Ayumi Fujimura Press Panel Report @ Sakura-Con 2013
The-O Network's Stanley Fung had a chance to participate in voice actress Ayumi Fujimura's round table press panel at Sakura-Con 2013. Fujimura's numerous roles include Mineva Lao Zabi/Audrey Burne in Mobile Suit Gundam UC, Azaka Kokutou in The Garden of Sinners, Mimei in Ozma, Ayano Kannagi in Kaze no Stigma, Karada Iokawa in Living for the Day After Tomorrow, Mafuyu Oribe in The Qwaser of Stigmata, Shiro Kabuto in Shin Mazinger Shogeki! Z-Hen, Eiko Aizawa in Squid Girl, and Niche in Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee. Find out all about Fujimura's thoughts on her first trip to the United States and her favorite Sailor Scout in our press panel transcription.
Describe your first role -- what was it like to go into the sound booth for the first time?
My very first role was in Good Witch of the West where I played the role of the best friend, who was also a maid, to the main character. I felt really nervous because it was my first time, so every time I went in I got a lot of directions from the director.
What were your favorite anime and manga growing up?
(Giggling) Sailor Moon, and Nakayoshi which was where the Sailor Moon manga was published.
T-ONO: How did you approach the role of Mineva Lao Zabi, what was your mindset and what did you want to convey through you work?
If you didn’t know, she appears first as a baby in Mobile Suit Gundam. She has lived through the entire history of that Gundam universe and this was something I was aware of when I took on the role. Mineva has seen most of the war almost from the start so it was a giant part of her character. The 30th anniversary of Mobile Suit Gundam recently passed so I went back to her first appearance to understand her background and see where she was coming from. Once I felt that I understood her history, I used that as a base to build her character. I wanted to convey her serious demeanor through a lot of clipped tones, so I have to prevent my personal feelings from coming out, which is something I pay special attention to.
Did you audition for the part or were you offered the part by the production staff? Are you at the point in your career where you are offered roles?
I had to audition for the role of Mineva. One of the awesome things about my career is that sometimes I will be offered a role. Nevertheless, it is unusual for voice actors to be just offered the roles and never have to audition for roles. I don’t think that even the veteran voice actors ever have to stop auditioning for roles; there will always be auditions, though that is sometimes dependent on the role.
When you were younger, what anime characters and voices did you try to mimic?
(Excited) I definitely tried to copy voices when I was little, I remember doing Crayon Shin-chan and Doraemon. I did that for a lot of shows, because I watched many shows when I was younger.
T-ONO: You mentioned before that you went back to see the older Gundam shows to gain perspective. Which part of her history do you find to be most interesting? What do you think of her journey and maturity level at this point?
Mineva has grown a lot as a person since the war started. She really wants to stop the war and has very strong feelings about the war. Part of the motivation for her to grow was meeting Banagher in the first episode of Gundam Unicorn. She has spent most of her life being told what to do and how to act and lead as a princess. Thus, she hasn’t had a lot of time to develop her own feelings. She hasn’t given much thought as to what she wants and what she wants to do with her life. When she first meets Banagher he tells her that those are important things, but what was also important was what she wanted. He is the first person to tell her that. Before she was a princess she was a young woman, and we see a little bit of that aspect peeking out. I would not venture so far as to say that it is romance and love, but we see a little of that coming out. I think that she is learning to be more human in that regard.
Do you see yourself being cast for similar roles? Do you like having similar roles?
I think that I am most often cast in more roles that are closer to my personality. I do see that trend, though different roles will have different traits that are opposite of mine. However, I think what I have in common is being cheerful, stubborn, strong, the willingness to take a stand, and being a sore loser. I think there are a lot of roles like that I am cast into. As far as which roles I enjoy most, it’s easier to relate to characters whose personalities are closer to mine. I can always think about if I were in a character’s position, I would respond in a certain way. That’s the fall back that I use; when there are fewer constraints the lines flow and bubble up.
You have played many heroic roles, but have you ever played the villain? Would you like to have played the villain?
(Laughing) When people ask me that in interviews with regards to playing future roles, I always answer that I would very much enjoy the chance play the villain. Unfortunately I have not had the chance to play such a role. At least I don’t believe that I have. I would love to play a hopelessly waste of a character, a person with just a rotten personality.
You have played male characters in addition to your female roles, what is your approach to playing young men as opposed to women?
The most important thing is to approach the feelings of the character first, gender is not the most important thing. The feelings come first, but there are technical aspects like not trying to sound too feminine. If it comes to challenging someone with your voice you want to avoid that. It happens occasionally on my first try for a new role, but I don’t think I have one single approach to it. I mix it up a lot because there are different tones to all the character voices, male and female.
What is it like going from a smaller production like TV to a large project like Gundam Unicorn?
The budget doesn’t really affect VAs, but it does, I think, affect the rest of the staff like PR. Budget affects the limits of what they can do with their resources to implement a vision: creative freedom when animating, public events, and venues are affected by budget, but in my experience it doesn’t really affect voice actors that all.
