At Otakon 2023, Iwao Junko (Tomoyo in Cardcaptor Sakura) had a panel focused exclusively on her history and career. This is a summary of the panel, as well as notes from the Q&A that occurred. To read the interview I conducted with her and collaborator Kawamura Ryu, go here.
Iwao started off the panel by talking about her childhood, and how she loved listening to records found in storybooks, watching anime, listening to music. At that time, voice acting wasn’t seen as it is today, so when she asked others about a career in that realm, they told her she would have to be an actor or a singer/musician. Even so, she thought about getting into voice acting since she was 6 or 7 years old.
Around 13, she secretly auditioned to become an idol, and while she was ready to get rejected 100 or 200 times, she ended up getting accepted after just on try. Her parents (especially her dad) were very against it, but she promised them that she would quit in ten years if she didn’t make it.
So she went to Tokyo and did lessons, and she eventually debuted as an idol in a four-person group at the age of 16. She was actually replacing another idol in the group who had “graduated” (i.e. quit and moved on), but the group was already planning to split up after one year. Once that was done, she had to do part-time jobs and attend night school.
Iwao’s First Anime Role
From then on, until the age of 23, Iwao just worked and auditioned, ending up with various jobs. She was in musicals, and also played an assistant in a science show for kids. She even worked at a train station. One day, one of the members of the science show saw Iwao and asked if she had given up on show business. At that time, the ten-year deadline she had promised her parents was almost up. This person mentioned that a certain show was looking for someone who could act and sing, and so Iwao went for it because it could be her last chance. After auditioning, she was nervous waiting for results every day.
It was her first anime role, and it was Melissa Thorn, one of the main characters in an Japanese-French co-produced anime called Montana Jones, about explorers on a voyage. Got the part of one of the main characters of Montana Jones. When she told her parents about it, worried that time was technically already up, her parents instead congratulated her, and said they want Iwao to keep trying for another 10 or even 20 years.
From there, Iwao joined a voice acting school and practiced for her debut in Montana Jones. One thing that surprised her about working on the show was that there was no rehearsal time in anime. The first day of recording is when you meet the rest of the cast.
Another surprise was that they recorded based on roughly drawn non-color animatics. She expected to be acting in reference to finished animation, and while there was sometimes color, that was often not the case. Sometimes, ttwo characters would even be represented by just a red line and a blue line.
The other main characters were played by Otsuka Akio (Solid Snake, Black Jack) and Nakao Ryusei (Freeza). Their performances were so good that she worried there were actually prior practice sessions that she didn’t know about and missed. Iwao couldn’t keep up with them at all.
The way the recording studio was set up, 10-plus people had to work with four microphones. And in fact, one of those mics was the “main character mic,” exclusively used by Ohtsuka as Montana Jones. The result: you ad to quietly get up to the mics each time and constantly choosing which of the three you’d use every time. Not only that, but recording was analog back then, and the tape didn’t stop for you. Every take was 15-minute long (about half an episode), and whenever there was a mistake, everyone had to start all over again. Iwao remembers the other voice actors getting frustrated with her and asking, “What is this amateur doing here?” It was Otsuka and Nakao who helped her through the process, until they eventually finished the first episode.
After the debut episode, haired, the show actually got complaints from viewers who wanted her to be replaced with someone more experienced, and she even received a stack of physical hate mail complaining about her. The other actors supported her and let her know that everyone has to deal with this. Gradually, the staff also supported her, and she gained fans little by little. She still got negative feedback, but would also receive letters from fans. Because of that, she wanted to become someone who could someday help a newbie overcome these same troubles. Something curious she noticed was that once she started having a more positive outlook, she started landing a lot more roles.
At first, she didn’t have enough voice acting gigs to quit her day job, but eventually had enough roles that she could go full-time. Her first time as protagonist was in Key the Metal Idol, and from there, it was Cardcaptor Sakura and Evangelion and so on. She remembers her manager saying, “You’re gonna get it,” in regards to Eva. It was with Eva that she could make voice acting her sole career. One thing she learned, though, was that despite the job being “voice acting,” a lot of her work seemed to be event-related. Couldn’t get much sleep, which was rough.
Iwao recalled that the Eva audition was 15 minutes long for everyone. There was a long bench where everyone sat as they waited to try out, and she could see so many voice actors there who were interested. Iwao actually auditioned for two roles, and hinted that the second role has become known recently, but did not specify which one.