Interview with Minase Inori (Tamaki Mari) and Hanazawa Kana (Kobuchizawa Shirase), the leading duo of the cute girls go Antarctica anime Sora Yori mo Tooi Basho [A Place Further than the Universe, or A Story That Leads to the Antarctica]
Our image of Antarctica
Q: In this anime, ‘Going to Antarctica’ happens to be one of the objectives – honestly, what were your thoughts about Antarctica before this?
Minase: “Antarctica…where’s that?”. I’d heard of it before but as to its exact location and the size of the place, I had only vague ideas. ‘Perhaps it’s cold?’. The only thing I could do was to speculate. The non-presence of Antarctica in my own life meant that I had no clear vision of what it might be like.
Hanazawa: What came to mind was “So erm, what’s the difference between the Arctic and Antarctica again?”. I know about polar bears, so is the Antarctic all about penguins? That was the kind of fuzzy knowledge I possessed. It was only later on when I was doing the anime that I realized that you can’t even go to Antarctica unless you’re part of an expedition team.
Q: For the two of you, it may indeed be a place further than the universe. Or for the public in general.
Hanazawa: That’s right.
Q: As this is an original series, what were your impressions upon reading the script?
Minase: I thought the normal conversational drama* parts were interesting. The characters have unique personalities and by themselves, elevate daily life above the mundane. I wouldn’t describe it as fantasy or such; it’s a story that is fairly rooted in reality but it also allows you to dream; seeing the girls doing their best, step by step, makes you want to give your best as well. A realistic ensemble drama like this holds much appeal.
*conversational play: 会話劇 (kaiwa-geki); a type of play that is dialogue-heavy
Hanazawa: As I was reading the script, I burst out giggling the moment I reached the dialogue parts – I thought that all the girls were crazy cute (laughs). They each have their own flaws as well as possessing a kind of cuteness that is appropriate for their age. The more you dig in [to their characters], the more you’ll discover.
On a personal level, there was a certain incident from my high school days that changed my life, so I was thrilled to see that this show is packed with [events] that will kick-start their lives!
Q: When you’re in high school, you dream about achieving something – to do that, you’d work part-time and so on. It’s wonderful, isn’t it?
Minase: It is.
Hanazawa: If today’s students were to watch this they’d be motivated. We ourselves are able to identify with [the characters].
Q: When you were their age, both of you were already working.
Minase: Still, it seems like I lived freely during my high school days. I didn’t have the initiative that Shirase-chan possesses.
The appeal of the characters, rich in emotions
Q: Please tell more about Kimari and Shirase.
Minase: Let’s start with Kimari. This is my first time working with the Director [Ishizuka Atsuko] and during recordings for the first PV I had the chance to talk to her about the series. At that time, she gave me a brief explanation about each of the girls and how they were each ‘___’ cute… In Kimari’s case, she’s ‘crazy cute’. She’s cute, but something about her seems off. But that too, is part of what makes her charming…
I was given a hint that ‘her image is not calculated – her silliness is born from innocence; everyone gets caught up in it and she brings sunshine to everything around her’. So when I’m voicing Kimari I try to emphasize that innocence through her inability to lie; such as making a face that totally says ‘I’m lying!’ whenever she’s telling fibs. I’m very conscious when it comes to her cuteness and naivety. When you watch the 1st episode, you’ll see within the crazy cuteness, the troubles that Kimari faces and her fragility when she’s unable to take that first step. You’ll see that despite normally being so cheerful, she also has the maturity to understand [her own flaws].
Hanazawa: Her reactions are cute.
Minase: Her face changes in the blink of an eye.
Hanazawa: She produces amazing faces out of the blue, doesn’t she?
Minase: She does!
Hanazawa: That’s what makes her so silly, I think (laughs)
Minase: How the corners of her mouth turn upwards, or when her eyes sparkle – she has a rich variety of expressions.
Hanazawa: I feel like I heard voices from Inori-chan that I’d never heard before.
Minase: The same could be said of Shirase-chan!
Q: I think Minase-san’s voice conveyed that innocence very well. What about Hanazawa-san’s character Shirase – what kind of girl is she?
Hanazawa: Shirase’s very pretty so she gets a lot of attention. She’s also in the position where she’s got plenty of discriminating eyes upon her for harbouring what seems like an impossible dream of going to Antarctica, and that does make her kind of prickly. I think it’s hardened her attitude of ‘I’ll show you guys!’ as she progresses through her school years.
She’s quite set in her way of thinking and she’ll do anything to achieve her goal of going to Antarctica to look for her mom who went there and never came back. I think it’s wonderful how she’s so inwardly strong.
Q: Meeting Kimari was a catalyst for change in her, wasn’t it?
Hanazawa: Up ‘til now, Shirase’s been the type to dislike making friends, communication and things like that. Which is why you start seeing more and more of her ‘tragic’ traits. But throughout all that, you get to see her grow as well – I think impressions of her between the start and the end [of the series] will change a great deal.
