Category Archives: Throwback

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.

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!