Interview: Attack on Titan's Trina Nishimura and Yui Ishikawa

by Zac Bertschy,

As Attack on Titan's second season came to an end, and Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block aired a supersized marathon of episodes from the series over the weekend, both the Japanese and English voice actresses for Mikasa Ackerman convened at Anime Expo to celebrate this mega-series with the fans. We sat down to interview Yui Ishikawa and Trina Nishimura about their experiences playing the strongest soldier in the 104th Training Corps.

ANN: When you first got the role of Mikasa four years ago, how familiar were you with the material? Did you have any idea how popular it was going to be?

Trina Nishimura: So, my older brother told me about Attack on Titan, and he was like "it's the best anime ever!" I watched the first episode and fell in love with it. It was so, so good. I was really worried that we would get the property at Funimation. Because if we did, that means I shouldn't watch more of it so that I can be in the moment for it. And if we didn't get it, then I was going to binge-watch it in a really unhealthy way, you know, where your friends come and check on you and they're like "are you eating?" We did get the property and it's awesome, and I auditioned. It was like a double-edged sword, because if I did get cast then I couldn't watch the show, but if I didn't then I'd binge it. So I had no idea. I knew it was popular, but I had no idea how explosive it would be.

Yui Ishikawa: I did not read the original work until I was told I was going to be auditioning for this role. But the more I read, I became very intrigued about the story and the development of the characters, so it was a very attractive story. I really wanted to take part in this project. I kind of expected this to be somewhat huge, but I did not expect this to be this big, in terms of worldwide popularity and acceptance by fans. I'm really excited to be here as part of this project in America at Anime Expo.

Have you heard Trina's performance as Mikasa, and what about her portrayal of the character stands out to you?

Yui: Of course the English version of Attack on Titan is not available in Japan, but when I got here, I turned on the TV in the hotel and it so happened that I just tuned into an Attack on Titan marathon on TV here, so I was able to watch a few episodes. The English version of Mikasa and the entire cast has a different feel to the Japanese version, but it was very cool. It adds its own attractiveness and interest to the show. I was not able to watch the whole season of course, just whatever was on TV. Within the episodes I was able to watch on TV, there were not a lot of Mikasa scenes, so I really want to watch the whole thing.

Trina: Thank you! That's so nice.

For Trina, did you listen to Yui's performance before playing the role yourself? And what about her portrayal of the character did you incorporate into your performance?

Trina: I totally did. So when you record a dub, you watch the scene in Japanese on one screen and you have your script on the other so that you can match the mouth movements so it doesn't look like a bad Godzilla thing, you know. I did watch her performance and it's beautiful, I mean, her portrayal of Mikasa is amazing and really interesting and touching. It's been awesome here at Anime Expo to hear about her motivations and what she went through in the recording process and how she sees the character. Dubbing is essentially taking this beautiful art and staying true to that art while adapting it to an English speaking audience and a Western sort of mentality, right? And I've been so lucky to have had such amazing material to work with, and following her performance is a little daunting, quite frankly, you don't want to mess it up. But it's been awesome. I mean, there's a reason that Attack on Titan is so popular, and obviously she's a massive part of that reason. I'm very lucky and I love everything that she did, cause she's dope as eff.

Season 3 is coming next year. Since the manga's been out for a little while, are the two of you going in blind or have you spoiled yourself for what's coming next?

Trina: I don't actually read the manga until after we finish recording because I don't want to mess anything up and I like to go into each season and each episode fresh, not knowing what's happened. And it's awful. (laughs) Because I'm dying to know, and I know she reads the manga so I want to ask her questions, but I don't want to spoil it. But I'm really excited.

Yui: Yes, I've read what happens in the manga in the future.

Is there a moment coming up that you're the most excited to perform?

