Tomatsu: Oh yeah! With feels.
Yoshida: That kind of method might suit trickster-type characters, but someone like Asuna from Sword Art Online (SAO) isn’t anything close to that.
Tomatsu: She isn’t. In a way, Asuna was new territory for me. If anything, cheerful types and aggressive characters are what I tend to do a lot of, so Asuna with her maternal nature is a bit…I had no experience playing a character with a delicate, gentle aura. So when I passed the audition for the role, I wondered to myself ‘Am I the right person for this?’
Anyhow, I was overjoyed above all to have been selected and I did want to challenge myself through different types of roles, so I took it as an opportunity for me to grow. Asuna’s personality is the polar opposite of mine, so I did some research into how a girl like her would speak.
Yoshida: How would you research that? Even if you entered the the world of SAO, you were never a heavy gamer, were you?
Tomatsu: Nope, I’m terrible at games. Whenever I receive a role in a series genre that I’m unfamiliar with, I’ll look for hints from various sources. Obviously I learnt video game jargon and the rules from the light novels. When trying to formulate the nature of the character, rather than learning, I would observe – anyone from acquaintances to apparel store employees to refined and feminine ladies. How do they speak, what kind of gentleness will they display?
Yoshida: I think that’s somewhat similar to what you were doing in your school days: [observing and] imitating other people.
Tomatsu: Maybe so, in some ways. If you rush into observing in an attempt to learn something, you’ll get deflated pretty quickly. You’ll soon think – ‘This is it!’ if you keep an eye on things without overstraining yourself. Also, I’ll look at the character designs in the audition material and there are times when I listen to the staff explanations and might think ‘Oh this character really resembles my college senior’, and end up using them as a model.
Yoshida: You never know where a weapon may be hidden within your arsenal.
Tomatsu: You never know, do you? Even I don’t. But there’ll definitely be a point where it’ll come to you in a flash.
Yoshida: So I get what you mean by this when referring to Asuna, but how about Keita? Do you observe elementary school students?
Tomatsu: Nah, Keita is just like me. I was quite boyish after all.
Yoshida: Ah yes, I can tell from hearing your stories so far. You do have the heart of an elementary school boy, having climbed up to the ceiling spaces. If I had to sum up today’s interview in one phrase I think it’d be ‘Whoosh Bang Pow!’.
Tomatsu: Yeah, you got it!
Seiyuu Bible 2018 pg 88-95 (Excerpt originally published in March 2017 issue of Nikkei Entertainment!)
You can purchase the issue on Amazon JP.