Seiyuu to look out for: Sakura Ayane looks back at her life’s greatest turning point; “Until then, I couldn’t think of others as human…”
After two and a half something years I finally finished this translation. Ever since it was published I’ve always wanted to translate and convey Ayaneru’s genuine feelings and answers about more personal things about her. Things regarding why she wanted to be a seiyuu, how she decided on it, what it was like for her debuting at a young age, her ‘mission’ as a seiyuu, her goals in life as a person and much more. What I love about Ayaneru is the “I want to do it my way” attitude. Seemingly, it appears that Ayaneru tends not to conform with the meta, but rather likes to do stuff in accordance with her beliefs (as much as she can anyway). Throughout these 9 or so years that I’ve been closely watching and supporting Ayaneru that has been the case. Much of her good personality remains unchanged, yet she matures more and keeps changing for the best. She really does stick to her guns. It’s her genuineness as a person that’s really endearing for me. Like that time at that Shinkalion event where she started crying after the Character Cheering Movie screening because she was moved to tears from everyone’s support. You guys need to see your favourite seiyuu cry tears of joy. It’s like the most heartwarming thing ever. Then you get waved at and recognised as the only kaigai in the theatre and then all you dreams come true. Anyway, please enjoy reading genuineness.
While being only 23 years of age, Sakura-san is a young woman whose career is already nearing its 7th year. To start off, we interviewed her about the turning point of her career.
■The road to being a seiyuu not wanting to know more about herself:
―Debuting as a 16 year old is quite early, but in reality you weren’t necessarily thinking of becoming a seiyuu from a young age, correct?
Sakura: The reason I started being a seiyuu was because when I was a middle school student, my voice trainer from the troupe I was a part of (Gekidan Touhai) told me I was better off doing voicework.
―Initially, were you aspiring to become an actress?
Sakura: It wasn’t a very serious dream for me. I’ve been physically weak from a young age, so I was thinking of doing work that would teach me how to comprehensively use my physical ability. In addition to acting, I am able to learn Japanese dance, stretching, sword fighting, voice training, etc. so I joined Touhai.
Also, I’ve always liked seeing the making of movies and anime, so I had an admiration for the world of behind-the-scenes work — make-up artists, costume designers and producers… Beyond becoming an actress, I was thinking that if I joined a troupe, I would be able to catch a glimpse of those people’s work, and that was also a big part of it.
―Why did you switch to voicework from there?
Sakura: From a middle schooler’s point of view, joining a troupe was a good idea. However, the moment I actually stood up on stage, I thought “Ah, I was wrong.”
―What do you mean by “wrong”?
Sakura: Since I was the type to not want to learn more about myself, I didn’t know what to express. In the troupe, we often did plays similar to études where they asked us to perform freely. But, I had zero desires to express myself so I couldn’t answer to that. That’s when I first realized that maybe I wasn’t fit for acting.
―However, you were at least recommended by your voice trainer, and that’s why they thought you were fit for voicework, correct?
Sakura: Nah, what I couldn’t do in my acting, I made up for by pointlessly delivering my lines louder. I think that’s the reason behind it! (laughs)
―No, that’s not it!
Sakura: I think I just had a quality of voice that was better fit for the microphone. Also, I’m really awful at memorizing the script, but I was relatively good at acting while reading. They probably also had that part in mind when they thought I was more fit for voicework.
■ 2013, her Initiation to Adulthood
―However, despite saying “I’m not fit for acting,” you switched to voicework and quickly got a debut, right?
Sakura: Yes. But that’s also exactly why I was very troubled. I don’t have a clear memory of those days. I still remember taking phone calls when I was starting to regularly work on anime, but my memories of the period before that was foggy.
―About how long was that period?
Sakura: If I remember correctly… about 3 years.
―Isn’t that a bit too long for a time you don’t remember much!?
Sakura: I’d say the year I budded into a proper seiyuu was 2013.
―It’s as if you’re talking about yourself like a newborn baby.
Sakura: (laughs) But really, that year was also a big turning point for my career. I clearly remember that an hour before the after-recording session for an anime called “Vividred Operation’s” second episode, my voice wouldn’t come out at all. After going to the hospital, I was diagnosed with this thing called a “vocal nodule.” I thought I might have had to quit being a seiyuu. After that, it took half a year for me to fully recover, and every time I writhed in pain as I did my job, I started thinking seriously about how I could connect voicework to my next job.
