One of Japan's most proliferic voice actress, Yui Horie was in attendance with her fellow voice actress Eri Kitamura at Anime Expo 2010. Apart from their individual panels and autograph sessions, a press conference was held behind closed doors for them and we have provided a transcription of the event.
There was a big crowd obviously during the autograph session, and you guys went 15 minutes past your scheduled time, which was very generous of you. What prompted you to do so?
Kitamura: We just wanted to sign as many people’s autographs as possible. When we heard there was a long line, it was a lot bigger than we expected. We just wanted to have as many happy fans as possible. As far as the number 15 - that was all the staff’s decision, I don’t know where that number came from.
Horie: Under ideal conditions I wish I could have talked to each fan and, you know, have a little conversation with them, but unfortunately time and space didn’t permit that. Next time I hope I can do that.
This question is for Kitamura-san. Your first role was Saya Otonashi in the TV series version of Blood+. Could you tell me your experience in doing first time recordings, your feelings, and how you overcome your difficulties, if there were any?
Kitamura: Well, first of all, it was actually my third role, but it was my first major published role. I definitely learned a lot. There’s all these little terminologies, so I had the experience of learning how the system and how it works. I had a lot of great senpai who taught me how to do things, like Konishi-san. One of the difficulties I did have was trying to face these characters, because Blood is kind of a surreal fiction that deals with vampires - kind of sci-fi - so I was trying to bring out that emotion and convey it. I’ve never had any experience fighting anything, so that was probably one of the cool parts.
You’ve probably heard that anime is pretty big even in America, but actually coming here and experiencing it firsthand must have been a real big shock. After seeing the fans' reactions, are there any major goals you want to do with your career like, have more concerts, play a certain role, or anything like that?
Kitamura: The amount of energy here overseas is amazing; I was blown away. It gives you the feeling that no matter what you do or how tough something is, you can still win. Well, obviously I want to have as many roles as possible and keep my job going, but coming here today made me understand that there are so many fans who can understand things like singing character songs from Toradora!. I want to work with big actors and actresses on the scene too.
Horie: Well, first of all, I was surprised and filled with joy that anime is so well-received here in America, and the reaction from all the fans is just amazing...overwhelming even. And I was actually kind of worried that when anime came to America that the voices would get changed somehow, but surprisingly that wasn’t the case. So it reaffirmed my decision that I need to be in as many projects as possible just so I have a bigger chance for fans here in America to be able to hear my voice.
Do your experiences today make you want to have a concert here in America or come back at all?
Kitamura: Well I mean, I’m sure as you understand, there’s a lot of politics that go on in the higher-ups, so there aren’t any solid plans as of yet. But if the chance arises, I’d definitely love to do that. One of the interesting things for me is when people react to certain things...it’s not the same timing I’m used to in Japan – like when people cheer for you, and so if it’ll still be well-received here, I’d love to do it.
Toradora! basically depicts average high school life in Japan. Most of Kitamura and Horie’s roles portray teenagers in high school as well. Many attendees at AX are fairly young and around the age of a high school student too, and they wonder if high school is like what they see in anime with the funny incidences, joining clubs, and their first loves. How were your own high school lives like compared to those in anime?
Kitamura: For me, there were times when all the girls would get together and be lively, but for the most part I was kind of operating alone, writing manga in my notebook sometimes. But as far as the way anime depicts high school life, I think a lot of our experiences affect the way we act and we draw from our experiences when we act our roles. In that sense, it’s not too mis-depicted, I guess.
Horie: I’m sure one scene you’re familiar with is when you see a boy and a girl walk home from school together. Actually, for me personally, that didn’t really happen that much. Sometimes I try to relive that through anime and through my characters, and I can actually kind of experience it, which is really nice.
Was there something in your Toradora! roles that you felt particularly connected to, which led to such a convincing portrayal?
Kitamura: Well I wouldn’t say that every time we act a certain role we’ve experienced that particular kind of emotion. A lot of times, we have to act scenes for things that we haven’t experienced firsthand. I’m always observing people to try to learn how they experience different emotions. Even though I do a lot of work in 2D, of course I watch a lot of movies as well. And I’m always learning and reflect what I learn from them, as well as things from my personal experience.
