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Seikai suru Kado: An Interview with Sound Director Nagasaki Yukio

Seikai suru Kado (KADO: The Right Answer) is one of my favourite series of this current season. I don’t think enough people are watching it; at least not where I’m looking. It’s a shame I suppose – its political slant makes it the perfect show for the current climate.

Nizista ran a series of interviews with the staff and cast of Seikai suru Kado and this particular one with sound director Nagasaki Yukio is really interesting, with a few bones and bits regarding the casting and sound directing process being thrown in. Thanks to reader barak for the tip!

What kind of job is sound directing!?

Q: I believe there are many of our readers who are wondering, ‘what kind of things does a sound director do?”. Even if briefly, please tell us what kind of job sound directing is.

A: It’s a role where you ‘supervise everything related to sound’. There is a director who oversees the production as a whole but they can’t possibly involve themselves in everything, so for the sound-related aspects I will talk to the director first and then assemble the staff and the cast and get the final OK from the director. (Sound directors) have that kind of role.

Q: Are there any differences in things like status or the ratio of one’s involvement depending on the show you’re working on?

A: Sometimes (we’re) credited as ‘dubbing director’; this means that our involvement is limited to supervising the voice actors. I worked as the dubbing director for Genocidal Organ where I was only in charge of seiyuu casting and recording.

Q: With regards to casting – do you discuss with the director and then decide, or is it left to your own discretion?

A: I will talk everything over with the director. It’s not just the director, but the producer(s) and scenario writers may be there too. Each of us will come up with names of actors who we imagine can fill the role and we’ll call those people in for auditions, but oftentimes there will be differences in the way we each imagine the character to be so we’ll have to discuss who comes closest to that ‘image’ before making a decision. As there are many characters in [an] anime, we could end up with around 100-150 actors coming into the studios over 1-2 days.

Q: Seems like that would take its toll on a person, physically.

A: To be honest there are even more candidates at the preliminary stages of the audition. We’d have all of them record sample lines and end up listening to about a 100 different people’s voice samples for each character. Having to listen through all of that is quite the tough task! (laughs) From there, we’ll whittle it down to 10 people for the studio auditions. Even if you narrow it down to 10 people per role, you’d still end up with 50 people for 5 roles.

Q: That’s some job you’ve got to do.

A: I’m also in charge of instructing the seiyuu during the auditions. As I’m the one who has to talk the most during the process, my throat often ends up dying (laughs)

Q: When it comes to directing seiyuu, what kind of guidance do you offer? There is much that we, [as viewers], do not understand about the interactions that take place in a recording studio…

A: The acting during rehearsals on the day of recording is seen as the ‘final stage’ for each actor. In short, the recording studio is a place where an actor showcases what they’ve come up with, having learned their scripts and reflected upon their roles in the series. Of course I have my own thoughts as a director and other directors have theirs, but I do not believe in needing to teach an actor from scratch. Time is of the essence during recording, and I do not have the luxury of being able to offer acting guidance.
What a sound director basically does is to ‘control traffic’. We choose the best of whatever each [actor] comes up with; our role is to take all these individual flavours and cause a chemical reaction to happen so that we can enrich the world of the series we’re working on, within as short a period of time as possible. Regarding the dialogue – we do have discussions about it together with the actors and the director as well. The most important thing is for us to capture the passion that is present during recording without losing the so-called ‘live’ feeling, and deliver it to the viewers.

Q: So if a chemical reaction happens, it’s possible that [the acting] might go beyond the frame of what the sound director and director were thinking of.

A: That’s what I want. Acting guidance is what [I] do to elevate an actor to what I think is the point of 100%. But if a chemical reaction happens, it can go up to 150% or 200%. I’m striving to create something that is 200% so it’s actually not OK to me if you can’t exceed the 100% that I’m expecting.
In a rookie seiyuu’s case, if they can’t achieve the 100% that I want, then I must do the work to raise them to that level. If they’re terrible then I can maybe only get to around 80%. When that happens, the quality of the series will noticeably drop. In order to prevent that, (I’ll) have to be precise with the casting.
That’s why, the very first job I have to see through, is to brush off as much as possible those ‘thinly veiled interests’ and ‘unreasonable demands’ made by the producers and sponsors (laughs). I think that it’s not just me, but all sound directors who think this way but perhaps, I am the only one who dares to say it out loud (laughs).

An era where SF works win over readers and are adapted for the screen

Q: What was your first impression upon seeing this project [Seikai suru Kado]?

A: I thought, ‘It’s a type of hard SF’. I do love science fiction myself; the dawn of Japanese SF arrived when I was a young child. Half a century has passed since, and as with Genocidal Organ you can see that even in Japan, these types of deeply moving SF works have managed to win over readers and be adapted into visual media formats.

Q: During the early stages of production, had you already formulated any ideas regarding the aspects of sound in the show?

A: Nothing came to mind at all. The ‘Kado’ and ‘Wam’ that you see in the series have been simplified from how they appeared at the scenario stage. Even if they seem simple, however, their respective structures are complicated – that is a thought that came to me as I watched the episodes. Pre-scoring* involves recording the sound before the visuals have been created, but [the final product] exceeded what I had imagined.

*pre-scoring (puresuko, プレスコ) is recording dialogue for an anime without the aid of visual guides/cues. It is the opposite of after-recording (afureko, アフレコ). The latter method is more commonly used.

Q: Recording without the aid of visuals – isn’t it terribly hard work not just for the actors, but also for the ‘traffic controllers’ ie the sound directors?

A: It’s the problem of familiarity – if the visuals are already complete prior to recording, then it becomes necessary for the actor to match his lines to the mouth flaps created by other people (the director & episode director). This time around we’re using pre-scoring so the actors can act from ‘within’ themselves, which I think in a way, makes things a lot easier. We’re also working on the basis of the character moving in CG, which has strangely subtle differences when compared to hand-drawn animation.

Q: Are they things you would notice when watching the series?

A: The emphasis is always placed upon matching up with the visuals, so I don’t think you would notice. I worked on another CG series, Toei Distribution’s Ashura (2012), and that was pre-scored as well. At the time we recorded temporary dialogue with different voice actors to match the animated storyboards and once the actual animation was created, we fixed and re-recorded the dialogue with the actual cast. For [Ashura], the characters’ looks are pretty close to what you see in normal anime so you don’t really feel like something is off. Following that I did the fully CG anime Captain Harlock (2013), for which we had large sets built and got actors to actually act out the roles as we recorded the guide dialogue.

Q: That’s amazing!

A: We built an interior set for the Arcadia* and had another actor perform the role; based on the recorded sound we used ‘facial capture’** to create the mouth flaps. We were going for a realistic look and not an anime-ish look but when we had the actual cast members such as Oguri Shun come in to record their lines, we still couldn’t match the mouth flaps perfectly. To have a different actor match his voice to the performance of another actor. It is difficult.

*Captain Harlock’s spaceship
**facial capture – recording facial expressions using a motion capture system to generate animated facial expressions

Q: That image is close to that of dubbing foreign films.

A: It is similar to dubbing foreign works, but even if you ‘overact’ like you do for foreign movies it still wouldn’t match. Ah, this is a common misconception but it seems most people don’t know that dubbing foreign movies requires acting that is even more exaggerated than what is required for anime. Honestly, the acting in anime is more realistic. Many people in this world misunderstand that point, first of all.
When I hold meetings with directors, they sometimes say ‘this work is going to have a bit more of a realistic feel to it so let’s assemble a cast of seiyuu who works on foreign films and overseas dramas’. But if I don’t tell them ‘if you want to make it sound real you should ask for seiyuu who work on anime’ they would not understand.
This is something I myself misunderstood until I started working as a sound director – it is hard to match the mouth flaps formed by speaking Japanese to those that are formed by speaking English. Unless you overact, you won’t be able to match the English dialogue. In the same way, a Western voice actor would not be able to match the voices in Korean dramas or Chinese dramas well. It’s because the Korean and Chinese works are close to Japan’s in terms of expressions and mouth movements, so overacting would bring up discrepancies. That is why live-action actors feel that it should sound more natural if they recite their lines as if they were acting. With the same line of reasoning, for realistic anime where facial expressions are not overly exaggerated, it would sound more realistic if one were to verbalize inner thoughts in a dramatic manner.
But a realistic CG work like Harlock differs from anime. You have to produce a performance that is slightly over-exaggerated when compared to live-action movies, but not as much as when dubbing foreign films. That is something I realized with Harlock.
Furuta Arata-san is absurdly good. Even if Furuta-san recites his lines or piles on ad-libs at a timing separate from the other actors’ lines, it still appears natural. I thought incorporating the essence of stage acting would be a good fit for a realistic CG production.

For this pre-score I requested that the actors ‘act naturally, like you’re acting in a live-action film’. We would do the voice capture first, and mouth flaps would then be created to match the sound – the results were strangely realistic-looking. I thought it felt fresh.

The cast were ‘people who could produce realistic acting’

Q: For Kado, the main cast consists of Miura Hiroaki as Shindo Kojiro, Terashima Takuma as Yaha-kui zaShunina and M.A.O as Tsukai Saraka – what was discussed with the director regarding the selection of these 3 actors?

A: Director Murata Kazuya said to me that he wanted ‘people who could produce acting that is as close to real life as possible’. When you compare the days of Dragon Ball Z or Fist of the North Star to today where we’ve observed the rise of ‘slice-of-life anime’ such as ‘K-ON!’, you can see that acting methodologies have completely changed. Seiyuu nowadays can’t seem to produce acting that is ‘over-exaggerated yet realistic’. The kids of today have different starting points as they didn’t grow up watching the anime of yore where heroes would scream out the names of their special moves. Now you get kids who watched K-ON! when they were 10, wanting to become seiyuu.
Miura-san was chosen, partly because Murata-san was inclined towards him, but also because he possesses strengths that set him apart from other existing seiyuu. Initially [he] was worried about handling the dialogue but he improved with each passing episode. M.A.O-san too, is someone who is able to pull off a role that needed to sound natural yet dignified, young yet requiring a certain amount of gravitas. Terashima-kun’s role was one where we were seeking gender-neutrality, so we actually had female seiyuu try out during auditions as well. We found that he was the one who sounded the most congruent; neither too feminine nor too masculine, and he brought out a ‘this is not a human being’ feeling very well indeed.

Q: What do you think are the highlights of the ‘sound’ aspects of this series, or parts that you’d like people to pay attention to?

A: The sound of the ‘Kado’. I had to process all the raw audio to create something that was in the image of a high-dimensional world, a kind of sound that nobody has ever heard before.
For this series, I discussed with the sound effects guy about wanting to ‘make it real’ and not like sound made with synthesizers that you wouldn’t hear in normal life. We talked about the inside and the flowing surface of the ‘Kado’ and we thought of it as being similar to the ocean. It may not sound quite like the sea, but I actually did process the sound of waves to create it, as opposed to producing electronic noise.
Also, the series is kind of a discussion-heavy drama so the dialogue scenes can go on for a while but regardless, I created sound that will allow you to understand the content without getting tired. Oh, and the music was recorded with a full orchestra – it’s amazing. It must’ve cost a lot of money (laughs)

Interview & Photography: Kasai Kiriya

Personal Comments: His “80% is the best I can do” remark sets wheels turning in the head; don’t they? I’ve always wondered, for a long time, why a no-nonsense guy like Nagasaki got on board to sound direct things like Denpa Kyoshi and the Love Live! anime franchise and how he felt about working with rookies or people who aren’t seiyuu by trade. You can play join the dots with that one and guess the names that popped up in my mind…I guess he just gave up at 40% for certain people, hah.

Nagasaki’s castings rarely show favouritism – think of some of his recent works like Gangsta., orange, Fune o Amu and Akatsuki no Yona and you’ll see next to no recurring patterns. He does seem to be the rare breed of sound director who is willing to sit through hours and days of auditions to find the 100% right person for a role – I imagine his auditions must be tough trials to go through and you’d feel like you won the lottery if you got it.

Throwback: Talking sound with Iwanami Yoshikazu

Iwanami Yoshikazu is another one of the top sound directors in the business right now, working on not just anime but also dubbed works/dramas and even occasionally directing and writing scripts himself. He’s known for his fondness for ad-libs and inventive BGM usage and having trained & worked as a sound engineer, Iwanami is more interested than most of his peers in the technical side of sound directing works, often talking about those aspects on his Twitter account. That technical proficiency enables him to get involved in interesting projects like overseeing the acoustic design of a theatre catering to the visually impaired. He’s also keen on injecting fresh ideas into sound in anime and is part of the recently released Blame! film’s sound team that is bringing Dolby Atmos to Japanese theatrical anime for the first time.