―In other words, 2013 was the year you confronted the risk of losing your seiyuu career and first developed a sense of responsibility as a professional?
Sakura: I started to see everything like how much I grew to love being a seiyuu, and just how much my manager worked hard for my sake. I didn’t really see my manager as a human being before that much.
―”As a human being”…?
Sakura: I debuted as a teenanger, so I didn’t really understand the concept of “adults” much back then. I wasn’t one to understand what everyone around me were thinking. However, at that time, by causing trouble for others, I really felt just how much those adults worked hard for my sake. After that, I started seeing my manager as a fellow human being too. That’s when I realized I didn’t have many opportunities in my life thus far to be deeply influenced by other people. I mean, I only made one friend in primary school due to not being in the same circle as those who had many friends, moving from one group to another, transferring schools halfway through my middle school life and having a job. I was unable to be deeply affected by another because I was always lived worrying about what others thought about me. Since my youth was of that nature, I think I couldn’t see others as fellow human beings.
―Following that train of thought, losing your voice was a kind of an “initiation” to become an adult, right?
Sakura: That might be the case. (laughs) That was when I was 19, just about to turn 20. My life truly changed in those 6 months.
■ I want to become 30 or 40 sooner
―Through that period of turning points when it came to your life and your job, how have you changed?
Sakura: Hmm… Unlike back then, I started cherishing others more than myself. (laughs)
―You’ve finally developed human feelings, huh. (laughs)
Sakura: Finally, for the first time after I debuted 4 years ago. (laughs) Also, I started to understand the workings of my company. I started thinking “the manager does this job, and the staff does these jobs, so I have to do this job.”
―So not only did you become a professional, above all you also became an adult, yes?
Sakura: Yes, that was also part of it. For instance, I got to broaden my horizons at once by being able to talk to my senpai.
―Also, with regards to entering this industry, the reason you did was because you were interested in the making of anime and movies, and the fact that you thought of the world of adults as a wall to overcome. Since you’ve now experienced it, can you say that you have achieved your dreams?
Sakura: It’s true that I’ve admired adults since a long time ago. I’ve always wanted to grow up quickly that even now, I feel like I want to become 30 or 40 sooner.
―Sakura-san, you have many opportunities to model in gravure, but aren’t you afraid of getting older?
Sakura: I’m quite excited about it. Besides, I have this habit of thinking about my job in long spans of time and that’s exactly why the younger workers are leaving from the bottom, right? I’m thinking about things like how long I’ll stay in this industry, and what my older self can do.
―But, you’re still 23 years old!
Sakura: I think it’s probably because life after I turned 20 was challenging. (laughs) I felt like many happenings in my life were condensed to a shorter time frame and I’ve experienced things many times more than I have in my life before.
A famous seiyuu that overthinks. Sakura Ayane isn’t endearing!? You can’t survive doing voice work for shows alone…
■Immediately after entering the seiyuu industry, I was baffled. It was completely different
―This year (2017), Seven Eleven presents ‘Sakura toshitai Oonishi’ won best radio in the newcomer category for the 3rd annual Aniraji Awards 「アニラジアワード」. Among other things, your radio is very popular and you yourself as a seiyuu know that. In regards to the status quo (of the seiyuu industry), besides solely ‘doing’ voice acting, what are your personal thoughts about this matter?
Sakura: Hmm, I noticed it when I was about 16-17 years old, that in this industry, it seems like you wouldn’t survive doing voice acting alone for shows.
―That was the first year you debuted wasn’t it? How mature of you!
Sakura: When I first entered this industry, I wanted to be someone who upheld the true image of a seiyuu. Someone like Ooyama Nobuyo – the original seiyuu. Fundamentally, I wanted to do things which a seiyuu does. Things like working in the studio and once in a while, being featured on T.V.
But, around the time of my seiyuu debut, I realized that the seiyuu industry warranted something more than just being in front of a microphone. In saying that, the current direction of the industry is starting to lose its course. At the place where I was being trained and developed, someone told me “Ayane-chan, good things come those who wait. You have great talent, which will bloom late. So, when you graduate University, that will be the perfect time in which you can be a full blown seiyuu.” Therefore, due to this, I didn’t look forward to suddenly appearing on stage and being in the spotlight.
