This is the 2nd part of Animate Times’ Nichinare interview series with Suzaki Aya. Check out Part 1 if you would like to read it.
——Please share with us: what made you think about becoming a voice actor.
Suzaki: Ever since elementary school, I liked ‘Detective Conan’ and I really admired the character, Haibara Ai-chan. I wanted to find out who was the voice behind her and ended up knowing Hayashibara Megumi-san. Progressing to middle school, I talked to many friends who liked anime, listened to Hayashibara Megumi-san’s radio show from time to time. At that time, there was an announcement that she would release her first album in years, and I carried that excitement with me and continued listening to her radio show every week.
I hadn’t known of other associated activities of a voice actor other than anime work, so at that time I discovered that there were radio shows and events, and also got to know about the kind of work that a voice actor’s job entails. So in the beginning, it wasn’t so much of looking up to voice actors, it was me admiring Hayashibara Megumi-san.
——Looking up to her, you decided to set your sights on becoming a voice actor?
Suzaki: My hometown didn’t have a training school nearby, so it was a faint thought. Upon entering high school, there was a NHK radio programme* that allowed you to have a live consultation with a voice actor over the air. When it was Hayashibara Megumi san’s turn to come on as a guest, I somehow got through the line and was able to talk to her about my future plans. That was when I seriously thought of attending vocational school, so after I graduated from high school, I headed to Tokyo to attend college and entered Nichinare.
*The radio programme referenced here is NHK’s こども夢質問箱 (Kodomo Yume Shitsumon Hako / Children’s dream help box). I won’t talk too much about it here, since it would be much better to refer to the video compilation subbed by LostBlue below. I would strongly recommend you to watch this video, because it narrates the 10 year journey Suzaki Aya took to stand in front of her idol as a voice actor.
——So you juggled college life and training at Nichinare?
Suzaki: Yeah. During the 1st year of my studies, I would work part-time to save up money, which I used to join Nichinare in the spring of my 2nd year.
——Why did you choose to join Nichinare?
Suzaki: It was affordable (laughs).
——The finance side is also important, heh (laughs).
Suzaki: Also, I found out that Hayashibara-san went into Nichinare on a scholarship, and it being a major company made me feel assured, so I chose Nichinare. The lessons were once per week and that was a boon to my college life.
——You also couldn’t afford to neglect either of them right?
Suzaki: Even after I entered the workforce, my parents were strict on me. There was an agreement that I had to gain 3 years of experience working in an office. They told me that it was to provide a safety net in case I couldn’t debut as a voice actor, and if I didn’t enter the workforce immediately after graduation, it would be difficult for me to get into a company afterwards. In the end, I worked for 2 years.
——What kind of lessons did you go through in Nichinare?
Suzaki: The course structure was divided into 3 types of classes – foundation, regular, induction. For foundation and regular classes, it was vocal training, how to deliver lines smoothly as well as moving your body just like practicing movement on the stage. As for induction classes, the more you advance, the more time you get to spend in front of the mic. I felt that it was really helpful to go through the foundation and regular classes properly. If a person has not gone through proper acting lessons and stands in front of the mic, they sound empty and insincere, and that person comes across as acting without studying the foundations, so I feel that the experience I gained at Nichinare was really important.
Even though there was only 1 lesson per week, I was practicing acting almost every day. It was a mental battle with the imaginary lecturer within me, to see how far I could take my acting each week. Also, the lessons are based on your initiative (to learn). I thought that if I held back here, it would be futile, so I always went in with the belief that I must not lose.
——It was necessary to adopt an ambitious attitude after you joined after all.
Suzaki: Yes. As I advanced through the regular lessons, I got my first glimpse of “What acting is”. While I was in the fundamental class, I was reading my lines like I’m memorizing them. I later learnt that it was not supposed to be like that. My lecturer back then told me “If you have nothing you want to express, nothing will come out of you.” Even until today, those words remain etched in my mind.
——What’s the story behind that?
Suzaki: At that time, I wasn’t sure if i was able to do it, but it means to picture what you want to convey as the creator through the work itself, and not so much about the role. It’s like if you don’t have a viewpoint to convey to the viewers, they would end up with nothing. To read between the lines, filling in the gaps where the directions aren’t given, what kind of context you can apply to these lines, and what kind of emotional changes you go through to arrive at that conclusion – I was able to feel it for the first time at that time, to fill up the empty gaps with your imagination.
Also, that same lecturer also said this “Even if we are really poor and lousy, it’s fine, go ahead and draw out a big picture on that white empty canvas in front of you.”, which I still remember vividly. I’m still in the process of learning but, even if I know the conversation flow and the ending of the work or stage I’m appearing in, it is imperative to reset the parameters when you act and start writing your story at that point, to me this is an important lesson that I’ve been taught.
Although my thoughts were “Ah, indeed” when i heard that, it took me 2 years to actually feel it sink into my mind. I’m glad that I could realize that while being a student before actually taking it to the mic.
——By the way, how was the mood in the class?
