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Interview: Yuu Asakawa

by Crystalyn Hodgkins,

ANN sat down with voice actress Yuu Asakawa during her visit to New York Comic Con. Asakawa is perhaps most well known for her roles as Priss in Bubblegum Crisis 2040, Motoko Aoyama in Love Hina, Sakaki in Azumanga Daioh, and more recently Anastasia in Brave10 and Hibiki Tsukahara in Amagami SS. Asakawa has played roles in more than 70 anime titles, and has also lent her voice to the Vocaloid 2 virtual singer character Megurine Luka. Asakawa sang theme songs for Bubblegum Crisis 2040, the Love Hina X'mas Special - Silent Eve, and Majikoi - Oh! Samurai Girls, and voiced roles in the Final Fantasy XIII, Eternal Sonata, and Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII video games. Asakawa spoke with ANN about her interactions with the English-speaking anime fandom, the difficulties of voicing roles for confident yet stoic women, and her love for Resident Evil's Leon Scott Kennedy. Although she speaks English, Asakawa spoke in Japanese for this interview.

ANN: Why did you want to become a voice actress?

Asakawa: I was watching TV, and they had a special on voice acting and I thought "Oh, I want to try that!"

How did you get into the voice acting business?

I went to acting school – not a theater acting school – but a school that is run by the agency that I'm now a part of. My manager came to find new people, and I was one of the people she selected.

You're active on Twitter and you're very interactive with your fans in both English and Japanese. What have you learned about English-speaking anime fans from your interactions on Twitter?

(Laughs) Sometimes they correct my English. They're really straightforward and pretty frank with you, and they're not shy. But what's really interesting is that there's a time lag between Japan and overseas, so sometimes I'll hear from an English-speaking anime fan, "I just saw this and I really liked it," and I'll think "I barely remember that role, it was such a long time ago." That's interesting.

Speaking of, in general you're very active in English-speaking anime fandom, which is unique for a Japanese voice actress. Your English is great, and you work with Patrick Macias on the Otaku Verse Zero online show. Why do you want to be so heavily involved in the English-speaking anime fandom?

Japanese fans and English fans support you in different ways, so that's interesting for me to have that interaction. But it's also really important for me in terms of information. It's good to see what people think, what people find interesting and entertaining, and it's a very good opportunity for me to learn about myself as well. It's very rare to have the opportunity to get feedback on yourself from people overseas, especially from so many different countries. And also because I study English, it's a great opportunity for me to use it.

What were you thinking when you were recording for Luka? Did you think that it would become such a huge hit at that time?

No, I really didn't. When I recorded, I knew about Miku, and I knew that she was somewhat popular on YouTube, but not as popular and as well-known as she is right now. I didn't think that there would be so much worldwide attention and such intense intention on Miku, and I didn't think it would filter down to Luka where I would get invited to conventions because I voice her.

What do you think about the worldwide popularity of Vocaloid software and characters such as Megurine Luka?

I was really surprised, because I don't think that kind of popularity has ever happened with such specific professionally-used software. And I myself can't really read music, so I was surprised that there are so many people out there around the world who really understand music and able to use the software at such a high level. But then again I felt like I should really learn how to read music a little bit better.

Speaking of, you're also a singer, having sung theme songs for multiple anime. What kind of music do you like to listen to, and who is your favorite artist?

My favorite overseas artist is Michelle Branch. I listen to her a lot. I was able to get tickets to her concert when she came to Japan, and I was thrilled.

While you're known mostly for playing very cool women roles, you've also played boy roles a few times (ie: Hikaru no Go's Mitani, or pretending to be a boy in the case of Buzzer Beater's Lazuli). How did you go about approaching those roles where you're playing someone of the opposite gender?

