Interview: The Two Dekus: Daiki Yamashita and Justin Briner

by Zac Bertschy,

You probably don't need to be introduced to the phenomenon known as My Hero Academia – the blockbuster superhero manga is not only one of the most popular anime to come along in years, the manga itself is actually – repeatedly - the top-selling superhero comic book in America right now. There's a new film – Two Heroes, featuring an original character – out in Japan now, and it's due to hit theaters in North America before the end of the year. In celebration of the film's premiere at Anime Expo this year, both the English and Japanese voices of main character Izuku “Deku” Midoriya, Justin Briner and Daiki Yamashita were in attendance, and we had the opportunity to sit down with these two energetic and charming performers for a chat about the ride they're having as the main character of what feels like one of the most popular anime in the world.

ANN: First, thank you both for your time, I really appreciate it. When you auditioned for this, did you know what you were auditioning for, and did you know what a big deal it was?

DAIKI YAMASHITA: Yes, I was reading the manga before and I knew that this was going to be popular if it was made into an anime.

JUSTIN BRINER: Yeah, we got our hands on it a little later through the production schedule, but I remember when we were auditioning for it, we had the first episode of the anime to see, basically. So I was able to watch all that through. We sort of had an idea at the studio that this was going to be a big deal. You can tell, spending a little bit of time with the source material, that it's something special. Yeah, definitely. And after I checked out that first episode I got hooked, so I figured a lot of other people did too.

Did you have an audition for it?

BRINER: Yes, I auditioned for pretty much everyone in Class A. I saw Deku and that felt like something that was sort of my strength as an actor, so I wanted to try for that, but I didn't want to get my hopes up for anything.

Did you immediately see yourself as him?

BRINER: No, not necessarily. I definitely—that's the part that I identified with most of all, but I didn't want to get my hopes up for anything for this.

YAMASHITA: You auditioned for pretty much all the male characters?

BRINER: Yeah, Deku, Kacchan, Todoroki, Minari, Tokoyami. I wouldn't have been good as many of them.

YAMASHITA: You tried out for so many characters.

BRINER: Yes, uh uh. I just really wanted to be a part of it, it seemed like something special to me.

Now that you're in season 3 and you did the movie, how has your relationship with Deku changed since the beginning? Do you feel like you play him differently now as his character has changed?

YAMASHITA I think the mental part of it has helped me. At the beginning of the show, Deku seemed to be very weak. Very soft. You feel like “oh, is he okay? Is he gonna make it?” as a viewer, you see that. But once he inherits the power from All Might, the mental part of his character, he's become so strong. As I play him more and more as the seasons went on, I try to gain that strength as well for myself. So when I play against the strong villains, in my acting I try not to back down – I try to convey that mental strength in my acting as well.

BRINER: It's essentially the same answer here. Yeah, you watch Deku grow up, basically, from a very innocent time in his life and an innocent age, and then he learns and gradually is able to incorporate more heroics into his own personality. Yeah, exactly. He started out very weak and insecure. Though he hasn't totally progressed out of that phase, you can tell that he's gaining confidence. He's gaining a steady footing. He's got his feet firmly planted on the ground now, whereas before he wasn't exactly sure what he was going to do. So yeah. Just being able to incorporate a little more confidence, a little more heroism every time, that's part of Deku's growing up.

Do you read ahead in the manga? And if so, does it help you prepare emotionally for what's coming?

YAMASHITA Yes I do, I do. I read ahead and then I regret reading ahead. I was like “All Might—ohhhh, no.” So when I read that All Might and All For One battle in the manga, I was like “oh my gosh, I saw it, I didn't want to see it… I regret it.” It was shocking to me, before I even received the script.

BRINER: Same. I do read the manga, and I feel like I'm pleasantly surprised by every new development. It's so smartly written that I can't find myself not reading it every week.

Do you use it to inform your acting? Are you emotionally preparing for the turns the character takes?

BRINER: Yeah, I approach it from a little bit of a different standpoint, because I'm not the first person who gets to touch the material. So I don't want to fall in love with certain line reads or certain translations that aren't necessarily official, that won't match the video when we get to it. But I do read ahead, and it has been influential, because I do get to experience these emotional beats before anyone else gets to them. Through that, I'm able to see “all right, this is probably a moment that, when the audience gets there, they're going to be really invested in this emotional best. How can I make sure I'm playing as honestly to that as possible?” Other than that, it's just sort of like—every amazing moment I've seen in the manga, when they've got to the anime, it was even better. So it's more excitement now, because I'm like “this is so cool! I can't wait to see it animated because I know it's going to be above and beyond what I can envision in my head.

Do you have a personal favorite scene, or a scene that meant the most to you personally from this show? Or the film?

