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Otakon 2012
Aya Hirano Q&A

by Gia Manry,

Aya Hirano's Q&A panel took place in the large Panel 3 space at Otakon 2012, which filled most of the way up as the panel was scheduled to begin. Starting a little late, translator Toshifumi Yoshida took the stage and announced that Hirano has requested that there be no photography or video in the panel. After a brief introduction, Hirano took the stage wearing a blue and pink flowered kimono and greeted the audience.

Hirano introduced herself as a voice actor and singer, and remembered that the last time she was in the United States was for Anime Expo three years prior. Yoshida then opened up the panel to audience questions, although it was difficult to see the people lined up at the microphones. The first attendee asked if she had to translate her question into Japanese and English as she did at Kakihara's panel and Yoshida noted that it saves time if he simply handles the translation. The fan thanked her for coming to Otakon in Japanese and asked her question in English:

Audience: How do you feel about the possibility of [Fairy Tail's] Natsu and Lucy getting together romantically?

Hirano: I'd really like to know that myself really! This is a story I heard from [creator] Mashima-san: when it comes to creating a relationship among the main characters of a series, creators have a hard time deciding which direction to go with said relationships. Although many fans claim they want to see a relationship between Natsu and Lucy, others would prefer to see Lucy with Leo. What do you think?

Audience: Lucy and Natsu, definitely.

Hirano: Have you gotten to see any of the footage from the recent movie? There's a shot from the movie where Natsu embraces Lucy in tears and Mashima really liked that particular shot from the movie. I hope you have the opportunity to see it for yourself. Also you speak Japanese very well.

Audience: You voice so many popular characters. Who do you feel empathy for or personal attachment to? Also, can you say something as [Death Note's Misa Misa?

Hirano: For the first question, of course as you know I play the lead in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and that character I find a very deep attachment to. It was a very hard character to portray, which is maybe why I have such a deep attachment to that character. But when it comes to my personal life, I think my deeper connection is with [Lucky Star's Konata. Your second request, Misa Misa, right? You just want me to say a line as her? Here it comes: [She speaks a line to audience applause.]

Audience: I understand you're making a comeback as a voice actor in 2012...I was wondering how fan criticism might affect you, or how you deal with it.

Hirano: As a voice actor, you're constantly working, and you continue working on a series, but as an actor you're always looking forward to your next role. So from fans and other people around me, I get words of encouragement, advice, and sometimes even criticism. So everything I receive from the fans, I take into myself and try to do the fans of the show proud by doing my best in performing.

Audience: What was it like working with Nana Mizuki?

Hirano: She's a wonderful person who is many years my senior in the industry. It was wonderful working with her. She is somebody I really admire, and I would love to do shows and live performances and as many anime roles as she has. I was able to perform with her at Animelo Live and it was wonderful to work with her there. As you heard, I got to perform with her on my "White Album," and I had such a wonderful time performing with her on that album...I hope to be able to do that again someday.

Audience: Being a musical artist and voice actor, you must work with a lot of people. Who is your favorite musical act, not just in Japanese, and who is your favorite person to work with for voice acting?

Hirano: First of all I like to listen to as many genres as I can, not just concentrate on one...I love artists in Japan and overseas. I like Ringo Shiina's songs in Japan. When I was in high school I really liked [American pop star] Avril [Lavigne]. The first song I ever played on guitar was an Avril song. I really like Lady Gaga and P!nk these days. I actually had an opportunity to dub over a role played by Taylor Swift, her episode on CSI, do you know that episode? I did it! There was no song in it but I got to voice her in the Japanese dub of the episode, and I got to go see her live, so I really like her. As for other voice actors, one person who comes to mind right away because he's here at Otakon is [Tetsuya] Kakihara, who I have worked with a lot in Fairy Tail and Linebarrels of Iron. I really like Lucky Star's Nozomi Sasaki, we hang out a lot together and go to meals and such. Konata and Patty sing together in Lucky Star, do you know it? So we go to karaoke together and sing that song there!

Audience: We all know how unique your Konata voice is, and I was wondering if that voice was natural, or if it took work to develop that voice?

Yoshida: I'm trying to see if she can answer it in Konata's voice but she's not sure if she remembers.

Hirano: You'll have to forgive me, it's been a while! [Speaks a Japanese line] It's the first time I've said that line in the United States! Konata's voice was very difficult because it was the same creative staff as The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. I was told that since I was such a big figure in the Haruhi series, that they wanted me to come up with a voice that creates another big image, so it was a voice that I make sort of scratchy in the back of my throat for her.

