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Interview: Voice Actors Rika Hayashi and Hiroki Tōchi Talk About Their New Golf Anime, Tonbo!

by Richard Eisenbeis,

Golf anime Tonbo! is one of the new anime premiering in the Spring 2024 season. At Anime Japan 2024, we sat down with lead voice actors Rika Hayashi and Hiroki Tōchi to talk about their characters, their experiences with golf, and the positives of country life in Japan.

In her first voice acting role as a main character, Hayashi plays the titular Oi! Tonbo, a young golfer hailing from one of Japan's numerous small island communities. “Tonbo is a genius,” Hayashi introduced her character. “Not only in terms of skill but also in terms of mindset. She always keeps on trying. She tries to understand her mistakes and how people around her do things. She's conscious of what she can do and cannot and that is how she's always improving.”

Hiroki Tōchi
Meanwhile, veteran voice actor Hiroki Tōchi takes on the role of disgraced former pro golfer Kazuyoshi Igarashi. “[He's] clumsy... he's not really skillful—or rather, he keeps on failing,” Tōchi said about the core of his character. Yet, as the story goes on, Igarashi grows as a person thanks to his relationship with Tonbo. This culminates in Tōchi's favorite moment: When Igarashi voices his feelings about their mentor/mentee relationship. “What's remarkable is that Igarashi has never done such a thing before, but he manages to clearly express his feelings to Tonbo. It's a truly lovely scene where you can feel the bond between them. As an adult myself, I found it to be a wonderful moment.”

As Tonbo! is an anime centered around golf, it's good to know that both voice actors have spent at least some time playing the sport. Hayashi had little experience with golf before being cast in the role. “When I was in elementary school, I only swung a golf club a couple of times, but I hadn't played golf otherwise,” she began. “Since [production on] Tonbo! started, I've been going to the practice range—trying to hit balls and thinking about how to make them fly afar. I try to mimic how Tonbo does it, and I've come to understand the joy and excitement she feels when trying new things and achieving them. It might be similar to the joy Tonbo feels when overcoming challenges and succeeding, even if things don't go smoothly at first.”

Tōchi, on the other hand, has more of a history with golf. “When I was around 16, in my first year of high school, my dad liked to golf, so I would go with him sometimes,” he explained. “Since I used to play, I understand the tension of 'I'm going to make this putt'—the pressure that comes from knowing that making this putt will change my score from 40 to 39. I understand where Tonbo and Igarashi's mentality comes from when they're playing golf.”

Interestingly, golf—or rather, its English terminology—was a hurdle that both Tōchi and Hayashi had to overcome. “When it comes to golf, there are many technical aspects, which can be quite challenging [to say]. Sometimes, I had to talk for about three pages straight from the script. That's tough.” Tōchi continued, “I'm familiar with terms like ‘3-iron’ that are mentioned—or words like ‘against’ (for headwind) and ‘follow’ (for tailwind)—but the intonation of these words can be difficult, like in 'fairway.'” Hayashi agreed, “I couldn't say it at first!”

Rika Hayashi
Yet, while golf is the central focus of Tonbo!, it's setting is also vitally important. The start of the story takes place in the rural Tokara Islands—a chain of small islands off the southern coast of Japan with a total population in the mid-hundreds. While neither Tōchi nor Hayashi has visited the islands themselves, Hayashi comes from the countryside herself and is easily able to empathize with the islanders' close-knit community: “When I was a kid, I often forgot my house keys before going to school. Since both of my parents worked, I couldn't get back inside until they returned. However, since I lived in the countryside of Wakayama, passing neighbors would see me and ask: 'Would you like to come over?' We all knew each other, and there was a lot of kindness.”

While he didn't grow up in the countryside, Tōchi noted that there was a much greater sense of community when he was a kid that reflects what's shown in Tonbo! “I currently live in an apartment building, and we have neighbors who don't even greet each other. Back when I was a kid, it was common to borrow things like soy sauce from your neighbors if you ran out. It seems like such habits are still commonplace on the Tokara Islands,” Tōchi explained. “While some people long for Tokyo, those people living on the Tokara islands naturally exhibit warmth and kindness. Despite not having any blood ties, everyone in the community supports each other. It's like a big family. I envy such a community.”

When thinking about the fact that Tonbo! will be viewed by anime fans worldwide, Hayashi had this to say. “I feel excited and a little anxious thinking about how people from various locations will see the anime and what they'll think about it. It's an interesting show filled with the charm of everyone involved, so I hope everyone enjoys watching it.”

Tōchi also added his thoughts on the matter. “Golf is a sport known worldwide, so the storyline [of Tonbo!] is easy to get into and enjoy. There are various types of anime, but this one has an old-fashioned Japanese atmosphere. The characters are also really charming. You can learn about resilience, kindness, and what it means to be strong from them. I hope that children and adults alike can appreciate the beauty of it! I hope lots of folks enjoy the series!”

Tonbo! is currently streaming on Amazon Prime and YouTube in the United States.

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