Q: Her sorry characteristics – they’re the most evident amongst all the characters, aren’t they? (laughs)
Hanazawa: Yeah I do think so… We mentioned Kimari-chan’s reactions earlier, and Shirase does produce reactions where the cuteness cuts through her pitiful aspects – I think that’s another thing about her that really captures your heart (laughs)
Shirase: Pathetic cuteness that makes Kimari want to watch over her forever
Q: What are your impressions of each other’s characters?
Minase: At the beginning of the PV, where Kimari asks ‘How do you plan to get there?’ and [Shirase] answers ‘Would you like to find out?’ – that left a very big impression on me! That happened before we recorded the first episode and I was thinking how charming the dialogue & their expressions were. It was the first time I’d heard Kana-san’s voice as Shirase accompanying the visuals and I was amazed!
And from there, we had this toilet crying scene in episode 1 that I really like. The episode’s titled ‘One Mwillion Yen for Youth’ where instead of saying ‘one million yen’, [Shirase’s] crying in the toilet saying ‘one mwillion yen’. Seeing how she cries and hearing the sounds she’s making as she punches the door made me think that Shirase-chan’s definitely a weirdo as well (laughs). But that weirdness is extremely fascinating and is in a way, a pathetic kind of cuteness. In the 2nd episode they go to downtown Shinjuku and I really like that scene as well.
Hanazawa: She blurts out a lot of ridiculous things, doesn’t she? (laughs)
Minase: Her selfishness may be a negative point, but that’s kind of what you want to see in her character. You want her to always put herself first. When [the characters] worry about other people, they’ll often take action based upon their own judgments and I suppose that’s part of what makes her charming.
Q: That ‘one mwillion yen’ bit was funny. Seeing the way she cries after she gets her money back makes you fall in love with her! (laughs). Hanazawa-san, what do you think of Kimari?
Hanazawa: When you watch Kimari from the sidelines you see her as cute and cheerful, the kind of girl you’d want to stare at forever. Speaking from the viewpoint of Shirase-chan, she probably thinks you could hear just about anything and everything come from [Kimari’s] mouth. That’s why she’s a girl who has the power to open up another person’s heart; she’ someone who is incredibly easy to talk to. I think you’d want a friend like her, wouldn’t you? But she’s just made that decision that ‘I want to go to Antarctica!’ so I look forward to finding out how Kimari changes in the future.
Minase: When you see the two of them interacting, you might sometimes go ‘Er? Why does Kimari seem the more dominant of the two?’
Q: By the 2nd episode, you do start to wonder if their roles have reversed.
Hanazawa: From the point Hinata makes her entrance…
Q: Shirase has two sides to her, doesn’t she? A cool side and a pathetic side.
Hanazawa: That’s right. But you’ll find out the reasons behind that. Whether she’s just putting on a brave front, or whether she’s not being honest to herself. At first she snubs other people, but over the course of communicating with Kimari and the rest of the girls, she comes to realise things about herself. She can reflect properly [on her behaviour], so rest assured as you watch her (laughs)
Meeting each other brings out & increases new charms in the two
Q: Episode 1 has already aired – it’s very high quality and thrilling.
Minase: The visuals were virtually finished by the time we recorded episode 1. Which made me wonder what I should do… (laughs). We don’t normally see them at this degree of completion, so I did kinda struggle to try to keep up with all the mouth flaps! (laughs) Plus, there were so many lines in episode 1. We may have wished to enjoy the visuals in silence, but each and every one of the characters shone equally.
Hanazawa: Director Ishizuka said that the 1st episode had been completed unexpectedly and I was checking out the visuals as we went along, and became transfixed as you’d expect. That was just how well they had been done and I’m really glad to be able to work on a series that has had so much love put into it.
And that’s why I feel a huge responsibility, contemplating the way I should express [lines] with my voice as I go in to recordings. I’ve discovered though, that the characters become even more alive when we’re interacting with each other in the studio, as opposed to when I’m practising alone at home. That makes me think, ‘Ah, so this is the kind of show that we’re making’.
I love the crumpled expression on Shirase’s tearful face when she gets back the 1 million yen she dropped and I thought it was cute to see how her tears were like dewdrops.
Minase: It was cute!
Hanazawa: Also, the way she declares to herself that she wants to go to Antarctica made her seem different from other high school students – it was a cool scene and left quite the impression.
Minase: I do love the scene where [Kimari] meets and talks to Shirase-chan for the first time, but I also like the scenes where she’s talking to Megu-chan [Takahashi Megumi, CV: Kanemoto Hisako] in the classroom – they’re so normal and so good. Megu-chan is her childhood friend and though they’re the same age, Megu-chan seems like more of an older sister [to Kimari].
She’s different from the characters that we’re going to be introduced to in the future – the fact that they’ve known each other for a long time makes the phone conversations between the 2 of them heart-warming. This kind of relationship is nice so I really do like the scenes where they’re having conversations at school.