Iwanami’s range of anime work is diverse; from the Rakkyo & Fate series (from Zero onwards) to the Girls und Panzer, BASARA, Jewelpet, Marimite and Sword Art Online franchises. With his castings, he doesn’t seem to be particularly fussed or biased with no strong preferences on hiring any one seiyuu, but I do notice his tendency to work on Aniplex [Sony] shows which means he’ll get saddled with seiyuu that may not necessarily be of his own choice – just think of SAO, Punch Line & Bokumachi, amongst others.

This is an interview with Iwanami where he talks briefly about sound in anime, Sidonia no Kishi (Knights of Sidonia) and JoJo no Kimyō na Bōken (JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure). It’s always interesting to learn about how different sound directors operate and what areas they focus or don’t focus on – Kimura Eriko doesn’t like dealing with the music/soundtrack selection process, Mima Masafumi likes talking about seiyuu & voice acting, etc etc. And Iwanami is obviously, a technical guy who’s not really into discussing individual actors.

Q: Interviewer [Musubi]
A: Iwanami, unless stated otherwise

The sound director, who holds responsibility for sound in anime

Q: So, what kind of job is sound directing?

A: Unlike in live-action film production, anime production features a director responsible for everything related to sound – in other words, a sound director. Working in partnership with various other people, the sound director is ultimately, responsible for the ‘sound’ within the work. Narrowing it down specifically – during recording sessions, they work with seiyuu. For [post-processing] dubbing work there are 3 elements of sound (dialogue, sound effects, music) that have to be matched to the visuals, and we collaborate with the mixer(s) and the sound effects team to produce the sound for the work in question.

Q: When it comes to working with seiyuu, what elements are involved? For example, when it comes to directing seiyuu, what specific kind of work is involved?

A: Everybody who’s there has already studied to become a professional, so I feel that there is no directing needed on the basics. It is more about ‘picking up’ the image [of the characters] that the seiyuu have brought to the table. As the [animation] visuals may not have been completed yet by the time of recording, it is important to continue fine-tuning those performances in anticipation of the finished product.

Knights of Sidonia

Q: Iwanami-san, your latest work Knights of Sidonia is a powerful one in many ways, including the amount of effort put into the sound aspects.

A: It’s a title that will potentially be watched by 40 million people across 40 or more countries, so we worked on it with the intention of making all 12 episodes of motion-picture quality. The base was 2-stereo channels (for normal TV broadcast) and on top of that, we produced 5.1 surround sound with powerful, deep bass (for the Bluray version). The cinematography of the Knights of Sidonia’s visuals was done to allow 5.1 surround sound to shine. For example, a scene where ‘something flies to the forefront of the screen and then continues to fly behind’. Having 5.1 channels to work with makes things freer and more flexible, as well as being compatible with SF works.

Q: So the stereo audio made for TV broadcast is produced with 5.1 surround sound in mind.

A: People used to watch most of their TV on CRT TVs in the past but nowadays you’ve got many methods of viewing content, from flat-screen TVs to streaming distribution on PCs, smartphones.. and so on. Now that we’re moving into a ‘one-source, multi-use era’, it becomes necessary for sound too, to innovate. The main premise may be to produce uncompressed sound that is up to par for Blu-ray purposes, but it is also necessary to produce sound that is satisfactory to everyone and packs enough power when played on various devices or for TV audio. I believe it’s common for people to notice that the powerful sound you hear when you first watch a SF movie at the cinema, is lost when you watch it on TV – that’s because what you were watching is the ‘source’ of a movie. Making the human voice easily audible is the priority of sound produced for TV so even if you input the same source (audio signal), the strength and pitch of the sound will be compressed. The increase in viewing patterns has imposed upon us a mission to ‘make sound that is dynamic no matter the environment’.

Q: On top of that, you’ve had to ensure that Knights of Sidonia complies with global standards… that must’ve been tough.

A: From the outset, the requirement was that the sound must be of ‘film-quality’.

Q: Were the dubs based on the Japanese audio?

A: We dubbed it in three languages – English, Portugese and Spanish.

Q: How conscious are you of overseas viewers [when it comes to your works]?

A: Hmm, this is a different show, but Kill la Kill was distributed online globally at the same time as the broadcast in Osaka which meant overseas viewers got to watch the show before someone like me who’s in Tokyo…yeah, something like that happened. That makes you realize that what you’re doing is increasing its reach worldwide, so you do become a bit more conscious of it.

Q: Sound-wise, what are the highlights of Knights of Sidonia?

A: Are you referring to the sound effects handled by Koyama-san* over there? (at this point, Iwanami-san turns to speak to Koyama-san)

Koyama: The SF genre is unique in that it possesses a lot of variety in sound when compared to other genres – it’s all an attack (heavy bass) game though.

*Koyama Yasumasa is a freelance sound effects producer. He worked on sound effects for Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Stardust Crusaders and Knights of Sidonia

Q: What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of SF?

Koyama: I’ve always liked SF action movies like Transformers and Star Trek so you could say I was influenced by those titles. Though Japanese technology is still nowhere near to catching up, I am aiming to produce sound of Hollywood-level quality.

A: Even though sound heard in Hollywood works seems powerful, they actually end up sounding the same. The reason is because there are hundreds of staff members working on sound alone. When it comes to sound, the more and more people you have working on something, the less chance for any individual’s touch to show. I think that is something which remains a feature of Japanese animation – you can hear the personality of Mr Sound Effects Man coming through. He’s doing work on his own that you’d have dozens of people in America working on; that’s why you can hear his authority stamped all over [the sound].

Q: I see. I’d like to hear more background stories about the sound effects work! For example, was there anything special you did to create the Gauna’s (mysterious life forms that the protagonists are battling against) cries?

Koyama: We played around with the cries of organic things, living things and so on. After Yamano Eiko (a trainee pilot on the same team as Tanikaze Nagate etc) was swallowed by the Gauna in episode 2, I used a couple of tricks from horror movies like mixing up girls’ voices and playing them in reverse. I pummelled the sound into shape (laughs)

Q: Knights of Sidonia is based on a manga serialized in the Afternoon magazine. Is there anything you’re particularly conscious about when working on something that has original source material?

A: I try not to read too much into the source material. The more you read, the more confused you become. When you know too much, you’ll falter on important points. For adaptations of existing material, there is this problem that arises – ‘do we simply ignore the parts of the source that we choose not to adapt?’. After all, it is irrelevant information to people who are accessing the title for the first time via the anime. For me, film is everything. It’s important to think of how we can get first-time viewers to enjoy themselves [when watching].

Q: Does that mean you will not read the chapters that weren’t chosen to be adapted?

A: I read them once, and then I intentionally try to forget them. It is imperative to create something that satisfies people who are seeing the title for the first time ever, so I choose not to know too much. The first audience is the most important.

Q: I see. So in considering facing first-time viewers, what would recording sessions be like?

A: As it’s the final piece of work to balance things out, it is better not to be biased. What one should do in order to be able to naturally guide the audience….is not to have prejudices or strange preconceptions; it’s important, & that is what we value in the creative process.

Director Mizushima Tsutomu x Sound Director Iwanami Yoshikazu

Q: Actually, I love the combination of Director Mizushima and Iwanami-san. I like being assured that we will get something that surpasses expectations; anime works that are unpretentious yet surprising, such as Bokusatsu Tenshi Dokuro-chan and Joshiraku. Dokuro-chan’s endless wise guy jokes alongside Sakura-kun who is forever playing the straight man – the speed-talking and tempo made it a golden balance for gag moe anime!

A: Director Mizushima is the kind of director who prioritizes ‘tempo’. Since I myself am someone who also places high regard on the ‘tempo of sound’ during the animation process, it is enjoyable and rewarding [working with him]. We can produce sound that is accurate based on the visuals, precisely because he is knowledgeable about the production of sound.
Comprehending the composition of the visuals and the sound, and thinking about sound when creating visuals. A director who doesn’t just pursue cool-looking visuals, but one who also thinks and directs with sound in mind. I have no troubles at all when working with such a director.

About JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure

Q: This is a work that is famous for its many popular lines – how do you go about deciding on intonation and things like that?

A: Myself asides, the staff members who work on the show are all the same – for them, ‘JoJo represents youth’. Is it read stand ↑ or stand ↓ ?….it must surely be stand ↓! The arguments go something like that. Objectively speaking, it is always possible to get these maniacs who feel too passionate about something and go rushing headfirst [into decisions] when you’re working in a sound studio. I’m okay with where I’m standing (laughs).

How to build trust with seiyuu

Q: How do you build trust between yourself and seiyuu?

A: During recording sessions, whenever seiyuu think ‘I’ve slipped up here’, I will definitely ask for retakes. Mostly I’ll be watching from behind, but I can always tell just by looking at their back, the exact point at where they’ve ‘slipped up’. Of course I do judge based on the audio as well but as we build up our awareness of each other, we will come to a point where we can have this relationship of mutual trust and think, ‘it’ll be okay if I just leave it up to him or her’.

Q: ‘I’d like to meet this kind of seiyuu!’ Have you ever thought about such things?

A: I’ve worked with a lot of different people but I do particularly enjoy working with actors who can bring in various ideas regarding acting. People who’ll make you think, ‘Ah, that’s how it is!!’. For example, on something like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, you have to consider how to interpret dialogue that is already widely known by people. It’s fun to hear them and think, ‘Oh, so you could say it that way too’. It’s a joy to see this type of creative work involving people that can never be replaced by technology.

Q: Are roles determined by auditions?

A: Most of them are.

Q: What kind of atmosphere is there? Does it ever get like ‘At last, we’ve got ‘The One’ here’?

A: You can get ‘Ah, he/she’s the one!’ or you could get ‘Ah, we can’t decide who to pick…’.

Q: Were there any auditions that were memorable for you?

A: In terms of recent ones, I’d say the role of Speedwagon in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. We had 2 rounds of auditions but still couldn’t decide so I consulted the director and I called in Ueda Yōji for an audition on his own. And the director finally thought ‘He’s our guy!’ and that made me glad as well. Having this kind of thing happen makes auditions worthwhile, I thought.

Q: You’ve directed live-action movies and worked as a sound director [on anime] – what is the difference in terms of the demands of sound between the too?

A: The presence of air in live-action shoots. Anime is a visual medium, so this is where you get to showcase your talent – by showing how you can achieve the aerial sensation and sense of depth of air through sound. For live-action you can get by with one type of sound but for anime you might need 3 types of sounds… When you’re hitting a wall, is it iron or metal or plastic? Is it pounding? Is it rapping? You have to consider things like that. In movies you see the visuals and you’ll understand, but for sound in anime you have to emphasize, exaggerate and complement.

Interview: 2014.3.13

Throwback: On Aketagawa Jin

While I wouldn’t say that Aketagawa Jin is my favourite sound director when it comes to castings (if push came to shove, I’d go for Kimura Eriko’s eclecticism) but he is definitely someone who’s close to my heart, purely for his ability to spot and cultivate raw young talent over the years – the likes of Tomatsu Haruka, Hikasa Yoko, Ishikawa Kaito, Kayano Ai, Matsuoka Yoshitsugu and Taneda Risa have all passed through his hands.

For all the accusations he faces of favouritism and getting way too close to his chosen seiyuu talents, Aketagawa himself remains extremely low-profile, shunning interviews and choosing not to get on SNS. That means it’s harder to get a true picture of what the guy is really like. One thing’s for sure though – Aketagawa’s a people person and gets along extremely well with both staff and cast members, you can tell that from the way others speak of him.

Aketagawa is often described as a lively character, and that personality of his comes across in his directing choices – he tends to favour energetic, animated acting (生き生き is the phrase I have in mind) which is why he gets hired for OTT things like Kill Me Baby!, Shokugeki no Soma and Saiki Kusuo no Psi-nan. Not to say he can’t handle the more subtle, low-key stuff though – his long list of credits includes series like Aoi Hana, Hourou Musuko and AnoHana after all.

He is definitely guilty of picking the same people over and over again within a certain period of time though; that you can almost spot the seiyuu cliques that form as a result of constantly working together on Aketagawa shows. Just think of that large but loose collective of seiyuu acquaintances that includes people like Minase Inori, Sakura Ayane, Uchida Maaya, Kakuma Ai, Onishi Saori, Murakawa Rie etc etc – they’re all AkeJin faves. I have nothing much against that though – Aketagawa has such a deep pool of seiyuu contacts and works on so many shows over a season/year that you don’t really notice similarities in his casting choices too much, as opposed to say…Bones or Shaft series.

