Interview: Monical Rial

by Jay Levy, Aug 29th 2003
I had an opportunity to sit down and chat with four American voice actors from some of the most popular anime out there while at Metrocon in Tampa, FL, on July 20. Their answers are virtually unedited and hopefully give a little insight into them and their work. To get to know them better, skip to the bottom and check out their speed round answers. Now, onto the interview:

Monica Rial is one of the better known American voice actors, having played lead or significant roles in some of the most popular anime in the US, including: Excel Saga as Hyatt, Princess Nine as Izumi, Noir as Kirika, not to mention Gasaraki, Steel Angel Kurumi, RahXephon, Full Metal Panic!, and more. She began her work at ADV three years ago when the company had but a single dubbing studio; now they have over ten.

Monica enters the green room at Metrocon with her dark hair straightened and streaked with pink. She's proud to mention how a con attendee shouted gleefully, "You have anime hair!" She apologizes needlessly for her voice, which had been strained by a few too many Hyatt-style deaths she had performed at the convention to the joy of the crowd (usually to the chant of "Do the Hyatt!").

Q: What was it about acting that pulled you into it?

Actually, you know I always joke around because I started in dance when I was three or four. And, I was very big in ballet, tap, jazz, but I always loved being on stage. As I got to be older, yo u know how everyone goes through their shy stage? I got out of that shy stage and exploded onto the scene! [At this point, she spreads her arms and lets out a psycho scream; trust me, you have to hear it] Look at me! Look at me! So, I got like a little too obnoxious for dance, because you know everyone else is rehearsing and I'm like, 'so anyway, yesterday, this is what I did.' I wanted to try different things. I love being on stage, but I'm tired of just dance because I don't get to communicate with anything other than your physicality.

So then when I started theater I was like, I'll just start taking some classes in school and stuff. In my elementary school, I was really lucky and they had a little bit of theatrical stuff. So, I would do that and I loved it. You would do little school plays, and I was like, 'That rocks! People are actually listening to what I'm saying!' They're not just watching me kick my leg up in the air, they're actually listening to what I'm saying. Then from there I began getting more and more into it and doing some tours. And then of course high school and I did professional theater. It's just one of those things that when once that bug bites you just can't get rid of it, it's there forever.

There has been times ... you know I got was bitter at one point and I was like, I don't want to do any more theater, I don't want to be around any actors - I'm going to go be a normal person, and work as a hair-stylist. I tried that, and within 6 months I was like I want to go perform or be on stage or something! So, anime for me has been a blessing because its being able to perform but being able to go in wearing jeans and a T-shirt and my hair in a ponytail. Also [it's a blessing] not only being able to perform continuously, but being challenged as well.


Q: Of the parts you've played, which is the most difficult and why?

The most difficult part I've ever played is Kirika in Noir. The reason is because Kirika doesn't talk a whole lot and when she does talk it's usually one simply little noise or "uh-huhs" or "yeah" and there is so much that has to be conveyed in that one word. It was so hard for me to develop the character because Mirielle is like [makes motions and noises of a runaway mouth] and you hear all this background information on her and you don't know anything about Kirika. She doesn't know anything about herself! So, trying to get ... doing that "uh-huh" and making it sound different every time. And saying, ok, this is an upset "uh-huh" and this is a mad "uh-huh." Are they going to be able to tell the difference? That was really challenging.

When you have a character that speaks a lot or is very expressive it is so much easier because you can just throw it out on the table. With someone that is so introverted, it is hard to express with so little words. So, now we're getting towards the end and she's actually talking and she's actually expressing her emotions. I'm like 'Thank god! I can do this! It's hardcore drama, but I can do this.' It all the little nuances that make it so difficult.

Q: Be a social commentator for a moment, what are some aspects of anime you would praise:

I think the industry as a whole is growing, and I think the reason for that is because nobody has remained stagnant. You know? The actors are always trying to be better, the directors are always trying to be better, the scriptwriters are always trying to be better. I think also a new thing that happens that didn't use to happen as much in the past is that people are communicating with the fans - with the people that watch the shows. It seems like when I first started that you had the industry and it was like, "We're making anime and this is the way we want to do it, so that's the way we're going to do it and that's it!" Whereas now, you're able to hear input, and it is actually changing things. We went from when I started, when DVDs were first being released in anime, you didn't have any extras. If you did, it was like clean opening and closing, and that's it, and some trailers. And now, we're going to the point where we're having film shoots and interviews and this and that. And, that was all based on the fact that there were fans that said, "Hey, we want to see this stuff." That to me is amazing.

