Despite its age, Urusei Yatsura Continues to define the anime landscape with its rich legacy and unforgettable characters. With the upcoming series reboot in mind, ANN sat down to speak with Ataru’s own Toshio Furukawa and his wife and fellow voice actor Shino Kakinuma at Otakon about what made their long careers as seiyū so rewarding and enriching.
It has been forty years since Urusei Yatsura came out. Going into it, did you think that it would make as big of an impact as it did?
Furukawa: So at the start, not at all. When I was first recording, I read the manga and I thought it was really nice. But I didn’t really think it would become such a huge title after all these years.
How do you feel that your time on Urusei Yatsura seasoned you as a seiyū?
Furukawa: So until Urusei YatsuraI was working on many more things, like mecha anime where the characters were good-looking guys and everything. And as you know, Ataru is a relatively comical character, maybe not as good looking as those sparkly characters in the mecha anime and things like that, so in a sense I got to do a wider range of acting. And I believe that enriched my sense of what I could do with voice acting.
Are you excited to see Hiroshi Kamiya play Ataru in the reboot?
Furukawa: Kaimya-san is kind of like my kohei in the same studio. He’s a very proficient voice actorand I’m looking forward to the Ataru that Kamiya-san would be doing.
I see that you’ve also voiced Terry Gilliam in the Japanese dub of Monty Python. Did the dubbing of that show give you any insight as to how to voice-act the comedy of Urusei Yatsura?
Furukawa: I actually don’t think so. [Gilliam] didn’t have too many lines, and I was doing this for anime as opposed to doing this for an actual person. And it was very different. In that sense, I think that rather than me getting experience dubbing this character, I think I got more experience seeing my older peers recite much larger and longer lines than GIlliam’s and how they dealt with it.
Would you say you understand Ataru inside out? How do you think the character and his reception has evolved over the years?
Furukawa: Depending on the director, Urusei Yatsura could go into a lot of different directions. Ataru has so much depth in terms of how he would be done. I think that since there is all that difference depending on what the director was aiming for, he would have a different range of comical seriousness, I feel that the fans being able to see a much greater range of Ataru may have changed the perception of Ataru over the years.
Like your husband, you’ve been involved in the anime industry for a long time, and one of your most famous roles is Naru in Sailor Moon. How does it feel knowing that Sailor Moon has gone “classic” and that it is still finding new audiences around the world?
Kakinuma: So when we first started recording for Sailor Moon, we didn’t really expect that Japanese anime would make its ways overseas, let alone the entire world. At first, Sailor Moon wasn’t supposed to go on for as long as it actually did. They were saying that there would be three Sailor Guardians as opposed to five, and we didn’t expect the cast to grow so much either. So I’m very surprised in every way that it’s gone over so well as it has. And I’m very happy to have been greeted by US fans and be able to come to you in the states like this. I’m truly surprised and humbled.
How do you feel that your tenure on Sailor Moon seasoned you as a seiyū?
Kakinuma: At first, Naru was a very energetic character, but she would also get into a pinch every week. So of course Usagi would have to come and rescue her. And that I think helped me understand the tension that would be needed to act out a character like her.
You spend a good deal of time teaching kids how to voice act. What got you involved in it?
Kakinuma: So this actually started off as a school specific to Aoni Production, and the company actually came to me and said, would you like to take part in this? I believe my stage experience played into how I would be able to teach emotional expression to children.
I know that it’s a teacher’s job to teach the children, but have you learned anything about yourself and your abilities through your teaching?
Kakinuma: They’re actually of high-school age, around 18 to 20 years old. But that doesn’t really change the fact that what I have learned about is how we lead by example as teachers. By doing so, we would need to be conscious of our own levels and what we’re able to act out. So every time I would think about how to act out and express oneself, I would think about it and that directly feeds back into the voices I would be able to do. So there’s a cycle going on there.
Just recently, you both have given voice acting lessons to young children with disabilities as part of the Power of Voice Project. What was that like for you?
Furukawa: At the school there’s usually a really big difference between teaching to those who have disabilities and those who don’t. And this is especially since we’re in charge of teaching people with visual difficulties as well as being partially or completely blind. We also have the thing….the word disability in Japanese is also something that does not bode well currently where we believe that disability is actually a characteristic of the person, so it’s not a completely negative trait. We want to help them find different possibilities for people with special characteristics that they might have given up on. This was originally something that started at the government level and then came to our production and here we are at the third year of this project. I can kind of see where the government was trying to go with this because we have seen people who were blind being able to seek out paths that they previously gave up on, so we hope that it would provide new possibilities to people.
If you had any advice to give any up-and-coming voice actors, what would it be?
Furukawa: The technical elements are very important, but focus on the human elements first and foremost. In order to be a voice actor that can express things on a very wide scale, you first have to be a social, interesting person that has an element of human-ness in there.