Here are a few bits and bobs from over the years. First one is an interview with the Nagi no Asu kara director and producer, just the section where they mention Aketagawa in particular:

Nagi no Asu kara

Tsuji Mitsuhito (producer): There are lots more episodes that we couldn’t mention in regular interviews. For example, in the 2nd episode, when Gyomenso emerges from Manaka’s knee it’s supposed to say ‘See you later’ but during tests, Gyomenso’s seiyuu Tamura Mutsumi-san ad-libbed ‘I’ll be back!’ in a smug tone, which sent the studio into peals of laughter (laughs)

Shinohara Toshiya (director): During recordings for episode 16, Ishihara [Kaori]-san who voices Sayu-chan, got the words mixed up. She was supposed to say ‘Did you know? You can’t get married if you’re relatives to a third degree’, but ended up saying ‘You can’t get married if you have three heads’* instead – everyone burst out laughing.

*third degree – sanshintō (三親等), three heads – santōshin (三頭身)

Q: Speaking of voice recording – what kind of person is the sound director Aketagawa Jin?

Tsuji: Our relationship goes back to CANAAN, which means I’ve been working with Jin-san for about 6 years now. For Nagi no Asu kara, I’d say that the final episode was the most memorable. Yanagi Nagi’s ‘mnemonic’ was used as an insert song in the episode, but we had initially readied it for use in the 25th episode…well, actually it was back in the 18th episode or thereabouts (laughs). The decision was only made at the last minute but we actually had 2 versions prepared [for ep18] – a version with ‘mnemonic’ and one with the BGM. Ultimately, we went with the BGM version so Jin-san had kind of given up, thinking “so we aren’t going to use ‘mnemonic’ at all?”, but he managed to fit it in, and at a very good point at that, during the final episode.

Shinohara: I first met Jin-san on Hana Saku Iroha. Prior to that, whenever you mentioned ‘Aketagawa-san’ you would think of his father (Aketagawa Susumu) first – his image happens to be very strong, but [Jin] is a completely different type of character by comparison. His father is quiet and gentle with a spirit of a craftsman, while Jin-san is bright and lively and good at getting seiyuu on board [with his ideas]. What impresses me about his work is his outstanding sense when it comes to music selection. Throughout the series I only ever asked him for a total of 3 changes in the song he had initially selected for first tests. Every time we went through the tests I’d hum, thinking – that was good! Also, this may be completely unrelated but when I think of stories involving sound directors, I think of…dieting? (laughs) For some reason a [low] carb diet is getting popular amongst staff members; producers and managers included, but the one who followed it most seriously was Jin-san.

Tsuji: That’s true, he’s gotten quite slim. Gorgeous bento boxes are available at the studio but the menu items have somehow started getting healthier with an increase in single servings (laughs). I’m not sure if it’s due to that, but I’ve managed to lose 3kg.


And secondly, a short interview with Aketagawa Jin himself from when he was working on Potemayo [2007].

Q: What does the job of a sound director entail?

A: Simply put, it is a role that involves overseeing everything sound-related. Dialogue, sound effects and music – the job is to direct…no, arrange all of that. For the dialogue, I act as an intermediary between the actors and the director. For music, the intermediary between the composer and director. And for sound effects, between the soundmen and the director. I guess that’s pretty much it?

Q: How did this job sound directing Potemayo come about?

A: J.C.Staff Producer Matsukura-san just said to me ‘This anime is based on a manga so I’ll leave it up to you~!’ (laughs). Later on I received the manga in the mail and he went ‘It’s over to you now!’. That was all (loud laugh).

Q: Did Producer Matsukura not explain the work to you?

A: Not at all (laughs). The manga volumes were just casually delivered to my company office and I’d just read them and start to think about a lot of different things. I did of course meet up with Matsukura-san sometime later on to discuss the direction of the anime and what we had in mind for casting.

Q: What were your impressions of the series after reading it?

A: For Potemayo and Guchuko, I first considered the direction I should take when it came to their voices. I immediately thought of Potemayo as being cute. In Guchuko’s case it could’ve gone either way and I had to think about which to go with. I decided to base it upon what I’d hear at the auditions. Considering the cuteness we were aiming for with Potemayo, we could’ve gotten someone who delivered clear and easily-understood reactions, or we might also choose to go with someone like Hanazawa [Kana]-san who has a childish, tottering style – either direction was a possibility. Once again I decided to put it through the audition process, and that was how we ended up in favour of the Hanazawa-san direction as you hear it now.

Q: Going through the auditions, was there an overall direction that you were looking at with regards to the cast as a whole?

A: The series has a lot of characters so first and foremost, we had to ensure that there weren’t any overlapping characteristics. For Potemayo and Guchuko, the reactions seen in their acting were going to make or break the show so I requested that J.C. Staff produce some illustration material for the purpose of the auditions. They were just line drawings with a limited amount of movement, and I had the actors match their voices to that. In a sense, I think it was easier to grasp the image of the series through those visuals rather than just by reading the scripts as per the norm.

Q: What were the important points working as a sound director during the Potemayo voice recording sessions?

A: Director Ikehata [Takashi]’s laughter ‘hurdles’ are set slightly higher than most and he can be severe about it at times, so it’s my job to get across to the actors that they should put in performances that get as close to Director Ikehata’s sense of humour as possible. I think it was a pretty good atmosphere [in the studio].

Q: How about the sound effects and the music?

A: Well in the end, this series is all about the characters reacting and being in motion. Particularly Potemayo and Guchuko, who both move in a way that makes you want to add animated sound effects to accompany the visuals. There is quite a bit of ‘reaction-type’ of dialogue which can be treated as sound effects by themselves, and that might mean that they ended up clashing with actual inserted sound effects. And then you’d have Potemayo, who despite being in the background when other characters are interacting with each other, would continuously make ‘Honoho’ kind of sounds. Should I mute the sound effects to produce a clean sound, or should I nuke the reactions of the characters other than Potemayo and Guchuko to make it sound cleaner? If you’re not careful with things like that you might mess it all up. Having to balance these issues made this series a tough one to work on.
For the music too – the anime is filled with dialogue that is already interesting on its own so rather than spoiling them with inappropriate music floating in, it would be better to just leave the scenes as they are. On the other hand, there might be cases when it’s more interesting to have music over the scenes so I have done it on occasion.

Q: So tell us what the appeal of the completed version of the Potemayo anime is.

A: Frankly speaking, I’d be happy as long as I find it interesting myself! …is my take on it (laughs). Right now there aren’t any set patterns or anything like that so I suppose in a sense, that the show’s appeal might lie in how it finds different ways to be interesting depending on the scene at hand? Having said that, I still wouldn’t describe this as a one-liner kind of gag show. I was quite conscious of that fact while we were working on the show but well…there are scenes that do call for one-liners in the end (laughs). Whatever works at a given time and place, I suppose, as long as it’s interesting.

Q: Please leave a message for the fans who are looking forward to the anime’s broadcast.

A: Fans of the manga will be able to enjoy this anime, as will those who have not read the original work – do look forward to it!

Q: Thank you very much.
While we’re at it, let’s have a quick look at the Potemayo cast and see how often Aketagawa has worked with the individuals over the years.

Kitamura Eri (Moriyama Sunao) – AkeJin hired KitaEri a couple of times in the late 00s but rarely since, and not in the last 4 years since Neptunia [which was just rehiring the game cast]
Hanazawa Kana (Potemayo) – HanaKana remains an AkeJin fave but she’s a busy lady so he obviously can’t always get hold of her. Prince of Stride Alternative & Junketsu no Maria are some of their recent works together.
Tsuji Ayumi (Guchuko) – I think Tsuji has been hired maybe only once or twice by Aketagawa [Tonagura! being the other one off the top of my head]. She’s not worked that much anyway.
Kawasumi Ayako (Natsu Mikan) – A long-standing favourite of Aketagawa’s, stretching back to Geneshaft in 2001 and more recently in Danmachi Sword Oratoria & Shokugeki no Soma.
Kaida Yuko (Takamimori Kyo) – Kaida’s forte is dubs & not really anime, but AkeJin has hired her on & off over the years in things like Railgun, Moretsu Pirates & Queens Blade.
Kugimiya Rie (Kasugano Nene, Seki Tomari) – Another way too busy lady. They’re working on Twin Angel Break this season though.
Tokita Hikaru (Kirihara Mudo) – I don’t think she’s been in any anime in the last 5 or so years…
Kondo Takayuki (Hatsushiba Kaoru) – He was in Shokugeki no Soma & the High School DxD series, but haven’t seen too much of him around lately.
Hamada Kenji (Moriyama Kodai) – A veteran who pops up in minor roles in quite a few Aketagawa shows. Last year, he was in Active Raid, Norn9 & Bubuki Buranki.
Okamoto Nobuhiko (Natsu Yasumi) – A firm fave with AkeJin over the last decade, he gave him his first lead role in Sola [2007] & continues to cast him here and there. Recently heard in Danmachi Sword Oratoria, Starmyu & MonHun Ride On.
Inoue Kikuko (Moriyama Miku) – She’s everyone’s favourite, isn’t she? Currently in Uchoten Kazoku S2.
Toyosaki Aki (Shiina Shizuka) – Another firm fave over the years. Recently cast in AkeJin shows like Flip Flappers, Kuzu no Honkai and Re:CREATORS.
Yahagi Sayuri (Hanabusa Eiko) – Part of the To LOVEru franchise so she’ll always be working with AkeJin in some form.
Fujimura Ayumi (Hachiya Yoshimi) – I remember her being in some of Aketagawa’s shows in the 00s like Kyoran Kazoku Nikki, Hatsukoi Limited. & Aoi Hana but nothing much of late. Guess Norn9 doesn’t count since it was a carry-over from the game.
Yasumoto Hiroki (various) – While not a first-choice leading man with Aketagawa, Yasumoto does get hired for sub & minor roles – he’s Mimasaka in Shokugeki no Soma & Kishward in Arslan Senki & was in Active Raid, Aldnoah Zero & Hataraku Mao-sama! – to name a few.

Shingeki no Kyojin cast Q&A

An interview with the main cast of the Attack on Titan series, following the completion of recording for the 3DS game Shingeki no Kyojin: Shichi kara no Dasshutsu, released on 11 May by Koei. It is the first adventure game for the series with an original story – Seko Koji is supervising the story with visuals by Wit Studio and partial voice-acting by the anime cast.

6 Questions
1. Thoughts on completing recording
2. Recommended points, impressive scenes or things to look out for from what you recorded
3. Surprisingly different sides of the characters that you saw, or lines that left an impression
4. People or things you’d consider your ‘partner’, any stories that made you feel ‘connected’ to other people
5. 2017 is looking to be exciting with the release of this game & season 2 of the anime. What do you want to achieve or accomplish this year?
6. A message for the fans

Kaji Yuki [Eren Yeager]

1. Thoughts – As it’s an adventure game this time out, I wondered ‘Oh, I might not have to fight so much this time!’ and as I looked over the script I thought to myself ‘Hmm! I might not even have to shout that much any more!’ …but now that recording’s over, my throat is shot… ah, I’d forgotten that this guy [Eren] is a weirdo with a loud voice… (laughs)

2. Recommended scenes – In any case it’s a spinoff story this time, so the presence of a protagonist who’s a member of the 104th Training Corps is memorable. This time you’ll get to see a lot more of expressions Eren normally doesn’t show his colleagues as he’s basically operating with just another person [the protagonist] alongside him. Getting to play an Eren like that somehow gets me buzzing as well (laughs)

3. Different sides – You’ll get to see stills of members of Levi’s squad doing low-level work side by side…that sub-episode about them cleaning up was very impressive (laughs). As always, the Captain is beautifully obsessed with cleanliness.

4. Partners & stories – The bond between the Shingeki no Kyojin members really is quite strong. Not just the cast but also among the staff as well, the director and sound director included – we have built a solid relationship. That is why the studio was like a battlefield.

5. Aims for 2017 – Body building! I want to climb Mount Fuji!

6. Message – It’s an ‘escape adventure’ this time, so I think you’ll be able to feel a different type of excitement compared to previous Shingeki games. Be the protagonist & team-mate of Eren & the 104th Training Corps, join forces with a variety of different characters and escape from your predicament! Look forward to it!