The fandom as a whole being so opening and accepting of new fans, because I know that every once in awhile you meet someone that is like, "New fans, eww, they watch Dragon Ball and Pokémon and that's how they got into it, and I watch Starblazers!" But, I think it's really cool to see all these kids that think really highly of Dragon Ball Z and Pokémon mixing with the guys that started watching Robotech and came in on that. It's neat to see everyone kind of blend and mesh. The whole industry and the people involved have been touched by anime as a whole. It's not only a medium that I enjoy watching and being involved with, but it is the people that are involved. There are just classy, friendly, awesome people. It makes all the difference in the world. And, coming from the entertainment industry where we've done stage, we've done film, and done things like that, you get all these people that are so ... poo-poo [she laughs]. And then coming here [Metrocon], everybody is just real.

Q: Nothing's perfect, though. What aspects of anime deserve some criticism?

Going with that whole people being open-minded and coming together, there are still people that don't do that. There are still the people that say [in her most condescending voice] "I've watched Robotech, and you suck because you have not watched Robotech," or "I'm subtitle only and I don't care what you will ever say." What was it? At AWA I had somebody stand up ... there is nothing wrong with subtitle purists, I think that's great. I have friends that only watch subtitles. But, don't come to a voice acting panel, raise your hand, and go "When are you going to be as good as the Japanese seiyuu?" How rude, you know? I'm like — number one, do you even speak Japanese? Do you know what they're saying? If you hate it, that's fine, people are entitled to their opinions. But, don't come to my voice-acting panel and berate me! [She laughs] It's retarded.

I think as far as the industry goes, the companies tend to be very sheltered. You know? ADV, Bandai, Pioneer - everybody separate. It seems that just now we're starting to meet people from other companies. Because, it shouldn't be that way. We're competing, technically, but it shouldn't be a Berlin Wall. They should be able to talk and communicate.

But, that's about it, really. Otherwise, it's a very positive medium.


Q: Anime fans notoriously separate into camps, one of the most vocal being the sub vs. dub debate. If you could say something to the purists to get them to give dubbed shows a chance, what would you say?

I would tell them that is they haven't watched a dub in the last three or four or five years, they have no idea! I mean, we've all seen dubbed anime from back in the day, and it's not pretty ... not all the time. And, companies dub differently. Just because you didn't like one companies stuff ... just because you didn't like Pokémon dubbed doesn't mean you won't like Dragon Ball Z dubbed. It's two totally different things [I don't particularly care for either one, she whispers], but there are differerent companies that do different things, so check out different companies.

We work so hard now, and I think back in the day, even last year when I started the con circuit, I met [actors] that couldn't care less. They were like, 'I get a paycheck, and I go home.' Meanwhile, you've got other actors like us [she motions around to Luci Christian and Chris Patton] that are like analyzing the character and analyzing the relationship, and seriously putting on a performance. It is not, 'Oh, I'm just going to read this off a page in a cute little funny voice and call it a day." We are seriously working to create genuine characters that people will feel for and care for. That comes from the fact that we love it so much. Not everybody does, and that's fine. It's funny to me because we started posting on Anime on DVD and all these different forums and stuff, and there has been a couple people that I would talk to and they'd be like "Dubs suck!" But, then through word of mouth or something, Princess Nine seemed to be one that touched a lot of people.

Martialstax, this one guy in particular he's like, "Can't stand dubs, I hate 'em." And then he watched Princess Nine, and he was like, 'Dubs aren't that bad." Then he watched Excel Saga, "Dubs aren't actually bad at all." And, by the time I got to know him longer, I mean he had avatars of every single one of my characters, and he's like, 'Oh my god, dubs rock!" I mean, he still watches subtitles, as well. I think it's important to be well rounded. I don't think anyone should be sub-only or dub-only. It's important to be well-rounded.

A lot of the anime has so much to do with Japanese culture, so it's cool to hear the Japanese. At the same time, I don't think the Japanese intentionally meant for there to be little yellow words at the bottom of the screen. It's so much nicer to be able to watch it and not have to worry about reading and not comprehending. Like Gasaraki, I don't see how anybody can watch that subtitled [Chris Patton echoed the sentiment from the background, "I have no idea."]. And talking to the subtitle timers up at work, subtitles aren't 100% because only so much can fit on the screen because of lip-flaps and everything. So, even then you're getting an edited version, when people think subtitles are more legit. A lot of times the dub comes closer than the subtitles.


Speed Round:
Favorite Anime Role: Izumi - Princess Nine
Favorite Movie: The Philadelphia Story
Favorite TV show: Cheaters
Favorite Book: Currently reading Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix
CD currently in your CD player: Queens of the Stone Age [Chris Patton described her favorite music as "Disco Metal" which she agreed to with a laugh]
I think the most overrated thing in the world is: Normalcy
Country I'd most like to visit: Japan
Vanilla or Chocolate: Chocolate, preferably Godiva chocolate

This interview was conducted by Jay Levy at Metrocon on July 21, 2003. Any questions or comments can be directed to him at jayntampa (at yahoo.com).

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