Interview: Welcome to the Ballroom's Tetsuya Kinoshita and Shimba Tsuchiya

by Zac Bertschy,

We first spoke to the production team behind this season's Welcome to the Ballroom back at the show's world premiere during Anime Expo 2017, and had the chance to catch up with producer Tetsuya Kinoshita (Attack on Titan, From the New World) at Otakon 2017 this year. Kinoshita brought the show's leading man with him -  voice acting newcomer Shimba Tsuchiya - to answer a few questions about the show's reception since launch, how far along they are in the production cycle, and how Tsuchiya pulls off all those fantastic dancing reacts.

ANN:  So how do you feel about the reception that the show has had since the launch?

TETSUYA KINOSHITA: So we actually—what we saw was a very positive reaction, and we believe that we were able to challenge something that we actually haven't challenged before. We especially felt very happy that some people saw the very small changes in the expressions of the characters, and how we express the characters being a bit different than something that we have tried before. When people noticed that, it was a very happy experience. With regard to the dance scenes, there are actually many hurdles that we need to pass. We have 24 episodes total, and that feedback is incorporated into the episodes we're still working on; you'll gradually see better and better brushed-up versions.

Speaking of the 24 episodes, can you share with us at all how much of the story that adapts, and are you anticipating going into a second season?

There are some things that I can't say, but what I can say right now is there is a character in there called Chinatsu, and we will be able to tell you what happens until she shows up. With regards to the second season, we actually don't really have any plans yet. What we plan to do is finish with the 24 episodes first and see the feedback that we get from those 24 episodes. If it looks positive, we'll think about it. But right now we just want to get the 24 episodes done. This kind of dives into the comics too. But with the comics, there's nine volumes right now, but since it is a monthly, the story kind of moves a bit slower. So there is that problem too.

Can you share with us where you are at in the production cycle right now? What episode are you working on?

A: With regards to the story, we're done with the story for all 24 episodes, actually. But the voice recording, we're actually up to episode 16 right now, last time I checked.

Congratulations!

So what happens after the 16 episodes that we're done with right now, that's going to be the challenging part.

Last time we spoke at Anime Expo, we talked a little bit about the challenges that you faced on this show in particular. I wanted to know, in the month and a half or so since then, has anything new popped up? Have you encountered anything working on the show where it was just an incredible challenge?

Right now, we're actually very happy with the reception the show has had. The difficulties, however, lie in the dance scenes and how we express them. Right now - if we were to say we're at 100% right now, the challenge is how to bring that up to 150%, 200%, and this is where we really feel that Yuri!!! on Ice was extremely well executed. Brushing it up to that 200% is our next challenge.

Do you ever wish that this was split into two twelve-episode chunks and you had a break in between? Have you thought “I kind of wish we had that production schedule”?

Actually, no. because our team right now, what I see as a very positive thing is that our team is well bound together, with very strong passion for this project. Because of the momentum that we have right now, I would like to put that towards polishing what we have even more. In that sense, rather than twelve episodes over two cours, one twenty-four episode season is the better approach.

Personally, what are some of your favorite moments in the show so far?

It's going to be a bit later, but it's in episode 8. We have Tatara and we have Mako, and there's a scene where Mako says—now the English translation might be a bit different in the show, so don't quote me on this—“Make me a flower.” I believe that scene, we were able to make it a very emotionally expressive scene, that is my favorite scene for the moment being.

For Tsuchiya: were you a fan of the original manga before auditioning for the role?

SHIMBA TSUCHIYA: So I actually didn't know about Welcome to the Ballroom before taking the audition. I actually came to know of it from the audition. But, with that being said, I am now a very big fan of it.

Have you read ahead? Have you read all that's available?

Of course.

How did you prepare for this role? How did you approach the character? Did you attempt to do any dancing yourself?

What I did to prepare was… since I actually didn't have too much experience with voice acting, what I wanted to do was become Tatara. One of the approaches that I took was - Pony Canyon was able to arrange social dance lessons for me. You can actually see it on YouTube, the social dance lesson. I learned social dance as well as Mr. Tomita, who plays Gaju. Upon recording, what I did was become even closer to Tatara. I wore some of the same clothes, some of his uniforms as well as his stage clothes. So I wore the exact same clothes when I was going into voice recordings.

You have to make a lot of exertion noises – a lot of grunting – when you're recording dance sessions. Did you pull that from your experience dancing, or did you think more about sports anime? How did you approach making those expressive grunts while you're dancing?

What was important part was that much of it actually did come from the social dance lessons. With those lessons, I was actually able to understand which parts of the body were getting used, which parts would contract, and what kind of sounds would be made upon doing that.

So when you're in the booth recording those noises, do you exert? Is it hard? Are you out of breath at the end of it?

Yes, actually. You could kind of see that in episode 3, when Tatara is at the Mikasa no Miya contest. There is a scene—for example, the scene where both Tatara and Shizuku are doing this “High Hover,” what I was actually doing in front of the mic was standing up on my tiptoes. Even though my legs are shaking by that time, I'm doing my act in front of the mic with those breaths. It's a monologue scene, and it's in the character's mind, but what I feel is, if it's coming from the character's mind, then part of it is probably going to be influenced by the body too. So I thought it would be the most natural if we put those breaths inside the monologue. Being overly expressive, and having too much movement in it - we might ruffle some clothes, and that actually is not good for the recording. So there is a fine line.

Is that monologue the most challenging moment that you've had so far?

Everything is actually difficult, because this anime, since it's about dance, there are a lot of internal monologues. There's a certain thing to a monologue which makes it difficult. What makes it difficult is that: if you go into the mentality of “because it's a monologue, they all sound the same, really.” But that isn't really exciting, is it? What I keep in mind is, “what is Tatara thinking? What is his mentality right now? Is he scared? Is he nervous? Has he made up his mind to take the lead? What is it?” I think about what it is every time, so I can express the same words more appropriately, even if it is a monologue.

Since you read ahead, is there a part of the story that you're most looking forward to playing?

The great part of this story is the development of Tatara. And Chinatsu is a person that really speeds up Tatara's development. She helps him become the person that he needs to be. She's the sort of person he needs to become accustomed to, someone he needs to overcome. How he develops is not just in the mental aspects, but also in his physical aspects, such as his muscles. Tatara gradually builds up more muscles, more bulk. When you do that, when someone builds up more bulk, then their voice actually becomes a bit more—their voice actually has a different sound to it. So that's one thing that I would really like to express.

With regards to that, I would say that there's a scene where Tatara and his partner—what people know as the four-legged scene. When the two become completely one, it actually feels like the dancers are on four legs. But that's a first-time experience, so Tatara is at first bewildered, but then they come to get used to the situation. Since I personally have no experience of becoming a four-legged creature, I feel that I need to express it, but then I don't know what it feels like. So I'm looking forward to figuring that out and trying my best to express it.

Last question - what's your dream role as an actor? What would you love to play more than anything else?

What I feel is the most interesting thing about being a voice actor is that you get to surpass your gender. Your character might not even be human, you just break through what you have at the moment. What I dream of playing is something that I cannot imagine. Surpassing what I cannot do. So in that sense, I would like to take on weird roles, something that I can't even imagine, something where people associate the character with my voice. A role that creates a bridge between the character, the audience, and the person that did the voice for the character. Those kinds of slightly strange characters that I can't even imagine, is something that I would like to do.

Thanks to Tetsuya Kinoshita, Shimba Tsuchiya, Pony Canyon and Otakon for the opportunity.


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