Ishikawa Yui [Mikasa Ackerman]

1. Thoughts – With the game this time being a completely original story and added to the fact that it’s been a while since I’ve recorded anything Shingeki-related, I felt a bit nervous as I was rehearsing at home over whether I could voice Mikasa properly. But when I turned up at the studio on the day of recording and was shown the packaging and in-game illustrations, the images came rushing back – although it’s a spinoff, I was able to perform as the usual Mikasa! After all, Eren is always life to Mikasa…!

2. Recommended scenes – Amongst the various Shingeki-related collaborations we’ve seen so far, there haven’t been too many where we get to guide the users, converse with so many characters or even have proper one-on-one talks with the users. Especially for Mikasa who isn’t the type of character who freely opens her heart; to see her development as the trust builds up between [the user & Mikasa as] partners was unusual to see. Thus I think you’ll get to see sides of her that you don’t normally do. I’d like you to pay attention to that!

3. Different sides – Rather than leaving an impression, this is more something that I’m personally interested in…in the game, the user will select a character and within their storyline, attempt to escape. The script I received contains only the scenes that Mikasa appears in so I’m really curious about what the other characters are like! For example, we have Connie who’s an idiot but always manages to calms things down and it makes me wonder if he can actually cooperate well with the [user’s] protagonist to escape safely… and so on. I’m definitely curious about the characters that rarely act solo!

4. Partners – My script[s]. They’re an actor’s “partner”!

5. Aims for 2017 – To ride a horse. And to get a general medical check-up.

6. Message – Having ‘you’ as a partner, you’ll get to see different sides of various characters that have never been seen before! It’s a game that can be enjoyed by anyone, whether you’re a guy or a girl. By all means, make Mikasa your partner and play around with the world of Shingeki no Kyojin!

Inoue Marina [Armin Arlert]

1. Thoughts – I am happy that I managed to confidently act out the story of Armin and the player(s). Shingeki no Kyojin recordings are always battles, but it was an absolute bloodbath this time around (laughs). Armin’s storyline has a lot of exposition and observations so I feel like I needed a lot more concentration than I normally would.

2. Recommended scenes – Armin is a character who has shown a tremendous range of growth throughout the series so I am always careful to consider what stage he is currently at when voicing the role; this time, I imagined him at a point after Eren has fixed the hole. I think the story will give a glimpse into the direction in which Armin grows going forward. There are times when it may get painful thinking about Armin but the ending was one that made you think that it might be the catalyst for his future.

3. Different sides – I never thought we would get such fanservice-y scenes for each character. However, I was disappointed to discover that the Captain [Levi] who is normally so fond of his tea would be on ‘that’ side instead of ‘our’ side. Is it because he is an adult?

4. Partners & stories – I (arbitrarily) think that the Shingeki members are bound together by bonds similar to those formed by comrades who have survived life-or-death battles together. I believe this confidence will remain unchanging in the future.

5. Aims for 2017 – From spring 2017, the long-awaited second season of Shingeki no Kyojin begins. My biggest aim is to be able to go all out in voicing Armin. Also, I need to go for a medical check-up.

6. Message – The Shingeki no Kyojin franchise has seen many action games up until now but this time, it’s a simulation game so I too am really looking forward to enjoying the storylines of each character. I hope that all of you would play through each path as well. With Season 2 of the anime, we look forward to your support going forward!

Ono Daisuke [Erwin Smith]

1. Thoughts – I said my lines while imagining the tension and heat levels that were present during the anime recording sessions. I’m dreadfully exhausted.

2. Recommended scenes – As a leader, I did put quite a lot of spirit into my instructions and words of command.

3. Different sides – I think the vast amount of information found within is precisely what makes the game such a pleasure. The more you play the game and appreciate those little details, the more new charms you will find in Shingeki.

4. Partners & stories – I just took part in the Shingeki-collaboration real escape game the other day. I could feel the bond between the cast then.

5. Aims for 2017 – Of course I want to have a ‘big hit’. To be able to contribute to that, all I can do is to give my best as an actor.

6. Message – Advance, into a new world of Shingeki no Kyojin!

Kamiya Hiroshi [Levi Ackerman]

1. Thoughts – I was wondering how it would turn out since I have a lot more dialogue here than in the anime, so I am relieved to complete recording without any problems!

2. Recommended scenes – There are familiar scenes and there are scenes that are closer to being gag-like but no matter what, Levi remains as serious as ever so please pay attention to them!

3. Different sides – In the scenes where conversation is being held with the original characters, the content of the dialogue changes a bit depending on the strength of the ‘bond’. However, Levi has such a difficult personality to comprehend that it’s hard to tell the difference!

4. Partners & stories – I do feel the bond between the cast when we’re all in the studio, working towards the same direction to improve the quality of the work! That is the kind of title Shingeki no Kyojin is!

5. Aims for 2017 – For 2017, I’ll be more careful with my health and give my best, more than ever!

6. Message – Please continue to support Shingeki no Kyojin from now on!

Park Romi [Hanji Zoe]

1. Thoughts – The volume of content is…amazing. Let me say that one more time. The volume of content is…amazing.

2. Recommended scenes – What I want you to pay attention to… On the contrary, how would you players like to pay attention to Hanji? That’s what I want you to pay attention to (laughs)

3. Different sides – Hanji appears to only be looking at the Titans but it was truly interesting to see how her comrades are reflected in her eyes.

4. Partners – My beloved daughters (pet dogs) Saran and Mian are awaiting my return so no matter what, I will overcome that battle field!

5. Aims for 2017 – I just want to travel around the power spots and store up energy!

6. Message – Thanks for your continued support. We’re gonna scale up the Shingeki no Kyojin world more and more! Don’t dare take your eyes off Hanji’s “research”!

Taniyama Kishow [Jean Kirstein]

1. Thoughts – I’m stepping into the Titan world after a long absence. It was pretty damn intense.

2. Recommended scenes – I put quite a bit of effort into the scene where Mikasa strangles and nearly drops [Jean] (laughs).

3. Different sides – I think Jean does show growth throughout the story. That makes me glad.

4. Partners & stories – Whenever I feel like things are going really badly, there’ll always be someone who comes along to lend me a hand. That’s what life is like for me at the moment.

5. Aims for 2017 – Move house, a new smartphone, travel overseas.

6. Message – Look forward to it!

Shimono Hiro [Connie Springer]

1. Thoughts – Up until now there have been various projects involving the Shingeki no Kyojin license but few opportunities for Connie to talk as much as he does in this particular work – it felt really fresh and I enjoyed it.

2. Recommended scenes – Basically there are many new discoveries. Memories of family – there are many things that are depicted well. You’ll see many scenes like that so please be sure to pay attention.

3. Different sides – This time you get to see a lot of scenes involving daily life that we’ve not really seen before so it was truly refreshing to see various aspects of the characters, Connie included. It made me feel a little bit joyful.

4. Stories – Recently, a person* in charge of the music of a certain anime work that I auditioned for (& won a role in) turned out to be the composer working on my solo artist activities. I didn’t know that beforehand but when I found out later, I felt like it was a fateful bond between us.

[*note: that person would be Takahashi Ryo, who composed Shimono’s first single Running High and also wrote the music for the ACCA anime as well as being part of ONE III NOTES]

5. Aims for 2017 – Obviously I want to work my hardest for Shingeki no Kyojin this year but since it appears that I will have increasing opportunities to do live concerts when compared to last year, I’m hoping that I’ll pull them off well too. Gonna give my best both for my acting and my singing!!

6. Message – Shingeki no Kyojin will have an exciting 2017 with various projects including the anime. I’d be glad if you could please give Shingeki no Kyojin: Shichi kara no Dasshutsu a play so that you’ll learn more about the various characters and grow to love them even more! Thank you!!

Kobayashi Yu [Sasha Blouse]

1. Thoughts – I am very pleased to have the opportunity to voice Sasha once again. This time, the game has an original story so we have a Sasha that we’ve never seen before and that also allowed me to experience a similar [new] impression. I was really pleased to get to meet that side of my beloved Sasha for the first time ever. At the same time, I took great pleasure in seeing parts of Sasha’s identity blow up so nicely. One thing that can’t be left out when talking about Sasha is “food”. She’s hard at it this time too, and you can see that [obsession] delivered in a couple of variations here. She’s someone whose comically charming side shines through but at the same time she can also be diligent and serious, which makes her a picture-perfect character. I’ll always brace myself when I’m voicing a multi-faceted, charming character like Sasha, handling her carefully to the best of my ability. Thankfully, Sasha plays an active role this time so I am deeply grateful not just as the actor behind the character but also as one of Sasha’s fans. Thank you!

2. Recommended scenes – There are many, but amongst them is a a scene containing a lecture about hunting that I found very impressive. Through that scene I got to see a shining Sasha, demonstrating her cherished way of life as a native of a hunting village. When teaching [others] how to use a bow, Sasha uses a uniquely genius method of teaching. It’s lovely to feel how ‘Sasha-like’ her masterfully wild intuitions are. Seeing the others’ reactions to those lectures gives you a glimpse into the ‘richness’ of each of their characters and it makes me smile.

3.Different sides – The butler & maid café was shocking to me. I’m glad to see that everyone had such such a great time, particularly as they are constantly living in danger. Each character has a distinct personality; it’s a lot of fun and one of the things to look out for. This time around we get to see Sasha experiencing a ‘suspension bridge effect’ like the maidens I admire plus she gets to wear maid clothes as well, showing various expressions for the first time ever. I was deeply impressed by these new charms that Sasha shows and it fills me with excitement.

4. Partners & stories – The time spent together with all of the staff and cast who I am under the care of is important & represents irreplaceable moments for me; I can feel the bond between us.

5. Aims for 2017 – I apologize for having the same goal every year, but I will continue to devote my strength and all I have to every single day in 2017.

6. Message – Thank you to everyone who is looking forward to the game’s release. This is an original story where you, the player, becomes the hero and advances together with the characters as your partner – what a most exciting and tasteful work it is. There is also human drama and moving scenes to be found amidst the fear and urgency of the mighty Titans. While going back-to-back with the crises of life, there remain heartwarming episodes that will make you smile here and there, so you can enjoy the game from that angle as well. I would be happy if you could immerse yourself in the world found within this game. Thank you.

Hosoya Yoshimasa [Reiner Braun]

1. Thoughts – As it’s an original story, I had to spend quite a bit of time taking stock of the situation at hand. I’m happy to have finished recording without incident.

2. Recommended scenes – Maybe the cats… The scene where the cat comes out… objectively speaking, it might be the kind of scene that provokes laughter.

3. Different sides – I still think the cat left the biggest impression. Since it’s an original story, I think it’s fun to see these ‘alternate’ tales, completely separate from the main plot.

4. Stories – When I met up with a friend from my elementary school days for the first time in about a year, he said ‘Long time no see’ to me and we both felt uncomfortable hearing those words. I thought, ‘Ah, so we’re both living our lives feeling the same sort of emotions’.

5. Aims for 2017 – Season 2 will be starting soon. I hope that I can take what I learn from encountering people through my work, to do more as a person. After all, you only live once. I want to enrich myself.

6. Message – It’s a clichéd one but… ‘Dedicate your hearts!’

Hashizume Tomohisa [Bertolt Hoover]

1. Thoughts – It’s been a while since I’ve gone all out in voicing Bertolt. It’s an adventure game so the scenarios are quite detailed so now I get to understand and connect his feelings with the events of seasons 1 & 2 of the anime! And while thinking of that, I realize that season 2 is finally starting soon.

2. Recommended scenes – He always goes together with Reiner so it’s unusual to see him depicted in such a way this time around. From the beginning to the end of the scenario, I would like you to feel the changes and subtlety of his feelings towards the protagonist.

3. Different sides – The title is ‘Escape from Certain Death’ so obviously the content of the main storyline is quite serious but you’ll also get to enjoy sub-stories that are unique to the game; they’ll make you go ‘Eh!? This character or that character does something like that!?’

4. Partners & stories – I’d say buddy but he’s more like a big senior to me; after mentioning that ‘this is the first time I’m taking part in such an event’ during the Shingeki Festival, Kamiya [Hiroshi]-san was a great help to me on stage and came to my rescue when I got stuck during the talk parts. When I felt uneasy about [us] having to take turns to speak individually, I turned to see Kamiya-san’s face on my left and felt relieved.