Suzaki: It was really good. I was blessed by lovely classmates, and I’m still close with many of them now. It’s different from a specialized school and there were people from age 19 all the way to around age 30 when I enrolled. The majority of them are in the workforce, but there were also people like me who were still students. Coincidentally, one of them commuted to the same college as me and we often practiced together on our campus ground.
——That’s some coincidence! Next, let’s hear the story of your road to your debut in your current agency.
Suzaki: My anime debut was ‘Bakuman’ (Amane Misayo) when I was at training school. Hayami Saori-san voiced the heroine (Azumi Miho).In the story, I was part of the heroine’s 3-man idol unit that she formed, and I was able to participate in the dubbing and recording sessions.
——Did your debut open the path to joining I’m Enterprise?
Suzaki: Even though I undertook some jobs while I was in training school, that wasn’t the trigger that got me into I’m Enterprise.It wasn’t until the 5th year* since enrolling into the training school that I passed the auditions. Even after debuting, I was still voicing mob roles**, and I couldn’t really get a main role breakthrough.
In the midst of all the auditions, I passed the audition to voice the main heroine, Kitashirakawa Tamako in the anime, Tamako Market. It took me around 1.5 years after entering I’m Enterprise to finally get that role. I’m really glad that I did not get dejected during the time it took for me to obtain that opportunity. My parents were always against this career decision, so I didn’t really mention to them about me getting accepted by an agency. It was also later on that I told them about my resignation from an office job (laughs). I think it was my confirmation of voicing Tamako that made them finally acknowledge me.
*Suzaki was 20 when she entered training school, and debuted at the age of 24 in Bakuman as mentioned earlier.
**Mob roles are non-credited roles, usually background characters.
——Ah, I see. How was the atmosphere during the recording at that time?
Suzaki: Since most of the main cast along with me were newbies*, we were raised in a warm environment by everyone else. Especially Yamazaki Takumi-san (Mochimazzi Dera), who gently taught me a variety of things. However, it wasn’t so much of acting advice like “You should do this part like this”, it was more of “Because this is your first time as a leading role” watching closely over me, letting me run freely with the role.
When they saw me getting flustered over the movement around the mics**, they let me use the same mic each time I went to voice my lines, the studio environment was really warm.
*Tamako Market featured first-time main roles for Tamaru Atsushi (Ōji Mochizō), Kaneko Yūki (Tokiwa Midori), Juri Nagatsuma (Makino Kanna) and Yamashita Yurie (Asagiri Shiori).
**To allow for fluidity while doing recording, studios typically have a set up of 3-4 mics so that they can have 3-4 voice actors ready at their positions. When there is a break before their next lines, they move back to the seats and another voice actor will take their position. This is the reason why they may not necessarily go back to the same mic.
——That was a pleasant story.
Suzaki: Actually, when I was in training school, I set objectives for myself, which was to land a leading role in 10 years time. That happened during induction training where my lecturer, at a particular lesson, asked us to write down in our notes who we wanted to become 10 years later. After writing that down, we were told to fill the gaps in between the 10 years, to create additional objectives to meet that final objective. It got broken down into things I have to do after 3 years, 1 year, half a year and finally the things I have to do the next day. Since I wanted to have a leading role 10 years later, my goal for 5 years later was to get a role as the friend of the leading role (laughs).
At that point, since I hadn’t been accepted into an agency, when I engraved my vision moving forward, I thought that it would all come to waste if I couldn’t join one in 1 year’s time. For that sake, I wanted to improve on my delivery of lines and articulation the next day, and I also wrote detailed notes like studying acting by going to more theater shows.
I’m sure it was a lesson for us to hold tightly to our awareness of becoming a voice actor, and it became a very good opportunity for me to put my thoughts into action.
——Even though you didn’t become part of an agency in 1 year’s time as planned, you certainly achieved your objective of landing a leading role within 10 years.
Suzaki: I also made sure to jot down all the points that I learnt at the end of every lesson into my diary. Stuff like “Ah, this person’s acting is good” and the points I need to brush up on. They would go up to like 6 pages long.
I left all these notes back in my parents’ house, and when I look back at the memories of those times, I think I have worked hard to get here. They were thoughts on how I’m glad that I have soldiered on, and thoughts like I was really lucky to get my big break in just 1.5 years after joining I’m Enterprise.
Fast forward to the present, because of getting to experience a leading role at a young age, as the years passed by, I felt I should become a person capable of supporting the leading role instead. Conversely during my time in training school, I wanted the recognition of being the leading role after years of toiling away in the industry, I guess your viewpoint really changes after your debut.
——What were the skills you learnt at Nichinare that you found to be practical now?
Suzaki: I’m deviating a little away from acting for this: there was a particular lesson during induction training that continues to linger till even today at work. We had to bring what we perceived as weird clothes from home and lay them out on the floor, and then choose one of them to put on. Afterwards our lecturer brought clown-like red noses and asked us to put them on, we then had to do something in front of everyone for 3 minutes. This lesson continued for 1 month.
