INTERVIEW: Chiwa Saito Shares Insights Behind Voice Acting at Anime Frontier

Image via Anime Frontier (Chiwa Saito)

At Anime Frontier 2023, veteran voice actress Chiwa Saitou made an appearance and shared with fans about her path to becoming a seiyuu. Anime Trending and several outlets had the opportunity to dig deeper and ask about her key roles in multiple series, her struggles in the voice acting industry, and what she would like to act in the future. Surprisingly, she has a strong desire to be the AllSpark in the Transformer series! 


In the last 20 years, the voice acting landscape in America has changed tremendously. How has the voice acting in Japan changed in the last 20 years?

Chiwa Saitou: Compared to when I first started 20 years ago, when I did a good performance or something, [the agency] would be like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah!” But there were a lot more things that you could do 20 years ago that you can’t do now, so in that way, it’s changed a lot. That’s what I mean by “softer,” which is a good thing! However, these days it’s kind of like, “I have to hold it in.” You can’t say certain things, even if you feel something. So in a way, maybe my voice is a little bit weaker because I’m not used to that old-school way of coaching or teaching, which is a very Japanese thing.

 

You once said in an interview that you originally auditioned for another character instead of Hitagi Senjougahara from Bakemonogatari. Could you tell us what character that was?  

Back then, I did a lot of really cute, small characters, so I thought it was going to be Hachikuji.

It’s the same thing when I did Puella Magi Madoka Magica — I thought it was going to be the boy that Sayaka likes (Kyousuke) and Kyubey! Those were the first offers that were given to me. When I auditioned at the studio, they said, “Can you also just go ahead and audition for Homura?” So that’s what I did.

Probably the reason why they asked me to do Homura is because the character evolves. There are so many evolving cycles at the beginning, so I’ve had a very long career. So [the studio] said, “Let’s ask you to do Homura too,” because of my ability.

 

You mentioned that you felt a connection with Senjougahara from Bakemonogatari. What was it about the character that you felt connected with?

So the reason that I felt a connection to Senjougahara is because the other characters thought Senjougahara was very scary. But when I read the script and did the voice acting for her, I thought, “Oh! Senjougahara is kind of like a cute character and [she’s] so girlish! She has a femininity to her, but everyone just doesn’t see that.”

Finally, as the season was proceeding, everyone started seeing that. So, if I had really approached Senjougahara as a scary character, that part might have not seeped into the role. I kind of saw that vision by then.

 

Through your experience and voiceovers, what have you enjoyed the most? Is it dubbing anime, movies, or video games?

First of all, I don’t get much time to do this now that I’m a very busy mother of three kids. Needless to say, there’s not a lot of personal time, but one of the things I always loved to do is to go out to a movie theater by myself and delve in that world.

Secondly, I don’t get to do it very much, but work-wise, it’ll be animation. The reason why is that you get to be something that you are not — you get to put on a character and experiment. I love becoming a character! 

 

Homura is a complicated character who’s becoming more complex as each piece of the Madoka series is coming together. Do you view her differently now in 2023 than in 2011? And how so?

As I mentioned before, I wasn’t even planning on auditioning for Homura. Usually, when I do an audition, I do a lot of research on the original light novel and have a little bit of information on the character. But I had nothing for Madoka. So I went into it blind with the script and just did it without any kind of background knowledge. With the first script, it’s almost like I didn’t even know if there would be a continuation. But it’s very much a “gradual” thing, right?

The only thing I would say though that is different is that now you have games, right? And so there are three [different versions] of Homura that take different directions, such as Megane Homura-chan, Akuma Homura-chan, and regular Homura. However, they are all different requests so I had to differentiate between them. There was a time that I didn’t want to do that — I didn’t feel authentic.

Though, having done different directions for Homura, I’ve brought in new fans and a lot of people who love that character. I don’t really think about it as much or worry about it as much anymore.

 

Anime Trending: You’re once again voicing Homura Akemi for the upcoming Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie -Walpurgisnacht Rising-. You previously reprised the role for the Magia Record spin-off. How does it feel returning to the character in a proper sequel?

I’m super excited for it! However, I have no information about it. We did a teaser trailer, and that’s all I know. I tried to get more information, but I couldn’t. There are a lot of people who are very involved, so it’s definitely going to be an incredible project.

I’ve also been thinking about my character Homura, like “What is Homura going to do? Homura right now is a devil, so is her character going to destroy the world? Will she take a further turn for the bad? Will she become a heroine?” I have no idea, but I am very excited about it!