5. Aims for 2017 – Bodybuilding on a casual level. I did a bit in summer and managed to put on quite a bit [of muscle] but by winter they had evolved into something that wasn’t muscle, so I’d like to take on the challenge again. I’ll try to build more muscle by taking part in active things like bouldering, cycling and so on.

6. Message – Finally, Season 2 is here! It makes me happy just to think that I’ll be able to get into the studio and voice him alongside the rest of the cast. I’ve had the chance to be involved with the franchise in various ways following Season 1 and it’s made me even more excited. The wait has been long enough so please hold on a bit more and look forward to it!

Mikami Shiori [Krista Lenz]

1. Thoughts – As it is an original story there were many new discoveries to be made and I was able to record with a fresh feeling. There were scenes I had never seen before so I had a lot of fun acting.

2. Recommended scenes – The scene where [Krista and] Ymir talk about their respective childhoods got me. I’d be glad if you make sure not to miss how important Ymir’s presence is to Krista, and how Krista continues to grow throughout everything that happens.

3. Different sides – I like the scenes where Connie and Sasha are helping everyone with their studies. It warms me up inside, thinking & wishing that such peaceful times would last forever.

4. Partners & stories – The other guys who always listen to my stories are both my buddies and my comrades. Fujita Saki-san, who voices Ymir, has been very supportive all this while so it is now my turn to become stronger so I can support [her] in return…!

5. Aims for 2017 – Since I’ve always held a driving license, I hope I can get used to driving around in the city center to a point where I can tell people that my hobby is going for drives.

6. Message – There are plenty of charming stories packed in here. I’d be happy if you could choose Ymir and Krista to be your partners so that you can enjoy their story. Thank you!

Fujita Saki [Ymir]

1. Thoughts – Whenever you enter the world of Titans, you need to have a certain amount of preparation for it and what you’ll get out of it is similar to the sense of accomplishment and elation from running a full marathon – it was the same feeling this time. As players you will enter such a world and try to survive together [with us] so being Ymir, I’m able to show a lot of different expressions as well.

2. Recommended scenes – I do want [you] to successfully escape! I work together with Krista so there may be dialogue that the player feels sounds a bit harsh but I hope that you’ll be able to grasp the clumsy tenderness behind her words!

3. Different sides – The butler & maid café. Make sure you check it out. What outfit will Ymir be wearing? Look forward to it!

4. Partners & stories – There are so many that it’s hard for me to single any one out. In Shingeki no Kyojin recordings the staff and cast go all out in making the show together and you can really feel that bond there. Each and every person perseveres and holds on, taking on the challenge of the job with their absolute might; everyone helping to create the story’s worldview. With such an atmosphere you don’t even need to say a word to be able to feel [the strength of] that bond on your skin.

5. Aims for 2017 – I want to get into the habit of exercising, even if only a little bit. (laughs) Go me.

6. Message – Jump into the world of Shingeki no Kyojin through this game that is scheduled to be released on May 11th. If you could also watch the TV anime broadcast at the same time, you’ll be able to feel like you have signed up for the Survey Corps yourself! Please continue to support the increasingly exciting Shingeki no Kyojin!

Throwback: Sound director Kameyama Toshiki on Kobayashi Yu [2009]

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.

Pt 1

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.

Kameyama: Thanks.

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.

Kameyama: (laughs)

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!

#140 – ACCA 13: Shimono Hiro & Tsuda Kenjiro

One of my favourite shows from the past winter season was the adaptation of Ono Natsume’s ACCA 13 manga. I was greatly impressed by the way the series’ plot develops (or ‘foreshadowing’ as Shimono puts it), as well as the amazing voice acting talent on display. I hadn’t liked any of Shimono Hiro’s roles since RahXephon!

This interview features the lead pairing of Shimono Hiro (Jean Otus) and Tsuda Kenjiro (Nino) talking about ‘smart masculinity’.

[Interview: Ishibashi Yu]

It looks cool but it’s hot – a quietly burning story

Q: First of all, tell us what kind of series ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept is?

Shimono: The conspiratorial tone forms the axis of the story, and you will see a variety of individualistic male characters, from elegant men to young guys, play a role in the show. You can perceive the stylishness of this series from the visuals and the music, but the usage of foreshadowing and the story’s tendency to move in unpredictable directions makes it something that you’ll want to see over and over again.

Tsuda: I think people who’ve watched the earlier episodes might have an impression of the show as being ‘stylish and trendy’. Towards the conclusion however, turmoil begins to rear its head within the plot and the way the story develops is intriguing. Don’t look down on this anime with disdain thinking that it’s only about its ‘atmosphere’!

Q: You’re 100% right! At first glance it seems like a trendy, atmospheric anime but it turns out to be quite different.

Shimono: That’s true. As the show progresses you’ll find yourself increasingly going ‘Hmm?’; by the end you’ll feel the sudden onslaught of truths being uncovered. You’ll look back on certain parts and think, ‘so that was what was going on there!?’

Tsuda: It feels even truer now that we’re moving towards the conclusion of recording as well. Of course it does seem like a cool series with cool characters, but when you lift the lid up you’ll find that there are fiery parts within as well.

Shimono: Yeah yeah. It has a quietly burning kind of feel to it.

Q: How are you viewing your characters as you progress further through recordings?

Shimono: In the early stages I thought Jean was cool and unshakeable, with a mature impression given the fact that it was hard to read his mind. But as the plot progressed I found that Jean was not the type of person who would act of his own accord. That is exactly why he gets caught up in an array of incidents and by the time he’s realized it, he’s already forced into a crazy position. To be honest, as Nino describes in the anime, Jean is the type to ‘get tangled up’ in things and this is something you’ll see more and more of as we move into the second half of the series.

Q: Certainly, it feels like Jean is allowing himself to go with the flow.

Shimono: However, Jean doesn’t allow himself to get swept away by the currents and instead, he has a firm grasp of who he is at his core even as he comes into contact with various different people. On the surface, he seems like he’s being manipulated by different parties but Jean is in truth, choosing his own path and moving forward. Because he does not verbalize [his thoughts], it makes it appear as if he is being washed away. If you watch the show to its conclusion, I believe you will see for yourself how he is thinking about things in order to draw out the answers.

Tsuda: That’s right. You watch those scenes where Jean looks like he’s merely getting tangled up in stuff happening around him, but when he pulls off that final bold action at the end, you’ll be shivering.

Q: And we have Nino who’s buddies with Jean and with whom he shares many meals. Tsuda-san, how do you feel about playing such a role?

Tsuda: From the start I’d been playing Nino and Crow, the two sides of this enigmatic character. There were many things I did not comprehend, from why he remains silent to the motives behind his actions. As the plot progressed, I learned the truth and I could see the depth of his character being expressed ever clearer.

Q: I see. It seems he shares some similarities with Jean…

Tsuda: That’s right. Like Jean, Nino doesn’t say much but you can tell by his actions that he has a sustained, strong will. He’s not just a cool guy though – Nino has this huge swell of emotions lurking inside him. You could say that Jean and Nino both possess coolness and strength, but in totally different ways. And because of these differing strengths, they are able to combine them to balance each other out.

Shimono: I do feel that they complement each other well. I don’t think either of them has completely grown up yet.

Tsuda: They’re pretty clumsy. The two of them can’t really get along well with other people (laughs)

Masculinity – it’s not something that is created; it’s something that is built up

Q: Now then, let us move into the main theme of this interview. Who and where in the series, did you feel were characters and scenes that displayed ‘smart masculinity’?

Shimono: The character who I feel is cooler in the anime than when I was reading the original manga is ACCA Inspection Division head Owl (CV: Ueda Yoji). He’s in many ways, a smart character. He pretends to show his poor managerial skills but is actually subtly displaying his concern for Lotta. I think it’s wonderful that he can show a girl much younger than him how smart, caring & mature he is, added to the fact that he’s actually able to take action. Especially in episode 9*, he was cool!

*avoiding posting spoilers, but it was a passionate discussion about what Owl did. Please look forward to his actions in the episode airing March 7 onwards!

Tsuda: Speaking of adults, how about the 5 Chiefs*. We’ve never actually seen them at work (laughs)

Shimono: Oh yeah! (laughs)

*Grossular (CV: Suwabe Junichi), Lilium (CV: Yusa Koji), Spade (CV: Okawa Toru), Pastis (CV: Midorikawa Hikaru), Payne (CV: Yasumoto Hiroki) voice the 5 Chiefs of ACCA

Tsuda: You only see them relaxing in the common room or café, holding elegant meetings (laughs). But in fact, they are a super elite group selected from each district and I believe they would’ve demonstrated great determination and shown distinction to climb to that level. I don’t actually feel that kind of effort coming from them at all but I’m sure that they’re all doing a great deal of work away from that meeting room. I can feel that coolness and smartness about them.

Q: They may be smart and cool, but as Chiefs they exude a unique aura.

Tsuda: Seeing such people fills you with resolve as well. As the Dowa Kingdom is made up of a group of districts each with their own ways of thinking, as well as different cultures and customs, you get the impression that it is a gathering of people with leadership qualities close to those of the president and prime minister.

Shimono: I feel like these 5 are the type of people who work while watching their people keenly.

Also, the King (Falke II, CV: Nakao Ryusei) is amazing, isn’t he? Most kings wouldn’t bother doing their rounds around town so casually. He keeps a watchful eye on his citizen’s lives, trying to live together with them without building any walls in between.

Tsuda: His aide Qualm (CV: Ishizuka Unsho) is also exceptional!

Shimono: Oh yeah, he’s really cool!

Tsuda: Yeap. Looking at the series as a whole, it’s filled with a never-ending lineup of cool people, isn’t it?

Shimono: Watching the anime, I feel like this sense of masculinity is not something you could create but rather, it’s something that you build up. I realized that it is possible to equip oneself with good character, goodwill and strength.

Tsuda: The adults who appear in the series may be elegant, cool and smart but I do think that the younger ones do possess such potential themselves. If they continue progressing as they are, they too will become cool adults.

Shimono: I think ACCA HQ deputy Pochard (CV: Goto Hiroki)’s a good guy too (laughs).

Tsuda: Ahahaha. Pochard is filled with Ono Natsume-sensei’s love after all. His name is cool!

Shimono: Oh yeah! His name is good (laughs). He may not be the smartest tool in the box, but his enthusiasm for his job is wonderful.

Tsuda: The leaders of each district of ACCA tend to be younger but still have a sense of responsibility, and I find them all quite eccentric yet interesting. Amongst them, I’m quite fond of ACCA’s Rokkusu branch supervisor Sandpiper. He’s a bit flashy but still a solid guy and it’d be great to have someone like that around (laughs)

Shimono: I don’t know if you’d call them smart, but I find myself drawn to the guys from the Hare district.

Tsuda: Each district has its own colour, which is why I think you can enjoy all of them in their own way.

A man should not say too much…?

Q: ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept is filled with charming characters, but what exactly do you think engenders the ‘coolness’ that these characters exude?

Tsuda: I feel all of them harbour secrets and are filled with their own gruelling thoughts. That’s why I think that you can look at this series as hardboiled [fiction] at its base. There’s this perception that hardboiled means ‘false swagger’; that there is a toughness that will never be displayed openly. I wonder if there is that kind of aesthetic to this show.

It may be that Ono-sensei was deliberately holding back on this in the manga, preferring to depict the situation with art and silhouettes as opposed to text. For example, scenes with Jean smoking or scenes where Grossular is just standing there – I feel like she was imagining a lot of things as she was drawing them. Combining art and dialogue; integrating other elements, results in something that’s stylish, does it not?

Shimono: I don’t say much, basically. Instead of intensifying one’s gaze and movements to express [oneself], I feel that it’s cooler to exude a mysterious aura that would make the other party look at you and think…well, I do believe that men shouldn’t say too much after all (laughs).

Tsuda: It’s because we talk too much (laughs).

Shimono: Yeah I just feel like talking all the time (laughs).

Tsuda: Both the manga and the anime have scenes that I would think of as being like a ‘game’. If you overlook these scenes, you might end up losing track of the flow of the storyline. Conversely, they don’t actually talk about much that is important but they do say a lot of superfluous things. When Jean and Nino go drinking, they talk about nothing at all.

Shimono: That’s right.

Tsuda: They never talk about the important stuff so to me, it’s a bit like a game, whether or not you can pick up on those things. I think that’s an aspect even the director had to hold back on.

Shimono: Especially in Jean’s case. When I got too animated with my expressions and tried to breathe in between, he’d say to me ‘can you not put [a breath] in there?’. My policy during recording was basically to refrain from breathing in & out, even as my line of sight moves or I notice things. In the manga and my scripts, there is dialogue written as ‘…..’ so I wouldn’t do anything for those parts.

