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Sound Decision
Maaya Sakamoto

by Jonathan Mays,
It seems like just yesterday that fifteen-year-old Maaya Sakamoto was the princess of anime. Bursting onto the scene with the starring role in 1997's Escaflowne, Sakamoto thrived as a sweet, passionate voice actress and an adventurous singer. The following years would see her talents showcased in El Hazard, Record of Lodoss War, and Risky Safety, and sprinkled into shows like Geneshaft and RahXephon.

Now, with her teenage years behind her, Sakamoto is moving into new, more challenging territory. She voiced Princess Amidala in Star Wars, tested the stage with "Les Miserables," and starred in a short film called "03 Cross." But all of that pales in comparison to her shocking decision to split from legendary composer Yoko Kanno. Has the clock reached midnight for Princess Sakamoto, or is she laying the steps to be anime's next queen?

Did you start as a singer or a voice actress?
I did all sorts of acting and theater, so that was first.

When did you start singing?
When I was sixteen, the first song I sang was the opening for Escaflowne.

What about Yoko Kanno?
Hmm, the first meeting? I was about sixteen and getting ready to sing the Escaflowne song. It was like she was a bright, charming older sister.

Still do most of your work with her?
From when I was sixteen until very recently, everything that I did in music was with her.

When did you decide to start doing solo projects outside of anime?
Right from the start. I released my first album when I was seventeen; it was done so quickly.

What are the different challenges that come between singing and voice acting?
The biggest difference is probably that, when you're acting, you become someone else. You have to be another person. When you sing, it's more about discovering yourself, finding the way to best express your own feelings.

Have you learned more about yourself through singing?
I also write my own lyrics, and in doing so, it takes a lot of thought. It makes me think about how I want to express myself and the kind of things I'm thinking about. It also gives me a chance to face myself and find out what it is that I most want to sing.

What sort of inner discoveries have you made?
After singing some songs year after year, you can see the growth from year to year. You also find out what stays the same. I've written songs to encourage myself when I wasn't feeling my best, to push myself to go on.

Do you find it harder to express yourself through your songs, or someone else through voice acting?
[English] Both. I think both are very difficult, but expressing yourself is probably harder.

When did you start singing in English?
From the very start.

[Laughs] I'm not really sure exactly how it came about, but back when I was sixteen, Ms. Kanno said, "It would be good include an English song on your album." And then it became a sort of tradition.

Has Kanno ever asked you to do something really hard or unusual?
[English] Every time! Ms. Kanno is a very unique person, and the hurdles she sets for you are high and get higher every single time. Everything I do with her gets harder and harder, but you have a great sense of accomplishment after doing it, so it's fun and entertaining, even if it's very difficult.

What's your favorite kind of music to sing?
The music I sing right now is my favorite. [English] I love my music.

Is there anything you haven't done yet that you want to try?
Hmmm... right now I'm working on an album that doesn't involve Ms. Kanno. Different people, different musicians—that in itself is very different for me. Right now I just want to be able to meet more musicians and open myself up to those new experiences and create something refreshing.

What's on your iPod right now?
[English] My favorite music is mostly folk and rock. Oasis, Sarah McLaughlin... many people. But not really Japanese pop.

Back to voice acting... what character do you think taught you the most?
One of my first voice acting roles was Hitomi from Escaflowne. She was a high school student as I was. In doing her character, after a while, I didn't know where I ended and she began.

Can you talk about the kinds of hurdles you overcame while singing?
There are a lot of different things that Ms. Kanno wants from you. Some of those hurdles are technical, like a difficult melody line or a high key, but they can also be on an emotional level, like how she wants me to express the lyrics. Also, not necessarily lyrics, but something that can't be expressed with words that she wants in the song.

What's the most embarrassing thing that's ever happened in your career?
[English] For me, I can't speak well in English, but I have a lot of English songs on my CDs, so it's really a shame. [Laughs] Did you see my concert?

The place was really rocking. Could you stand my MC?

Of course!
For me, I was very nervous about yesterday's concert. I wasn't quite sure if anybody would understand my English. I was quite happy that everyone seemed to enjoy them.

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