Interview: Hunter x Hunter Voice Actress Erica Mendez

by Mike Toole,

It doesn't always pay to rush things. For years, Madhouse's 2011 version of Hunter x Hunter seemed to shimmer and glint, just out of reach of collectors in North America… but eventually, patience was rewarded. The series has been brought to the west in high style by Viz, with a swanky Blu-Ray release and a prominent slot on Toonami.  For a long series like Hunter x Hunter, it's important to get things right, especially casting the show's popular heroes. Central protagonist Gon Freeccs, in particular, carries the good cheer of a classic Shonen Jump character, but he's also got something beyond optimism and fighting spirit—he's got a cutting edge, and maybe even a willingness to kill.

Enter Erica Mendez. Here's an actress with five or six years of experience voicing anime characters (she'd originally broken into voiceover work via video games), but she plays like a savvy veteran. Previously, she's shown fire as Kill la Kill's Ryuuko and guile as Love Live!’s Nico Yazawa—but what's voicing Gon like? We posed some questions to Erica about her background as an actor, the challenges of voicing Gon, and what she thinks of the world and fans of Hunter x Hunter!

You were an anime fan before you started as a voiceover artist. Has your fandom affected your approach to acting?
I can't really think of any specific ways it has. Anime is really different than a majority of Western cartoons. If anything, I'd say that being a fan makes it so that the usual tropes don't catch me off guard. I actually did a video game session once where the client was like “So, this character is a Tsundere…” and I'm like “Got it. I know exactly what to do.” So maybe it just leads to not having to waste as much time for directors or clients to have to explain things to me.

You've recently started doing script adaptation work as well. Can you talk about that a little?
Yes! I can't mention the exact title just yet… But adapting scripts is something I've always been interested in, but never really knew how to pursue. I was lucky that a studio I work with needed some people to adapt for a live action series, so naturally I accepted the job. It's a lot harder than people might think, especially for a live action series. There are definitely things that annoy me (and fans, I'm sure) about the way certain scripts might come out, so I've tried to remedy that with my adaptations. However, I'm quickly learning that sometimes you kind of have to resort to things like awkwardly breaking up sentences just because of how different sentence structure and length is in different languages! Gotta match those flaps the best you can while still getting the main point across…

How did you get your role in Hunter x Hunter? Did you read for other characters? When did you find out who you'd be voicing?

I read for Gon, Killua, Kurapika, and Menchi. I auditioned sometime late last year and a few weeks after auditioning, I found out I had a callback for Gon. After the callback I got another email a few weeks after that saying that I was on the short-short list… and finally a month later I found out that I was cast.

What do you like best about the character you voice?
I really like Gon's optimism and how much he cares for his friends. I also think he's a really good judge of character.

Do you really identify with your role - do you think you share attributes with your character?

We're both really bad at math.

Is there anything that Gon does that you wish you could do?

I've never been fishing before and I kind of want to try it. Is that weird?

Conversely - is there anything about your character that kinda gets on your nerves?

I wouldn't say it gets on my nerves, but Gon tends to not want to back down even when things get really dangerous. I'm a very non-confrontational person so whenever I see him endangering his life, I'm like “No! Just let this one go… it's fine… please don't let him break your other arm…” I know it's a shonen series, but I get really concerned about his safety.

Is it harder for you to voice the male character in this show than the female ones you often voice in other series? Do you change anything about your approach in the booth when you're voicing male characters?
It really depends. For a boy like Gon, the client didn't want him to be your typical scratchy voiced young boy protagonist. Adding a rasp to a voice tends to make boy voices sound more believable to the audience, but because of the way we set Gon's character, he doesn't have a lot of rasp unless he's in a tense situation so there's a really fine line for him maybe sounding a little girlish at times, because he's so naïve and happy most of the time. In the booth, I actually stand with my legs apart and get a little bouncier to keep my energy up when I play characters like Gon. Also, I find myself more likely to copy whatever position the character's arms are in when I'm voicing boys. I feel like boy voices come a little more naturally to me, especially as far as attitude goes.

Have there been any parts of the show that have been especially challenging to voice, either in terms of really nailing the delivery or just yelling a lot?

We did the episode where some of the boys are hustling people in an alley by having Gon compete in arm wrestling matches. A lot of the sounds made during the arm wrestling portions are tied together too closely to record them separately from each other, so I did a lot of like, 7-second struggling efforts, and you'd be surprised how light headed you get after doing something like that two or three times. I've had a decent amount of practice with screaming in other shows, so those don't bother me so much unless it's a fight scene that takes an hour or longer to complete.

Do you ever record in the booth together with your co-stars, or are you ever at the studio at the same time?

Because of technical stuff, we can't record anime with more than one actor at a time. I've done original animation with an ensemble though. It's really fun. For anime, we usually only see each other in passing between sessions. Or I'll occasional stay later than my session to watch other actors. I did that with Keith Silverstein once or twice and it was amazing watching him work. Not only is it entertaining for me to watch others work, but I feel like I learn a lot too.

What's your favorite aspect of Hunter x Hunter? Do you find yourself
drawn to the world the characters inhabit?
I love seeing all the different character designs. It's amazing how unique they all are.

What's the weirdest thing about Hunter x Hunter?

Hisoka. Definitely Hisoka.

What's it like to meet fans of your characters at conventions?

It's great! Not only is it humbling to have people like my interpretations of characters, but I also love nerding out about how much I love my characters and the shows I'm in with the fans.

Do you like to check out the show on Toonami?

Yup! I live tweet every so often when I have the time, @Tsunderica. It's really fun.

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