Truly, the gap between what I thought was the reality and what was an ‘ image’ was way too different. In the beginning, I felt unworthy – I lost my way. “I don’t want to do this kind of work”, I said as I turned my manager down.
―Did those work opportunities involve modelling in gravure like works?
Sakura: From the very start, I’ve never been good at being photogenic for the camera and stage appearances aren’t my thing. So, there was a reason why I became a seiyuu. Nowadays, for the sake of my voice acting work, I understood that from a working perspective, that these are also jobs which I need to decide to complete. While I understood the fact that seiyuu can’t survive solely doing voice work for shows, during that time, this was a concept (i.e. extra work) which I couldn’t grasp, so my manager got angry at me. But also, during that time, I had an epiphany and my eyes were suddenly open to the concept of radios.
―Did the idea of not having to show your face appeal to you?
Sakura: No, but rather, due to the influence my parents had on me, I’ve loved radio shows ever since I was a kid. I grew up in a TBS and Bunka Housou Radio「文化放送」 kind of house environment and it’s been like that for as long as I can remember. From this, I realized that people on the radio were able to freely use their voice to reach listeners, comparatively, had such high similarities to what seiyuus do as a job.
―So what you’re saying is that you would do it with it if it was a radio show?
Sakura: Only because I was weak at expressing myself that I gave up on becoming an actress… I won’t be able to reach anyone just by being myself. But because of that, I was able to create my own radio – “Sakura Ayane’s radio” by consulting, learning and mimicking my favourite radio show.
Like a radio in which the tone of the chatter and tempo of the show was easy to listen to. A radio where I can easily convey my personality naturally, merely, by using a voice. But, above all, I didn’t want to lie. That’s how it usually goes from my experiences.
■I didn’t want to think of myself as a woman…
―But, isn’t that just the usual attitude of a professional?
Sakura: Yes that’s right. But you know, there are times where my plain & unfiltered personality comes out and I get called a weirdo. I really do think I’m not an interesting person at all, so I try to devise ways towards self-improvement and spiritual enlightenment and yet, for my plain old self to be branded as a weirdo really is shocking to me. But seriously, I still don’t think I’m a weirdo.
―By the way, what was the radio show you were referencing earlier? (Your favourite one you built around ‘Sakura Ayane’s radio’.)
Sakura:I was referencing J-Wave’s ‘Groove Line’.
―That’s… quite unexpected. What parts do you like about it?
Sakura: I really love how Fumika Hideshima-san is able to elude and counter Piston Nishizawa’s dirty jokes. In reference to this, it makes me think that I actually want to be a woman. As for seiyuu radios, Masumi Asano-san’s and Takeshi Washizaki-san’s A&G Chou Radio Show Anispa「A&G 超RADIO SHOW〜アニスパ!〜」also has the same mood and atmosphere which I love.
For the people who listen to me and to my fellow colleagues, I want you to know that I have a strong sense and desire not to be aware that I am a woman. Ever since I was young, I always wanted to be a boy. Maybe, that consciousness remains somewhere, but, I made use of boisterous language on purpose.
―Why did you want to be a boy?
Sakura: For what reason? Hmm, probably because it looked more fun being a boy. Especially from a work perspective, I thought that whether or not you’re male or female and such had no relevance when it comes to working. For this reason, I didn’t want to be aware that I was a woman. It’s a feeling I’ve had overtime.
■When I think less, I get anxious…
―It’s because you love your work so much don’t you?
Sakura: I love it so much.
―That means, you weren’t good at school were you?
Sakura: Bad… really, really, bad.
―Why is that when you hear stuff like, I want to be a man and I don’t want to think that I’m a woman, as an adult, don’t you think there are things you desire to see and want?
Sakura: I do have those thoughts. Things like, I want to be an adult soon and I want to live independently soon. Anyhow, when people decide the moment they have to do something, they’re not very good at carrying out what needs to be done. In other words, it’s easier said than done. So, that’s why I love the irregularity and unpredictability of my schedule. When my schedule is binded like the usual company employee’s schedule, the amount of things I think about start to lessen and I start to get really anxious.
