Tanaka Rie is a veteran voice actor with over two decades’ experience in anime.
How would you describe the voice acting industry back when you first started versus what it’s like today?
I feel like I’ve only been in the industry for 25 years, so there are other people who are much more senpai than I am. But back when I first started out, voice actors wouldn’t show their faces in the media a lot. Now, though, you see voice actors doing media, movies, TV shows, photo books, and such. So you start to see that it’s much more out there in the media. There are a lot of young kids nowadays who are really excited about the prospect of being voice actors, so in that sense it’s changed quite a bit.
You graduated from the famous Yoyogi Animation School. Are there any particular things you learned there that you feel have helped you greatly in your career?
I feel very fortunate and very blessed that I was able to attend Yoyogi Animation School. I only went for one year’s curriculum there, but I was able to gather a lot of experience. That’s because it’s very different when you’re a voice actor because in order to be a pro, you have to gather experience. And so even if you go to school, even if you go through a curriculum, and even if you graduate, you still have to get that experience at doing that job. But I do find that one thing that was really great was being able to be around other people who were also looking to be voice actors—that friendly competition, that rivalry. We also had auditions at school.
When I originally went to the school, though, I debuted as a singer and not as a voice actor. I was with Sony for three years as a singer, and then went from there to being a voice actor. I feel that it was a very good experience. I’m glad I went to a vocational school.
When I think “Tanaka Rie,” the first character that comes to mind is Lacus Clyne from Gundam SEED. How did you approach playing the character, as well as Meer Campbell in SEED Destiny?
Lacus Clyne is the most difficult character I’ve ever played. She’s not a regular human, but rather one of a variation called Coordinators. They’re like a third era of humanity who are born having been adjusted and “coordinated,” and so Lacus’s emotional expressions were extremely challenging. Even through the full range of emotions, not much changes. She’s a human being, but she doesn’t emote in a very human way. In times of sadness or in times of joy, I had to portray her intense emotions in a calm and reserved manner. Whether she’s happy or crying, she doesn’t falter.
Her name means “lake” [in Latin], and the director told me that the image of her is that of a tranquil lake that calms. Having to keep that image in mind was incredibly hard.
Lacus was a character in both SEED and SEED Destiny, whereas Meer Campbell debuted in SEED Destiny. People who’ve never seen these shows might be wondering who the heck Meer is, but she’s a copy of Lacus Clyne—a fan of Lacus who was surgically altered to look and sound like Lacus because Meer wanted to become her. She was a fake Lacus who was deceived by the villain of the series, Durandal, into believing she could become the real deal.
Meer is actually a powerless and utterly normal human being, and so she has this very human quality to her. I found that it made her an incredibly easy character to play—Meer’s so human that it hurt. As a girl, she has a certain way of being and a strong personality. This comes out when she says, “I am Lacus!,” due to her brainwashing, and even when she’s confronted by the real Lacus Clyne, she still thinks, “I was Lacus, wasn’t I?” I loved Meer.
As I played her, I thought, the character of Meer really is a complicated girl. While Lacus was difficult to play, Meer was the opposite: a woman who was all too human. I could really empathize with her as a normal person. I approached her as a character one could easily empathize with. That’s what made Lacus so much more difficult, whereas when playing Meer, I could use the emotions I had going into the studio that day and put them into the character because she’s such a human character.
You were involved with the Precure franchise very early on in the role of Shiny Luminous. Do you have any memorable stories from working on Max Heart, and how does it feel to see Precure going for this long?
Luminous is not technically a Precure, and she’s actually a queen in that world. When I got the part, I thought she was a Precure, but in actuality she wasn’t. It was tricky in the sense that she’s a character who can transform like a Precure but isn’t actually one and doesn’t refer to herself as one.
She transforms with a shout of “Luminous Shining Stream!” using her mascot Porun as a compact, but that doesn’t mean that she’s powerful. Precures fight using martial arts, throwing punches and kicks—that’s how they show their strength. Luminous can’t fight physically, though. She’s a character who runs away and guards using barriers, and thinks, “I’m going to protect everyone!” after she’s transformed. Luminous really tries her hardest, and because she can’t fight directly, she strives to safeguard Nagisa and Honoka, Cure Black and Cure White. However, when the time comes, all three are within her barrier to perform the attack Extreme Luminario. When that happens, all three are truly united.
