Works like Azumanga Daioh and Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu are classics amongst the Western anime community. While these two comedies are very different in tone and themes, there is one thing that connects them: the voice of their “mascots.”
Tomoko Kaneda–a seasoned voice actress who has played child genius Chiyo in Azumanga Daioh, Bonta-kun in Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu, and Tamazo in Puzzle & Dragons X–has been voice acting in anime since 2000, when she debuted in Denshin: Mamotte Shugogetten, the original video animation (OVA) adapting Minene Sakurano’s Mamotte Shugogetten (also known under the title Guardian Angel Getten) manga.
It was only until just before she became a voice actress that she actually found out what the profession was. In fact, the only “seiyuu” (voice actor/actress) she knew about was the supermarket chain of the same name. Despite not knowing what the voice acting profession was, however, she told me that the anime Heidi, Girl of the Alps (Alps no Shōjo Heidi) was a big influence that pushed her enter the profession.
“An older lady in the neighborhood would come and babysit me when my parents weren’t around,” she said, “When they were doing a rebroadcast of the anime, she started crying like nuts, even though she was an adult. It made me think, ‘This anime is so amazing that it made an adult cry!'”
Not aiming to become a voice actress even as an adult, Kaneda began job hunting. Despite having no particular interest in becoming an announcer, she decided to participate in an interview for an announcer job as practice for future job opportunities. After reading the news out loud for the interviewers, however, she got a surprising response.
“The interviewer got angry at me,” she grinned, “[He said,] ‘Everyone’s just going to laugh if a person with a voice like yours reads the news!'” Though her cute voice wasn’t suited for news announcer work, one of the interviewers said that she was more fit to become a voice actress and offered to introduce her to someone in that industry.
Despite this opportunity, Kaneda still didn’t know what a voice actress really was. However, she decided to try and go to a voice acting school that taught students how to do read books and other works aloud so that at the very least, she could read books to her own children or grandchildren one day when she became a grandmother. Although she had attended the school just to learn a basic skill, she ended up passing an audition that was held at the end of her time there.
“It was a pretty serious audition. Only a small percentage of applicants passed it.”
Because she passed such a difficult audition, she made up her mind and quit her job at the bank she worked at in order to pursue her new career. Her parents, although a bit worried about their daughter at first, supported her decision.. That being said, it wasn’t as if her choice didn’t have any risks.
“I’m the kind of person who never reads manuals properly. I thought that if I entered an agency, I’d be able to do work there forever,” she told me, “But I heard later that two or three years after I entered the agency, there would be this decision made as to whether or not I would be allowed to stay. I was like, ‘I didn’t hear anything about that!’ And they my friend was like, ‘Well, they told us about it!'”
A turning point in Kaneda’s career came when she landed the role of Chiyo in the Azumanga Daioh anime, which follows a group of high school girls and the comedic happenings in their everyday lives.
[My role as Chiyo] was the first time I really got to talk a lot in a role,” she told me, “Voice actors are usually really good at tongue twisters and things like that, but I’m really bad at them. With Chiyo, there’s this part where she tries to say [the famous Japanese tongue twister] “bus gas bakuhatsu” and fails. While it seems as if it’s just a joke within the anime, I really couldn’t do the tongue twister myself. So, if I’d had to really say the tongue twister, I think I would have gotten super nervous. I’m a little like Chiyo in that way.”
Aside from their inability to recite tongue twisters, Kaneda mused that she also feels a similarity to Chiyo because of their height and their love of dogs.
“We’re not similar in the smarts department, though,” she giggled, “Chiyo is extremely smart, after all.”
If given the chance to meet Chiyo in the real world, Kaneda says that she’d like to not only play with the child genius, but also have a tongue twister contest with her.
“I’m bad at tongue twisters too, so I want to see who’s worse.”
When acting as Chiyo, Kaneda tried to protect the image of Chiyo’s unblemished cuteness at all times, even if the situation the character was put in was not as cute as Chiyo herself.
“Chiyo’s a really cute character, so if my voice breaks or something [while acting], it’s not really Chiyo anymore,” she said, “In the case of a male role or a husky role, you can’t really tell if the actor’s voice is breaking or not. But Chiyo’s [voice is very delicate], so I had to be careful not to let my throat get too dry or to catch a cold, and I drank warm drinks at the studio to keep my throat moist.”
Kaneda also went to the dubbing sessions for the anime. (“Dubbing” meaning the process in which the voices are matched to the animation.) Because voice actresses don’t usually go to dubbing sessions every single time, some people even thought that she was aiming to become a sound director because of her constant attendance. By doing going to these sessions, however, she was able to study her own acting and know what to tweak for the next recording before the current episode was broadcasted.