YAMASHITA: There's so many. It's very hard to choose one scene, but in particular the second episode, where All Might tells him “you can be a hero.” That scene, along with the most recent scene when All Might points to Deku on TV and says “you're the next.” Those two scenes are very, very memorable. For me, myself, as well as for Deku as a character, those two scenes are very pivotal moments for the character, and very important to both myself and Deku as a character. And I think that those two lines and those two scenes are going to stay with Deku forever, and that's going to become a core of his becoming a hero in the future.

BRINER: I love that. For the sake of variety, I guess, there's a moment in the sports festival when Deku and Todoroki are fighting against each other, and in the middle of the fighting he says something to the effect, to Todoroki, of “it's yours, it's your quirk, not his.” That's such a wonderful moment of—because Deku isn't the most confident person of all time. His quirk isn't even necessarily his own, but he's learning to live with it and make it his own in his own way. So to be able to instill what little confidence that he's gained to a friend in need is really beautiful to me, I think.

Deku gets into some guttural screaming, just world-class screaming. How do you prepare for that? Do you have to recover from it? How often do you have to do that, would you say?

YAMASHITA: I eat a lot to prepare. I don't do anything particularly to protect my voice, but I feel like if I don't do anything then my throat is gonna get stronger. Like, if you do more—so essentially for me, it's eat whatever I want when I want and sleep when I want.

BRINER: Yes!

It's a good way to prepare.

BRINER: Same. I always make sure that if I'm going to record that I warm up beforehand. I have a big background in singing. A lot my experience was with choirs and musical theater growing up, so I at least have that. So when I'm screaming it's more like singing… badly? And loudly? I'm able to support it from the same, so I don't go and shred up my voice every time.

So you're playing the main character in a giant, hit show that could potentially run years and years and years and years and years. Do you feel like you're prepared for that, and do you see yourself still relishing the role, if, say, a decade from now you're still playing Deku?

YAMASHITA: Yes. In a narration, where Deku says “this is the story of me becoming the best hero.” So I would like to see him become the best hero. I would like to see that, and I would like to continue playing him as he becomes a hero. So I'll try not to die in the middle, in the process. I might be a grandpa by the end, but I would like to perform this character until he becomes the best hero that he can be.

BRINER: I mean yes, I love Deku, I love the source material so much and so dearly that I'd love to be a part of it for as long as I can. It really means a lot to me that way.

As a brief follow-up, when you were starting your career, did you ever have the aspiration to be like “well, I basically want to be Goku in a series that's as big as Dragon Ball.” You're the Goku of this show. Did you ever see yourself in this position? And was that ever your aspiration?

YAMASHITA: Yes. When I started out, yes that was my hope that I would be able to encounter roles like this. I think that it honestly takes a miracle for this type of encounter to happen, to get a role that can be in a long-running show, and something like My Hero Academia is very, very rare. So I'm very grateful for the opportunity, and I feel like, as I said before, I'd like to stay with it until Deku becomes the best hero that he can be. When he becomes that hero, maybe that's the time that my life ends. That's how I feel, almost. So I would like to continue playing and breathe life into this character until he does, so…

Okay! All right. Follow that!

BRINER: All I've ever known that I wanted to do was act or perform in some capacity. I never knew exactly what avenue that would be. But the world of anime has always been something that's been very important to me growing up. I watched Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon before I knew what anime was. It was just another cartoon that I would rush home after school to watch. To be part of something so pivotal and so prescient, especially nowadays, is really special in that way. I don't know that I ever saw it happening. I don't know that I ever wished—I dared to wish that it would. But to be a part of it now is really incredible. Because it feels like I'm working my hardest to be a part of something that's much bigger than me. And I get a lot of satisfaction out of doing my part in that.

All right, I've got two short ones left. One, if you were playing any character in the show that was not Deku, who would you want to play?

YAMASHITA: I can't think of anybody else but Deku to play.

Fair enough.

BRINER: True, I love Deku too. If you make me answer, Froppy.

Perfect!

YAMASHITA: Kero Kero.

BRINER: Kero!

YAMASHITA: Maybe like a villain. One of the villains.

Last question. In your heart, who do you think Deku should wind up with in the show? As a romantic partner.

YAMASHITA: As far as I can tell for now, just by reading the manga and doing three seasons, it looks like Uraraka is very high on his list. But in the movie… I feel (original character from the My Hero Academia film) Melissa Shield has gained… she climbed up the ladder towards the top, the top of the list. So when you think about the future development of the story, there might be a chance that Melissa-chan comes back. In that case, there might be a battle between Uraraka Ochako and Melissa!

BRINER: That's pretty comprehensive. I feel like Uraraka is… they're just meant to be, somehow. Let me just introduce Tsuyu into the mix, Froppy. I don't know, I don't know.

It's a good pick. It's a good pick.

YAMASHITA: Isn't it that you like that character? Do you just like her—

BRINER: Uhhhh, maybe?

Everyone likes that character!

YAMASHITA: I think it's your taste!

Our thanks to Funimation, Justin Briner, Daiki Yamashita and Anime Expo for the opportunity.


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