In a first, Animehunch conducted an interview with Miyoko AOBA from the globally acclaimed franchise Dragon Ball. Right now she is retired, rather semi-retired as she still does some guest appearances in a few anime, games, and live-action performances. Formerly, an active voice actor for franchises like Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon, Miyoko AOBA is best known for playing Miss Piiza, the promotional agent of Mr. Satan and his two disciples, Caroni and Pirozhki.
The veteran voice actor (seiyuu in Japanese) revealed the real nature of voice acting, the qualities of a professional voice actor, as well as her experience working in the Dragon Ball franchise.
First of all, thank you for making time for us from your busy schedule. If I may dive right into the topic, how did you start your voice acting career?
I always wanted to be a voice actress. It all started when I was still in elementary school. I was so little I had no idea about what “seiyuu” was!(laughs) I thought the characters all spoke on their own. So, I used to just imitate the anime characters that I liked.
When I turned 10, I found out there are actually real people talking behind the characters. My mind was totally blown!! Seeing that, I decided I want to do something like this as well. I started looking for ways to become a seiyuu.
Did you have to take Music as your major in college? Or get any other degree for learning voice acting?
I didn’t go to college for studies(laughs). I directly enrolled myself in voice acting classes, studied Music in-depth all on my own.
Oh that’s so cool. I’ve heard artists who work with their voices like singers or news channel reporters, they have to take good care of their body. Is there something you had to follow to take care of your voice?
Of course. Voices are what we present to the audience, so it is like an asset for us seiyuu. We don’t have any specific restrictions on diet, however, we are strictly prohibited from smoking. The smoke from cigarettes can affect the lungs a lot, which eventually affects the pitch of our voices. So we are advised to keep our lungs as much clean as possible.
Well, that’s neat. Not much restrictions whatsoever. But, is it really difficult to become a seiyuu?
Before I say anything, let me be clear with one thing: To be able to become a seiyuu is like winning a “takarakuji(lottery)”.
Besides, nowadays voice actors are portrayed very similarly to the “idols”. It was common for voice actors to have basic singing skills back in the day, but it was not mandatory to show your face or score some dance moves. Lately, the job of a voice actor has evolved from just voice performances, to also appear at events in the flesh and sing and dance. Such events have been rapidly increasing.
But for voice actors, the most important skill is to act with only their voice. And that is not an easy task at all. By just studying, people can make something out of themselves, which can earn money. However, in this case, only studying will not make you a seiyuu.
To be able to become a seiyuu is like winning a “Takarakuji”
Is there any specific way to become a seiyuu? A guaranteed path to fulfill the seiyuu dream?
Determination. You have to stick to your goal until the end. This is the same for any aspect of life when you want to fulfill an impossible goal, competing with thousands and thousands of people.
I don’t know much about Foreign agencies, but Japan is very picky about voice acting. And it is mostly Tokyo school students who show up for the anime character roles.
The procedure that every aspiring seiyuu have to go through is first to enroll in a VA School in a 1-2 year course, preferably in Tokyo city. Nowadays they even teach singing and dancing in some courses.
Next comes the “engeki(drama)”. Voice acting is like doing theatre but with just voices. So, they expect you to have a good sense of acting on stage. So that people can feel the face you are making even with your eyes closed.
The process is very rigorous and nerve-wracking. So many students give up for not being able to handle the pressure. Japan is very strict with its work culture. That’s why I envy the geniuses. They are so good at what they do! For commoners, it takes a lot of time. Only the most determined and skilled ones can finally land a role, from where the journey gets much easier.
However, as you might know, voice acting has become a part of a huge multimedia business. So, even after so much effort, the failure rate is very high. No one can 100% guarantee that you’ll be selected.
If a line you think was perfect for the character, the director might completely disagree. On the other hand, there are times when VAs do something completely random and the director loves it, that’s a win.
I see. So not anyone can become a VA it seems. What if someone is really good at modulating or imitating voices. Can they become a voice actor?
People tend to think being a seiyuu is child’s play if they have a terrific voice. They think anybody can do it if they have an interest. Even people good at acting with high skill of voice modulation or the ability to imitate sounds don’t always have a guaranteed chance to nail an audition. It always depends on the director or the producers of that franchise.
It is a huge trial and error process to be completely honest. If a line you think was perfect for the character, the director might completely disagree. On the other hand, there are times when VAs do something completely random and the director loves it, that’s a win.
Oh that’s interesting. I have been wondering for a while, so what exactly is the most difficult process during voice acting?
