Interview: Jouji Nakata

by Manu G.,

Jouji Nakata, the prolific seiyuu behind Alucard from Hellsing and Kirei Kotomine from the Fate franchise, visited Spain a few weeks ago for Japan Weekend Madrid. Well-known for his rich, deep voice, Jouji Nakata huge voice acting resume also includes many video games like Samurai Warriors, Persona 5, and Nier: Automata.

One of your very first anime roles was the narrator in Mobile Suit Victory Gundam. What do you remember from those days?

Jouji Nakata: Gundam was pretty famous even then, but I had never watched it. Even though I read the whole script, I didn't know how to play the part. So I had to talk with Yoshiyuki Tomino, the series director. Now when I watch that narration or any stuff related to Gundam, I feel embarrassed. Tomino was kind of scary (laughs). The thing is, many professionals started their careers with Gundam. Now we are all veterans, even if we don't see each other as often.

Why was Tomino scary?

Because Tomino was very passionate about the series. Although he wasn't the sound director, he gave lots of direction during the process. He had a lot of passion and wanted to be part of the whole thing.

Would you say Gundam was the point where you started feeling like a real seiyuu? Or was it another anime?

I was acting in Gundam for a whole year. However, when I finished, I still couldn't consider myself a seiyuu. Later, still working for Sunrise, I had the opportunity to play Folken in The Vision of Escaflowne. That's when I felt like a real seiyuu for the first time.

Were your early experiences acting in anime different from your voice acting on video games at the time?

In Japan, there's not really a difference between anime and video games. I did some acting for different anime, and people began to recognize my voice. At that point, I got the opportunity to work as a seiyuu for video games.

What are the main differences between acting for anime and video games?

When you work for an anime, you can read the entire script and you act next to the other seiyuu, so it's easier to understand the plot. However, video game scripts are really long, so we just get to read our individual lines and don't really understand the whole thing. For example, if you're playing an angry character and you have to say “good morning”, you don't know if the person you're talking to is someone you feel good about or not. And in anime, because it's just 20 or 30 minutes long, you have to say your lines fairly quick. Let's say my line is something like “Oh. Okay. I see...” I can't say it calmly and measured like I just did for you here. I need to say it like “oh okay, I see”. On the other hand, you don't have those kind of problems in video games, where you can speak slower.

Since you don't have the context set in stone, do you have more room for improvisation in video games rather than anime?

The script is quite long, but that doesn't mean I have to read it all. Maybe the script is huge, but my part will be small. In those situations, if there's something that you don't really understand, you can always ask the director. In fact, it would be difficult to deliver a good interpretation without asking him. In anime, when you're facing someone and that person say hi to you with a cheerful “good morning”, you can just reply the same way with another “good morning”. And if that person says “good morning” in an angry mood, you will also reply in an angry mood. So that leads to a natural conversation.

On the other hand, when acting for video games, you don't always have the other side of an interaction, so you have to imagine the other person you are talking to. In many countries around the world, anime is also recorded this way, with each person recording their own part separately. That's something that really surprises me. When you're acting with other people, you are really reacting to the other person's feelings, which makes performing much easier. If you don't know how to react to the other person, the acting is more difficult. That's why many people say Japanese seiyuu are really good, but that may be because voice acting is more similar to a live play for us.

Maybe that's why foreigners are not always into dubbed anime.

Yeah, probably.

You play Giroro's role in Sgt. Frog, which is a comedy anime. How different is the tone of that environment compared to other works?

There's a lot of veteran seiyuu working on the Keroro anime, so for me it's easy. Also, there's a lot of humor exchanged between us through the process. Comedy and timing are really important in this anime, and sharing space with all the other actors makes it easier. We also do a lot of improvisation, so it come out naturally. For example, if your line is just “good morning”, you can change it a little, like “g-g-g-good morning”. In many series, especially when there's some dark humor, the direction will be included in the script, but Keroro Gunsou leaves you some room for improvisation. Sometimes I will introduce some references to lines from other series like Gundam.

On that note, to what degree is a character influenced by their seiyuu?

Of course each character has their own feelings determined by the story, but obviously we create part of that as well. It's our voice, so you have to look inside yourself to discover how you would personally express anger or sadness, so you can give that to the character. We always do some rehearsal before our performance, and the first thing I do is repeat my lines with different intonations. First I say the line with my normal voice, and after that I repeat it with other sounds. Then I look at my character and decide which tone fits him better.

In Keroro Gunsou, when I started voicing Giroro, I thought he was small and cute, so I wanted to act with a cuter voice. However, the director asked me to act with a deeper voice, more similar to my actual register. So it came out more and more natural over time. I have never considered myself a cute person, but doing these kind of voices sometimes...people started telling me that they were cute. I didn't know that was something I could do!

Thanks to Manu G. and Japan Weekend Madrid for this interview opportunity.

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