Among the industury guests at Anime Central 2018 was Kikuko Inoue, a veteran voice actress whose work has defined anime for the past two decades. We had a change to interview her about her career, relationships, and history in the industry as a star so great she needs no introduction, because she provides it herself!
Kikuko Inoue: Hello, my name is Kikuko Inoue, I've been a voice actor for 30 years, but actually the joke is that I'm 17 years old and my fans respond with "Oi! Oi!" so every time I'm at an event I use that introduction. Within the voice acting industry, I have a lot of voice actor friends who have joined what I've created, called the 17 Years Old Club, such as Horie Yui and Tamura Yukari. So, one of my first prominent roles was Kasumi from Ranma 1/2 and she was the older sister I got my nickname "oneechan," or "older sister" from that role. I was also Belldandy from Ah! My Goddess and I've acted her on several different occasions, and for quite a long time so I feel like that's a role that's watched over me for a long time. Actually I get a lot of offers for mother or older sister characters, and especially recently I've been offered a lot of mother-like characters, but of course there are characters that are good mothers and bad mothers and I... will play both. *Laughs*
When I play these rather evil or bad mothers in shows I'm pretty sad to play those roles and have to be the villain in that case, but then, usually it's the case that the story has the child maturing and growing up, and overcoming such obstacles, and being able to move the audience in such a way that I, at the end of the show, feel very relieved to have been a part of it. The most recent example is The Ancient Magus' Bride, where I played Chise's mother, and she was a rather evil mother, but that the main character was able to overcome that obstacle was a big relief to me. Since I do voice a lot of characters that are the mothers and older sisters, it's actually kind of refreshing and exciting for me to start to voice some of the villains as well. When I actually do voice the villain characters I get to say lines that I would definitely never utter myself in real life, but in a sense it's kind of like a feeling of catharsis. Of course other than anime I also have voiced a lot of characters in games and quite varying roles, such as Boss from Metal Gear Solid and I-No from Guilty Gear, so I'm definitely happy with my job and my life.
You've been voice acting since 1988, how has the field that you work in changed and developed over that time?
At first when I debuted I would just receive the script and be told to go to the studio, and then in front of the screen when I saw the footage for the first time I would be asked to voice act the role, but then maybe five or so years after I debuted I was actually able to receive a physical copy of the footage and be able to practice or view it at home before actually going to the studio. Once we got what a lot of us call "homework" we were able to practice many times over until our movements and our voices perfectly matched the mouth movements of the characters, so that we were able to nail it when we went into the studio.
Which role of yours do you think was the most important for your career?
I view all of the roles that I have played as my children, so I cannot honestly say one is more important than another.
A lot of the American voice actors talk about how when they record they're recording alone in the studio, but I believe in Japan they sometimes do group sessions. How does that work, do you do voices all at the same time or record on your own?
Yes, they definitely assemble the cast all together in one room, and this is common for all of the work that we do. First we do a test run where everyone recites their lines and then the director has specific instructions for each actor where they say, "I want it more like this or like that," and after that instructional phase there is another test and then it goes onto the recording so a twenty or thirty minute episode probably takes three to four hours for us to record.
*She stands up to stand in front of a screen in the room to visually demonstrate the recording process she's explaining*
So as you can see, this is the screen where the footage is playing, there's probably three to four mics in the center of the room and everyone is sitting around in a circle, or a semi-circle and when it is your character that comes on-screen you have to find and open mic, it works like musical chairs, so you go to the first open mic to recite your lines and then as soon as your part is over you sit back down. The work for the mic is pretty technical itself so a lot of the newer voice actors have a hard time finding a mic, or getting to the mic in time, so that's something that the voice actors have to learn.
Lust in Fullmetal Alchemist is a bit different from the type of character you often play, what was it like performing that role?
Even though Lust is a villain, she's a really cool character. *Laughs* Also, she's shown on a lot of the promotional items for Fullmetal Alchemist, so she's a pretty prominent character as well. When I was playing Lust, I pulled out the deepest depths of darkness within myself and then channeled that into the role.
Anime is really popular here in the United States, what do you feel about people seeing themselves in your characters and cosplaying them?
I really love cosplay! When I see someone cosplaying a character that I voice I get so excited that I wanna run over and greet them right away, and actually yesterday I took a lot of pictures together with people I saw that were cosplaying characters that I've voiced.
In 2009 you founded your own talent agency, Office Anemone, what got you interested in your own agency and how has that experience been?
Actually the president and other co-founder of Office Anemone is my older sister, who said "let's work together and form an agency," so I eventually decided that I would join her in her quest, but even though I left my previous agency, the voice acting industry is a very small world so I am still very close with a lot of the voice actors that I worked with and I still speak with them on a regular basis. There's a sort of wordplay with the name Office Anemone, where "ane" means "older sister," and "ane mo ne," is "with my older sister," but also anemone is also the name of a flower in Japan, so people associate it with that, so it has a double meaning.
You've mentioned that you're friends with Tamura Yukari, how did you feel to see her and other friends rise in popularity over the years?