I was thinking “There are even lessons like that!?” (laughs). Moreover, I couldn’t prepare the jokes in advance, and had to present something with a clear state of mind during the lessons. I felt that it was especially difficult for quiet people, the same also went for me. But through those lessons, I was able to prepare myself for embarrassing situations, I would say to overcome them. and gained courage. Surprisingly, I was able to come up with something appealing. Also, we had to take something into consideration for the lessons: there was a rule that people watching the performer must not laugh, so looking at everyone’s stern faces….. It was really difficult (laughs). That is why this lesson was so memorable.
That was the stage for people whose acting didn’t normally stand out to shine. Taking note of their newfound appeal and fun, as well as watching the acting and self-written script of people with confidence flourish, it became clear that there were numerous approaches to this lesson. It was surely for the sake of jobs that require you to adlib, as well as teaching us the importance of not over-establishing the character and expressing ourselves at the point of recording.
——Aside from recordings, I also feel that opportunities for adlibbing have increased because of events, for example, and that is why the things you took away from those lessons are still being utilized on the field. Please share with us the appeal of Nichinare where you got to experience all these firsthand.
Suzaki: Nichinare allowed me to draw my inner self out in terms of acting. After all, the types of characters that everyone is good at are different, and while I was there, I was somehow able to understand “Ah, I’m suitable for this type of role”. I could also picture what kind of qualities I’m lacking in certain characters when I acted them out; in the end, it’s easier to portray these emotions after you have experienced them for yourself.
While seeking out that knowledge and experience, I discovered what kind of person I am, as well as my selling points. Spending time with many classmates and lecturers allowed me to understand things objectively, and I feel that is the appeal of Nichinare. Moreover, although the guideline of a once per week lesson may have its merits and demerits, for people who had to juggle work and lessons like me, it was a huge blessing. It would be really difficult to attend a training school with multiple lessons per week. Taking this point into consideration, I’m glad I went to Nichinare.
——Going forward, what are your aims as a voice actor?
Suzaki: Even though I have had a certain number of years of experience under my belt, I still feel that I’m young (when it comes to acting), there are many types of characters I have never acted out before. Moving forward, I want to widen my acting repertoire and rather than just acting out characters that I’m good at. That is why I feel Ōtorii Asuka (Mahō Shōjo Tokushusen Asuka)* will be able to show me a new side of my acting. I think it would be difficult to be able to voice any character, but transforming yourself to be someone you aren’t, I feel that is the beauty of acting.
Although it feels like an ordinary objective, I want to steadily gain experience through playing a variety of roles. That too includes games, a wide spectrum of jobs, and for these acting opportunities, I do not wish to apply this “I’d go with this pattern” style to them. No matter the type of character, I want to build the character up from the ground, even if the lines are similar to what I’ve seen, even if their appearances are similar, I want to carefully create my own image of them for each individual character.
*Covered in Part 1 of the interview
——Can we get a message from you for aspiring voice actors?
Suzaki: I think that acting is very profound. Even now, there are things that I don’t quite understand, the things that I look at are different from my seniors too, I feel that I have still got some way to go as far as acting is concerned. I’m sure there are many people who are standing at the start point, in the middle of their journey as well as people who want to step onto this platform. Presently, I’m experiencing the enjoyment I get from acting, but that is not because I became a professional. It is a feeling that has been present since my days in training school and that has become an extension of my job today.
Therefore, I want everyone who’s going to training school to find enjoyment in acting and to perceive the importance of dialogues as well as the flow of emotions. There were also hard times for me when I couldn’t pass auditions, but if I were to brood over that, I would only think negatively when I act. Although there are times you will feel that way, continue to put in effort so as not to weaken yourself. As long as you continue to do that, opportunities will open up for you.
I was anything but good back in training school, but there are many things that I picked up along the way. While keeping in mind the importance of daily life and experiencing various emotions, I would be glad if you can find your own path and walk towards it.
——How about the things you feel would be beneficial prior to joining a training school?
Suzaki: Generally speaking, I feel that gaining a variety of experiences is the best. Also, it would be good to watch a wide range of shows. That is not just limited to anime, but also dramas, movies, watching the daily lives of people for example. For example if you are a student, go observe the expressions of that weird teacher and all sorts of people, you may come to a realization like “unraveling a role just by getting close to the teacher!”. It’s difficult to picture something that you do not know, so they can be a good reference for you to relate to something that you have seen with your own eyes.
In short, go out there and accumulate those life experiences. Although I didn’t debut early, on the other hand I feel that it is offset by these experiences I went through as compared to another person who may have debuted earlier. I believe that the years of difference in debuting is by no means a waste of time, and there is really no such thing called too early or too late for your starting age.
——Those unremarkable scenes could be the ones that connect you to a role.
Suzaki: Yes, I want you to definitely live your life aggressively. For every event in your high school life, be it the culture festival or the sports meet, go in with everything you’ve got. That way, the memories will be burnt into your mind. For me it was the same, my days at Nichinare are still as vivid as ever. I’m sure that the acting that I’m able to do now is because of the accumulation of all these experiences, I think that it is important to lead an active life.
——Thank you for your time.
Interview, text: Toyabe Kouhei
This interview was first published in Animatetimes on 4th December 2018. All images and videos you see here belong to their respective owners.
Special thanks to Pyrite for proof reading!