Chiaki Kobayashi is responsible for many anime fan favorite roles, such as Mash from Mashle: Magic and Muscles and Gabimaru from Hell’s Paradise. At this year’s Anime Expo, Anime Trending was given the incredible opportunity to interview the voice actor for his titular role as Ragna from the anime Ragna Crimson starting on September 30. Here’s what he has to say about his performance and experience.
Thank you for the interview today. You will be voicing Ragna from Ragna Crimson, a new anime that is debuting this fall. Can you give us an introduction to your character?
Chiaki Kobayashi: Ragna is a character that, at first, doesn’t have a whole lot of confidence in himself. He has a sort of weak personality. He follows a female character named Leonica around.
But one day, something happens, and he gains this ultimate power. Before he got his powers, he wasn’t sure one could slay dragons. And he was not very confident in doing that. But as he gains the strength to do so, he finds his mission, and he really changes from a boy who could not slay a dragon to an extremely strong character who goes around and slays all kinds of dragons.
I would be very excited to see that on screen. You have had a busy year voicing many different characters from many different anime. How does Ragna stand out in comparison to all your other roles?
I think Ragna stands out from the rest because I think a lot of anime titles try to portray more of a gradual change. So, a character will train or get taught something, or they learn different skills and unique techniques, and then they get stronger, and we [see] step-by-step a gradual change. But that is not the case with Ragna.
But Ragna is this weakling, and then all of a sudden, in the snap of a finger, he gets the ultimate power. He’s like the strongest dude. So that’s one thing that distinguishes Ragna. However, we do kind of see similar themes in isekai and things like that. But I think the other part that makes him unique is that, even though he has this ultimate power, he still can’t have everything in the world as he would want to. Some of the dragons are very, very strong, so he’s not completely overpowering them. He does have difficulty. And another part is that he is the main character, but he’s not always very heroic.
The title of the anime is Ragna Crimson. Crimson is another character that’s like a partner [to Ragna]. They actually buddy up and the story follows them battling dragons. But ultimately, he needs to kill Crimson. So that’s one thing that really sets them apart from other characters I voiced before.
What was challenging when you were voicing Ragna? What do you like most about him?
Ragna’s a very challenging character to perform because he sort of obtains a power that comes from the future. There are a lot of scenes where he has the memories of things, but he has never experienced any of those things. And so to try and channel that emotional energy in that experience is very difficult and challenging for me and is something that obviously I’ve never experienced myself, so I have nothing to draw from.
And there’s a character named Ultimatia. She is voiced by Reina Ueda, and she’s like a boss character. When I have scenes with her, there’s a lot of screaming involved, so it’s very taxing on my physical body. But the one thing I do like about Ragna, and I know this might sound a little bit stereotypical, but he does fight to protect people, and he’s got that very genuine heroic aspect to him. So that’s what I like about Ragna.
Thank you for your hard work. Can you describe the process from auditioning for Ragna’s role to learning you have gotten it?
So during the audition, I had the opportunity to actually go back to the manga, the source material, and I read some of it and got a lot of inspiration on how to approach the character. Things like the contrast between the weak self and the future strong self and trying to go back and forth between those two modes was something that I challenged myself on and paid attention to and focused on.
We had a secondary audition where they got us in the studio, and at first, they said that we were just going to go through the audition material that we did initially. However, on the day of, they kind of switched everything up on me and said, “Okay, here. We’re going to do this instead.” It was material that I was not familiar with at all, but I think I was able to just do things naturally.
After I luckily got the role and went to the studio for recordings, we all worked together passionately trying to craft the performance and how we want the character to sound. So yeah, it’s a team effort. That’s how you do it.
Ayumu Murase and Inori Minase are part of the cast announcements for Ragna Crimson. Have you worked with them before? What was it like working with them for this particular series?
As far as Minase-san is concerned, we have worked together many times before on different anime.
Minase-san has performed a lot of mature characters before, but the request from the director was to portray the contrast within the character, by starting from a childish tone, and then shift to a mature tone when fighting. That was something that was really unique, and that was something that Minase-san said was very unique to this anime.
As far as Murase-san, this is actually our first time working together. We’ve been in anime that we both voiced together, but this is actually our first time being in the booth together. We play off each other very, very well. We became very good friends after that. We go get coffee and talk. We talk about Ragna Crimson a lot. Even on our days off.
I think he’s so perfect for Crimson because he had said that Crimson is a character that he has a hard time controlling what he wants to do in the voice. And it’s almost like the character themself has taken over his personality, and it’s just kind of doing their thing and is automatic. Murase-san really said that this was just his third time in his entire career – and he’s a much more seasoned voice actor than I am – where he experienced something like that. He says, “I can’t really control what I want to do. It just comes out because the character [Crimson] is so deep inside of me and has taken over my spirit.” I feel the same way when I see him perform, so in that sense, I really think Crimson is such a perfect role for Murase-san.
Thank you for that insight. That was really interesting and glad to hear that you and Murase-san have become good friends as well.
What is the best part of voicing Ragna?
This is sort of similar to what I mentioned about Murase-san’s role with Crimson where he felt like he couldn’t really control himself. Ragna is a character that receives a lot of orders from Crimson. But there’s not a whole lot of times where he can actually execute on those orders, and he can’t really follow through with them. He just kind of gets carried away with his own desires to slay dragons and whatnot.
I feel kind of the same way performing Ragna, where I also kind of get carried away with that sort of emotional energy, and I really sort of lose control and get carried away like that. And that’s actually, you know, kind of fun. Crimson is sort of a control freak. They really like to take control of things. But Ragna is probably one of the only characters that can break that apart and go against that. Maybe Crimson might not like it, but that’s part of what I think makes Ragna a unique character. That’s part of the performance that I really like.
What would you like the fans to look forward to the most when the anime debuts?
I think that our fans can look forward to battle scenes. The anime has a lot of battle scenes. Very, very intense. Also, the art is very gorgeous. Very, very detailed and very powerful, intense art.
Also, the voiceover too, is very, very, very intense. There’s a lot of effort that’ll be put in. Even with AC blowing, we were just completely drenched in sweat in some of these sessions. There’s a lot of passion and energy behind the voice acting.
There’s also the writers’ team and also the sound design and everything, all of those aspects. There’s a lot of passion involved and lots of powerful energy that is being applied to this project. So I think, all in all, you can enjoy all of those things, and I think that’s something that the fans can look forward to.
Ragna Crimson will be airing Fall 2023. Thank you to Chiaki Kobayashi and the entire production team for the opportunity.