Tsuda: But you really do want to breathe in.

Shimono: Maybe in that sense I’m showing ‘false swagger’ (laughs)

All: (laughter)

Shimono: We’re not being ‘smart’ now, are we? (laughs)

Nino and Jean – how much of that atmosphere are they creating themselves?

Q: The opening and ending visuals are cool.

Tsuda: In the opening animation Nino’s dad is actually reflected in his sunglasses but I honestly didn’t realize that when I first saw the footage during recordings. It could’ve gone in an easily comprehensible direction but there are parts that are just about barely hidden, through which you can feel the staff’s enthusiasm and fighting spirit.

Shimono: The ending visuals feature Lotta (CV: Yuki Aoi) dancing – who is she thinking about while she’s doing that?

Tsuda: True, we’d have no idea who!

Shimono: It doesn’t explain why she’s dancing either. It seems like she’s dancing with joy, yet there is a somewhat lonely look on her face and it’ll make you wonder ‘What the heck was that all about?’

Q: How do you actually express those ‘barely hidden’ parts?

Tsuda: Actually, the scene where the king is eating the snowball dessert* features dialogue that continues to echo in subsequent scenes. Nino’s ‘…your gracious words’ line too, has a deeper meaning to it, but I was told to say them casually. The restraint we had to show towards such aspects was what made them ‘barely hidden’ part. We’d do the recordings by trial and error, constantly communicating with the staff in the recording booths.

*From episode 7. When Jean visits the district of Dowa, there is a scene where he goes to buy a ‘snow ball’ as a souvenir for his sister Lotta and runs into the King at the shop, and they eat together.

Shimono: There are moments when you want to act something out in a straightforward manner. Especially scenes with Nino, where I am quite conscious about changing the way I express my lines in response to how Tsuda-san delivers his. Jean is someone who gets tangled up in things; a passive guy basically, so the influence of Tsuda-san’s Nino on him is strong.

Up ‘til now I have put a lot of myself into my work as an actor but this time, I strongly feel that I am the one who is being influenced. It’s like in baseball, when you’re going from being a pitcher to playing catcher. Pretty exciting, I think. Which direction is Tsuda-san going to come at me from? (laughs)

Tsuda: (laughs). For me, my dialogue partners are more or less limited to Jean, Lotta and Grossular so I was fairly conscious about ‘creating’ the atmosphere in the scenes between Jean and Nino. Their verbal exchanges did make me nervous, but I also had a lot of fun. It was like doing conversational dramas; they were interesting scenes to do.

I wish to be…a man who does not say much (lol)

Q: Lastly, what comes to mind when the both of you think of the ‘ideal male image’?

Shimono: I think I honestly wish to be…a man who does not say much at all (laughs)

Tsuda: You’re always talking though! (laughs)

All: (laugh)

Q: In your line of work, there are times when you have to show off – do you ever feel that there are things that you can’t do naturally?

Shimono: Loads (laughs). There are times when I just want to laugh at whatever it is I’m doing.

Tsuda: Yeah yeah. Sometimes you’re trying to put on airs but you end up bursting into laughter (laughs). But you know, as a man, there are times when you just have to act cool.

Shimono: By not talking too much, by being able to accept lots of things.

Tsuda: Isn’t that exactly who Jean is!

Shimono: Nah you’re praising him too much. Jean isn’t that tolerant, I think.

Tsuda: No way, he’s totally tolerant! Nino is a very suspicious guy yet Jean waits for him. Even as he’s waiting, they’ll still go for meals together. It’s a situation where he can choose to put the blame on Nino yet he waits; that makes me admire just how accepting he is. Jean’s amazing.

Q: So your definition of an ‘ideal man’ is someone who doesn’t say much and is accepting.

Shimono: If that was the case, then the King who can laugh and accept anything is amazing. Still, he knows when he needs to show authority, and he does.

Tsuda: The King of course, is who he is because he has his aide Qualm by his side.

Shimono: So that would also mean that there is no Jean without Nino?

Tsuda: Maybe so. Since Jean is a bit oblivious.

Shimono: That’s true. He really is very oblivious.

Tsuda: There may be things that they share in common, these two pairings of the King and his aide, and Jean and Nino.

#139 – 3gatsu no Lion: Okamoto Nobuhiko x Takahashi Michio

Here is a translation of an interview with Okamoto Nobuhiko, CV of Nikaido Harunobu and a shogi maniac himself. Some speculated that Okamoto might be cast as Kiriyama because of his love for the game and the manga series but alas, he ended up being cast as Nikaido instead! Veteran pro shogi player Takahashi Michio tags along for the interview.

Note: I have done my best with the shogi terminology as I know virtually nothing about the game. To be honest, I was totally useless at both chess and Chinese chess that I played when I was growing up, hah! was a great help on some of the common words, and the shogi-related wiki entries were good for explaining the strategies and notation. If you find any mistakes, please do point them out and I will rectify ASAP. Cheers!


I am 9-dan shogi player Takahashi Michio.

The manga 3gatsu no Lion is very popular in the shogi world as well. At long last, we have an anime adaptation.

This time, I get to hear plenty of stories from Okamoto Nobuhiko-san, who voices Nikaido Harunobu, the rival and good friend of protagonist Kiriyama Rei.

As a seiyuu, he would choose each of his words carefully and with much sincerity; when he spoke about his beloved shogi, his eyes shone like those of a boy. It impressed me.

Okamoto-san is a 3-dan ranked shogi amateur. He is also well-known as a seiyuu who is very strong at shogi.

During the second half of the interview, we had a very enjoyable and exciting time going deep into the topic of shogi, in a way that only Okamoto-san and I could relate.

Takahashi Michio (56 years)
He became a professional shogi player in 1980 and is currently 9-dan. His skills have brought him 5 overall titles and more, and he is also well-versed in anime culture. He cites K-ON! as a work that changed his life. Writing under the name ‘Takamicchi’, he runs the very popular blog Micchi the World.

[note: Shortly following the publication of this article, Takahashi deleted his blog after being flooded by negative comments following a post he made on the scandal regarding the Japan Shogi Association’s mishandling of cheating allegations against 9-dan Miura Hiroyuki, explaining his decision to abstain from attending and voting in the EGM held to determine the culpability of the Association board of directors]

3gatsu no Lion is a ‘gentle’ story

Q: Thank you for your time today.

Okamoto: Takahashi-san, it has been a while. During a live broadcast of shogi on Niconico video, Takahashi-san, when questioned ‘Which seiyuu would you like to have a chat with?’ by interviewer Fujita Aya (ladies 1-dan), answered ‘Accelerator, the one in Index that Okamoto-san voiced – Accelerator’. I went ‘ehhhhh’ in shock while watching that broadcast. That was already 2 years ago.

Takahashi: We haven’t had many chances to meet since. Thank you for today.

Q: Let’s start off by looking at the overall picture. How do you feel about the series, from working on recordings up until now?

Okamoto: The worldview created by Umino-san within her stories is very delicate, with its monologues written in words that will pierce your heart. I’d thought that it would be nice for me to be able to express them using my voice….but in retrospect, Nikaido has few such monologues (laughs).

But thanks to the reservedness and sensitivity of Kawanishi Kengo-kun (voice of Kiriyama Rei), you would often feel such an aura transmitted by Rei-kun. When I heard Kawanishi-kun’s voice in the 1st episode, I could somehow feel a sense of sorrow and pain. The overall atmosphere of the worldview combined with the voice of Kawanishi-kun, creates something that is akin to emptiness flowing. That is the image that this series has. What is interesting however, is that even though the air may feel empty, the heart will somehow become warmer by the end.

Q: Ah, that is true.

Okamoto: That is wonderful to me. I think it’s also the reason why 3gatsu no Lion is said to be ‘a gentle story’. Although it begins with emptiness and the thinking appears to be negative, there is common ground to be found at every turn. I thought it was very important to have a blissful depiction of the little things in our daily lives.

Q: That’s why the depiction of mealtimes stands out so much.

Okamoto: That’s right. The joy of everyone living harmoniously, the joy of watching someone sleeping, without saying a word, ‘times where nothing special happens; they are what leads to peace and happiness’ – I think this is what those scenes are trying to convey.

Having fun won’t necessarily bring happiness, something like that. What it is trying to tell you is that happiness can be found in daily life.

I like shogi, and I think it’s really important that people who do not know shogi are able to enjoy this show. If you’re thinking, ‘this series is (only) about shogi, isn’t it?’, I hope that you would please try out the original manga or anime.

Takahashi: I see. Now, let me ask you a few questions, including some related to shogi. How did you feel when your participation in 3gatsu no Lion, a series about your beloved game of shogi, was confirmed?

Okamoto: I was happy, and this is gonna sound clichéd, but accordingly, I also felt huge pressure. I would always think about the reasons why I passed the audition. To be honest, Nikaido is to me, a character that could have been done by just about anyone.

One major reason I can think of for my selection, is because ‘I like shogi’. As a seiyuu, my job is to act but there are of course, parts of playing a role that do not require ‘acting’. I do somewhat believe that this feeling of ‘being passionate about a certain subject’ which is at the root of an actor’s heart, will show through in the character. That is my guess regarding why I was chosen – because I love shogi.

As an example – accents and intonations will always stand out. People familiar with this know that they just come naturally. They aren’t things that actors consciously set out to express; instead, they are rooted in the actor and he or she won’t think about whether or not they should allow it to show. In my case, I think that it is what is required of me – to speak about shogi without being conscious of it.

Takahashi: Leaving that point to one side, I think it would be impossible to make an anime adaptation of 3gatsu no Lion without Okamoto-san.

Okamoto: Really! I appreciate hearing that from you?

To Nikaido, Rei-kun is an important presence

Takahashi: I was wondering what role you would play. Was there any specific character whom you wanted to voice?

Okamoto: No, there wasn’t any role in particular. People might say ‘Wouldn’t you want to be the hero though?’, but I don’t think it’s quite like that.

I really wanted to be in the show, but I did have this fear that I wasn’t able to be objective due to my love for the series. That’s why I said at the start, ‘It’s OK even if I just appear as a voice in the crowd’.

Takahashi: Just a voice in the crowd!?

Okamoto: I would’ve been satisfied with being able to observe recording sessions; I even said it’d be alright to voice something like ‘Male student A’. Thus, I was happy enough just to be called to go for auditions.

Takahashi: Once you were confirmed for the part of Nikaido Harunobu, how did you deepen your understanding of the character’s personality and his role in the story?

Okamoto: I had heard that the character was based on a real person (the genius shogi player Murayama Satoshi*), but I tried to put that to one side first while thinking about [Nikaido]. I started off with the question ‘what kind of personality does he have?’ and I came up with ‘he’s a super bright & positive character, isn’t he?’. I followed that up by considering ‘why is he so positive?’ and that’s where I got stuck.

*Murayama, who became a pro shogi player at the age of 17, died of bladder cancer at the tender age of 29. A movie based on Murayama’s life, titled Satoshi no Seishun & starring Matsuyama Kenichi, was released late 2016

Takahashi: You got stuck?

Okamoto: I had to think about why he has always been so positive. And the image I saw in my mind was that of Nikaido as a child, happily playing a game of shogi. It’s not that Nikaido is a naturally positive person; it’s more that he is ‘trying to be positive’ – that’s my opinion anyway. And as for why he is trying to be positive, it is because he ‘has a rival (ie Kiriyama Rei)’.

So I’m thinking that Kiriyama is an important existence for Nikaido. The strong words he uses on Rei-kun are also words that have a strong effect on Nikaido himself and that helps him to grow – he’s a masculine, hot-blooded character who ‘inspires’ others. He dares to say strong words that wouldn’t normally be said in given situations out of fear, and that makes me think – ‘what a cool character he is’.

Q: So that is what you, Okamoto-san, see as the appeal of the character Nikaido, right?

Okamoto: That’s right. Nikaido says things that people wouldn’t normally say and with great aplomb – that’s what makes him charming.

Despite knowing that their opponents are strong, he said to Rei-kun “Let’s go all the way to the finals” – is he stupid? Or did he say it out of bitterness? I could only think of these two options. But he isn’t dumb. That’s why he dared to say that, I think. And that is why he’s able to show that he will do things that normal people wouldn’t do – what a great guy he is.

Q: In the series, he repeatedly talks about having courage.