Horie: Well the first thing I usually try to do is try to put myself in a character’s situation. I ask myself, "If I were in that situation, how would I act? What would I do?" With anime, it’s helpful because the animation is set in place, and we record the voices afterwards, so I try to absorb as much information as I can from the anime, and then juxtapose it with my own experiences as well as how I think a scene should be acted. Then I usually come up with something in the middle.
As a quick follow-up, how exactly do you mentally prepare yourself to fit into the characters?
Kitamura AND Horie: Well, a lot of minor changes occur on the spot, so we receive direction from the director. Usually when we look at the script we try not to imagine how a scene is supposed to play out until we see it, because we don’t want to train ourselves and then change it later on. It takes a lot of practice, a lot of experience, and trying to be able to be flexible when a director tells you to do something.
While making Toradora!, were there any particularly hard scenes, and if there were, did you have to talk to the original author of the story, Takemiya Yuyuko, for direction?
Kitamura: It’s actually really rare that we talk in person with the original author. There’s a lot of steps in between. There’s the director, sound director...lots of positions. So it’s a long bridge between the original author and us. But for the auditions, the author was generally present. There were times when we had meetings beforehand, and of course it depends on her schedule, but she did try to attend and put her two cents in at some point. Generally, the results of the meeting goes to the sound directors and then gets passed down to us and that determines how we act.
One thing that new anime fans have a problem with, especially Americans, is the tendency to use sounds instead of words, such as “uguu.” So in your acting, how do you take a sound that doesn’t mean anything and turn it into an emotion or a feeling?
Horie: Uhhh. Now that you mention it, I kind of vaguely remember raising my eyebrow about that too. First of all, I try to familiarize myself with the settings and background of the character. After that, once I have a context of a scene and visualize it in my mind, actually saying a meaningless word like “uguu” isn’t really as different as you might think. Once I have my imagination in place, even if I say “uguu”, my emotions can be conveyed. Let's try it together!
Horie-san, since you got to work as Ayu in Kanon twice, four years apart, with Toei and later KyoAni, how did the experience relate to each other? As the series grew in popularity, did it become more stressful, or was it easier since you had previously worked with the character, or did certain things get resolved, like any regrets you might have had when you worked with the series originally?
Horie: Like you said, there was a long period in between, but surprisingly, when you pull a character out of the closet that you haven’t acted in a while, it’s like riding a bike. So when you start getting in the groove, it just comes back to you and you can fit the role. In the case of Kanon, there was some evolution in the direction itself, so I acted it slightly differently this time around.
(To Kitamura) In Angel Beats, what do you think of fan reaction to your role, Yui, in that show?
Kitamura: First of all I was like, "YES!" This was a big brand, and there was a lot of big names in this series, too. I was thinking to myself that this was a big opportunity and I wanted to avail myself of this opportunity.
What do you think of the concept behind Angel Beats: that when you fulfill your dream, you’re able to move on to the next life?
Kitamura: From a fan’s perspective, I thought it was a very interesting mechanism in that universe. Actually acting it, it’s a different way of conveying a feeling of accomplishment, of achieving a goal. It’s a unique and different way of telling the story.
Did you ever have a chance to work with Jun Maeda of Key while working on the show?
Kitamura: Unfortunately, I didn’t really have discussions with him, but Maeda-san is an amazing scenario writer, and he is able to convey different ideas very well through the story rather than just words. The way he presents an idea–I got to read the scenario, so it helps a lot–when he presents an idea, it’s really best told through the story. I don’t have the chance to say hi to him or talk to him in person, though. In addition to the scripts for the anime, he also does the drama CD scripts too. The way he tells those is almost doujin in a way, but it’s from the official source, but he’s able to pull on the fans’ heartstrings in that regard.
This question is for Horie-san. Can you describe your experiences in the seiyuu pop group Aice5 and whether there are any plans for a reunion?
Horie: I think reviving Aice now would be really difficult. But just watching units like AKB48 working together is really fun. I really hope that we can do something like that in the future.
It’s listed that Eri Kitamura does illustration as a hobby. Has she ever considered going pro?
Kitamura: I think just going professional right away is really hard. I think it’s really great to convey a story that’s in your own mind and have a whole bunch of people experience what you’re thinking. If there’s a way to go pro, then, I’ll be willing to draw something.
Kitamura has a reputation of being an “ota-nii” among fans in Japan. What do you think about the otaku in Japan?