When you play a male role, you're playing a living being who is the opposite of you. It's not just about making your voice lower, you're really trying to take away as much of the femininity as you can. So one of the things I'm careful of in terms of voice are things like often the end of words tend to sound feminine, or they can sound a little sexy, so I make sure they don't. Or something as simple as not wearing a skirt to the studio when I'm playing a man. For women, they can really transform themselves through clothing. If you wear certain clothing you walk differently, and so I'm very aware of that when I play a male role.

In many of your roles (ie: Fate/stay night's Rider, Bubblegum Crisis 2040's Priss, Brave10's Anastasia, Love Hina's Sakaki), because these women are cool, collected, almost stoic, they don't often have a lot of lines. How do you work toward expressing your character fully when you don't have as many lines to express yourself with?

When you have a character that doesn't have that many lines, they're still living and thinking and breathing during those pauses. So when I play roles like that, I try to really understand the role and think "what is this character thinking" and "what is this character feeling." Because each line has to work harder when they're fewer. So I really try to stay in that mindset so that when the words come out, each word can mean more and express more. It's difficult though. Because women are kind of logical and they like to justify things, and they tend to talk more rather than less. So to express a character that's kind of stoic and doesn't speak very much is a challenge.

A lot of these types of women that you play are strong women with a lot of confidence. Do you have days where it's difficult to play those types of characters? If so, what do you do to work through that?

I act all big and like a hot shot in the studio to get into that mindset. That's an interesting question. There are days like that. Like, maybe I had a fight with my boyfriend the day before, or I'm actually feeling sad. But the character's not like that. They feel strong; they're standing on their own two feet. And what I'd love to do is have a drink before I go to the studio but I can't. So I get to the studio and act like a big shot and lord it over the other actors. I try to bring myself to that place.

In a few of your roles (ie: in Vandread, School Rumble, Love Hina, Ikki Tousen), you have to return to the role for games or more seasons or OVAs. Do you find it difficult to return to those roles or are they easy to slip back in to?

It's actually pretty easy to slip back into those roles, and the other actors say the same. I think maybe it's because it's anime, and so there are visuals, so it's easy to remember and bring yourself back to that mindset. We act with our voices, but the drawings are also acting and telling the story, and we are helped by that.

Do you work with visuals for games as well?

We don't have moving pictures when we record for games. Sometimes they'll hand you an image of the character and you know what she looks like. So I think with games so it might be harder to slip back into the role.

What's the general difference between voice acting for anime and games?

The basic difference for anime is you're acting and trying to make sure it all works with the moving picture. With games, basically there isn't a moving picture, and there isn't an image. You have a script and you're acting off the script.

What are your hobbies? What do you like to do on your day off?

I play games. I'm an indoor kind of person.

Resident Evil 6? (Note: Asakawa posted about Resident Evil 6 quite often on Twitter in the days leading up to the convention.)

(Laughs) Yes. I'm currently dating Leon.

It seems you like to play horror games and you like Halloween as well. Do you like scary things in general?

It seems like I do. Even though I get scared easily.

What's your favorite horror film?

There are lots, but I can't remember the title. I'm pretty OK with grotesque films.

What upcoming roles can your fans look forward to?

The title is still a secret, but I'm going to play a very strong character. I play strong women, but this time I mean literally strong, like very muscular, kind of like Raoh from Fist of the North Star. And I've never played that kind of character before.

What message would you like to give to your English-speaking fans?

I'm really grateful. Here we are from different countries, all these people who speak a completely different language are looking at this piece of culture from a small country like Japan and they're really supporting them and supporting me. It's a wonderful thing. I'm able to come to conventions like this really because of that support, not because of something I'm able to do. And the world is such a small place, so it's hard to get everywhere and to meet everyone, but I'm going to try my best as a voice actress to continue to get good roles so I have the opportunity to come to conventions and meet people. So thank you.

ANN would like to thank Yuu Asakawa and The Japan Foundation for this interview opportunity, the New York Comic Con staff for arranging the interview, and a special thanks to Shizuka Otake for assisting with the translation.

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