We at Anime Diet were fortunate enough to be part of a wide-ranging press conference with seiyuus Horie Yui and Kitamura Eri! Our staff got to ask many questions along with others about Toradora! as well as their roles in shows like Kanon, Angel Beats,Blood+, and, yes, even Kodomo no Jikan. This transcript + photos is one of our biggest reports and we’re proud to present it to you!
This transcript was edited for conciseness, clarity, and grammatical correctness. Corrections welcome from those who were there–sometimes the audio I used to transcribe this wasn’t so clear. (The audio can’t be released publicly, by the way–sorry.) Thanks. You’ll also notice that some questions were a little lost in translation with the answers, but we decided to present most of them anyway.
Our questions are preceded by our names in bold.
During the autograph session, there was a big crowd, and you stayed 15 minutes past your scheduled time. That was very generous of you. What prompted you to do that?
KITAMURA: Well as far as that went, we just wanted to sign as many autographs as possible. We heard there was a long line–a lot bigger than expected. We just wanted to have as many happy fans as possible. As far as the number 15 that was the staff’s decision.
HORIE: I really wish I could have talked to each fan, but unfortunately time didn’t permit that. I hope I could do it next time.
Ray: For Kitamura: your first role was as Saya Otonashi in Blood+. Tell us about your first recording experiences and how you overcome the challenges.
KITAMURA: Well first of all, it was actually my third role–though it was my first major published role. I definitely learned a lot. There’s all this different terminology, so I had the experience of learning all that, how it works, the system. I had a lot of great sempais who taught me how to do things, like (Katsuyuki) Konishi.
One of the difficulties I did have was trying to face this character, because Blood is kind of a surreal vampire fiction, kind of sci-fi, so I was trying to bring out that emotion–I never had any experience fighting anything.
You’ve heard that anime is big in America, but experiencing it firsthand must have been a big shock. Are there any major goals you have–do more concerts, play a certain role, etc.?
KITAMURA: The amount of energy here overseas is amazing. I was blown away. It gives you the feeling that no matter what you do, no matter how tough it is, you can still win. Obviously, I want to have as many roles as possible, but coming here today made me understand that there are so many fans who can understand things like singing character songs from Toradora. Makes me want to do more of them.
HORIE: First of all, I’m still kind of surprised and overjoyed that anime is so well-recieved here in America. The reaction from fans is amazing, overwhelming even. I was kind of worried that when anime came to America that the voices would get changed somehow, but surprisingly this wasn’t the case. So it reaffirmed my decision that I want to be in many projects as possible so that fans here in America can hear my voice.
Do your experiences today make you want to have a concert here in America or come back at all?
KITAMURA: As you understand, there’s a lot of politics that go with 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 that 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 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 in high school too, and they wonder if high school is like what they see in anime: funny things, first love, etc. How was your high school life?
KITAMURA: For me, there were times when all the girls would get together and be lively, but for the most part, I was operating alone, doodling mangas 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. For me personally, that didn’t really happen that much. Sometimes I try to relive that through anime and through my characters, experience it through them. That’d be really nice.
Mike: I really enjoyed your roles in Toradora. Those two roles stand out because there’s some emotional depth and nuance in the characters. I was wondering, was there something in the roles you played that really connected to you personally that enabled you to portray them convincingly?
KITAMURA: I wouldn’t say that every time we act a certain role, we’ve experienced that particular kind of emotion. A lot of times, in fact, we have to act scenes for things 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, I watch a lot of live action movies. And I’m always learning and reflect what I learn from them, as well as things from my personal experience.
HORIE: 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.
Ray: As a followup, how do you mentally prepare yourself to fit into the characters?
KITAMURA AND HORIE: Well, a lot of minor changes occur right 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 predetermine ourselves and then change it later on. It takes a lot of practice, experience, and trying to be able to flexible when a director tells you to do something.
Thank you for the panel this morning. 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 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 down to the sound directors, and then is passed down to us and that determines how we act.
(To Horie) One thing that new anime fans have a problem with is the tendency to use meaningless sounds as words, like “uguu.” In your acting, how do you take a sound that doesn’t mean anything and turn it into an emotion?
HORIE: Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Now that you mention it, I remember raising an eyebrow about it too. First of all, I try to familiarize myself with the settings and background of the character. Once I have a context of a scene and visualize it in my mind, saying a meaningless word like “uguu” and saying an actual line isn’t really as different as you might think. Once I have my imagination in place, even if I say “uguu” the emotions can be conveyed. “Let’s try.” (in English)
(To Horie) 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 previously worked with the character, or did certain things get resolve 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 bicycle, 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 different this time around.
(To Kitamura) In Angel Beats, what do you think of fan reaction to your role in that show? (She’s Yui, the main female protagonist.)
KITAMURA: First of all, this was a big brand, and there was a lot of big names in this series. I was thinking to myself that this was a big opportunity and I wanted to avail myself of this opportunity.
Ray: 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 an interesting mechanism in that universe. 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 best told through the story. I haven’t had a 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 donjon in a way, but it’s from the official source, but he’s able to pull on the fans’ heartstrings in that regard.
(To Horie) Describe your experiences in a seiyuu pop group Aice5 and whether there are any plans for a reunion.
HORIE: 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 pro right away is really hard. I think it’s really great to convey a story that’s in your own mind and have 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 otakus 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.
Mike: The anime industry has seen lots of changes in the past 10 years or so. Can you comment on the changes in the industry, especially with the rise of the moe subculture, has affected you, and where do you think it will affect you in the future?
KITAMURA: It’s definitely 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 tha’ts 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 int he search for something new, so of course there are going to be waves of popularity in a particular era, but it’s always in the service of trying something new.
If they do karaoke, do they ever sing their 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 scenes.
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 American version, I think.) The little girl si 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.
Rome (in Japanese): Do you think the rise of the “herbivorous man” (soshokukei) has contributed to the rise of otakudom? (Long conversation in Japanese ensues)
KITAMURA: there are little nuances here and there…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.
Mike: This is for Kitamura. Ami, in Toradora, struggles with the balance between her public persona vs 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 mes in the characters I play. I wonder sometimes if that’s a reflection of my own private self. Everyone, when they express themselves, they have their real emotions behind what they say. What they say may not neck 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 Tsubasa. What was the story behind that line and did that give 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.
(To Kitamura): what did you feel about your role in Kodomo no Jikan?
KITAMURA: It gives me a smile, a pure feeling, of a girl in love who wants to be liked by her teacher.
Rome: I heard about the “17 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 said yes. I don’t have that mission in particular though!
KITAMURA: I play the role of saying “oi! oi! that’s not right!” whenever someone says they are 17 years old. Prior to meeting Horie-san I knew about this movement. And now I’m in charge of the “oi! oi!”