Kitamura: Of course, I see some things from a fan’s perspective, like when I first saw Horie-san. It’s really beneficial to know how otaku think, because when I act, maybe there’s a little intricacy or nuance that I can act in a certain way that may be more well-received and understood by them.
The anime industry has seen lots of changes in the past 10 years or so. I was wondering if you could comment on the changes in the industry, especially with the rise of the moe subculture, how it has and will affect you?
Kitamura: I think it’s become a lot more enjoyable, with the transition to CG from cel shading it really changes and gives animation more depth. Back then, people had to work really hard, but now, with new tools that are available, you can express new emotions, so that’s one aspect that’s affected us.
Horie: Like you said, there have been a lot of changes over the years, but I think that’s the result of people searching for something new because you don’t want to tell a story that’s already been told. An interesting product will always be interesting because it’s a result of trying to pursue human emotion in the search for something new, so of course there are going to be waves of popularity in a particular era, but it’s always the result of trying something new.
If you do karaoke, do you ever sing your own songs?
Horie: Sometimes I go to a karaoke box by myself, and I won’t necessarily sing it, but I will play “Yahho” in the background while I think about the choices.
Kitamura: I go to karaoke by myself or in groups, but when I go, I like singing songs from people I’ve worked with in the past–like Hocchan’s over here. But if I’m there for long periods of time and I run out of songs to sing, I start singing character songs and add my own twist to things.
A lot of people only associate voice actresses with the anime industry. But it also involves Hollywood dubs. Have any of you worked in dubs for Hollywood movies?
Kitamura: I haven’t worked on any Hollywood or foreign films specifically. But I have done things like commercial narrations for shows I’ve worked on. If the opportunity arises, I’d like to try it.
Horie: Of course, compared to the anime work I’ve done, it’s considerably less. The main example I can think of right now is the ghost in The Ring. The little girl is acting as a ghost, when I try to rehearse, I would be playing the video in the BG–it would be very scary sometimes. I actually do a lot of horror movies for some reason.
There was enough material for you to do a show at the Nokia Theater. What stopped that from happening?
Kitamura: We actually don’t do any of the planning, it’s really the higher-ups.
Horie: It’s kind of mixed feelings. I’m partly relieved I don’t have to go up on stage, but I also feel a little bit of regret that I wasn’t able to.
Do you think the rise of the “herbivorous men” (soshokukei) has contributed to the rise of otaku culture?
Kitamura: There are little nuances here and there that do show. Generally for some reason, all the male roles in anime have the girls come on to them, so I don’t know if that’s really an accurate reflection of a certain type of shy guy, and you have to think about that a little bit. I don’t know if it directly correlates to the rise of all that.
This is for Kitamura. Ami, in Toradora!, struggles with the balance between her public persona and her private persona. Do you, or people you know, have a similar struggle in balancing the two? How do you manage it?
Kitamura: When I act or perform, I have to flip the switch–I have to alter my emotions. Looking back, sometimes I think people perceive these emotions differently…they’re like different "me's" in the characters I play. I wonder sometimes if that’s a reflection of my own private self. Everyone - when they express themselves - have their real emotions behind what they say. What they say may not be a lie but may be a way of dealing with the situation…it’s like playing catch, back and forth with a person.
In Bakemonogatari, there’s a complicated tongue twister that’s said by Hanekawa Tsubasa. What was the story behind that line and did that give Yui Horie any trouble?
Horie: The first time that line actually popped up was in a drama CD. Seeing it in hiragana makes it look like a meaningless jumble, but I had to look at the original kanji when I read the line…Araragi’s line was the complete version. Then I twisted it a bit. It was still difficult, though!
For Kitamura, what did you feel about your role in Kodomo no Jikan?
Kitamura: It gives me a smile, a pure feeling like a girl in love who wants to be liked by her teacher.
I heard about the “seventeen forever movement” started by Inoue Kikuko. Is Kitamura part of it, and is it Horie Yui’s mission to spread it all over the world?
Horie: When I asked Kikuko-san if I could join, she just said yes. I don’t have that mission in particular though!
Kitamura: I play the role of saying “Hey, no, that’s not right!” whenever someone says they are 17 years old. Prior to meeting Horie-san, I already knew about this movement. And now I’m in charge of the “Hey, no, that’s not right!” after someone says they’re only 17.