I'm very happy! I'm always happy to see someone succeed, and as I said earlier the voice acting industry is a very small industry so especially with my friends I'm very close, and very happy to see another member of the Seventeen Years Old Club succeed, since I see them as siblings.
Have you met any of your American counterparts, who've voiced the same characters you've voiced?
Yeah, since I've been to a few events in North America I've been able to meet a fair number of voice actors, and yesterday doing my autograph session the English voice actor for Ed was doing his autograph session in the booth right next to mine, so I got to meet him and that was exciting.
Belldandy from Ah! My Goddess is one of your most well-known and beloved roles, what about that performance specifically makes it so popular?
I think it's just the aura and existence of Belldandy is so sublime in a certain way, where she's nice but it's- "nice" is not even the proper word to describe her, her kindness surpasses a normal level of kindness, and of course it's because she's a goddess, but it seems like she would be accepting of you no matter what happens and you could go to her for anything. It isn't just kindness or niceness, but she's very strong, she has a very strong heart, and she seems like the type of character that would be able to cheer you up no matter what you're going through.
In addition to anime you've done a lot of voice acting for video games, what are the main differences between acting for anime and video games, and do you prefer either of them?
Like I mentioned earlier, for voicing anime we are all together in the studio, and if I were to compare it to a sport, where in acting for games you're just alone by yourself in a booth, anime is like a team sport, like baseball, everyone is going to be behind you and back you if you need help form your teammates, whereas voicing for games is like long-distance running where you are by yourself. I do actually love both, you're overcoming the obstacles and get to face the task head-on when you're voicing for games, so they both have their advantages and I love working on both. So using the same analogy of sport, when I'm working on anime I always have to be thinking of a strategy of how to back someone up or how to successfully play off the others that are working with me, in a sense pass or receive with the other teammates, and when we achieve a perfect recording or a perfect result it really feels like a great accomplishment that the team had together, and when you're working on a game, just like running a marathon your opponent is yourself so when you're able to surpass your own expectations it is a really good feeling.
If you weren't doing voice acting what would you be doing?
Maybe a maid? I really love maid outfits and I actually wear them a lot, so what about a maid cafe? But they might be a little concerned about my age... I'm seventeen! [room: Oi! Oi!]
You've appeared in both of Kunihiko Ikuhara's recent anime, Mawaru Penguindrum and Yuri Kuma Arashi. He's known for being one of the most unique directors in the industry, so if you have any, what are your impressions of Ikuhara-san from your work with him?
I think he is a really great talent and he has a really high level of skill for his worldbuilding, and we're actually pretty close in real age as well, so I feel like we can get along with each other pretty well and I would love to work with him again.
You said that as your daughter starts her voice acting career you wanted her to start out with smaller roles and then build up from there. How do you feel now that she's begun voicing main character roles, Sakura in Pazudora and then Ruby in the upcoming Sora to Umi no Aida?
You knew! (In English): "Thank you very much!" Well yes, my daughter is actually three years older than me, but yes, I had said that I wanted her to mature gradually and take on more responsibility, but to see her get main roles, I'm very happy about it and also quite surprised. One example is in Puzzle and Dragons where she is voicing the heroine, I've recently been called to voice a lot of small roles as well, and in that particular one I was called in to voice her mother in the show, so it's quite fun for me to see the reversal of roles, for her to be the main character and me to be the side character.
You've also done some stage performances, playing your character Cordelia in Sakura Wars live shows, what was it like doing stage acting?
I've also thought about the voice acting job as something that's behind the scenes, that we don't really appear in front of audiences that often, but it was quite different for Sakura Wars in which the voice actors all wore cosplays of their characters, and not only that they did a song and dance on stage, so definitely while I was surprised it was REALLY fun and I never thought I'd be able to do such a job. We had a lot of practice for the show, such as song and dance lessons, and for me particularly dance was quite challenging and despite all of the dance practice that we did, I for the life of me could not remember all of the dance steps, so, during the actual live performance itself, the actor who played Coquelicot was standing next to me so I would step just half a foot back and view her dance from the sides and sort of copy her movements, so if she messed up I would also mess up (laughter).
If you had the opportunity to stage act again would you take it, or do you prefer voice acting as a more streamlined career?
Yes, definitely I would love to take the chance again, but of course as you know with age... wait I'm seventeen so... For me in life I just love anything that's fun, and actually my theme or motto in life is to live with a smile and to provide a smile for others, so I would definitely accept anything that's fun or provides enjoyment to others.
How did you get your start in voice acting?
Actually I went to a specialty school for voice actors, and after I graduated I became a voice actor.
Finally, do you have a message for your fans here in the West?
Thank you very much for loving and enjoying Japanese animation, I really appreciate the fact that Japanese anime is able to connect people around the world and please continue to support and enjoy Japanese anime. Oh! And games too, please support games as well! Thank you very much!
The Pedantic Romantic is a YouTuber with a passion for anime analysis and industry research. You can follow her work on her YouTube channel here!