Q: She seems more like her guardian, doesn’t she?
Minase: There’s this scene when they’re on their way home from school and [Kimari] screams ‘Respect!’ at her, and I think it’s really fun that their relationship is one where they can say basically anything to each other. Kimari has great friends.
Q: Did it make it easier acting-wise, to have the completed visuals on hand?
Hanazawa: I was happy.
Minase: Knowing how the show looked like in its finished state gave us the confidence to voice the characters.
Hanazawa: Morale definitely rose. We knew where we were heading towards.
Q: In the anime we see Kimari writing a note upon entering high school that states ‘I want to keep a diary. I want to play truant from school at least once. I want to go on a journey that has no destination’. Do either of you recall doing anything naughty like skipping school?
Hanazawa: I was in the student council so I might have [skipped classes] by escaping to the student council room (laughs). It was nice to have such a place to relax. I might’ve gone ‘my stomach’s acting up a bit, I’m heading to the student council room’.
Minase: Whenever it came time to clean the classrooms I would volunteer to take out the trash so I could avoid cleaning duties.
Hanazawa: Ahahaha (laughs). That’s not fair!
Minase: I gathered up all the garbage and casually went ‘I’m going to take this out~’, left the classroom and took an eternity to dispose of the rubbish and return to class – yeah I did that occasionally (laughs)
Q: It’s quite a realistic goal to have. Something you might actually want to try for in real life.
Hanazawa: Talking about realistic – Shirase-chan’s called ‘Antarctica’ [by her schoolmates] behind her back and that made me think ‘Ah, things like that really do happen~’
Minase: While we’re on the topic of names, for some reason, I kept thinking my character was called Tamaki Kimari (laughs). I was so convinced that it was Tamaki Kimari that even when I was looking at the cast list, it took me some time to realise it was actually Tamaki Mari. Another thing I’m curious about is this: if Tamaki Mari’s nickname is Kimari, does that mean her younger sister Tamaki Rin’s nickname is Kirin?
Q: The part where Shirase says to Kimari ‘So, will you go with me?’ makes your heart skip a beat. She might’ve meant it as a joke yet, a part of her was probably hoping [that Kimari would say yes] – the way those delicately-balanced feelings are handled is great.
Hanazawa: That’s right. There were a few girls who had expressed interest previously, and I think she was sad beyond words when all of them ended up quitting. If she gets her expectations up too high she’ll end up being hurt, which is why she tests the water in such a way. I do think she afforded herself that little bit of hope after witnessing Kimari’s genial nature, honesty and proactiveness.
Q: It’s also nice to see how Kimari’s life starts to change as she’s moved by the sight of Shirase smiling.
Minase: Kimari’s never been able to take that next step – she takes in [Shirase’s] words and becomes aware of the fact that there are dreams out there you can realistically aim for. She may be a little cowardly in nature but a part of her starts to feel, ‘I can do this!’. Apart from that, I do think Kimari felt that she wants to accomplish something together with this particular person.
I mean, it isn’t every day you meet a girl of your age who’s saved millions of yen and sobbed her heart out all for the sake of her dream. That’s why she respects or rather, feels like she must go along for the ride, especially when she’s confronted by a person who holds such different, big dreams. That smile of hers is burned in Kimari’s mind – something that she could never forget even if she wanted to.
Steadily increasing the depth of your love for the characters, episode by episode
Q: The moment when Kimari makes the decision to take one step forward segues into the ED sequence – that was great direction.
Minase: The part where she finally jumps on the train at the end was really cute! There are still many questions going forward but things do look like they’re moving along now!
Q: You girls perform the ED the ‘Koko kara, Koko kara’ [From Here, From Here] together.
Minase: This might be the first time that I’m singing the same song together with others…
Hanazawa: You don’t normally see characters interacting with each other quite so much either, do you?
Minase: Yeah. I’m happy ‘cos I’ve never [seen my characters] cuddled up to each other so snugly before.
Hanazawa: Makes me happy too.
Q: Finally, tell us what we can look forward to in the future.
Minase: At the moment we’ve only covered the relationship between Kimari and Shirase, and there is still drama to come from the remaining 2 members. All of them will come to be leading characters before you realise it, and each episode only serves to magnify the depth of your love for the characters.
Even the changes in facial expressions where there is lack of dialogue manages to bring each girl’s virtues to the fore – I hope that you’ll take in the individuality of the characters and at the same time, be healed by their crazy cuteness.
Hanazawa: These 4 girls gather with the aim of going to Antarctica, becoming friends as they go along. The more Shirase-chan explains, the harder the process to go to Antarctica seems – you too come to realize just how high the hurdles are for the girls to get there. Where is Antarctica, and how do they get there?
I want you to look forward to seeing that. The story may be about Antarctica, but you will also get to see how the relationships between then change over time, as well as getting a glimpse into some of the characters’ backgrounds – do look forward to that as well.
[Interview & words: Tsukagoshi Junichi]