―What do you mean when you start thinking less?
Sakura: That’s right. In this industry, there are heaps of things you need to think about and consider. Therefore, the more you distract yourself (through your job) the lesser the anxiety.
―That’s the complete opposite of the norm… Usually, you feel more at ease when you know your obligations. I think it’s really bothersome to decide everything on your own.
Sakura: What do you mean by this?
―In this job, people usually say that it’s absolutely challenging when your schedule is unpredictable. That’s what people normally consider.
Sakura: Ah, I see. For my job, it’s true that the schedule would naturally be unpredictable. However, if I think about things like “What do I have in store for tomorrow”, it’s easier on me.
―Does that count for day offs as well?
Sakura: I have a bad habit of cramming everything in my schedule to the point where I’, barely scraping by. As for the things I need to do the next day, I decide on them precisely, minute by minute. Even when it comes to cooking, when I have to go grocery shopping, it’s essential for me to write everything down in a memo or a shopping list. Curse those damn memos!
―Do you usually do everything as you planned it?
Sakura: Pretty much yes. If I do everything according to plan, at the end of the day, I get a big sigh of relief. It’s the best feeling ever.
―Thinking about your thoughts earlier, if you can imagine anything to your liking, what would be your ideal happiness?
Sakura: My equivalent to happiness I’d say would definitely be cooking. I’m hopeless when it comes to taste and flavour, but I love cooking nonetheless.
―You received a rice cooker for your birthday didn’t you?
Sakura: Wow you know me really well don’t you (laughs). Well, when I’m cooking and I’m thinking about the amazing food I could be making, I am entranced and think about these things far and beyond. Honestly, when I master the dishes I want to cook it’s like the best feeling ever. I feel so euphoric.
―Wow. That’s not only just heart, but your body also searches for the answers don’t they?
Sakura: Totally right.
―When you say things like “Ah, I really want to eat that”. Don’t you think it’s more of a knee jerk reaction than anything?
Sakura: You know I don’t believe in stuff like intuition. Lately, I’ve been really doubtful about that kind of stuff. Stuff like intuition and such, for me, just doesn’t come out. (laughs)
■Just by being in front of the microphone, I fall into a trance.
―Speaking of, don’t you ever get tired of constantly thinking?
Sakura: That’s just how I’ve always been every since I was young. I’ve always been a kid who would always be staring at people and observing their faces and expressions. But, I didn’t want people to think of me as that girl who’s always butting in people’s businesses. So what I did is that I made it seem like I wasn’t staring at people. As for me, it appeared like I was a kid who was wild and free. For me personally, it was a very successful way of looking at me.
―Is there a personality that you can’t help but think about over and over again? If so, does it serve as an advantage for your activities at work?
Sakura: I don’t think there’s such an advantage for actresses. For me, if we’re talking about my mental image of an actress it would be someone that is able to make themself and others shine. How do I put it… I think it’s a person that can do whatever they wish to do, but like there’s no way you could hate them. I hope for a day when I can be that kind of character.
I think showing this kind of personality – a more individualistic Sakura Ayane, would be for the best. After all, I gave up on trying to sugarcoat things and lying to myself.
―But isn’t revealing your true humanity – the idea of what it is to be human, revealing your weaknesses and the like a good thing?
Sakura: Hmm, it’s not endearing at all isn’t it? It’s so not charming. My mind is constantly spinning and thinking about stuff. Things like thinking about projects, how I portray my characters for the viewers and all sorts of other stuff. But I also don’t want to be the type who drops roles and responsibilities.
―I wonder if it’s because of this personality of yours is the reason why you’re so clumsy and awkward, but really, the world has much to offer for young people. The world is your oyster. Think about this way, people could be introverts, but on the contrary, they can be talkative on the radio…
Sakura: Yea! Yea that’s right! Even I don’t know myself that well (laughs).
―Perhaps Sakura Ayane’s greatest appeal is that she tries to find meaning in too many things.
Sakura: Day in and day out I’ll always be thinking of something. But when it’s just the microphone and myself, in the blink of an eye I am one with my characters. I will continue my line of work, but lately I’ve been wondering if I really am okay with where I am right now.
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