Yoshida: It's a good voice, right? [Audience applauds.]

Audience: You are the voice actor for Polka in Eternal Sonata, how is voice acting for games different?

Hirano: I don't know if you know this, but voice work for video games isn't like voice work for anime, they do it one by one. You sit in a little room in the studio with a stack of scripts this high and go through all of the lines for hours. It's a very lonely day of work! It's a lot more relaxing and fun to record a TV show in a room full of other actors.

Yoshida: Do you think you get a better performance recording in a group?

Hirano: It's hard to get a sense of distance or closeness unless you're reacting to another actor's lines. There are cases where we have to record lines because an actor wasn't available or something, but reacting to a line you hear through your headphones compared to reacting to a line from the person standing next to you is very different. Sometimes when you're not in the same room one person might be speaking at a lower level and another reacts a lot louder. But I suppose it's the director's job to make sure that doesn't happen.

Audience: Looking at your body of work you seem to have a penchant for voicing really strong, independent, psychologically interesting characters. Are there any experiences you've had living as a woman in Japan that influenced your taste for these characters?

Hirano: I think your image of me through my voices might think of me as a healthy, energetic person. But in reality, I'm more likely the person who wants to stay home and read a book! My nickname in high school was "Rei Ayanami." I didn't talk very much. Until I played Haruhi, I wasn't the kind of person who would express her own opinions. So I think playing Haruhi has made me more confident in being able to express my feelings a little better.

Audience: As a voice actor and singer, which do you find easier and which do you find harder: singing or voice acting, and why?

Hirano: Both have their share of hardships. When you have to create a voice of a character, you have to create the character, so it's very important. But when it comes to singing, I want everyone who hears the song to know who I am, so it's almost the opposite side of the coin. I find both jobs are important to me and I have to have both.

Audience: [Dressed as Kore wa Zombie Desu ka? lead] Hello Hirano-san!

Hirano: Wow!

Audience: Can you talk about Bakemonogatari and its prequel?

Hirano: You look great first of all! For Bakemonogatari I was only involved on the drama CDs so I don't know anything about the anime series, but I'm a big fan of the original series so I'm looking forward to the prequel.

Audience: How did you feel about the backlash when fans posted pictures of themselves destroying your CDs?

Yoshida: Do you really want me to translate that one?...I'm not translating it unless you feel VERY strongly. It's a convention and everyone should be able to express their opinion...Would you like to ask a different question?

Hirano: Thank you for your concerns.

Audience: You have an incredible vocal range in voice acting and in singing...how do you keep your voice in shape to record?

Hirano: I try to take extreme care of my voice, so I'm often wearing a mask and I have a lot of vaporizers to keep the air clean in my house. I try to use every single product out there, lozenges or drinks, that claim to take care of your voice. Even though actual voice work doesn't have a lot of physical motion involved, I try to take care of myself physically. I try to do little workouts in my house.

Audience: I've looked up to you for a long time, I've watched every single anime you've been in, and you got my into acting. I want to be a voice actor in Japan and I was wondering if you have advice for someone in America...My dream is actually to voice all over the world!

Hirano: Wow! I look forward to working with you so please come to Japan!

Audience: I'll make it there! I promise! YEAH!

Yoshida: Good question!...Was there a question?

Audience: Thank you so much for your incredible work, I still remember one of your earliest works as Momo in Angel Tales. What was the most challenging voice you ever had to do and why?

Hirano: First, thanks for remembering Momo! It was my debut role and I was 14 when I did it. One of the first things I get when I get a character role is a character sheet showing all of the character's expressions, as well as the set-up sheets for the series. So a lot of the time the first voice that comes out of me when I see all this is the voice that I wind up going with. Of course then the director will say, can you pitch it higher, or older, or younger, but most of the first impression that I got is where we start out from. As for the hardest role...of course creating Haruhi and Konata was difficult, but do you know Kiddy Grade? I was 14 or 15 at the time and not very experienced. Even though the character looks young, she's actually hundreds of years old, so creating that voice was very difficult. Since I was still very young myself, trying to act like a grown-up was what got me that role, and I think it was a great experience for me.

Audience: I was wondering what you thought about Maaya Sakamoto's role as Shinobu in Kizumonogatari and if you played her in the anime how would you have played her differently?