Yui: I've read what's available so far, but I try not to reread too much ahead before the production of a season, because if I knew too much of the story, that could get in my way of performing for the story that's being presented right now. I think that season 3's going to take us to a certain part of the storyline where we can perhaps expect to see more struggles within humankind than humankind against titans. That story development will probably be very interesting in season 3 and would bring in more mystery to be resolved with some more clarifications on some mysteries. So I'm very excited and looking forward to taking part in season 3.

Season 2 ended with a big moment for Mikasa, when she finally confessed her feelings for Eren. In your opinion, do you think they make a good couple? Some fans say Mikasa needs someone more mature than Eren. What do you think of that?

Yui: Eren is not really reciprocating her feelings right now. So I'm not sure if they're going to make a good couple at this time. For Mikasa it's probably a little bit—it's not enough for her, maybe? But hopefully. At the end, Eren did say to Mikasa "Yes, I'll put this scarf on you over and over again." Until that point, Mikasa's always been chasing after Eren, but that was the first time Eren actually turned to her and said something like that to her instead. So maybe there is hope that they could make it.

Trina: I mean, I hope that they end up together, I hope that he—I don't want to say "mans up" because that's inappropriate—but I hope that he calms down a little and they ride off into the sunset together. That moment where she's not straight-out saying "I love you!" obviously, she's just kind of expressing how important he is to her and all of her motivation has been to keep him alive. For him, that moment says "I will always be there." That's such a touching moment, after the mental anguish of the scene prior, and then turning around and seeing her for the first time was so beautiful, and I hope that it works out, but he's not the most reliable guy, so who knows?

Yeah, he should maybe deal with his anger issues.

Trina: Right, I don't think they have a lot of therapy in that world.

From both seasons and the OVAs, do you have a personal favorite moment recording for Mikasa?

Yui: This is probably in part because we recorded it more recently, but the last scene of season 2 was very memorable. I knew going in that it was where the story of season 2 was going to end, so I really looked forward to working on that scene, and of course I read the manga, so that was one of my favorite scenes there. I also expected that scene to be a certain way, and also I heard that fans were looking forward to that scene as well. So that was very memorable, I really enjoyed working on it. In Japan, we record the show as a group, with all the cast in one booth. But sometimes when there's an overlap of lines, we may do individual line takes separately. However, this time the staff made arrangements so that myself and Kaji-san, the actor who plays Eren, were put in separate single booths by ourselves, and we acted by listening to each other's voice, and I think that worked out very well. So instead of physically being in the same booth, we were recording at the same time in separate places, so we would have to listen to the other's voice intently and play off of that emotion.

Trina: I don't think I do have a favorite scene. Every time I get to record, it's so exciting.

We never found out who'd win in a one-on-one between Annie and Mikasa. As Mikasa, how would you go about taking down Annie?

Trina: Gosh, it's so hard because of her powers. I'd wait until she wasn't in titan form and she was asleep and then I'd tie her up. That's what I would do. But I'm not as violent as Mikasa.

Yui: If I were Mikasa, I would just run away.

Okay last question. Is the wait between seasons as hard for you as it is for the fans? Do you wish that it was a little bit more often than a year between twelve episode chunks?

Trina: Every day. I only know what the fans go through from what they tell me, and they're very excited, and some even angry. Like, it's not my fault! But it's awful. It's like the worst. I'll talk to the English dub director, Mike McFarland, and I'm like "Is it here yet? Do we have it yet? Is it next month?" And he's like "I don't know, stop asking." I'll text him randomly, "Hey happy Tuesday. When's it coming?" I'm very excited, very excited.

Yui: Yes, there were four years between season 1 and 2, however during that four years, the cast of Attack on Titan in Japan worked on a lot of different projects, games and various events and various collaborations, and also there was Attack on Titan: Junior High, so it didn't feel like there was actually four years of waiting, because we were always involved somewhat. So it felt like when season 2 was decided it was like "oh finally!" but it also didn't feel like it took four years. And within that four years, we had a deepened understanding of the characters, and I think we were able to bring that to season two and make it better, hopefully.

Thanks to Anime Expo and Funimation for the opportunity.

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