Originally, VA was very close to stageplay. It used to be the job incorporating the similar concept of a theatre or drama only with just the voice leaving out the dress and makeup. Now, it has changed very much. VAs are trying more to please their fans through appearances as well. That is why even idols try to become voice actors recently.
But the crucial part of a successful voice acting is to get into the head of the character the seiyuu should be playing. Once he/she can align their thoughts with the nature of the character, the rest will go smoothly. Nonetheless, this is where idols and seiyuu differ.
Idols already have an aura or personality to themselves and to break that character to become another one is not an easy task. On the flip side, a seiyuu has to become accustomed to having multiple faces.
Well that was unexpected. Idols becoming VA, huh? Very entertaining. Now, if I may address the elephant in the room. How was your experience working in the DBZ franchise?
Well, even though I voiced only for a few episodes, it was great watching the other notable seiyuu all under one roof.
Since it is a long-running series, the director was very specific about the innunciations and the way the characters talk. In the case of recording, there were instances where we got the script several days beforehand to prepare well. However, it was not too uncommon when I got the script on the day of recording. For days like those, VAs had to prepare the dialogues then and there with other actors.
After reading the script and practicing, we moved on to the “testing” part. To be honest, it always made me a little bit nervous (giggle).
Generally, we had a set up of 3-4 mics for like 6-10 actors. Unfortunately, if there are too many characters in a scene, then we had to share it “professionally”. When one person ends his/her line, then the next person has to decide which mic he/she will use without a “delay”.
I am really curious, but how did you make Ms Piiza’s voice? Was there any modulation requirements?
Not at all. I voiced Miss Piiza just like you are hearing me right now! It is just the way the dialogues were said with a little bit of exaggeration.
Voice actors and singers are often asked to perform by their friends and fans. But you know, it’s not so easy to get into that headspace right away. I don’t want to disrespect the character, so if I don’t have a script in my hand and the right directions to say the line, then I have to turn down those requests.
If you fumble during this session, you can happily kiss your job goodbye!! (laughs)
No doubt about that. Artists need to be in the zone to perform their best. On that note, if you don’t mind asking, have you ever made any mistakes while recording?
Ah! Of course. Everyone makes mistakes. I did some as well.
Since in the Studio, we have to keep pin-drop silence during the recording, it is easy to make unwanted noises as a newbie. What I mean by unwanted noises includes not making breathing noises or soft sounds like movement of the clothes.
Apart from that, even after we are done testing, the directors and other personnel involved in the audio segment would make us do the lines again and again. Some of the ways they describe the desired lines are really hard to make sense sometimes, you know(laughs).
This “last test” can go on for as much as 3 times. And it is a very crucial time of the recording session. The final recordings are based on the “last test”. If you fumble during this session, you can happily kiss your job goodbye!! (laughs)
However, now it has become very convenient. Mistakes can be replaced easily through editing. In my time it was also done this way, but during the 90s or even now in some studios if anyone VA slips, the whole segment has to be repeated from the beginning.
Sounds really stressful! VAs must have nerves of steel I suppose. I have new found respect for you(laughs). Moving on, I have seen fans have always asked why most shonen characters are voiced by women. Why is that?
I know right! I am not sure myself, but I can take a wild guess that it is because male teens’ voices change with growing time. Characters like Goku, Conan, and even Shinji have female voice actors. If they were played by a boy around 14, by the time he becomes 18, his voice will drastically change. It will be really weird if the voice of Shinji suddenly becomes like his father right?
On the same note, it is very uncommon to find a man filling in for a women’s voice. I am sure there are a few, but right now nothing comes to my head.
Also, another reason might be the pitch. A skilled female VA can go to various pitches as per requirement. So, playing a Japanese boy’s character is not so hard at all. Even I have also played quite some roles of teenage boys. It was really fun!
That’s incredible. I’d like to listen to you as a little boy at once. Now, as we are nearing the end I’ve heard voice acting is very much different from talking normally in Japanese? Is that true?
Oh yes absolutely! We don’t yell at people all the time when we talk. Haha. The way anime characters talk is way different from a normal Japanese conversation. The expressions that the shonen characters use are all exaggerated to the maximum. It is also true for “kawaii(cute)” character dialogues. No one can pull off such a soft way of conversing if one is not an idol!
What are you doing these days? Are you still voice acting?
Well, thank you that you asked. I am still doing voice acting here and there. I have actually indulged myself in reading books and travelling. Recently, I read a novel named “Human Revolution” by Daisaku Ikeda. It was really inspiring. Please give it a read if you get some time!