Okamoto: The courage he has is not the reckless type but rather, it is a courageous spirit that forms the foundation of who Nikaido is, and is visible because of his diligent approach towards playing shogi. That’s the belief I hold as I am acting [out the role].

Q: Listening to [Nikaido’s] voice gives the impression that he’s quite highly-strung.

Okamoto: Oh, I do that on purpose (laughs). He already has a bright personality but I took the decision to raise his tension levels in order to make him seem inspiring. Regardless, the reason he appears so bright is because he is indeed inspiring. To the cool and strong Rei-kun, he’ll overwhelm him by saying things like ‘Ya gotta get to where I am! Let’s get high together! Let’s talk the same way!’. I really like the relationship between these 2, precisely because they’re polar opposites.

Takahashi: That’s good.

Okamoto: They’re a bit like yin and yang.

Takahashi: That is how I felt as well, reading the manga and watching the anime. I saw Nikaido as being from the ‘light’ side.

Okamoto: That’s right. When someone starts getting negative, it is tough to say the words ‘don’t worry about it!’ and perhaps, it is only something that can be pulled off if you have a certain amount of fighting spirit. In 3gatsu no Lion, the only person who could do that would be Nikaido, wouldn’t it?

Takahashi: That is so true.

Q: Throughout all that, I still get the impression that Nikaido is the kind of person who does things at his own pace. Acting as Nikaido, do you find yourself empathizing with him in any way?

Okamoto: I think I’m similar to him in the way he tries not to think about anything negative. I also auditioned for the role of Rei, but it was clear that what I lacked was ‘darkness’.

Q: I see.

Okamoto: For manga and anime I really like ‘dark’ attributes as well..maybe I’m asking for too much sometimes though. Still, I wouldn’t exactly say that I belong to the ‘light’ side (laughs). I think that it’s natural for humans to yearn for what they don’t have. Just like when I heard Kawanishi-kun’s voice and thought, ‘Ah, there’s that darkness to it~’.

Due to my personality, I find it hard to be gloomy. That’s why I think I’m similar to Nikaido in terms of things like his cheerfulness and positivity.

There’s an ‘Okamoto System’?

Okamoto: Speaking of similarities to Nikaido – when I was a child, I wanted a [shogi] move set named after me too (laughs)

Takahashi: Really?

Okamoto: It’s true.

Takahashi: The Okamoto Special or something?

Okamoto: Yeah yeah. I’d play a ‘Bishop in the Hole* strategy etc. with my friends. When you’re young you’ll try reckless tactics (laughs). There’s another strategy called ‘Climbing Silver’** which I developed further, utilizing the gold general and king pieces – this was when I was in third grade (laughs). When I won the match I just felt, ‘wow, this is the best!’

*Bishop in the hole (穴角, anakaku) – a strategy where the bishop is only allowed to move freely in directions diagonal to your own team’s corners. Because the movement of the bishop is restricted, you limit your own usage of the corners – this strategy is mostly used for training.

**Climbing silver (棒銀, bōgin) – involves advancing a silver upward along with an advanced or dropped pawn supported by the rook aiming to break through the opponent’s camp on their bishop’s side.

Takahashi: Children would do silly things like that, wouldn’t they (laughs)

Okamoto: Yeah you’d do things like that when you’re a kid. It was fun, but I gave up using such strategies in the end ‘cos I couldn’t win with them. It was fun trying them out with friends though.

When I see Nikaido and Rei-kun having so much fun discussing shogi, it reminds me of my childhood.

Takahashi: I know this from having played a match against you, but Okamoto-san – you already have one, don’t you? A strategy with your name on it.

Okamoto: Are you sure?

Takahashi: Yes. It’s the Okamoto System.

Okamoto: No no. I’m pretty bad at the middle game and tend to rush, trying to bring it to the endgame as soon as I can. ‘Cos it’s easier to set up a plan that way.

Okamoto-san is a reliable presence in the recording studio

Q: Since you are knowledgeable about shogi, do your co-stars ask you about shogi during recordings?

Okamoto: People had already asked a lot about it at the audition stage. In shogi, the notation looks something like 1-1 King (1一玉, ichiichigyoku), representing where you move the pieces. There are various methods of expressing the numbers and pieces as well as different ways to pronounce the words.

Even when I’m watching broadcasts or streams of matches, it can be tough to make out the words because of the accents; they could be flat* or they could start with a high-pitch*. Do you say ‘gyoku’ with a flat accent, or start it off with a high pitch? And so on. I was worried about that. But in 3gatsu no Lion, we chose to go with the latter.

*heiban (平板) – flat, accentless
**tōkō (頭高) – accent is on the first mora, with the pitch starting high before dropping on the second mora & then levelling out [refer to Japanese pitch accents]

Takahashi: Hmmmmm I see. You were so careful, down to the finest details. On the other hand, shogi players don’t talk in any specific way. I speak very ordinarily.

Okamoto: It’s a mish-mash. When you’re speaking, it’s fine as long as the meaning gets through but the same can’t be said of a voice actor. I think it’s tough for any actor who is coming into contact with shogi for the first time. Why do they keep talking about eggs*? I think people have the hardest time with the word for King. The instinct is to read it with a flat accent after all.

*玉 can be read tama (ball etc) or gyoku (jade, egg etc), both with multiple meanings depending on usage & context. In this case, the 玉 is read gyoku and signifies the King piece of the lower ranked player

Q: It is difficult to tell by sound alone.

Okamoto: Yeah. That’s why we laid down the rules for 3gatsu no Lion.

Q: Line recital comes down to such fine details?

Okamoto: That’s right. I was asked several other questions. What I was asked by Okawa Toru-san, who voices Koda Masachika, was regarding Soya Toji (cv: Ishida Akira)’s line to Shimada Kai (cv: Miki Shinichiro): ‘You trust me too much’*. He asked me ‘What does this mean?’. It was difficult to answer that. I had an answer in my mind, but it was hard for me express it…

*a line from a scene of a match between A-rank 8-dan Shimada Kai and Meijin Soya Toji, where despite having a great move on hand, Shimada overestimated Soya’s ability and played a bad move instead [episode 20]

Takahashi: The unique language of shogi shows up sometimes, especially in situations like that. I always wonder if the other actors would understand such things.

Okamoto: If they ever asked me, I would answer them. Still, everyone seems to be finding it difficult.

Takahashi: They would, wouldn’t they?

Okamoto: There were a lot of difficult parts, but I think the hardest of them would be trying to deal with a subject matter that one isn’t familiar with.

Takahashi: After all, ordinary people wouldn’t be able to easily grasp the language that shogi players use on a daily basis.

Okamoto: That’s right. It’s kind of a sensory problem. Not just a matter of speech, and that is what makes it difficult.

Kawanishi vs Okamoto match-up!

Q: For the recordings up until now, you have mostly been involved in scenes with Kawanishi-san. Please tell us about any episodes from the studio that left an impression upon you.

Okamoto: What made me really happy was when Kawanishi-kun said to me ‘Let’s play animal shogi’*. Kawanishi-kun was someone who hadn’t ever really played shogi, so I’d thought that it would’ve been a little bit tough to jump straight into a proper match.

*simplified version of shogi, played as an introduction to the game. Volume 9 of the manga comes with an ‘Odekake Nya Shogi’ animal shogi supplement.

In the recording studio, shogi and animal shogi boards were provided and at first, I played around with tsumeshogi (checkmate) problems. I really enjoyed the fact that there was something both for myself and for the beginners as well.

At one point, Kawanishi-kun asked me to ‘play for a bit’ and I was really happy, thinking ‘This is my chance!’. Kawanishi-kun is quite the sore loser as well (laughs). He was particularly interested in getting a taste of the game by the time Rei-kun was facing off against Shimada. In the match between Rei-kun and Shimada, there’s a scene* with the line ‘it feels like the water is flooding in’. I think it’s a feeling similar to what you’d feel when playing animal shogi.

*a scene from episode 14 of the anime. The expression ‘feels like the water is flooding in’ was used by Rei to represent his feelings when tackling the A-ranked Shimada’s outlook head on.

Grinning deliberately, I tried hard to make it seem like I didn’t know what I was thinking, but while I was playing the match I had ‘I wish I could make him hate me’ or ‘I wish I could make him suffer’ going through my mind.

Different actors feel things in different ways so I wanted him to have a taste of that sense of being unable to know what move one should make. I think it was good to have been able to do that.

What I also feel when I’m playing with Takahashi-san or other pros is this – the sensation of not knowing what to do, right from the moment the pieces hit the board. When you’re facing a person who has amateur-level skills you’re able to gradually play your own game but when your opponent is a pro, you just can’t compete. You’re in awe, and you can’t make sense of it all. But as an actor, it’s important to appreciate such feelings.

Q: Up until now, were there any scenes that you found memorable or anyt that have left a deep impression on you?

Okamoto: This hasn’t appeared in the anime yet, but I like the scene that was in the manga where Shimada sleeps on the bullet train after his match with Soya. I think you normally wouldn’t be able to sleep like that right after a match that went all the way. Even an amateur like me often has trouble sleeping, thinking about the game while filled with regrets.

The moment I thought, ‘This guy is returning home thoroughly exhausted, as if he is completely empty’, it made me tear up. Shimada’s words showed that he was ‘alive’. Words that are said because it’s so tough, because you feel like you’re dying – I felt there was a real sense of rawness to it all.

Perhaps I feel more empathy since I voice Nikaido, who greatly admires Shimada as a brotherly figure, but the scene left a remarkable impression on my mind.

Takahashi: I like the scene where Nikaido, acting as a commentator on TV, turns to the camera and screams ‘Kiriyama!’ at it. Such passionate shouting, which made me wonder whether Nikaido’s physical condition would get worse from behaving like that.

Okamoto: I think Nikaido showed how cool he was right there. That shout – it was the product of his sense of responsibility that spurred him on to say such words, or I should say, the burden he shouldered. It was a scream that I wouldn’t mind getting sick for – that was what I was thinking when I was acting the part out. I do believe that Nikaido would be screaming with that much zeal anyhow.

Takahashi: There aren’t any actual shogi players who would concern themselves with others so much. Basically, everyone else around you is an enemy. That’s why I always think how amazing it is to see anyone striving to help others out. How do you act out such scenes?

Okamoto: First of all, it came from the feeling of ‘wanting to inspire’ – to Rei-kun, Nikaido is an ‘irreplaceable existence’. Because of Rei-kun, Nikaido can grow. I believe it is because of the relationship between them. And this is why a strong phrase like fatherly friend* is used.

*the phrase here is 親心友, split into two parts: 親心 (oyagokoro) which means parental love and 友 (tomo) meaning friend.

Q: You shout that much and though it may only be in a couple of scenes, you probably burned a lot of calories doing that.

Okamoto: That’s right. It seemed like I’d lose weight (laughs). That scene certainly made me feel like blood was rushing to my head, or that I was going to have a nosebleed.

Q: How do you prepare yourself mentally for such a scene?

Okamoto: I do have ways of preparing myself mentally for recordings. For example, whatever you do normally during the tests, don’t try to reproduce it during the actual recording.

Attempting to replicate a voice you’ve produced in the past – that’s not acting. While being conscious of what you did the first time around; consider ‘Why is Nikaido shouting?’, reaffirm that, and scream once more.

Q: So you’re not redoing it or brushing it up, but remaking it?

Okamoto: That’s right. It’s about reaffirmation. I’ll reconfirm the character’s feelings first. If you try to reproduce what you did before, the voice might become too refined or get too polluted, which might cause a feeling of unease.

If you start to think, ‘I did part A ‘desperately’ so I’ll do the next segment in the same way’, then that is wrong. It’s different in form and quality, isn’t it – acting ‘desperately’ and acting with the desire to convey a message to Rei-kun, to give him a nudge in the back – the words may not reach him, but I’m shouting in hopes that the message will be delivered anyhow.

The result is that it does end up sounding like desperate words, but if you’re just shouting aimlessly from the start, the purpose is obscured. Lines that are said without purpose are as good as dead.

Does Soya resemble Habu-san?

Takahashi: Is there anything you’re hoping to see in terms of future developments for 3gatsu no Lion?

Okamoto: There’s an anime as well as a live-action movie, but I do have the hope that the series will expand more and more. I would like people who have never played shogi before to be inspired to try it out. Right now, there are still many people, even shogi fans, who are not aware of this series. I want all of these people to know that ‘there is such an interesting work out there’. If you play shogi, you will find this series even more interesting and enjoyable.

