Japanese anime voice actors showcase their skills in live recording at AniRevo 2016

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      While artists work on the visual animation that dazzles fans of anime, it's up to the voice actors to provide a different type of animation that helps to bring the characters, and storylines, to life. As many fans don't get the chance to see what goes on in the recording studio—and how things are conducted in Japan in ways that differ from North America—Anime Revolution (or AniRevo) brought three major industry talents from Japan to Vancouver to unveil the secrets of the recording process.

      At AniRevo 2016 at the Vancouver Convention Centre on August 6, voice actors Ayumi Fujimura (Kill La Kill, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword) and Romi Park (Bleach, Fullmetal Alchemist) were joined on stage by anime sound director Takeshi Takadera, who has worked on shows such as Psychic Detective Yakumo, Absolute Duo, and Yawamushi Pedal.

      The three presented a live recording of voice work to clips from Xam'd: Lost Memories.    

      Takadera explained (in Japanese and with the help of a translator) that in the recording process, the voice actors are the first to record their voices so there aren't any sound effects or soundtrack for them to work off of.

      Anime voice actors Ayumi Fujimura (left) and Romi Park (right) at a private dinner hosted by Consul General of Japan Asako Okai (centre).
      Consulate General of Japan

      At a private dinner on August 5 hosted by Consulate General of Japan in Vancouver at the residence of the Consul General Asako Okai, Takadera, Fujimura, and Park also expanded upon the similarities and differences between how things are conducted in Hollywood and Japan.

      Takadera said that like Hollywood, while there is some increase in the use of on-screen stars as voice actors in Japan, he said that hiring famous stars can be costly and therefore has to be factored into budgetary considerations. However, he said he feels if that it's okay to consider on-screen stars for voice work based upon their capabilities and suitability for the role.

      However, unlike Hollywood, in which each actor records their voice individually alone in the recording studio, he said that in Japan, multiple voice actors all record together as a group at the same time. And so, he added, it's very important to keep the atmosphere positive in order to help the actors perform their best.

      At the AniRevo live recording session at Canada Place, Fujimura said (in Japanese) that the atmosphere of recording sessions can vary between studios—some are casual and laidback with a lot of socializing while others are strict and punctual, with little chitchat involved.

      Park said (in Japanese) she believes that most of the work for voice actors happens at home when they receive the script and visual clips. At that point, she said the actors must read between the lines and understand the emotions of their character.

      However, she added that at the recording sessions, actors also have to be prepared to leave everything behind while listening to other voice actors acting in the clip so that they can adjust their performance accordingly while also taking feedback from the sound directors.

      Xam'd: Lost Memories

      For the live recording demonstration, they used three clips from Xam'd: Lost Memories, which is set on an island whose peacefulness is destroyed by a terrorist attack, resulting in some individuals being transformed into humanoid creatures called Xam'd.

      In the first clip, Park voiced Kujireka, who meets with her sister and reveals that she has transformed.

      In the second clip, Fujimura voiced Midori meeting her sister Haru outside a temple.

      In the third clip, Fujimura voiced both Midori and her mother, in a street scene that takes place within Midori's memories.

      Midori, voiced by Ayumi Fujimura, from Xam'd: Lost Memories

      The two actors performed the voices for their respective characters, while watching a monitor of the visuals, in a live recording before the audience, after which Takadera gave them feedback.

      For the first clip, Takadera said he noticed that Park had Kujireka express a lot of hatred and resentment towards her sister. However, he pointed out that Kujireka has very complex feelings towards her sister. He pointed out, for instance, that she had to leave her sister behind in order to become strong and sacrifice herself to save her village. Thus, he said Kujireka has some anger but she also feels happiness that her sister came back for her.

      For the next take, he asked her to try and express these layered emotions in a more multidimensional performance.

      For the second clip, Takadera observed that although Midori is shy girl, it is a significant scene because Midori expresses her feelings to her sister for the first time. Thus, he encouraged Fujimura to be more emotionally expressive.

      Since the third scene takes place within a character's subconscious, Takadera said the initial take was fine but since Midori sees Nakiami as a kind of an older sister, he felt that Fujimura could convey more emotional intimacy or closeness between the two characters.

      Since Fujimura was doing double-duty, voicing both the mother and Midori, Takadera asked Fujimura if she wanted to record the two voice separately but she said she could do both at once. (During the recordings, Fujimura adeptly switched from the childlike voice of Midori to the mature tone of the mother.)

      The actors integrated the suggestions from Takadera and modulated their performances so that they varied their emotional expression and intonation appropriately.

      Takadera explained that he feels that it's good to encourage a relaxed social environment during recordings so that voice actors, sound directors, and sound engineers can all contribute their ideas to help improve the anime. He said he encourages all participants to relax and joke around so that everyone can share ideas easily.

      Some of these approaches to voice recordings may reflect the differences between North American and Japanese cultures, such as the emphasis on individualism in North America versus the importance of group identity in Japan.

      However, as North America becomes increasingly influenced by Japanese anime, will Hollywood also become heavily influenced by Japanese behind-the-scenes practices? We'll simply have to stay tuned, true believers.