We almost never see them but they are incredibly important for our enjoyment of watching anime. Japanese voice actors play a big part in making us laugh, cry and be emotionally invested in our favorite shows. Many of them have gathered a big fan following thanks to their amazing talent of breathing life into our favorite characters or being amazing singers who can fill giant concert halls all by themselves—and we were lucky enough to meet one in person for you!
Recently, we were fortunate enough to meet legendary voice actress Yui Horie who attended the German anime convention Connichi as a guest of honor. She was willing to sit down with our team and enlightened us about the world of Japanese voice acting and the differences in recording when contrasted to Western voice actors, gave us some insight into the creation of her virtual idol Miss Monochrome and, most importantly, told us how Japanese voice actors approach the pronunciation of English dialogue.
Can you describe Miss Monochrome for those who are not familiar with her?
Yui Horie: First of all, thanks to Crunchyroll for streaming Miss Monochrome. I actually designed Miss Monochrome myself. She was originally intended as an enemy for my concerts, but over time, she became an idol in her own right and later even an anime. I think “Virtual Idol” is the best term to describe her.
It’s been a couple of years since Miss Monochrome’s first appearance in 2012. What was the most exciting part of this journey, and what are your hopes for Miss Monochrome’s future?
Yui Horie: I never would have guessed that Miss Monochrome would become an anime! We’ve been together on the stage a couple times and I wondered what the audience would think of it. I was really happy to learn that they like it. I think that a new kind of idol emerged through this. Sure, there are a lot of virtual idols and VTubers nowadays, but back then they were rather uncommon. It’s almost like she really exists. Speaking of which, are VTubers popular in Germany, as well?
People at least know about them, but they aren’t really that popular yet. For example, we recently collaborated with her at Crunchyroll Expo and showed her first concert but her popularity is still growing.
Yui Horie: Well Miss Monochrome is no VTuber, so it’s a bit hard to describe what she is. I suppose the best way to understand it is just to watch a couple of her videos on YouTube.
Are there any details that go into the creation of a character like Miss Monochrome that people aren’t aware of? What challenges did you face along the way?
Yui Horie: Of course, the technical aspect is rather difficult. Maybe it’s not as hard as it used to be, considering that the technology evolved over the years but back then, it was still something new and innovative. Especially, we were particular about the character’s movement since then.
Regarding my own contributions? Well, I just sketched the design on a blank piece of paper and my colleagues took care of the rest. I didn’t really do anything difficult. But I know that a concert hall must meet certain requirements for us to perform there—so that we are able to set up the boards for the hologram—you know these see-through panels. And this of course limits where we can perform.
Music director: When we add more details to Miss Monochrome, the quality increases as well. But we always have to keep our actual goal in mind and there is a point where we have to stop when it comes to details because of the budget. Making that decision is not always easy.
Yui Horie: Miss Monochrome is real, after all! But doing the robot-like voice can be pretty tiring sometimes.
What is the difference between the concert of a virtual idol and a „performance in flesh and blood?”
Yui Horie: Talking about Miss Monochrome’s concerts, obviously, it is rather hard to organise the equipment. A lot of work goes into that but overall, it’s rather simple. No matter where and no matter how many times, Miss Monochrome always delivers a flawless performance. She sings without flaw, dances without flaw—she is the perfect performer. But she always does the same thing on stage. We always look for ways to make each concert a unique experience. For example, we have this character, Monster-DJ Z, who entertains the audience. We always try to offer something alongside the visuals of Miss Monochrome and always think of new ways to do that.
Regarding my own concerts—I know how to entertain it and I have certain freedoms to approach it. But I’m made out of flesh and blood myself, so I get tired after a while. I think that’s the great difference: Miss Monochrome can give three or four concerts a day, I can only do one, maybe two.
What does the future have in store for Miss Monochrome?
Yui Horie: Well, in Japan there is this festival for AR and VR on September 23rd. A lot of popular AR and VR-Artists will perform there, like Hatsune Miku to name one example—is Hatsune Miku popular in Germany, as well?
Indeed, she is! Hatsune Miku is well known around here. In fact, there recently has been a concert in Cologne and she also often appears alongside our mascot, Crunchyroll Hime, on illustrations and such.
Yui Horie: I hope that Miss Monochrome can join them some day!