Hirano: I really love Maaya Sakamoto and I even have a couple of her CDs, so I couldn't possibly compare myself to her! I only did [Shinobu] for a little bit so I don't think there's enough to really compare myself. I'm a big fan of the original work and of Maaya Sakamoto so I would like to enjoy it as a viewer.

Audience: As an up-and-coming voice actor I've been trying to work my way up...is there any advice you can give to anyone trying to become a voice actor?

Hirano: I think you should focus on coming up with a voice that you create yourself that you can have confidence in. You don't need to have a lot of different voices if you have one that's really good.

Audience: What's your favorite part of being a voice actor?

Hirano: Since I was about 10 I've been acting. The voice acting work allowed me to get rid of my various complexes...One of my hang-ups that I had is that I looked younger than I actually was, no matter what role I would get, it would be for a younger role. Being a voice actor, your face isn't shown so you can voice a character of any age, so I like that. Or even any other gender. I can live in the world that I want to live in. I think that's my favorite part of being a voice actor.

Audience: You said earlier that playing Haruhi gave you confidence, but WATCHING Haruhi gave me confidence, so thank you for that.

Hirano: That makes me very happy, thank you very much!

Audience: You are very stylish and have great fashion taste. What are your favorite brands and designers?

Hirano: Thank you very much! You make me very happy. Japanese brands, or..?

Audience: Japanese, American, French...

Hirano: I pretty much wear anything!

Audience: Well you do it very well!

Audience: I'm a big fan! Will you say one of Yuki [Morikawa, from Aquapazza -AQUAPLUS Dream Match-]'s lines?

Hirano: What do you want me to say?

Audience: "Sunglasses no hou ga kawaii"?

Hirano: As the character? It's been two years since I did this character you know...here I go. [Performs the line to audience applause.]

Audience: At Anime Expo I asked this before, can you do Konata's "Timotei"?

Hirano: Awesome, I remember!

Yoshida: I remember you!

Hirano: He may work for Pokémon but he was my translator at Anime Expo! [Performs the line to audience applause.]

Audience: I enjoy acting as well as singing and I know that sometimes if material really resonates with you or a cast works really well together, it just stands out...what has been your favorite project to work on and why?

Hirano: I have to say Haruhi. She gave me so much, including being able to be more confident and have more courage. I felt like Haruhi was re-awakening things I'd forgotten about myself. Playing Haruhi allowed me to really rediscover myself. Everyone, do you know "Live Alive" [Haruhi episode 12]? Did you know that for the concert footage, the song "God Knows," they actually filmed my face and animated to it for the episode. That was the first time I found out "oh, that's what I look like when I sing!" So even though Haruhi is a character I portrayed it's almost like looking at myself.

Yoshida: We're getting down to the last bit, maybe two more questions...I'm terribly sorry but we've run out of time.

Audience: I'm also a big fan. What do you like to do in your free time?

Hirano: At home I have two cats. I love playing with my two cats. My father is taking care of them right now while I'm in the United States. I get a lot of picture emails from my father. I worry about them and look forward to going back and seeing them.

Yoshida: What are their names?

Hirano: Michinaga, there was a man named Michinaga of Fujiwara during the Heian period, you probably don't know, right?

Audience: I have a request! In Seikon no Qwaser can you say something as your character? Anything is fine.

Hirano: Anything? There's a lot of risqué lines in that...can one of you tell me what line to perform? I have no confidence in myself to choose! What do you want to hear?

Audience: The most risky line you can think of!

Hirano: Really?...She's sort of sadistic. I don't think I could do it in front of all of you, it's embarrassing...

Audience: Please?

Hirano: What should I do?...Give me a moment. [Performs a line] Don't translate that!

Audience: [Dressed as Konata] On behalf of your Chinese fans I hope you can go all over the world. Do you have any future plans for Anime Summer Live, because we haven't seen you for two years.

Hirano: There are things I can't announce yet with regard to things like Anime Summer Live. I was actually touring for the last two months for my own album. It was a release tour for my new album "Fragments." There are already plans for my next single to come out in Japan. I hope you all get to hear that soon! One of the things I got to do for the first time was perform in Korea. Of course I'm thinking, I'd love to do a tour in the United States...please invite me for a tour here! Tomorrow I'm doing a concert here at Otakon, I hope to see you all here, it will be my first concert all by myself here in the United States!

Yoshida: We're completely out of time, thanks for coming!

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