 

Obviously, you’ve been in the industry for a very long time, and you voice a lot of characters. What character did you have the most difficulty voicing in your 20-year career, and why?

Not only was it the hardest and most challenging character, but the one that gave me the most incentive was Yona from Yona of the Dawn. Her name is not only in the title, but Yona “pulls” the world onto her back. She has all these boys with her, but they’re not all falling in love with her or anything like that. She is “pulling” everyone with her, so she’s a very cool kind of character.

I felt a lot of pressure because I had to make sure I gave a strong performance that would really answer that. It’s very much of a shoujo adventure for one girl, right?

 

Can you tell us about how you got into voice acting and what your first role?

I actually talked a little bit about this in my panel today. Growing up, I never really thought that I wanted to be a voice actor, but I told my mom that I wanted to buy a fashion magazine. Back then, fashion magazines would be on the stands or kiosks and wouldn’t be in nice print or have plastic covers to protect it. My mom was like, “I’m not going to take the one from the top! I’m gonna take the one towards the bottom that no one touches!” She took one from the bottom and it happened to be the Seiyuu Grandprix magazine. That was when I first found out this world existed. Until then, I had never known. I was like, “Oh, how interesting!”

Remember how I said I loved movies? I read about this world that they called “voice acting,” and I was like, “I love the actor Harrison Ford. Hmm…  So a voice actor, or the voice of someone who is working with Harrison Ford! I can actually somehow be on the project, and we can work together!” That’s how it started! This was when I was 18 and in high school — we all had dreams then. It all started from Harrison Ford, basically.

 

Can you tell us about a moment in your career that you’re most proud of?

Honestly, it would be the fact that I come to these countries where the people aren’t natively Japanese, but they know about the Madoka and the Monogatari series. Even with the Monogatari series being very Japanese and hard to understand, people outside of Japan still know of it, can relate to it, or just feel so much about it. So, [being able to convey the character and the series] is one of my proudest moments.

When you think about it, if you’re only in Japan, you don’t really see what a lot of other people love. Thus, you don’t understand the power of your voice, that character, or that anime can have an effect on other people. For example, we just did an autograph session — while signing, I asked each person, “Who’s your favorite character?” and of course it would be Madoka from Puella Magi Madoka Magica and two characters from the Monogatari series that came up the most.

 

Is there a series or property that you’d like to be in? Like a Disney IP, the Indiana Jones series, or even something with Harrison Ford?

No, I would not want to do Indiana Jones because when you love something so much, sometimes it’s better to keep a little bit of distance. This is a difficult question!

But I would like to be in the Transformers series as the AllSpark – I want to be a toy, which is kind of a cool thing. It’s like being a plushie or a figurine from anime, but I wanted to do more of a robot kind of toy.

 

AT: You recently voiced the Acting Grand Master of the Knights of Favonius, Jean Gunnhildr, from Genshin Impact. How were you approached for that role, and what was the recording process like during the pandemic?

Because it’s a game, the recording is done individually, so it wasn’t done as a group. As far as the process during COVID-19 or not, it’s the same.

For the role, actually it was quite easy! It was a seamless process because I saw a picture of Jean and I had to [imagine what she’d be like]. Of course, the director and the creators on the other side also had an image of the character — they do this back and forth ping-ponging until they figure out what they want for that character’s voice. But for Jean, there was almost none of that. It was pretty much spot on, right away. I didn’t think that much at all because the voice was very direct and straightforward.

One of the things that I voice is the breathing, kind of like a little kid who’s out of breath. As the character gets older, like an elderly woman or something, the breathing is much slower and much more deliberate. I probably do visually imagine that process, but I don’t know it myself because I’m just doing it!

 

Was there anything that we didn’t ask that you’d like to talk about a little more?  

Because it’s a very different country, Japan doesn’t have anime conventions. For me to actually come by myself and just focus on being myself is very, very rare. It’s only when I go outside of Japan that it happens at all because usually, we just have the whole cast for that one title.

I’m so happy to be able to talk about some of my personal stuff. A lot of times, many seiyuu aren’t allowed to talk about that stuff. But I have so many incredible stories that I want to share. So, it’s been incredible to just be able to talk about these things that are kind of private, and everyone has really taken it in so well and just really accepted it. I love getting these kinds of personal questions too! So thank you very much!

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