As a seiyuu I hope that there is something that I can do, perhaps a collaboration project between the shogi world and 3gatsu no Lion.

Takahashi: One thing – can I dig a little bit of info on future events of the manga? Who’s the one who beats Soya Toji – is it Kiriyama? Or Nikaido? Or so on.

Okamoto: Ah, Nikaido would be a bit~…

Takahashi: Surprising, I guess?

Okamoto: Would it happen? This is my own opinion, but I have this image of Soya as resembling the incredibly strong, 7-title holder Habu Yoshiharu-san*. I’d say that it’s likely that Soya will run away with all the titles.

*Habu Yoshiharu is the first person to hold all 7 major shogi titles at the same time. He’s a living legend who also holds 7 lifetime titles [titles you qualify for after winning the same tournament a certain number of times. Habu holds Lifetime Meijin, Lifetime Kisei, Lifetime Oi, Lifetime Oza, Lifetime Kioh & Lifetime Osho titles]

There is a reason why Soya is so strong; I feel like he is slicing through his soul as he is fighting. It’s as if he is engaging in mortal combat, prepared to die if he wins….that is the kind of image I have.

Takahashi: That would mean he gets to keep his seven crowns.

Okamoto: That’s right. When that happened (Habu completing the 7 crowns) I think I was still either in elementary or junior high, and I was surprised that there was someone like that in this world.

I myself would like to ask Takahashi-san – how do you view Habu-san’s image?

Takahashi: When he was young he would glare [at others].

Okamoto: Oh yeah he did. His eyes would move around, glaringly.

Takahashi: Yeah yeah. We called it the ‘Habu Stare’ but it wasn’t as if he was intending to glare at his opponent. It was just that his eyes have a sharp look to them, or so they say.

Okamoto: He’s probably looking at a bunch of things, like the allotted time, simultaneously.

Takahashi: I think Habu is similar to Soya Toji in the way that they are both disappointed when their opponent makes a mistake. Normally you’d be pleased if the other guy made a mistake wouldn’t you?

Okamoto: He’s in a different dimension, isn’t he?

Takahashi: Oh yeah he is.

Okamoto: A dimension where there’s no winning or losing, isn’t it?

Takahashi: That’s right. I thought that that part was well portrayed in Soya.

Okamoto: I see. Habu’s matches feel otherworldly, as if they’re born at a moment in time or like a scene chosen by the gods.

Takahashi: On the other hand, it’s a bit painful for other players. What I mean by ‘painful’ is that I can give all I have, yet I will never reach a certain point. And you watch other people go on to reach that point. It’s a really painful position to be in…

Soya is as dramatic as Habu-san is and what’s more, he is a cruel character. Especially in the early days, you would say that he’s a demon, a demon.

Soya is a demon. He’s too strong. A genuine demon would never show his true face, wouldn’t he?

Talking about the match against Takahashi-san!

Takahashi: Moving onto something else – we did that Niconico live broadcast together before; after that ended, what was the response like to you having gone all out in a match with 9-dan Takahashi?

Okamoto: I’m still regretting it even now. I think I should have charged in with the Horse after promoting my bishop. I’m still thinking that I should’ve done that.

Q: How did it come about – the two of you facing each other?

Takahashi: During the programme, I faced off against the Kawanishi/Okamoto combo with a tremendous 8-piece handicap (where the rook, bishop, 2 lances, 2 knights, 2 silvers & 2 golds are omitted). However, I still won. It was a great opportunity and since I didn’t have many chances to meet Okamoto-san, I approached him after the end of the programme and asked ‘If it’s okay, would you like to play a match?’.

Okamoto: That’s right. I was grateful.

Takahashi: (As it wasn’t being broadcast) we weren’t pressed for time so we could play in a relaxed manner, and I was able to see Okamoto-san’s shogi style.

Okamoto: I belong to the Ranging Rook* faction. Especially the Central Rook*.

*Ranging Rook is a type of shogi opening – a sequence of initial moves of a shogi game – where the rook moves to the centre or left of the board to support an attack there. Central Rook is a variation on the strategy, where the rook is positioned on the fifth central tile.

Takahashi: I’m not referring to shogi here, but in the world of Go there is a phrase called ‘shudan’ [手談, literally: hand talk] which describes how, instead of exchanging words, two people should implicitly ‘talk’ by taking the other person on through the game of Go.

Playing that match, I was able to understand a bit of Okamoto-san’s personality.

Okamoto: Did you!

Takahashi: Yes I did. I thought that you were a person who who firmly ‘owns his world’.

Okamoto: Thank you so much!

Takahashi: Your shogi style is ‘offense’ and your specialty is Ranging Rook – a firmly established ‘Okamoto system’, is what I thought.

Okamoto: Bear in the Hole* uses that kind of offensive tactic, isn’t it? The reason I didn’t go with a ▲9-1 Bishop Promote (▲9-ichikakunari) move then was because I hesitated. In retrospect, I think I could’ve made a game of it yet if only I’d made that move.

*Bear in the hole (Anaguma, 穴熊) is a tactic used to defend and is known for its solid resistance.

Takahashi: You’re right. But who knows what would’ve happened if you went with that. At the very least it would balance things out, or it might’ve been a good chance to play a Static Rook there.

As it is, Okamoto-san is of the Ranging Rook faction but Nikaido is the opposite, firmly in the Static Rook camp.

Okamoto: That’s right.

Takakashi: You can feel a ‘Destroy the Ranging Rook! Static Rook is the way to go!’ kind of vibe coming from Nikaido – how do you voice him in such a context?

Okamoto: When I was an elementary school student I used to think the same way as Nikaido. The reason I came to like Central Rook was because there were many others around me who swore by Static Rook. I guess I just wanted to be in the minority.

Perhaps Nikaido might think that it’s unmanly to do so.

Takahashi: By that, you mean playing Ranging Rook?

Okamoto: Yeah. To me, masculinity means setting up your rook properly and going on from there, fighting the game with dignity. ‘Ranging Rook’ is rather tricky, isn’t it?

Takahashi: Nikaido has completely disavowed the Okamoto system hasn’t he?

Okamoto: Yeah he has.

Takahashi: Ah, even though you’re giving your best to breathing life into this character, Okamoto-san has to recite lines that contradict your own style…

Okamoto: I’d like for Nikaido to consider that. How manly it is to take the Rook up the middle! I’d really like to tell him that in person (laughs)

Takahashi: I’d definitely love to see a matchup between Nikaido and Okamoto-san.

Okamoto: I’d probably get beat up real bad but still, I’d love to have a shot at it. Obviously I’d go flying in with Central Rook!

From his shogi style, what of Okamoto-san’s personality can be seen?

Q: Okamoto-san, at this point, is there anything you’d like to ask Takahashi-san?

Okamoto: Thank you very much. I wanted to ask something about AI players but let’s leave that aside for a bit…I’d like to ask this – when you play a move at any one point, how far ahead (in terms of the development of the match) can you see?

Takahashi: It’s a case-by-case thing; for example, when I played Okamoto-san there was a flow to the overall play right from the beginning, as opposed to picturing the situation move-by-move.

Okamoto: Yeah. Pro players have this amazing ability to plan ahead.

Takahashi: I had a bit of spare time and though I hadn’t thought about it that much, I knew I had been sort of manipulating the game to flow in that direction, so as I was playing I was thinking, ‘If it goes like this I’ll play it like that’. ‘And if I do that, I can win’.

Okamoto: I see.

Takahashi: It’s an instinctive thing. It takes time for you to be able to read moves. I said this to Kawanishi-san as well – ‘it is important to visualize (in shogi)’. From those images you can see the flow, and you won’t be able to stop halfway through.

With other pro players, your opponent often thinks ahead of you so it doesn’t always work out so well.

Okamoto: That power to visualize is what stumps me the most. Most of the time, when things go well it is because your opponent messed up somewhere. You may be thinking, ‘I’d hate it if he were to make that move’ and when he comes up with something different, you’d be thinking ‘Er? You sure you want to make that move?’ and so on.

If my opponent is loose with his play, makes a weak move, or when it’s my turn, I’d be able to foresee what I should do. But how would I be able to do that when the match is proceeding evenly with nothing out of the ordinary happening?

Takahashi: It might be better for you to keep playing against players of a higher level than yourself.

Okamoto: I hope you’d be able to teach in such a way. Another thing I’m concerned about is the middle game in a shogi match. Even if I manage to ride the middle stage out, I would often be in a bad position without having noticed it and I’d spend most of the endgame trying to dig myself out – a lot of my matches have gone that way.

Because of that, I’ve been trying to develop a system that skips the middle game. The middle game is really tough, isn’t it? I have absolutely no idea how to strengthen my middle game play.

Takahashi: On the other hand, I think the fact that you’re actually aware of its difficulty makes you a level higher than most others.

Okamoto: No way~!

Takahashi: Most people say the toughest part of shogi is when you’re approaching checkmate but in truth, it is the run up to that point that is really difficult.

Okamoto: Right now, I think you can find the solutions easily during the endgame stage. Even when you’re watching pro shogi players, you can observe that there are a lot of pieces being taken during the endgame, but that rarely ever happens during the middle game. I do think they’re very different. It’s only much later on that you manage to connect the dots from earlier and realize ‘I could’ve done that instead’.

Takahashi: On the contrary, it is because Okamoto-san is strong that you can say something like that. I think there’s no problem with that at all.

Okamoto: No~ no no! Also, with regards to attack and defence – when you want to be on the offensive you simply go ahead and attack. How do you adopt a defensive stance?

Takahashi: That would depend on the inherent nature of the individual.

Okamoto: Ah, that’s right.

Takahashi: People who want to attack essentially aren’t good at defending. Or there is a part of them that is scared of having to defend.

Okamoto: That’s true. When you become passive, gaps in your play are formed. At that moment, you’d think that the one playing offense would win after all.

Takahashi: On the other hand there’s Kawanishi-san, who’s just learned to play shogi and is at a stage where he has yet to attach himself to any faction. He wants to play from a defensive stance – I could feel that coming from him.

Okamoto: Ah~, I see. You even noticed that! That’s amazing.

Takahashi: If the two of you could compete against each other equally, with Okamoto-san’s aggression and Kawanishi-san’s defensives, I think you could be good rivals.

Q: I suppose one’s personality does show after all?

Takahashi: Yeah that does happen.

Okamoto: Takahashi-san’s defence was too strong and he showed no gaps at all. It’s natural that there would be a huge difference between our playing levels but I was still taken aback by just how easy it was to destroy my defence. Anyhow, there was nothing at all I could do by the middle game.

Takahashi: At the time I’d already acknowledged Okamoto-san’s playing ability and had decided to play a shogi match where ‘I couldn’t possibly lose’.

Okamoto: Ah~! That’s right. You left absolutely no gaps.

Q: That’s a little bit childish, isn’t it? (laughs)

Takahashi: Nah. It’s because I know he’s good. I would’ve been attacked to a certain extent otherwise and may have had to make some adjustments. By the way I can relate to Nikaido a bit. We’re both part of the Static Rook faction after all.

Okamoto: I see. So Takahashi-san, do you too, think ‘Heresy!’ when you see an opponent playing Ranging Rook?

Takahashi: No, not to that extent. When I think about the kind of shogi I want to play, I tend to empathize with Nikaido more than with Kiriyama. That’s probably because Kiriyama is the genius type. He does work very hard but basically, he is the kind of shogi player who is naturally talented.

Nikaido is on the other hand, the type who has to put in the effort. That’s why I feel closer to him in that respect.

Q: We could go on about shogi all day long but it’s about time to wrap it up. Okamoto-san, what’s the secret to increasing one’s enjoyment of 3gatsu no Lion?

Okamoto: I think the best thing would be to try playing shogi. As Takahashi-san mentioned; when he played against me he could see my true nature. Even as an amateur, you can partially see [your opponent’s] feelings in each move they make.

In 3gatsu no Lion, some of the flow of the games are reproduced as is from actual pro matches – if you are able to feel the flow of the emotions then you will be able to understand the reasoning behind the selection of that particular set of moves. There are definitely reasons why they were chosen for that specific match. I think that knowing that too, is really fun in itself.

Anyhow, please try playing a bit of shogi. The more you learn about shogi and the world of its players, the more you will enjoy this series.

It is like a monologue that you are able to see. So first of all, I would be happy if you could start to play shogi.

Takahashi: Personally, I would truly be happy as well if that happened. Thank you very much.

Q: Thank you.

Season 2 announcement already! Yay!