Is this your first time in America and at a US anime convention? Is there anything you want to see?
This is my first time in the U.S., so I had a lot fun shopping around Seattle. I found some really good seafood like salmon and scallops. I also found this really nice hand lotion and a lot of other things. I am having a lot of fun here.
T-ONO: Out of your entire career, which character would you say you identify with the most? Which is your favorite role?
I really love all my roles, but one that comes to mind was from Ika Musume (Squid Girl); Eiko. I think Eiko treats Ika like her little sister, and this was how I approached the role. I also have a little sister so there was that kind of view point I could use. So a lot of my warm feelings for my own family came through. How Eiko thinks and reacts to Ika has a lot in common with my own experiences. I was surprised by how close I felt in sync with Eiko; I felt that I have a lot in common with Eiko. I think that really comes through in the final product.
What do you think of American fans? What differences do you notice between Western audiences and Japanese audiences?
That is a little difficult to answer. There are similarities and differences between the two groups as you cannot say that both groups are completely the same or different, but what I think is the same is that we love the works that we see. One thing that I have noticed is that some American fans are still a little bit shy about expressing their love for anime. However, you also see more people who are more open and cheerful about their affection. They use it as a means to express their creativity. When I see the American fan I see a lot more openness. They go up to one another and strike up conversations, whereas in Japan you would probably see fans doing a lot more standing around not talking to one another as much. I think that everyone came here under the assumption that they were going to enjoy the convention and enjoy the company of their fellows. Lastly, there is also a giant sense of freedom at this convention that I am enjoying as well.
What projects can you discuss that your fans can look forward to?
What I can talk to you about is that I am playing Haruka, one of the operators in Rinne no Lagrange. I am also playing Striker in Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet (Suisei no Gargantia). Of course there is also the final episode of Gundam Unicorn.
T-ONO: Do you have any special moments with your fans that you could share with us?
Yesterday I had a chance to eat dinner with fans at the guest reception. That was actually my first time sitting down and eating a meal with anime fans, and even though I could not converse in English it is still a precious memory for me. I was not completely sure they enjoyed it as well but I hope they did. I know that I enjoyed it as well and it is something that I will remember.
In 2006 you got your first major role as Karada in Asatte no Houkou, how was your first taste of experiencing the role of a lead voice actress?
That role as Karada was my first role as a main character in a show and I am kind of a little embarrassed when watching it. I was still developing as a voice actress at that time, but on the other hand I think there are some roles and performances that you can only give at a certain point in one’s career. Thinking back, I would have approached it differently now, but I don’t think my performance would have been as engaging as it was then. Of course you can say that someone is a good performer or a bad performer, but really it is a mix of both that results in a level of engagement you would not otherwise get. It was the first time I was called on to work harder on a role and put a lot more time into the character. It was my first experience in spending so much time figuring out a character and understanding a character in depth.
You have done some projects outside of anime, one of them being Fi in Skyward Sword. Could you describe the differences between playing that role and something more verbose like what you usually do?
That role was really interesting because, as you know, Fi doesn’t have actual lines in a real language; they’re mostly sounds strung together almost like sound effects. So this was really an unusual role. One aspect that was difficult was that normally lines are recognizable sentences with recognizable words that have clear meaning. There were no words to convey the meaning to the player. I had to completely depend on a feeling. There were no lines to fall back on, it was a different experience, but well worth it.
Did you discover Gundam when you studied for the role, or did you watch it growing up?
The first time I watched any Gundam was after I was selected for Mineva Zabi. Frankly, I had always thought that it was a show mostly for boys and I did not think that there was anything that was going to draw me in. However, I thought that this was a series with a long history so I needed to study it for the role. I was really surprised by how good the story was -- it made me think that I should have watched this before. It is a classic similar to what I think of when studying the craft of acting. The animation is not as refined as it now, but the human story is very well put together and there is a lot of overflowing emotion in the lines. There is a lot of depth in the show because if you watched this as a kid you would have a different reaction than you would have as an adult.
When you are not voice acting, what are your hobbies?
(Laughing) I really love watching Nico Nico Douga, and I am a fan of vocaloid so I like listening to a lot of songs as well. I also have a cat so I spend a lot of time with my cat
You mentioned that you loved Sailor Moon growing up, so who is your favorite Sailor Scout and why?
(Excited) Way back when, I really liked Usagi-chan. I always liked the protagonist of whatever show I was watching when I was growing up. Now when I go back I really like Rei, who I thought of as mean to Usagi in my youth. I realize as an adult that the teasing was how she showed affection to Usagi, and now I see that she really is a kind character. I can appreciate more fully the tsundere aspect of Rei’s character, which is kind of cute. I really like her uniform because it’s red, and I think that she is the only Sailor Scout that wears high heels. I think that having beautiful legs like those and wearing heels is really cool.