Anyway, like I said there is this festival in Tokyo. But it would be great if Miss Monochrome could also perform in Germany—or everywhere in the world, for that matter. It would be nice if she was known everywhere and that we could perform in as many countries as possible. We appreciate every offer!
Let’s focus on your work as a voice actor: How much time do you have to prepare for a role? It must be difficult having so many different roles at the same time.
Yui Horie: When we talk about an anime that is based on a manga or a novel, it’s actually pretty simple compared with the original anime. You can easily prepare yourself by checking out the source material. But when it comes to an original work, you have to record your lines without knowing what comes next. You have to get a feeling for the character. We talk with the director and the rest of the staff and discuss where the character is supposed to go and because of that I think that it is essential for a voice actor to be adaptable.
I start by recording some lines for a role and then I get directions like „a bit younger,“ „a bit colder“ or „a bit meaner.“ I have to change my speech pattern on the spot. Even when I’m able to prepare for a role, it might still happen that we notice during the recording that it doesn’t quite work that way and that I have to do it differently.
In the West, it’s pretty common for each voice actor to record their lines alone. Are there any difficulties to record in groups? Something people might not be aware of? What is in your opinion the advantage of group recordings?
Yui Horie: There are situations where you have to record by yourself in Japan, as well. This is mostly the case for games and narrations. But yes, its common practice that everyone involved in an anime episode record their dialogue together. Dialogue is a form of human interaction, after all. When I practice my role alone at home, it might happen that I have a different idea of how to perform a line than my partners. And you have to adapt to that. This creates a certain bond between the actors and their characters and I think this is the greatest advantage of the Japanese method.
But when I’m recording lines for a game, I’m sitting alone in the booth. I can let my creativity run wild and focus on my own vision. I think that this has its benefits as well. But you need a lot of imagination, as you have to imagine how the other characters would react.
What the difference between working on an anime and working on a game, especially when it is an extensive work like, for example, Umineko no Naku Koro ni?
Yui Horie: The script for Umineko was very big. Someone with a lot of endurance records for maybe four to five hours a day. If they don’t finish in that time, they continue the day afterwards. In my case, it depends a bit on the role, but I usually record for three hours a day which adds up to about 400-500 words of dialogue. Some fast people manage up to a 1000 well and I continue with the script when I am free to do it.
What is it like for a Japanese Voice Actor to speak German or English in anime?
Yui Horie: Well the English we use obviously still sounds very Japanese, for example something like “Sandaaboruto” for example. But I’d also like to know: How does it sound to you?
Well, you usually notice that voice actors just act out the Katakana transcription, but it’s also creating a certain charme for many fans. Just to name an example, fans of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure love to quote the broken English of the show. Many consider it a part of the experience.
Yui Horie: Well, when it comes to stuff like spells, I usually just read off the Katakana. But there are some characters that are supposed to speak English properly and that’s always rather exciting. Usually someone stands beside me and dictates how I’m supposed to pronounce a word and I repeat it afterwards. But that is rather taxing and it really depends on the situation and the person. Some prepare themselves for this by listening to recordings. I prefer to let others dictate me how to say something.
Does it work the same way when you speak German?
Yui Horie: Place names and monikers are often German. Those are always written down in Katakana and I usually just read them off. For example I can say “Gute Nacht“ [Good Night] and in Katakana, this would be “Guute Nahato” or I can try to say it in proper German and form the word “Nacht.” There are some vocals that simply don’t exist in the Japanese language and if it is written down in Katakana, I simply read those. If I get the task to say something as German as possible, it’s far more difficult. For example, in Katakana, if you have names like Dresden, the script simply says “Doresuden” and that’s how I pronounce it, even if it is “Dresden” in proper German.
To close things off a bit of a joke question: Do you think vacuum cleaners make for the ideal pet and if so, why?
Yui Horie: Since I don’t get to clean my house that much myself, I would really appreciate it if my pet could take care of it. If I had a dog, it would only make a mess while Ru-chan, appearing in Miss Monochrome anime, would clean everything up, so that would be really handy. So yeah, I think they would make for the ideal pet!
Thank you very much for the interview!
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René Kayser is the PR and Social Media Manager for Crunchyroll Germany. He tweets @kayserlein where he yells at people to finally read the visual novel Umineko When They Cry.
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