When she’s Kujou Hikari, however, she’s just a normal schoolgirl who works part-time as an apprentice at a takoyaki cafe, and is rather shy. Playing her ended up requiring a lot of effort.
You play many “big sister–like” characters, such as Suigintou in Rozen Maiden, Maria in Hayate, Akira in Yamato 2199, and Maho in Girls und Panzer, yet you’re able to make them sound so different from one another. Do you have any advice for newer voice actors who would like to be able to diversify their style?
I’ve done so many roles, and when it comes to being a voice actor, we do a lot of solo recording these days. But before COVID-19, it was common to do voice recording as a group, and for like 23 people to share three mics.
When it comes to differentiating roles, well, there’s only 24 hours in a day. For example, you might have one project that goes from 10am to 3pm, and then another 4pm to 9pm, and you have to try your best to do well in both roles during those 24 hours. In that hour between, I make that “switch” inside me, like when I’m eating. While it’s tough to do so, being able to just go “I’m triggering that switch” is what being a professional voice actor is about.
When I think about it, though, I don’t know for sure how I accomplish that. It’s true that my normal speaking voice isn’t the one I use for my characters, so perhaps it’s like putting on one mask and then switching to another. So it’ll be like: “Today I’m Nishizumi Maho.” “Today I’m Luminous.” “Today I’m Lacus Clyne.” I might be doing it unconsciously. But being able to “switch” like that is very important.
Those aiming to be voice actors shouldn’t just focus on voice acting but should learn from many things and observe more broadly. You often hear it said that you need to start your voice acting career in your teens, and if you wait until you graduate, it’ll be too late. They’ll even say that in the voice acting schools. But you’ll have some who start voice acting in high school, while others might go to college first or switch to becoming voice actors from a different career. It’s really about your own life, and the timing with which you decide, “I want to do this thing!” becomes important in terms of how you study and learn about the world and society. Between a voice actor who knows nothing of the world and one who has all kinds of experience, I find the latter more impressive. That’s what my senpai have always said as well, and it makes one want to try to have many different experiences.
Mobile games have become a major part of the entertainment industry, and you have worked on a great many. Do you do anything differently when voicing characters for mobile games versus anime or more traditional video games?
When it comes to mobile games, anime, and more traditional video games, the approach doesn’t really change. However, what is different is dubbing foreign media—dramas, movies, and such. That’s because they don’t want me to use “anime character voices” but rather something closer to my real voice. So the approach to voice acting for a TV show from abroad is different compared to doing something for a work that’s originally Japanese.
In recent years, you started your own YouTube channel, playing games, releasing music, and showing your cosplay. What made you want to start streaming yourself?
During the coronavius pandemic, I thought, “Why not try?” but actually, the suggestion to make a YouTube channel began before COVID-19. I’d never done YouTube before, and between my main job as a voice actor and having to provide deliverables and content, I wasn’t sure if I had the capacity to handle doing it all. But I’ve always loved video games, and so when COVID-19 happened and things couldn’t continue as they had, I thought, “Well, guess I’m doing this.” But also, I thought about how I couldn’t interact with the fans—the tens of thousands of subscribers—and how hard it was for them, as well as how sad it made me as well as Vega-chan, who’s been working with me all this time. In terms of the scope of what we could do, we started with streaming from my home, and as things have opened back up, I can do more and even find sponsors. That said, things didn’t totally open back up, meaning it’s still a bit hard. So this is a kind of fanservice so I can connect to the fans through my voice, and I can give them joy through my broadcasts, where I deliver content twice a week. I love video games, and the fans like seeing me play them, so that makes me happy.
You are known for having a love of Indian curry. Do you have a favorite type of Indian curry?
Cashew curry! It has cashew and chicken. I always make sure to have cashews in my curry, and I love the spices. Indian food in Japan is amazing! I love it.
Would you like to give a message to your fans reading this interview?
I really cherish all my fans. Even if there are times you can’t hear my voice in anime or video games, I’ve been working hard with Vega-chan on my YouTube channel for a long while now, and fans can interact with me there. Also, there will be a lot of big projects coming up where you’ll be able to hear me again, and so to my fans not just in Japan but all over the world as well, please continue to support me. I look forward to seeing you all soon.