“They play the anime on really good speakers, so you’ll know immediately if your voice broke during recording.”
While studying her acting at the studio, through a chain of events, she somehow got asked if she wanted to help out to draw the key animation frames of the anime. While she doesn’t remember the experience very clearly, she remembers how touched she was when she saw her name in the anime’s credits as staff for key animation.
“My name was right there in the credits! When I saw that, I was like ‘whoooooa! Wait, I did this!?'” She reminisced, “But I’m not really good at drawing, so I did it with others helping me along the way. It was a lot of hard work, so I was really touched.”
Image source: FUNimation on YouTube
In Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu, Kaneda provided the voice of mascot Bonta-kun, which was actually an adorable suit worn by protagonist Sōsuke that said nothing but “Fumoffu.”
“I really like the sound of the word ‘fumoffu’!” Kaneda exclaimed.
Although she only said variations of the word “fumoffu” over and over again when recording for the character for Bonta-kun’s various appearances in video games, Kaneda explained that the meaning of each fumoffu Bonta-kun was saying was written in the script.
“I’m always acting while thinking about how great it would be if even if I’m just saying ‘fumo fumo’ the entire time, the audience would understand and think, ‘Oh, this is the kind of fumo she’s saying.'”
Although she remembers doing the role quite freely, she says that because of her lack of singing ability and knowledge on military songs, the staff had to teach her the song she had to hum in a certain scene of the anime.
“There are quite a few episodes in which multiple Bonta-kuns appear. Like Bonta-kun #1, #2, #3, etc… When that happens, I got confused because well, they’re all the same Bonta-kun,” she laughed, “It was a bit confusing, , but because I had pictures to go by when acting in the anime, it was less confusing than [recording alone] for a video game [as Bonta-kun.]”
Another mascot–Puzzle & Dragons X’s Tamazo–is a role that Kaneda plays quite freely. Sometimes, even mistakes she makes while reciting the lines are approved.
“You know the word ‘hazelnuts’? There was this one line with ‘hazelnuts’ in it. Everyone in the booth was cracking up when I recited the line, so I was wondering, ‘Why is everyone laughing?’ Apparently, I was saying ‘Heiderunuts’; nuts that make you fart. (Note: A Japanese phrase for “to fart” is “he ga deru”). But despite that, I got the OK! I was really amazed.”
Kaneda also explained that the character of Tamazo is one she loves to play because of the range of his emotions. Although the character is usually cute, he might suddenly try and pretend to be cool, which pushes Kaneda to make her voice deeper than it usually is.
Whether it be Tamazo, Bonta-kun, the feline Mike from Sketchbook ~full color’s~, or a female badger in Polar Bear’s Cafe (Shirokuma Cafe), Kaneda seems to have a tendency to get cast as adorable animals (or at least, animal-like) characters. However, she told me that she hasn’t been given the chance yet to play her favorite animal: a gorilla.
“I kind have this feeling of comradery with them,” Kaneda giggled, “I really like them.”
But if given the chance to play any role at all in an anime, Kaneda says that while she knows it might be a bit of a selfish wish, she would like to appear in an anime as herself. However, she has already appeared as herself taking on the job of a secretary in the episode of the Eagle Talon (Taka no Tsume) anime by animator FROGMAN that was used to promote the Pronto Edy Rakuten Point Card that can be used in Pronto cafes around Japan.
“When I did that role, it was just doing my own voice, so it was really easy,” she laughed, “It was a lot of fun! I think it’s really moving to appear in an anime. It might be hard to do, but I think it’d be awesome if I had the chance [to appear in an anime as myself again] before I die.”
When asked to give fans outside of Japan a message, Kaneda smiled.
“I’m just happy that people know who I am… Wait, do they know who I am!?” she laughed, “Through playing roles in different works, I feel connected to my audience. Every time I play a different role, I get that feeling. I can’t explain it very well, but basically, everyone in the world is siblings! We’re all friends and siblings! I love you, everyone.”
Many of the works Kaneda has been in are available outside of Japan for fans to enjoy. In North America, Azumanga Daioh and Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu are available on home video from Sentai Filmworks and FUNimation, respectively. FUNimation also streams Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu for free on YouTube and Puzzle & Dragons X for members on its website. You’ll be able to see Kaneda in next season’s Kemono Friends anime as yet another animal: the Crested Ibis. The anime began broadcast on January 10, 2017, and is available to watch outside of Japan on Crunchyroll.